First folios of Shakespeare’s plays are among the rarest books in the world, and now scholars have announced that a previously unknown copy has come to light in a small library in northern France.
Containing 36 plays, nearly all of Shakespeare’s output, first folios are considered the only reliable original text for half of the Bard’s work. Printed in a run of nearly 800 copies in 1623, the newest copy is the 233rd accounted for, according to the New York Times.
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Eric Rasmussen, an American Shakespeare expert, traveled to France over the weekend to authenticate the folio.
“This is huge,” he said.
“First folios don’t turn up very often, and when they do, it’s usually a really chewed up, uninteresting copy. But this one is magnificent.”
The folio was uncovered by librarians at a public library in St. Omer, near Calais, as they perused the collection for an English literature exhibition. Rémy Cordonnier, the director of the library’s medieval and early modern collection, suspected that the book was a first folio even though its title page was missing. It was Cordonnier that decided to call in Rasmussen, who was able to identify the book as a first folio in just minutes.
“It was very emotional to realize we had a copy of one of the most famous books in the world,” Cordonnier said.
“I was already imagining the reaction it would cause.”
As SFGate notes, among the 900 pages of the folio are annotations that suggest this particular copy was used for performance. Though scholars have yet to carry out comparisons with the text of other folios, Stanley Wells, honorary president of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, noted that the annotations could reveal contemporary attitudes toward Shakespeare’s work.
Earlier this year, a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, sold out in just hours, as the Inquisitr noted. Set to run between August and October of 2015, the play is one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated works.
— Michiko Kakutani (@michikokakutani) November 25, 2014
Rasmussen noted that the folio may also shed some light on the contentious debate that Shakespeare could have secretly been a Catholic. He pointed to the name “Neville” on the folio’s first surviving page as an indication that it might have been brought to the region by Edward Scarisbrick. A member of a prominent Catholic family that attended a Jesuit college, he was known to use the name.
“People have been making some vague arguments, but now for the first time we have a connection between the Jesuit college network and Shakespeare,” Rasmussen said.
“The links become a little more substantial when you have this paper trail.”
The St. Omer first folio will be placed on display for Shakespeare fans next year.
[Image: Michel Spingler, Associated Press, via SFGate]