, LILLE, France, Nov 25 – A copy of William Shakespeare’s First Folio, the first-ever compilation of the Bard’s plays published in 1623, has been discovered in the library of an ancient port town in northern France.
One of the world’s most valuable and coveted books, the First Folio was uncovered when librarian Remy Cordonnier dusted off a copy of Shakespeare’s works dating to the 18th century for an exhibition on English literature in the town of Saint-Omer near Calais.
“It occurred to me that it could be an unidentified First Folio, with historic importance and great intellectual value,” he told AFP.
The book, published seven years after Shakespeare’s death, was authenticated on Saturday by First Folio expert Eric Rasmussen from the University of Nevada.
Rasmussen, who has written a book about his riveting two-decade hunt to catalogue all 232 existing copies of the book, said the 233rd copy was the first new version unearthed in a decade.
He told AFP the book was “immediately identifiable” as an original due to its watermarks, the paper used and the fact that errors were still present that would have been corrected in later copies.
He said the book was missing title pages as well as the whole text of the play The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
“What is really interesting is that it clearly came from the college of Jesuits in Saint-Omer, founded in the late 16th century during Queen Elizabeth’s reign when it was illegal for Catholics to go to college,” said Rasmussen.
The book was heavily annotated, with words corrected to more modern versions and with the part of a hostess in Henry IV turned into a male part, with words such as “wench” crossed out and replaced with “fellow”.
He highlighted the “really good survival rate” of an estimated 750 original prints of First Folio.
The massive book of 36 plays was published at a time when printed plays were not considered literature, and sold for one pound at a time when a skilled worker could perhaps hope to earn four pounds a year, said Rasmussen.