New Historian

Rare Shakespeare First Folio Found in French Library

William Shakespeare

<![CDATA[The book had lain undisturbed in the collection of a library in Saint-Omer, near Calais, for nearly 200 years. It was discovered as librarians went through their collection ahead of an exhibition on the links between northern France and England. "I didn't instantly recognise it as a book of value," Remy Cordonnier told a press conference. "[But] It occurred to me that it could be an unidentified First Folio, with historic importance and great intellectual value." The work has several pages missing, including the title page and introductory material. It was probably the loss of these key pages which meant that the work was catalogued as merely an old edition of Shakespeare's plays. Shakespeare's First Folio is the very first collection of 36 of his 38 plays, and was originally published in 1623, seven years after his death. It was edited by his friends and fellow actors John Heminges and Henry Condell, and is credited with being the reason why Shakespeare's literary works survive to the present day. It is the only source for 18 of his plays, including Macbeth and Julius Caesar; no original manuscript of any Shakespeare play survives. The Shakespeare First Folio is regarded as the most important book in English literature. It is thought that 800 copies were originally printed, but only 233 of these still exist. The discovery in Saint-Omer is one of only two copies known to exist in France. Each copy is slightly different, and this copy will be carefully scrutinised by scholars as minor variations can reveal information about Shakespeare's intentions. One of the world's foremost authorities on Shakespeare, Professor Eric Rasmussen of the University of Nevada, , verified the Folio. Although based in the USA, he happened to be in Europe working at the British Library in London. "This is huge," he told the New York Times. "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 is so well preserved that some handwritten annotations have survived. Many of these notes could hold clues as to how the plays were performed in Shakespeare's time. In one particular scene in Henry IV, the word "hostess" is changed to "host" and "wench" to "fellow"; these alterations could reflect an early performance where a female character was altered into a male. Professor Rasmussen has highlighted the name Neville, inscribed on the folios first surviving page. He suggests this might indicate that the book was brought to Saint-Omer by a member of a prominent English Catholic Family called Edward Scarisbrick, who went by that alias. Scarisbrick attended the Jesuit college in Saint-Omer, founded when Catholics were banned from English universities. The discovery in Saint-Omer is already being seen as a source of fresh information into Shakespeare's life and works. From tiny textual variants to the question of Shakespeares connection to Catholic culture, the Folio promises to provide tantalising glimpses of his intentions.]]>

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