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‘Mr William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies’ was first published in 1623, and is commonly referred to by historians as ‘Shakespeare’s First Folio.’
‘Published according to the True Original Copies’ as the front cover cites, the First Folio contains 36 of Shakespeare’s plays and was prepared by John Heminges and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare’s colleagues. The First Folio is considered to be the only reliable text for approximately twenty of Shakespeare’s plays, and is an invaluable source text for many of Shakespeare’s published plays. Without the First Folio, there would be no true copies of much loved texts, including Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, As You Like It and The Tempest to name a handful. The cover also bears the only source of the globally recognized portrait of Shakespeare himself, drawn by artist Martin Droeshout.
Astonishingly, ahead of the 400th anniversary of the death of the playwright who defined English classes since his quill first graced parchment with its touch, a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio has been discovered in a stately home on an island off the coast of Scotland. This find has been described as extremely rare and significant by Oxford University academics, who authenticated the book found on the Isle of Bute.
Speaking to the BBC, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Oxford University, Professor Emma Smith, received the news of the discovery with cynicism, citing “Like hell they have”, however upon further inspection of the book, found it to be authentic, adding “We’ve found a First Folio that we didn’t know existed.”
Director of the Mount Stuart House Trust, Adam Ellis-Jones, described the discovery of a genuine First Folio as being “genuinely astonishing.”
The discovered First Folio, bound in goatskin, will go on public display at the state home for the first time. It’s uncertain exactly how many copies of the book were produced, but the number is believed to be approximately 750, with around 230 copies known to still be in existence, with the last discovery emerging just two years ago in a Jesuit library in St Omer in western France.
The Isle of Bute discovery adds another to the collection, but historians are unsure of where the book spent the past 4 centuries since being printed. Sources say it had been owned by a literary editor in the 18th century, before appearing in the Bute library collection in 1896. Head of Historic Collections at Mount Stuart, Alice Martin, believes the text was purchased by the third Marquess of Brute, an antiquarian and an avid collector, who sadly passed in 1900.
The verification of the text makes it incredibly valuable, with a previous copy owned by Oriel College in Oxford, selling for approximately £3.5million in 2003.