November 26, 2014
Early Shakespeare manuscript discovered in France
by Nick Davies
In a discovery that gives the French some ammunition in their centuries-long thumbing-of-noses battle with the English, a rare copy of William Shakespeare’s First Folio has been unearthed at a library in northern France. First published in 1623—seven years after the Bard’s death—the First Folio includes thirty-six of his thirty-eight plays, the only exclusions being Pericles, Prince of Tyre and The Two Noble Kinsmen. Without it, the Folger Shakespeare Library says that eighteen plays, including Macbeth, “would otherwise be lost.”
Agence France Press reports that the Folio was found in the library of Saint-Omer, a small but ancient town that was a cultural hub in the Middle Ages, and whose library houses 800 important manuscripts, 230 incunabula (books printed in Europe before 1501), and a Gutenberg Bible. Librarian Remy Cordonnier made the discovery recently, when he came across a book of Shakespeare’s works dating to the 18th century and realized it was probably much older than that.
Cordonnier said to AFP, “It occurred to me that it could be an unidentified First Folio, with historic importance and great intellectual value… It is the 231st copy found in the world and the second in France.” While it’s in mostly good condition, this copy is missing about thirty pages, including the title page, which might account for why it went unnoticed for so long.
Eric Rasmussen, an expert on Shakespeare and on the First Folio in particular at the University of Nevada, verified over the weekend that the book is, in fact, authentic. He believes that it probably crossed the English Channel in the hands of English refugees fleeing from Anglican persecution in France.
The director of Saint-Omer’s library, Francoise Ducroquet, says that they don’t have plans to sell the Folio, and intend to keep it as part of their valuable and rare collection.
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.