Rare Shakespeare First Folio Found on Scottish Island

A 400-year-old first folio of Shakespeare’s selected plays found in Scotland.

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An image of playwright William Shakespeare from a first edition of “The Herball”, a 16th century book on plants, is seen at an office in London, Britain 19 May 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

A nearly 400-year-old copy of a first edition of William Shakespeare’s collected plays has been found in a vast aristocratic house on the Isle of Bute, off the western coast of Scotland.

Published in 1623, the First Folio contains Shakespeare’s 36 plays, including several that had never been published before and might have been lost without it, such as Macbeth, The Tempest and As You Like It.

A portrait of William Shakespeare is seen in the Third Folio, in London, Wednesday, 16 March 2016. (Photo: AP)
A portrait of William Shakespeare is seen in the Third Folio, in London, Wednesday, 16 March 2016. (Photo: AP)

The discovery at Mount Stuart, grand neo-Gothic home of the Marquesses of Bute, brings the total of known surviving copies of the First Folio in the world to 234. Most others are in libraries and accessible only to scholars.

It is usually a single volume that would have to be read sitting at a desk, but the Bute copy was split in the past for ease of reading into three leather-bound volumes, one each for comedies, histories and tragedies.

“This is something that you could take to the fireside and enjoy,” Emma Smith, a professor of Shakespeare Studies at Oxford University who authenticated the Bute Folio, told the BBC.

It’s a book we most likely now see ... in a glass case, and one of the things that this copy ... shows us is a time when people just really used this book, they enjoyed it, they scribbled on it, they spilt their wine on it, their pet cats jumped on it.
Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies, Oxford University

Worth an estimated 2 to 2.5 million pounds ($2.8 to $3.5 million) according to Smith, the Folio is not up for sale and will be on public display at Mount Stuart until October.

It was found in the home’s library, which houses a collection of artworks and artefacts acquired by the Stuart family over the centuries.

An image of playwright William Shakespeare from a first edition of “The Herball” at an office in London, Britain 19 May 2015. (Photo: Reuters)
An image of playwright William Shakespeare from a first edition of “The Herball” at an office in London, Britain 19 May 2015. (Photo: Reuters)
The collection’s managers were in touch to say they thought they had a Shakespeare First Folio, and I must say I thought right, yeah, sure you do. But on much closer inspection they turned out to be right.
Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies, Oxford University

Inside the first page is an inscription from an 18th-century editor of Shakespeare called Isaac Reed, describing how he acquired the book in 1786. The Folio also includes annotations by Reed that suggest he used it as a working document.

It was authenticated by a variety of methods, including painstaking, word-by-word checks to make sure the well-documented quirks and idiosyncrasies of the genuine 1623 First Folio were present.

Britain has been holding commemorations this year to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on 23 April 1616.

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