A copy of William Shakespeare’s First Folio published in 1623 has been discovered at Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute in Scotland, bringing the total of surviving First Folios to 234.
The discovery, authenticated by Emma Smith, professor of Shakespeare Studies at Oxford, comes as Britain is celebrating 400 years of the Bard’s legacy. His death is recorded on April 23, 1616.
The First Folio is the name given to the collection of Shakespeare’s 36 plays published in 1623. Smith identified the Folio as the working copy that once belonged to Isaac Reed, a well-connected literary editor who worked in London in the 18th century.
Smith said: “When the team at Mount Stuart first told me they thought they had a First Folio, I must admit I thought ‘yeah, sure, and so do I!’ But when I went up to investigate, I could tell from the story of the book’s origins, the watermarks and the idiosyncrasies of the text that it was genuine.”
The Reed-Bute Folio is in three volumes – comedies, histories and tragedies – and was rebound in goatskin in 1932.
Smith added: “This is an exciting discovery because we didn’t know it existed and it was owned by someone who edited Shakespeare in the 18th century. It is an unusual Folio because it is bound in three volumes and has lots of spare blank pages which would have been used for illustrations.
“The real importance of the First Folio is that, without it, we would not have half of Shakespeare’s plays, including Macbeth, The Tempest and As You Like It. Shakespeare would have looked very different, and his legacy would have been very different, had the Folio not been published.”
Oxford’s copies of the First Folio will be displayed in the Bodleian Libraries from April 22 in an exhibition curated by Smith called “Shakespeare’s Dead”.