Rare Shakespeare folio discovered in French town

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'I Found Rare Shakespeare Folio'


PARIS (AP) - The accidental discovery in a small library in northern France of an original first folio of Shakespeare's plays has sent a jolt of excitement around the world of Shakespeare scholars.

The find brings the total of known folios in the world to 233, and is significant as each first folio can contain variations that shed light on the bard's intentions. Among the 900 pages of the most recent discovery are rare annotations that suggest it was used for performance.

The annotations "might tell us something about Shakespeare's reception at the time, how they were thought of as text for performance," said Stanley Wells, honorary president Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

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Rare Shakespeare folio discovered in French town
Remy Cordonnier, the director of the Saint-Omer library’s medieval and early modern collection, opens a page of the newly discovered Shakespeare's original first folio in Saint-Omer, northern France, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. The accidental discovery in the small library in northern France of an original first folio of the bard’s plays _ one of the rarest books in the world _ has sent jitters of excitement around the world of Shakespeare enthusiasts, especially those partial to the theory that the bard was a secret Catholic. The find brings the total of known folios in the world to 233, and is significant as each first folio can contain variations that shed light on Shakespeare’s intentions. Among the 900 pages of the most recent discovery are rare annotations that suggest it was used for performance. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
The newly discovered Shakespeare's original first folio is seen in the Saint-Omer library, northern France, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. The accidental discovery in the small library in northern France of an original first folio of the bard’s plays _ one of the rarest books in the world _ has sent jitters of excitement around the world of Shakespeare enthusiasts, especially those partial to the theory that the bard was a secret Catholic. The find brings the total of known folios in the world to 233, and is significant as each first folio can contain variations that shed light on Shakespeare’s intentions. Among the 900 pages of the most recent discovery are rare annotations that suggest it was used for performance. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
A page of the newly discovered Shakespeare's original first folio is seen in the Saint-Omer library, northern France, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. The accidental discovery in the small library in northern France of an original first folio of the bard’s plays _ one of the rarest books in the world _ has sent jitters of excitement around the world of Shakespeare enthusiasts, especially those partial to the theory that the bard was a secret Catholic. The find brings the total of known folios in the world to 233, and is significant as each first folio can contain variations that shed light on Shakespeare’s intentions. Among the 900 pages of the most recent discovery are rare annotations that suggest it was used for performance. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
The newly discovered Shakespeare's original first folio is seen in the Saint-Omer library, northern France, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. The accidental discovery in the small library in northern France of an original first folio of the bard’s plays _ one of the rarest books in the world _ has sent jitters of excitement around the world of Shakespeare enthusiasts, especially those partial to the theory that the bard was a secret Catholic. The find brings the total of known folios in the world to 233, and is significant as each first folio can contain variations that shed light on Shakespeare’s intentions. Among the 900 pages of the most recent discovery are rare annotations that suggest it was used for performance. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
Antique and rare books including English playwright William Shakespeare's (1564-1616) first folio are lit by candlelight in the library at Longleat stately home, Wiltshire, England, February 1968. (Photo by RDImages/Epics/Getty Images)
Remy Cordonnier, the director of the Saint-Omer library’s medieval and early modern collection, opens a page of the newly discovered Shakespeare's original first folio in Saint-Omer, northern France, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. The accidental discovery in the small library in northern France of an original first folio of the bard’s plays _ one of the rarest books in the world _ has sent jitters of excitement around the world of Shakespeare enthusiasts, especially those partial to the theory that the bard was a secret Catholic. The find brings the total of known folios in the world to 233, and is significant as each first folio can contain variations that shed light on Shakespeare’s intentions. Among the 900 pages of the most recent discovery are rare annotations that suggest it was used for performance. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
The newly discovered Shakespeare's original first folio is seen in the Saint-Omer library, northern France, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. The accidental discovery in the small library in northern France of an original first folio of the bard’s plays _ one of the rarest books in the world _ has sent jitters of excitement around the world of Shakespeare enthusiasts, especially those partial to the theory that the bard was a secret Catholic. The find brings the total of known folios in the world to 233, and is significant as each first folio can contain variations that shed light on Shakespeare’s intentions. Among the 900 pages of the most recent discovery are rare annotations that suggest it was used for performance. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
A page of the newly discovered Shakespeare's original first folio is seen in Saint-Omer, northern France, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. The accidental discovery in the small library in northern France of an original first folio of the bard’s plays _ one of the rarest books in the world _ has sent jitters of excitement around the world of Shakespeare enthusiasts, especially those partial to the theory that the bard was a secret Catholic. The find brings the total of known folios in the world to 233, and is significant as each first folio can contain variations that shed light on Shakespeare’s intentions. Among the 900 pages of the most recent discovery are rare annotations that suggest it was used for performance. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
LONDON - SEPTERMBER 7: The previously unknown 1623 edition of William Shakespeare's First Folio, described as the most important work in the English Language, which will be going under the hammer at Bloomsbury Auction house on October 7, 2004 in London. The book, which is expected to fetch GBP1 million, was inherited by a Mancunian woman from a distant relative and turned out to be one of only six original copies in private hands. (Photo by Graeme Robertson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
LONDON - SEPTERMBER 7: The previously unknown 1623 edition of William Shakespeare's First Folio, described as the most important work in the English Language, which will be going under the hammer at Bloomsbury Auction house on October 7, 2004 in London. The book, which is expected to fetch GBP1 million, was inherited by a Mancunian woman from a distant relative and turned out to be one of only six original copies in private hands. (Photo by Graeme Robertson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
LONDON - SEPTERMBER 7: The previously unknown 1623 edition of William Shakespeare's First Folio, described as the most important work in the English Language, which will be going under the hammer at Bloomsbury Auction house on October 7, 2004 in London. The book, which is expected to fetch GBP1 million, was inherited by a Mancunian woman from a distant relative and turned out to be one of only six original copies in private hands. (Photo by Graeme Robertson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
LONDON - SEPTERMBER 7: The previously unknown 1623 edition of William Shakespeare's First Folio, described as the most important work in the English Language, which will be going under the hammer at Bloomsbury Auction house on October 7, 2004 in London. The book, which is expected to fetch GBP1 million, was inherited by a Mancunian woman from a distant relative and turned out to be one of only six original copies in private hands. (Photo by Graeme Robertson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
LONDON - SEPTERMBER 7: The previously unknown 1623 edition of William Shakespeare's First Folio, described as the most important work in the English Language, which will be going under the hammer at Bloomsbury Auction house on October 7, 2004 in London. The book, which is expected to fetch GBP1 million, was inherited by a Mancunian woman from a distant relative and turned out to be one of only six original copies in private hands. (Photo by Graeme Robertson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
LONDON - SEPTERMBER 7: The previously unknown 1623 edition of William Shakespeare's First Folio, described as the most important work in the English Language, which will be going under the hammer at Bloomsbury Auction house on October 7, 2004 in London. The book, which is expected to fetch GBP1 million, was inherited by a Mancunian woman from a distant relative and turned out to be one of only six original copies in private hands. (Photo by Graeme Robertson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
Antique and rare books including English playwright William Shakespeare's (1564-1616) first folio are lit by candlelight in the library at Longleat stately home, Wiltshire, England, February 1968. (Photo by RDImages/Epics/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 01: Man reads third folio of Shakespeare's plays in his rare book library, England, Great Britain (Photo by Kathleen Revis/National Geographic/Getty Images)
A rare Shakespeare First Folio is seen in Durham University, England, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011. The folio that was stolen from Durham University more than 12 years ago is due to go on display for the first time since its theft as part of the new Treasures of Durham University exhibition. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Sheila Hingley, Head of Heritage Collections, is seen with a rare Shakespeare First Folio, in Durham University, England, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011. The folio that was stolen from Durham University more than 12 years ago is due to go on display for the first time since its theft as part of the new Treasures of Durham University exhibition. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Sheila Hingley, Head of Heritage Collections, is seen with a rare Shakespeare First Folio, in Durham University, England, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011. The folio that was stolen from Durham University more than 12 years ago is due to go on display for the first time since its theft as part of the new Treasures of Durham University exhibition. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Sheila Hingley, Head of Heritage Collections, holds a rare Shakespeare First Folio, in Durham University, England, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011. The folio that was stolen from Durham University more than 12 years ago is due to go on display for the first time since its theft as part of the new Treasures of Durham University exhibition. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Sheila Hingley, Head of Heritage Collections, is seen with a rare Shakespeare First Folio, in Durham University, England, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011. The folio that was stolen from Durham University more than 12 years ago is due to go on display for the first time since its theft as part of the new Treasures of Durham University exhibition. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Sotheby's employee Sue Austin poses for photographs with a copy of the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, the 'First Folio' at the auction house's premises in London, Monday, Dec. 6, 2010. The extremely rare copy dates from 1623 and is estimated to fetch 1 to 1.5 million pounds ($1,567,889 to 2,351,834) in the sale of 'Magnificent Books, Manuscripts and Drawings' on Dec. 7. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Sheila Hingley, Head of Heritage Collections, is seen with a rare Shakespeare First Folio, in Durham University, England, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011. The folio that was stolen from Durham University more than 12 years ago is due to go on display for the first time since its theft as part of the new Treasures of Durham University exhibition. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
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Scholars have not yet had a chance to carry out the painstaking comparisons with the texts of other folios to determine what variations the latest discovery may contain.

Remy Cordonnier, the director of the Saint-Omer library's medieval and early modern collection, happened upon the folio among the belongings of a Jesuit evangelist that were bequeathed from a now-defunct Jesuit college in the town.

"I first tried to keep a level head as I wasn't sure 100 percent of its authenticity," Cordonnier said.

Missing were 12 title pages, which record the printing date and location. So Cordonnier sought the help of Eric Rasmussen, a Nevada-based specialist in Shakespeare first folios, who traveled to the small town near Calais to examine it. Rasmussen concluded that it was among about 750 Shakespeare first folios printed in 1623, seven years after the playwright died.

The first folios are the first complete printed collections of Shakespeare's plays. Sixteen Shakespeare plays, including "The Tempest" and "Macbeth," were not printed in the bard's lifetime - meaning the first folio saved them from oblivion. One first folio in 2006 sold at Christie's for $6.8 million.

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Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP

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