A rare copy of Shakespeare's First Folio has been discovered in a French library
Literary gem uncovered
The literary gem lay undiscovered for over two centuries and is said to be one of only around 230 still in existence today. Thought to be one of the most valuable books in English language history, the new find marks only the second of its kind in France, and the folio could sell for millions should it ever go for auction.
A unassuming librarian in the northern town of Saint-Omer, near Calais, stumbled across the book in September – at the time he was choosing pieces for an upcoming exhibition exploring the literary history between the local region and England.
"It was sitting on a shelf alongside other books by English authors," Rémy Cordonnier, who runs the library's rare books division, explained to The Telegraph.
The First Folio is missing the portrait of Shakespeare and its frontispiece, which is why Cordonnier believes that earlier librarians had mistakingly filed it as a 18th century work. The aforementioned elements are the hallmark of the 800 copies of the First Folios still in existence today, and were first printed in 1623 – seven years after the iconic playwright's death.
"I was trembling when I picked it up and realised what it might be," Mr Cordonnier said.
The library where Cordonnier works was first opened in 1805 but has books from the nearby Abbey of Saint Bertin in its arsenal, these date back to the 7th century and was home to what was seen as one of the top five most important libraries of Western Christendom.
"I needed to find out if this was a real discovery or if the book had been listed somewhere (in the library's catalogue) without us knowing about it," he said.
Cordonnier reached out to the internationally acclaimed Shakespeare scholar Professor Eric Rasmussen from the University of Nevada – who, in an eerie turn of events, happened to be on a visit to London. Rasmussen immediately took the Eurostar and headed to Saint-Omer, where, according to the town's mayor, François Decoster, he took an impressive five minutes to confirm that it was indeed an authentic First Folio copy.
Professor Rasmussen penned a book on the First Folio titled The Shakespeare Thefts, exploring his passionate global hunt for the original books, which have been a favourite for thieves throughout history.
The Saint-Omer-based copy is inked with the name 'Nevill' – which Cordonnier believes belongs to a man who was an English student at the town's Jesuit college. The picturesque town was once considered one of the most important locations in northern France centuries ago.
Just 230 copies of the First Folio – titled Mr William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories & Tragedies. Published according to the True Originall Copies – are known to exist.
The importance of the First Folio edition is crucial since Shakespeare's iconic works – such as Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Twelfth Night and Macbeth – might have never been known to the world without it. Eighteen of Shakespeares plays were unpublished at his death in 1616.
The First Folio was first published by two of the literary icon's fellow actors and friends and includes 36 of Shakespeare's 38 known plays.