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Shakespeare First Folio accidentally found in France

A rare and valuable First Folio containing all of Shakespeare's plays has been discovered by accident in a small library in France.

'I first tried to keep a level head,' said librarian who found the collection printed in 1623

Librarian Remy Cordonnier carefully shows an example of a valuable Shakespeare "First Folio," a collection of some of his plays, dating from 1623. There are only 240 known copies in the world. (Denis Charlet, AFP, Getty Images)

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.

Experts to examine text

Around 230 copies of the First Folio are known to exist in collections or in private hands around the world. (Denis Charlet/AFP/Getty Images)
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 travelled 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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