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Rare Shakespeare First Folio found on Scottish island

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.

Usually a single volume, Bute copy was split in three: comedies, histories and tragedies

First published in 1623, William Shakespeare's First Folio contains the Bard'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. The discovery on the Isle of Bute brings the total of known surviving copies of the First Folio in the world to 234. (Denis Charlet/AFP/Getty Images)

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.
 
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.

While First Folios are typically bound as one book, like this one displayed at Sotheby's in 2006, the Bute copy was split into three volumes for ease of reading. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

"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."

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" ... They turned out to be right.- Emma Smith, Oxford University

Worth an estimated £2 to 2.5 million pounds (about $3.7 to $4.6 million Cdn) 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 artifacts acquired by the Stuart 
family over the centuries.

"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," said Smith.

William Shakespeare died in 1616. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Canadian Press)

 
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 idiosyncracies 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 April 23, 1616. 

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