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Remy Cordonnier, librarian in the northern town of Saint-Omer, near Calais carefully shows an example of a valuable Shakespeare "First Folio", a collection of some of his plays, dating from 1623.
Denis Charlet—AFP/Getty Images

A previously undiscovered Shakespeare folio has surfaced in northern France, a finding that could shed new light on the playwright’s intentions and early readership.

The book, whose title page and introductory material were worn off, was discovered by librarians at a public library in St.-Omer near Calais, reports the New York Times. It is one of only 233 known surviving first folios by the Bard.

“First folios don’t turn up very often, and when they do, it’s usually a really chewed up, uninteresting copy. But this one is magnificent,” Eric Rasmussen, an American Shakespeare expert, told the Times. Rasmussen was summoned to France over the weekendby the St.-Omer library’s director of medieval and early modern collections, Rémy Cordonnier, to confirm the volume’s authenticity.

The newly discovered folio was inherited from a long-defunct Jesuit college and could refuel the debate over whether the Hamlet scribe was secretly Catholic. The newly-discovered volume also contains handwritten notes that may illuminate how the plays were formed in Shakespeare’s time.

Printed in a batch of 800 copies in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, the first folios are considered the only reliable text of half his plays, and they are intensely scrutinized by scholars for minute differences and corrections made by print shops that can reveal the playwright’s intentions. In 2006, a first folio sold for $6.8 million at Christie’s.

[New York Times]

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