The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0634 Sunday, 9 November 2008
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Sunday, November 09, 2008
Subject: First Folios in the News
Over the past week or so, two major stories about First Folios have been in the
news. I gathered my information for this report from various online resources
that I located primarily from Google News.
Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether
that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.
To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was
born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve
o'clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike,
and I began to cry, simultaneously.
I cannot be as sure as David Copperfield about the birth of the idea for the
collection of the plays of William Shakespeare, published in November of 1623 as
_Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies_. The established
London playwright died in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon on 23 April 1616.
Earlier, in January 1616, Shakespeare and his lawyer, Francis Collins, began
composing the latter's will, according to Peter Holland in his _ODNB_ biography
of Shakespeare, the writing of the will "probably provoked by the impending
marriage of his other daughter, Judith, to Thomas Quiney, son of Richard
Quiney," a neighbor with whom Shakespeare had had some financial dealings. In
late March after Judith and Thomas were married and Quiney's illegitimate child
was born and had died, Shakespeare made changes to the first page of the three
pages of his will. Many other changes were to follow, the best known being the
passage referring to his wife Anne: "Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed
with the furniture." Another addition, however, worth noting with regards to
this discussion of the origins of the First Folio is the interlineation in which
Shakespeare leaves bequeaths for the purchase of memorial rings "to my ffellowes
John Hemynges, Richard Burbage and Heny Cundell XXVIs VIIId A peece to buy them
Ringes." Richard died three years later, but Henry Condell and John Heminges
were to live on and publish in folio the collected works of their friend and
fellow, a book that has been called "incomparably the most important work in the
Peter Blayney, in the marvelous little catalog he wrote to accompany his 1991
Folger Library Exhibition on the First Folios in the Folger's collection,
address the importance of this book: "The book was a large folio (a format with
pages about as wide as those of a modern encyclopadia, but two or three inches
taller), and nothing quite like it had ever been published in folio before. The
folio format was usually reserved for works of reference (on such subjects as
theology, law, history, and heraldry) and for the collected writings of
important authors, both ancient (Homer, Tacitus, Saint Augustine) and modern
(Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, Bishop Joseph Hall). / Plays written for the public
theatres, however, were generally viewed as fairly trivial works of popular
entertainment, unworthy of serious consideration as literature. In 1616 Ben
Jonson had included nine plays in a folio collection of his 'Workes', and
several of his contemporaries had jokingly suggested that he had forgotten the
difference between 'work' and 'play'. The First Folio of 1623 was not only the
first collected edition of Shakespeare-it was the first folio book ever
published in England that was devoted exclusively to plays."
On December 10, 1998, staff at Durham University who had been dismantling an
exhibition of English literature noticed that a First Folio and six other
valuable books/manuscripts were missing from a display case in the Bishop Cosin
Library. These cases were covered by cloths to protect the books from being
damaged by light, so the exact day of the theft could not be determined.
Some ten years later, on June 16, 2008, a 51-year-old Britain, John Scott,
brought a 17th-century book with him to the Folger Shakespeare Library, where he
met with head librarian Richard J. Kuhta. (Incidentally, for anyone who might
not know, Richard Kuhta, the Eric Weinmann Librarian at the Folger, will retire
in December: http://www.folger.edu/template.cfm?cid=2766. When the time draws
nearer, I plan to share some of my stories about this wonderful man and will
invite others to do so.) Scott claimed that he had obtained the book from a
friend of his 21-year-old "fiancee," Heidy Garcia Rios, a nightclub dancer.
Scott's story was that his fiancee's friend, Odeiny Perez, a former bodyguard
for Castro, asked Scott to take the book, which had been in his family since
1877, out of Cuba to be authenticated. Kuhta told Scott that he wanted to have
Stephen Massey, an independent expert, examine the volume, so Scott left the
book at the Folger Library and returned to his home at Washington, Tyne and
Wear, in northeast England, (less than fifteen miles from Durham University).
Several weeks later, Massey informed Scott that he suspected that the book was
the First Folio that was stolen from Durham University: Scott was arrested,
released on bail, and scheduled to be arraigned on November 11, according to the
On Friday, 24 October 2008, a decade after it was taken from Durham University's
library, the recovered First Folio was flown from the US back to a secret
location in North East England, where it is being held in police custody as
On October 28, 2008, Raymond Scott launched a legal fight of his own to get the
First Folio back, demanding that Christopher Higgins, the Vice Chancellor of
Durham University turn over to him the First Folio so that he can prove that it
is not the copy that was stolen from the University ten years earlier.
On November 6, Scott, the prime suspect in the theft of the Durham University's
First Folio was re-arrested and brought in for more questioning after new
evidence was found.
On November 9, Scott was released again on bail.
A story in the Guardian Newspaper
reports that American collector John Wolfson has pledged to give his
multi-million pound collection of Shakespeare manuscripts to the Globe Theatre
upon his death. Wolfson is donating 450 texts to the theatre, including a First
Folio of Shakespeare's complete works, printed in 1616, a Second Folio (1632), a
second edition of the Third Folio (1664), and a Fourth Folio (1685). Wolfson has
pledged his collection to the Globe Theatre, the sole beneficiary of the more
than 450 works in the collection, which in addition to the Shakespeare texts
includes works by Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson, Thomas Middleton, and John
Ford, among others.
Wolfson said: "What happens to most collections, unfortunately, is that they get
broken up. Having witnessed the break up of many collections, I consider myself
fortunate to have found a place for my books at Shakespeare's Globe. Here it
will be possible for the collection, which I have put together, to remain
together, and to be used to great advantage by students, scholars, and educators
for generations to come."
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook,
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>
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