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Shakespeare’s First Folio returns to London

London (CNN) It’s one of the most valuable and coveted books in all of English literature — a Shakespeare story that, in this case, doesn’t end in tragedy.

Published in 1623, the First Folio, as its called, is the first-ever compilation of 36 of the 38 plays written by the legendary bard.

But even this book’s acts are wrought with drama.

folio found in library

For two centuries, it lain undisturbed in a library in Saint-Omer in Northern France. Then, in late-2014, a librarian searching the shelves for an upcoming literary exhibition, dusted off this rare find.

“It is wonderful to discover yet another copy of the First Folio,” Patrick Spottiswoode, Director of Globe Education, said. “This is such a surprise, because you think they’ve all been found; there’s nothing more… It reminds us there may be more things to find and discover around the world connected to Shakespeare.”

Much like Shakespeare’s tortured characters, this book can’t help but show its scars, as well.

Thirty pages are missing, including the title page with its iconic portrait of the playwright — that’s what likely led to its mislabeling in the library catalog for all those years.

shakespeare portrait

But now, there are 233 known copies of the First Folio. The latest — carefully wrapped and locked in a box — took a Eurotunnel train to The Globe Theatre in London this week.

“For us to have the Folio here at The Globe, is a great honor. The words on the pages of the Folio were spoken on our stage — that’s where they began, that’s where they were born. And then, two of Shakespeare’s fellow actors said, ‘More people must be able to see these, access these words. We’ll print the plays.’ Unheard of! It was a shock to publish the plays in one volume. So the First Folio is printed seven years after Shakespeare died to make it public. That was the point — to make it public.”

globe theatre

With no original manuscripts remaining, the Folio is considered Shakespeare’s Bible — and each copy is different.

Scholars scrutinize them for subtle variations to better understand his intentions.

“Romeo and Juliet,” “The Tempest,” “Macbeth,” “Hamlet,” — they’re all in these pages. And this Folio contains several handwritten notes, too, which may shine a light on how the plays were performed in Shakespeare’s time.

Written and produced by: Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom.”

first folio at globe

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