Birthday Present of the Bard
As the SUA Literature department will be thrilled to tell you, April 23rd marks both the alleged birthday and death day of William Shakespeare.
Yet unlike other anniversaries of the Bard, this one marks exactly 400 years since his death in 1616. In addition with this, as well as the report of Shakespeare’s skull gone missing (see Bebe Hodges’ ‘18 article for more information), an original First Folio has been located on the Isle of Bute, just west of Scotland. All 37 plays are included in this compendium, of which there were thought to be around 223 copies. This discovery, however, confirmed the existence of a 224th original First Folio.
Found in the opulent home of the Marquess of Bute, it had been nestled in Mt. Stuart’s library for centuries until the family called it in. According to Oxford professor Emma Smith, the collective reaction of the academic community was, “like hell they have [a First Folio]”.
After thorough examination, however, the Folio was verified on April 7 by Prof. Smith, herself a Shakespearean expert. “[This discovery] was genuinely astonishing,” notes director of Mt. Stuart Trust, Adam Ellis-Jones. Unlike the other First Folios, this particular one is split into 3, leather-bound sections of comedies, histories, and tragedies, respectively.
“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,” relates Smith to the BBC. Fortunately, this copy is not up for sale, though it’s valued upwards of $4 million, but will be displayed on the Isle of Bute through October.
In the words of Cassius from Julius Caesar, “This is [Shakespeare’s] birthday, as this very day/Was [he] born” (JC 3.4.73-74). Happy birthday, Bill. 400 years later, and you’ve still got it.