Shakespeare in alcove: lost first folio returns to UK shores for first time in 500 years

It is only three months since the fortuitous discovery of a lost Shakespeare First Folio in the French Biosphere Reserve of Saint—Omer.

Yet, the item has already made its first return trip to the UK, appearing at a reception hosted by the Institut Francais Mediatheque in London on 23 February as part of a week residency with the organisation. The UK National Commission for UNESCO was represented at the event by Chief Executive, James Bridge, and Accreditation Manager, Andrea Blick. The recovered folio is one of only 233 that survive today. No two copies are the same. This one is unusual because of the stage directions scrawled around the text giving clues into the nature of contemporary performance.

The event began with a documentary about the Saint—Omer Library where the Folio was found. How the item remained hidden there for so long remains a mystery. The most popular theory rests on the Saint—Omer Jesuit College and the fate of its own library during the French Revolution. Until the end of the 18th century, the College provided a home for European Catholics escaping persecution. One of its visitors was the English gentleman Edward Scarisbrick, whose nickname ‘Neville’ appears on the folio’s inside cover. As the College was forced to disband under the reign of Napoleon, its literature collections were taken on by the Saint-Omer Library.

The video was followed by talks by the Librarian of Saint-Omer and Shakespeare expert Dr Anthony James West, before the bard was brought to life as actors from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Company performed a scene from Henry V. Attendees were then invited to inspect the folio more closely.

The Folio will be returning to the UK on April 23, to coincide with the finale of the Globe Theatre’s Globe to Globe World Tour. This will mark a spectacular ending to the two year theatre project, which by its end will have seen actors from Shakespeare’s Globe perform Hamlet in every country in the world. The project has been awarded UNESCO patronage with the support of the UKNC, denoting the organisation’s moral support for the tour. More information on applying for UNESCO patronage can be found here