Shakespeare First Folios are rare objects and highly prized by the libraries and collections which manage to hold them. The First Folio was the very first collection of Shakespeare’s plays ever printed – there were individually printed editions previously but never a large set like this. Eric Rasmussen and his team of researchers have been seeking out First Folios around the world for years. Through their searches and investigations, he presents this collection of stories about individual First Folios, some lost and some found, which are and will continue to fascinate researchers for hundreds of years to come.
This was a very interesting little book about the First Folios. I like Shakespeare well enough but have never really paid that much attention to the enduring physical legacy of his work, although I have been to Stratford-upon-Avon. But I love books and the marginalia that resides in older ones, so there was plenty to like in this book for me, and there certainly would be for anyone who loves physical books.
One thing I found odd, though, was that the book seemed almost as though it had been composed for a magazine or newspaper column previously; for a very short book, there is a lot of repetitiveness, and I thought that the author would have been a bit better assuming people would remember what had happened chapter to chapter. I had a look and couldn’t find anything, but I really wouldn’t be surprised. While there is continuity, it would be easy to pick up in the middle without any problems – perhaps the author expects his readers to dip in and out as they please rather than just read straight through as I did. There is, for instance, a whole lot about the author unable to access the manuscripts in Japanese libraries, and he reintroduces the painting he purchased in a subsequent chapter after he’d already bought it.
Still, this was an enjoyable book on a topic I like very much. Even though many of the Folios that Rasmussen discussed hadn’t actually been seen by him or his team, the stories are fascinating and I enjoyed heading through history with him. Because that’s really what this book is, a trip through history with books in tow. If that sounds like your cup of tea (and I think for many of you reading this, it will), The Shakespeare Thefts is a great choice.
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