We’ve heard a lot lately about what Shakespeare would do. He’d be kind to migrants, for instance, because of this passage from the unpublished collaborative play ‘Sir Thomas More’ often attributed to him: ‘Imagine that you see the wretched stranger / Their babies at their backs, with their poor luggage / Plodding to th’ports and coasts for transportation (Scene 6: 84-6).
The first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays printed in 1623 – known as the First Folio – has a rich history. It is estimated that around 700 or 750 copies were printed, and today we know the whereabouts of over 230. They exist in some form or another, often incomplete or a combination of different copies melded together, in libraries and personal collections all over the world.
Describing her role as the ambitious political wife Claire Underwood in the American TV series House of Cards, Robin Wright recognized she is “Lady Macbeth to [Francis] Underwood’s Macbeth.” At one point in the second series, Claire emboldens her wavering husband: “Trying’s not enough, Francis. I’ve done what I had to do. Now you do what you have to do.”
News that a previously unknown copy of the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays has been discovered in a French library has been excitedly picked up by the worldwide press. But apart from the treasure-hunt appeal of this story, does it really matter that instead of the 232 copies of this book listed by Eric Rasmussen and Anthony West in their The Shakespeare First Folios: A Descriptive Catalogue (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), there are now, apparently, 233? A book that was never particularly rare is now just a little bit less rare.