A new Shakespeare First Folio has been discovered at Mount Stuart on Bute - 400 years after the Bard’s death.
Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Oxford University, has authenticated the First Folio as genuine, bringing the total of First Folios known to survive to 234.
The announcement comes nearly 400 years after Shakespeare died, on April 23 1616. The Folio is now being exhibited at Mount Stuart until 30 October. Although other First Folios are being displayed this year, this is the only Folio that has never been seen by the public before.
The First Folio is the name given to the collection of William Shakespeare’s 36 plays published in 1623. Only 233 are known to survive and it is one of the most valuable books in the world.
It has been part of the collections at Mount Stuart since the 19th century but it has only this month been authenticated as a genuine First Folio by Professor Smith.
Professor Smith has discovered that the Folio was the working copy of Isaac Reed, a well-connected literary editor working in London.
The Folio is believed to be only the first of many significant discoveries in the Bute Collection at Mount Stuart. The collection was put together over 600 years and includes landmark works of British portraiture from the 18th and 19th centuries, Italian masterpieces from the 16th century, and Dutch and Flemish Old Masters.
Mount Stuart is working with academics from universities including Glasgow, Dundee, Stirling and Oxford to study the collections and explain their significance to visitors to Bute and the wider public.
“In terms of literary discoveries, they do not come much bigger than a new First Folio, and we are really excited that this has happened on Bute,” said Alice Martin, Head of Collections at Mount Stuart.
“But it is just the tip of the iceberg for the undiscovered material in the remarkable Bute Collection, and we are working with scholars from universities including Glasgow, Dundee, Stirling and Oxford to share our collections with the Scottish public.
“We are only 90 minutes from Glasgow and we hope Mount Stuart and the whole island of Bute will become a big destination for visitors from Glasgow and beyond.”
Professor Smith said: “This is an exciting discovery because we didn’t know it existed and it was owned by someone who edited Shakespeare in the 18th Century. It is an unusual Folio because it is bound in three volumes and has lots of spare blank pages which would have been used for illustrations.”
Mount Stuart Trust is marking the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a new education programme, including an online exhibition of frontispieces created by local primary school children.
“We want young people on Bute to feel an ownership over the House and its collections,”said Ms Martin.
“We are organising educational events with schools and families. We are particularly excited
about experimenting with site specific theatre.”
The Folio exhibition is part of an effort by Mount Stuart to further open up to the public and to work more with schools and the local community of Bute.
“In the past we have sometimes been seen as a private house and the way we display our
collections has maybe been a bit stuffy, with lots of objects behind red ropes,” said Ms Martin.
“We really want to attract a younger audience to come and discover what we have to offer
and spend the day on Bute.”
Mount Stuart describes itself as “one of the most outstanding Gothic Revival buildings in the
British Isles, and the vision of the 3rd Marquess of Bute – arguably the greatest architectural
patron of the 19th century”.