Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fascinating Tales of the Owners and Thieves of Shakespeare's First Folio

Tales of eccentric owners and flamboyant thieves combined with fascinating tidbits about the production and provenance of Shakespeare's First Folio make Eric Rasmussen's book hard to put down. Rasmussen and his team are First Folio hunters. Their mission is to track down and catalog all existing First Folios. From the description of the catalog entry contained in the book, this is extremely painstaking work, but there are rewards. Many of the First Folios have mysterious histories. Valuable books that have been around for hundreds of years have not only been stolen, but the owners have added marginal notes which illuminate how the plays were received as well as what the owners thought of them.

I enjoyed the book. It's a quick read with enough tantalizing information to keep you going. I enjoyed the portraits of some of the more eccentric owners, and the chapter on Raymond Scott, a flamboyant thief, who captured the attention of the London media after stealing the Durham University First Folio is fascinating.

However, the book promises more than it delivers. Many of the thieves are unknown, so we're left with condition of the book and Rasmussen's speculation to tell what might have happened. The book is repetitious and the author often digresses from information on tracking the First Folios to his own emotional attachment to the project, He even goes into great detail about a painting he bought thinking it might be Shakespeare. While his musing are interesting, they detract from the main discussion and made it seem that he didn't have quite enough material to fill the book. Still, if you're a Shakespeare fan, it's an amusing read.