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The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folios Hardcover – October 11, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“A Shakespeare authority recounts his attempts to identify and document all extant copies of Shakespeare's First Folio of 1623 . . . [Rasmussen] also provides a terrific appendix, which readers should not skip, that tells how Elizabethans printed books and how the First Folio came to be.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Every book comes with a story, and great books, like comets, often carry in their wake a tail of great stories. Eric Rasmussen, who with a team of fellow scholars is engaged in tracking and examining every known copy of Shakespeare's First Folio, has unearthed wonderful anecdotes of theft, fraud, and the peculiar mania of passionate bibliophiles.” ―Stephen Greenblatt, author of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

“Shakespeare's First Folio contains thirty-six plays of wit, passion, crime, and folly. In this brisk and amusing account, Eric Rasmussen tells us how the book itself has been the cause of wit, passion, crime, and folly in those who seek to own one of the surviving copies.” ―Peter Saccio, Leon D. Black Professor of Shakespearean Studies at Dartmouth College and author of Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama

“Eric Rasmussen's fascinating and hugely enjoyable collection of tales about the fate of individual copies and of his own experiences accumulating the data for a census of the surviving copies is a joy from first to last. Stories of thefts old and new, of copies mutilated or destroyed, and of the mania of book-collecting cover the centuries from its first purchasers to its most recent thieves. For anyone who thinks the work of scholarship is as dry as libraries, The Shakespeare Thefts will quickly convince them that it is actually a cross between CSI and big-game hunting.” ―Peter Holland, McMeel Family Professor in Shakespeare Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

“An irresistible true crime story revealing the long history of the desire to own one of the world's most valuable books. Amidst his captivating tales of unscrupulous scholars, wealthy industrialists, avaricious con men, and even a Pope who wanted to own the First Folio, Rasmussen makes clear his own love for and deep knowledge about the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, gently sneaking in a rich bibliographic history of the book itself as he unfolds his engaging accounts of those who were willing to steal to own it.” ―David Scott Kastan, George M. Bodman Professor of English, Yale University, and General Editor of the Arden Shakespeare.

“A page-turner, a series of detective stories and a work of scholarship all at once - Eric Rasmussen brings to life a truly Shakespearean cast of characters as he tracks the First Folio down the centuries and around the world” ―Jonathan Bate, author of Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare

“With irresistible intrigue like that of fine mystery novels, erudition and rigor characteristic of the most esteemed scholarship, and a delightful readability that only the best popular fiction boasts, this book will bring great joy to a remarkable range of people, from anyone who gives a hoot about Shakespeare to aficionados of literary history to simply lovers of good stories. It is no surprise that a team of researchers assisted Rasmussen, for it more often than otherwise takes a collaboration of brilliant minds to produce extraordinary work. And extraordinary this book is.” ―Bryan Reynolds, Professor of Drama at UC Irvine and author of Performing Transversally

“This is a travelogue, a thrilling detective story, an account of the world's most famous book--and a compellingly good read.” ―Laurie Maguire, author of Where There's a Will, There's a Way

About the Author

Eric Rasmussen is department chair and professor of English at the University of Nevada. He is co-editor of the RSC Complete Works of William Shakespeare, the Norton Anthology of English Renaissance Drama, and of the works of Christopher Marlowe in the Oxford World's Classics series as well as individual plays in the Arden Shakespeare series, the Revels Plays series, and the Malone Society series. Since 1997, he has written the annual review of editions and textual studies for Shakespeare Survey. He lives in Reno, Nevada.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230109411
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230109414
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #934,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Eric Rasmussen is Professor and Chair of the Department of English at the University of Nevada. He co-edited, with Jonathan Bate, the Complete Works of Shakespeare for the Royal Shakespeare Company. His recent publications include Cynthia's Revels for the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, and an edition of Everyman and Mankind, co-edited with Douglas Bruster, in the newly-launched Arden Early Modern Drama series.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Metallurgist TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is an entertaining and well-written book that will be appreciated by Shakespeare lovers and bibliophiles. It details the provenance of many of the 232 extant copies of the first folio of Shakespeare's plays. It focuses on the work of a team trying to update the list of these first folios. There is a particular emphasis on the history of the theft and recovery of many of these books. The book also contains many interesting tidbits of information. For instance, there is a discussion of how these folios are protected and how they should be handled. Contrary to what is often shown on TV, where rare books are handled with gloves, this is not necessary for these folios, and can be harmful to them. These books are printed on paper made from linen rags, which do not have to be protected from the grease of one's fingers, so gloves are not required, as they are with books printed on paper made from wood pulp. In fact, wearing gloves can damage the book as gloves make it difficult to turn the pages, possibly resulting their being bent. The book also contains an appendix that discusses early seventeenth century printing and the making of this first folio. The published version of this book will contain illustrations and index, which are not included in this for-review copy, so I cannot judge the quality of these items.

While I liked this book I cannot give it five-stars. The book is quite episodic and repetitive in some places. It also tended to go off on tangents, which I found interesting, but sometimes they caused me to lose track of the narrative. For instance, there is mention that one of the folios is reported to have red stained pages, which could be blood.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Vermeer fan VINE VOICE on September 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Having tantalized with blurbs on eccentric millionaires, CSI-like detective work and skullduggery, this book promised more than it actually delivered. The author and his team have crossed the world documenting each of the known copies of Shakespeare's First Folio of plays down to missing letters, ink blots, foxing, staining, tears and all the minutia of their progess through the ages for every page. This is truly commendable. While this double-edge sword means it will help identify each copy in the event of theft, it also encourages the thieves to alter, remove and "wash" any stolen copies, degrading their historical context.

Currently multiple copies of the same folio, in various states of repair, are housed in Washington's Folger library and Tokyo's Meisei University. When the author focuses on historic thefts like the 1940's theft of William's College First Folio and its ultimate return, it amuses and entertains. When he rambles on about one of his team members meeting the Duchess of Norfolk and her pack of pooches and how the 12th Duke of Norfolk would enjoy the 18th Duke of Norfolk's garden based on his perception on the 14th Duke of Norfolk tastes, it smells of padding. Similarly his detailing of manuscript purchases of non-Shakespeare material and 400yr. old paintings for his own home gives an air of braggadocio.

It's a quick read but one that feels more like an appetizer than an entree.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Happy Reader TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This was a fun, fast book to read. The focus is on the information documented by the author, Eric Rasmussen, and his bibliophile team, while putting together an ultimate guide to all known copies of the Shakespeare's First Folio. The First Folio is actually titled "Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, Published According to the True Originall Copies", in 1623.

This book isn't the ultimate guide, this is a fun overview of the strange trips some of the First Folios have taken. One of the "problems" with the First Folio is that it's been a collector's item for three centuries, and VERY monetarily valuable for over a century. So private collections and museum collections have, until relatively recently, almost routinely sold off, lost through theft, or simply lost, their First Folios. And that doesn't count the First Folios which were thrown away when a newer & better version was published. Even places you'd think would know better (in hindsight) fell to this. For example, Oxford's renowned Bodleian Library sold it's First Folio in 1664 when it they replaced it with a new copy of Shakespeare's plays - the Third Folio.

Rasmussen has entertaining tales of the known rogues who absconded, sometimes successfully, with first editions. There are some First Folios whose provenances are known from the original purchaser in the early 16th century. More frequently, though, Rasmussen tells us of library inventories in one century that are missing a First Folio listed in a prior century.

We don't know for sure how many First Folios were printed; the educated guess is 750. There are only 232 documented folios still in existence. So finding a First Folio in your great-aunt's attic is certainly possible if you go just by the numbers.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Walter P. Sheppard VINE VOICE on September 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is an attractive little book for Shakespeare fans. It tells a series of brief stories, some little more than anecdotes, about the existing copies of the First Folio, the first collection of Shakespeare's plays, which was published in 1623. There are readily available facsimile copies of the First Folio, but most of us will never see -- let alone own -- one of the originals. Each surviving original copy is one of the most valuable books in the world. Rasmussen and his team spent 10 years trying to examine all of the known copies and formally catalog them, recording their condition: tears, missing pages, marginalia, damage in general, etc. They managed to see to all but a few whose owners refused access. Some of the surviving copies have had interesting histories in the hands of their owners or thieves, and Rasmussen tells them in a straightforward, unfussy way. The book is in no way an important element in your enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare's work, but as noted above in my title it is an interesting sidebar.
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