Saturday, July 26, 2008


Fiend Folio

Interesting further developments in the Shakespeare folio theft that I covered in Slate last week. Scott Brown over at Fine Books points out:

Paul goes on to note: "Thanks to a careful inventory of Durham folio pages performed in 1905, a number of its identifying marks are already well-known. There's a patched hole in the colophon, for instance; there's a broken clasp on the outside of the book; there's a specific annotation regarding Troilus and Cressida...The Durham thief faces a particularly nasty bit of bad luck, though. Although reports indicate that a potentially telltale marked-up endpaper is now missing in this copy, it's highly unlikely that a thief would have sliced out the title page, with its iconic portrait of Shakespeare."

Now here I'm proceding on speculation, based on the reports about the theft in the Washington Post. Here's how the Post described the scene at the Folger when the alleged thief walked in with the book:

Out of his bag, he pulled an old book. Flimsy, no binding, big pages. Said he wanted the Folger book detectives to check it out. Could it be a genuine 400-year-old Shakespeare? he wondered.... A few of the opening pages of the version presented to the Folger had been removed.

So much for using the broken clasp as an identifier.

[Weekend Stubble shakes its fist.]

Damn you, thieves! Have you no sense of fair play?

He notes a thief might indeed still turn a profit by breaking a folio up into individual plays -- a notorious practice with medieval works -- but I think the fact that this one wasn't broken up is telling. Namely, to sell a complete Folio involves one shady transaction for which one has no good provenance to present to a buyer. Selling it in parts involves dozens of risky transactions. And that might explain why a stripped but unbroken Folio was, apparently, dumped off onto the (perhaps unwitting) Raymond Scott for a mere deposit of £5000.

Weirdly enough, a run through Google News and Lexis-Nexis shows that the one newspaper to continue reporting on this story was last Sunday's Daily Mail of London -- a publication not exactly known for lit coverage. It's as if we had the National Enquirer covering a political story. (Oh... right.)

The Mail actually tracked down the alleged Cuban source of the Folio, one "former Castro bodyguard Odeiny 'Danny' Perez." A Castro bodyguard... ah, priceless! Though either Perez or the Daily Mail seem to have their facts mixed up...

Mr Perez, shown a photograph of the cover of the rare Shakespeare manuscript, shook his head and said: 'That is not the book I gave to Raymond.

'I have never seen it before. My book was called Tempest and had the front and back covers missing. Some of the pages were also missing.'

He said the book he gave the Briton was printed on paper. The First Folio, a collection of 36 Shakespeare plays printed seven years after the Bard's death, is printed on goatskin.
Um, guys? It wasn't printed on goatskin.

And there's also a simple explanation for why Perez might think his book was called The Tempest. First, it sounds like the Folio's title page may have been sliced off. And second, the first play in the Folio -- whose title you then might well mistake for being that of the whole book -- turns out to be....

The Tempest.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?