Shakespeare's First Folio: The tumultuous history of the famous Durham edition as it turns 400

The first folio was published in 1623 but it was stolen in 1998. Raymond Scott was jailed for handling the stolen edition in 2010. Credit: PA/ Durham University

November marks 400 years since William Shakespeare's First Folio was published - without which much of his work would have been lost.

Published in 1623, seven years after the death of the bard, it contains 36 plays. Without it, at least 18 plays, including Twelfth Night, The Tempest and Macbeth, would have been lost.

Put together by fellow actors and friends of the playwright, about 750 of the editions were published and just 235 are known to remain - including one held by Durham University.

That edition has had a tumultuous history, having been stolen from the university in 1998 before being badly damaged in an apparent attempt to remove its most obvious identifying details.

Raymond Scott, an antique dealer from County Durham, was tried for handling the stolen edition in 2008.

Published in 1623, the First Folio contains 36 of Shakespeare's plays without it many of his most famous works would have been lost. Credit: Durham University

A comedy of errors: How Newcastle Crown Court, Cuban cigars and Bombay Bad Boy Pot Noodles got mixed up with Shakespeare...

First acquired by John Cosin in 1632, the folio made it to the north after he became Bishop of Durham in the 1660s.

By 1670, the folio had made its way to the shelves of the newly opened library on Palace Green, Durham - making the Durham First Folio one of the few copies that has been in a public institution for most of its existence.

The book was stored at Durham University until it was stolen from a glass cabinet, along with two medieval manuscripts and four other printed books, in 1998.

Raymond Scott posed as a wealthy antiques dealer at his trial at Newcastle Crown Court. Credit: PA

Missing for a decade, the folio resurfaced in 2008 when a badly damaged book was taken to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

Then thought to be worth £3 million, antiques dealer Raymond Scott, from Wingate in County Durham, took it to the library to have it authenticated.

The then 51-year-old told staff he had been entrusted with the folio by friends in Cuba, who believed it might be valuable.

Experts suspected the book was stolen and he was arrested.

Scott was subsequently tried at Newcastle Crown Court for stealing the folio in 2010.

He posed as a flamboyant international antiques tycoon, arriving at his trial in a limousine while smoking a cigar and holding his signature Bombay Badboy Pot Noodle.

Before the case was committed to crown court, Scott made a similar display at Durham Magistrates Court, reading Shakespeare on the court steps before inviting the press and two local lads he had picked up outside into to his limousine for champagne.

Although the jobless book dealer was found not guilty of stealing the folio, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for handling stolen goods.

During his trial the jury heard Scott boasted of international business interests and homes in Monte Carlo and Lichtenstein.

He had convictions going back more than 20 years and had credit card debts of more than £90,000.

His only legal income was from state benefits.

At a hearing at Durham Magistrates Court Scott invited the press to drink Champagne with him in his limousine. Credit: PA

Convicted and jailed, his life came to a tragic end in 2012 when he was found dead in his cell at HMP Northumberland.

An inquest later heard that he had left a note saying he intended to kill himself and had razor blades in his hand.

The 55-year-old had cut his own throat two years into his eight year sentence.

A report criticised prison bosses for not doing enough to care for his welfare.

The First Folio was returned to Durham University in 2010, when it was briefly exhibited in celebration.

Since then, it has been housed in a custom-made enclosure in a secure and environmentally controlled room in Palace Green Library. Considered too fragile for regular use in teaching, it has only been brought out for inspection by conservators.

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