The discovery of a lost William Shakespeare first folio in the Bibliotheque de St-Omer in northern France has great significance for Stonyhurst.
The book seems to have been the property of the English Jesuit College, founded in St-Omer in 1593 to provide a Catholic education for boys forbidden on their native soil due to religious laws.
St Omer’s College is the “direct ancestor” of Hurst Green’s Stonyhurst College, now the oldest continuously surviving Jesuit school in the world.
St Omer’s College was renowned for its drama productions, using special effects and trapdoors to add to the spectacle. Some St Omer’s productions lasted up to four hours and included ballet and opera, and the performances drew large crowds.
It is not surprising, therefore, to discover that the college had a first folio by Shakespeare in its drama library.
An ownership inscription indicates that the book was probably originally the property of Fr Edmund Neville SJ, an English Jesuit priest who taught at Stonyhurst in the 1630s. The St-Omer folio has been annotated and is missing some 30 pages, which indicates it was well used.
In 1762 the college was expelled from France, and moved to the Low Countries, and then to its present home in the Ribble Valley in 1794.
Many medieval artefacts, illuminated manuscripts and books were taken with it and survive at Stonyhurst. However, it seems that a slightly scruffy and dog-eared first folio was overlooked, ending up in the library at St-Omer
Fortunately, Stonyhurst has another first folio, bequeathed by former pupil Lord Arundell. This was included in the British Museum’s Shakespeare “Staging the World” exhibition.