From The Guardian:
Of all the beneficiaries of literary luck, Timon of Athens is perhaps the luckiest. All of Shakespeare’s plays that appear in the First Folio would have been lost had the playwright’s actor colleagues John Heminge and Henry Condell not preserved them for posterity. But Timon was not supposed even to have been in the Folio. It takes the space reserved for Troilus and Cressida. Since that play had already been published in quarto, and particularly since there was some argy-bargy over copyright, another had to be dropped in that fitted. Timon was the play. To celebrate that good fortune, and at the invitation of Guildhall in London, I find myself waiting one morning at Guildhall Library with two of the actors from the Globe’s revival of Shakespeare’s satire – Simon Paisley Day, who plays Timon, and Patrick Godfrey, who is Flavius. The library holds one of the best Folios in existence, and this is the first time I have come into contact with one.
There is a certain Indiana Jones quality about the experience, as I imagine there would be for anyone from the literary world or the theatre. The First Folio is shrouded in mystery: is it all Shakespeare’s work? How were the plays collected, and by whom? How much impurity is in them? There is also the Folio’s tangled journey through time, as the 400 copies got sold and resold, and travelled all over the place, and were buried, and dug up, and stolen, and found, and collected, and became artefacts. There are only 14 so-called “perfect” copies left, one of which is here at Guildhall. Above all, there is the excitement of coming into contact with something so authentic, so close to the source, so in touch with the original magic.
The physical modesty of the Folio also has a kind of Indiana Jones aspect to it. At the end of The Last Crusade, the hero has to choose which of a selection of goblets and cups is the Holy Grail. Unlike the villain who goes for the gaudiest, Indiana walks past all the jewel-encrusted containers, and goes for the plain wooden cup. At Guildhall, we are shown down two staircases, into a small, brightly lit room. There, on the table, resting on cushions, is an unassuming book, about two feet by one, and three inches thick, which was rebound in leather a hundred years ago. We gather round, and there is a gentle holding of breath on opening it, but any anticipation that it might shine or glow, or that some literary radioactivity will pour out of it is disappointed.