LITERATURE

Oldest Shakespeare play in Spain found in Seville

A 1632 edition of ‘The Famous History of the Life of Henry VIII’ had been languishing inside the library of the San Francisco de Paula International School

A rare edition of Shakespeare's 'The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth' at San Francisco de Paula International School in Seville.
A rare edition of Shakespeare's 'The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth' at San Francisco de Paula International School in Seville.PACO PUENTES

A 1634 copy of Shakespeare’s The Two Noble Kinsmen unearthed by Professor John Stone at the University of Salamanca in September was, until very recently, considered the oldest preserved edition of one of the great English playwright’s works in Spain.

But it has just been trumped by the recent discovery of an even older volume, this time Shakespeare’s The Famous History of the Life of Henry VIII, found in the library of a private school in Seville.

The discovery was made after Luis Rey Goñi, the principal at San Francisco de Paula International School, walked past the two security doors guarding the library’s rare books section to personally check the date of the edition of a Shakespeare play that he knew to be kept there: it was published two years earlier, in 1632.

This rare edition of the famous play was being stored in a special archive along with documents dating from the 13th to 18th centuries, but it had gone unnoticed since its acquisition.

But Luis Rey Goñi is very familiar with the contents of his school’s library collection, which is one of the most extensive in Seville. “This work is a second edition, and it is probably more highly regarded than the first [from 1623], since it contains more elements,” he says.

But how did it wind up at the school? The school principal is unable to determine the details of the book’s purchase, but attributes its presence to the school’s tradition of collecting volumes of great value for its library. “Acquisitions have been made over the years,” he says. “The collection has been enriched with time. We have always given a lot of importance to the library. The first editions of the Generation of 27 [an influential group of Spanish poets between 1923 and 1927] were purchased as soon as they were published. A school, in our opinion, should be a repository of culture and encourage the generation and accumulation of knowledge.”

The play was part of the so-called First Folio, a collection of 36 Shakespeare plays. With the exception of Pericles, Prince of Tyre; The Two Noble Kinsmen, and the two lost plays, Cardenio and Love’s Labour’s Won, the volume brings together almost all of Shakespeare’s works, including Henry VIII which was separated from the rest when it was taken to Seville.

The San Francisco de Paula library has around 60,000 volumes, which are stored in both the library area and in an archive outside the school. “We have other curious books, such as works by Lope de Vega and encyclopedias,” says the director. “The oldest printed document we have is from 1472. But there are also earlier manuscripts, such as one of the Conceded Privileges by Alfonso X, dated 1256. The majority of the volumes are in Spanish, English, French, and Latin, although there are rare volumes in other languages, such as a manuscript from Burma [present-day Myanmar]. I don’t think there is an antique collection of this caliber in any other school library in Spain.”

The private school is located in the historic center of Seville, and was founded in 1886. Its library, named after former student Francisco Márquez Villanueva, has 12 rooms where the rule of silence can be broken in the event of debate. “Reading is the basis of knowledge, curiosity and research,” says the principal. “We want to encourage debate among students, and more and more of them are doing it. The goal is enjoyment, and reading is a wonderful way to get that.”

The library loans out around 3,000 books per month to parents, students and alumni. “We even have to keep reminding one of our students not to read when he’s coming down the stairs!”says Joao, one of the six librarians who work there.

English version by Heather Galloway.

More information