Rare Shakespeare manuscripts among documents donated to National Library of Israel

Earliest piece is a 1499 erotic fantasy titled ‘The Dream of Poliphilus’; anonymous donation comprises 7 texts spanning 400 years, ‘significantly enriching’ library’s collection

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

First edition of Shakespeare's poems, published 1640. (The National Library of Israel)
First edition of Shakespeare's poems, published 1640. (The National Library of Israel)

Rare copies of works attributed to William Shakespeare have been donated to the National Library of Israel, the library said Wednesday.

The donated works include a first-edition copy of “The First Folio,” a collection of Shakespeare’s plays first published in 1623.

The donation also includes a copy of the second edition of Shakespeare’s work, titled “The Second Folio,” published in 1632.

A first-edition small booklet including poems by the 16th-century wordsmith was also included in the lavish donation.

The oldest piece of work given to the museum was an incunable — a text printed in the earliest stages of printing in Europe, meaning between 1440, when the printing press was invented, and 1500.

The donated text, printed in 1499, is an erotic fantasy titled “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili,” or “The Dream of Poliphilus” in English, believed to have been written by a Dominican monk named Francesco Colonna.

Facing pages with woodcut illustrations from the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, 1499. (The National Library of Israel)

Other donated works include two volumes of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language from 1755, considered one of the most important dictionaries of its time.

The most recently printed piece of work in the donation was the first edition of the autobiographical work “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” by Thomas Edward Lawrence, published in 1926. It tells the story of Lawrence as a British colonel serving as an adviser to Bedouin forces during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

All seven texts, spanning over 400 years of human literature and history, were donated anonymously, the National Library said.

The library did not previously hold copies of most of the donated titles, which greatly increases the value of the donation.

Prospectus about the planned two-volume Dictionary of the English Language, 1747. (The National Library of Israel)

“We welcomed the valuable donation, which significantly enriched the library’s collections,” the National Library said in a statement.

Established in 1925, the National Library is home to world-class collections of over four million books and 2.5 million photographs, as well as manuscripts, artifacts and maps.

Currently located in the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, it is expected to be moved to a new building near the Knesset and the Israel Museum next spring.

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