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Top Stratford expert turns down Boris plea to 'help' with Shakespeare book

A LEADING Shakespeare expert in Stratford has told the Herald they turned down an offer to provide the content for Boris Johnson’s forthcoming book on the Bard.

Mr Johnson’s book examining the life of Shakespeare was originally slated for publication in 2016. Publishers in the United States and Britain have already advanced him a sum rumoured to be £500,000.

Speculation about the whereabouts of The Riddle of Genius – the book’s provisional title – mounted after revelations by former government aide Dominic Cummings that the prime minister had allegedly been working on the book when he should have been attending crucial Cobra meetings last February and march to decide how to handle the Covid crisis.

After the Herald’s story last week, a Stratford-based Shakespeare expert – who asked to remain anonymous – got in touch to say he had been asked by Mr Johnson’s literary agent to “semi-dictate” the content of the book to the prime minister.

The Shakespearian confided: “His literary agent really hadn’t thought out the logistics that would have been involved in getting someone from Stratford to Westminster at short notice whenever Johnson found a gap in his diary for another briefing session, even if I had been keener on the proposition than I was.”

Political magazine The Fence shed light on Mr Johnson’s unusual approach to authorship in a recent article, which helps to explain what was being asked of the expert.

According to Mr Johnson’s former research assistant Warren Dockter, The Churchill Factor – Mr Johnson’s favourably reviewed book on former PM Winston – was written “in collaboration between Mr Johnson and himself with Allen George Packwood, director of the Churchill archives centre at Churchill College, Cambridge, brought in for consultation”.

Once he had the latest research on Churchill by interviewing experts, Mr Johnson would then sit in his study and record himself extemporising on the war PM’s life, which Mr Dockter said he would then write up.

The Stratford expert added: “You have to admit it’s a brilliant system for the busy not-quite-author: asking questions viva voce and then rhetorically spicing up the answers is much quicker than actually reading books.”

Other respected Shakespearean authors also spoke of their reluctance to accept an approach from Mr Johnson.

Jonathan Bate, author of The Genius of Shakespeare, told The Fence: “I’ve not been approached at all. If I find there is any plagiarism he will be hearing from my lawyers.” And added: “LOL.”

While Stephen Greenblatt, author of Will in the World and Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics, also confirmed: “I haven’t been approached and do not know who might have been. Have you tried Jim Shapiro at Columbia? If I were the PM, I might ask him.” (James Shapiro, whose books include 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare and Shakespeare in a Divided America, apparently did not respond to The Fence for a request for comment.)

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