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A Tale Told by an Idiot: Exclusive Extracts from Boris Johnson’s Book on Shakespeare

Otto English has procured an advanced copy of the Prime Minister’s book on the Great Bard

Hamlet with the skull of Yorick. Photo: apologies to Laurence Olivier and Dominic Cummings

A Tale Told by an IdiotExclusive Extracts from Boris Johnson’sBiography of Shakespeare

Otto English has procured an advanced copy of the Prime Minister’s book on the Great Bard


It’s 2015 and the good folks at Hodder and Stoughton have offered me a £500,000 advance to write a book called William Shakespeare: the riddle of genius.

I’m only too happy to oblige.

After all, I don’t have much on – apart from being Mayor of London, MP for Uxbridge, a highly paid Telegraph columnist, a father of five, or six, or seven children .. and a part-time student at the Arcuri Academy of Technology. 

How hard can it be to write a biography of the greatest literary genius in British history? 

Get some chap to bash out a crib sheet, toss in some references to cod pieces, slam it in the laptop and before you can say ‘Macduff’s your uncle’ – book done.

Act One

William Shakespeare. Actor. Playwright. Quill botherer. Legend.

Shakey was born in Stratford in 1564 but we don’t know the exact date. 

In fact – it turns out we know very few biographical details of Shakespeare at all. There are just seventy, yes folks SEVENTY, solid facts about the life of Brainy Bill. And those facts are mostly very dull details about wills and beds and how he died of a fever because some chump hadn’t closed the taverns in a pandemic.

We do know that he had to get married because he got Anne Hathaway preggers (keep your Johnson in your tights Bill – take it from me!) but that’s pretty much it!

So quite a job for any biographers out there trying to…. er… write an interesting book about the life of William Shakespeare…. and the whole riddle thing…

Act Two

Seventy facts. 


Act Three


(Note to Ed. Perhaps put some pictures in here of me as Henry Vth taking on a French knight who looks a bit like Jeremy Corbyn?*)

*Perhaps you as Hamlet with Dom as Yorick (see above) – Ed

Act Four

“The play is the thing!” 

We may know very little of the life of the Willster, but the old Sparks notes in the attic, can tell us a lot about his plays. 

In doing so we discover that he was awfully keen on sequels.

Of course, many great men in history have forged legends by trotting out the same tired ideas over and over again and Big W was no exception. 

Some do it with bridges, Shakey did it with kings called Henry. 

There are almost as many ‘Henry plays’ (7) as there are Police Academy films (8) and while the Bard’s works lack the complexity of masterpieces like ‘Citizens on Patrol’ many come a close second… or third.

I can’t claim to have read all 37 Shakespeare plays, but I have most definitely read most of the titles in the bibliography on Wikipedia. 

Act Five

Shakey’s most famous characters make superb role models. 

Take Macbeth, who murders a couple of dear old friends and starts a violent civil war all to get the crown he craves and bloody well deserves frankly! 

Inspirational stuff.

Then there’s Hamlet. Facing a spot of bother with the whole rotten in the state of Denmark thing, the prince chases after a young woman, cracks inappropriate jokes and dithers – while all about him people drop dead.

They call it a tragedy! I call it a life manual.

Finally, there’s Othello in which, (as I remember it) – the clever old king sees off his key adviser, Iago, after the chap gets ideas above his station and starts interfering in his relationship with Desdemona. Sanity is restored after Iago is sacked and everyone lives happily ever after. 

(Note to Ed. Please check how it ends. Currently busy playing Fortnight with Gavin Williamson)

Act Six

One great failing of Shakespeare’s work is that none of them was a musical. 

Titus Andronicus would have been much enlivened by a good comic number. King Lear is crying out for a chorus line. And who wouldn’t want to see the title characters of Antony and Cleopatra doing a jaunty take on the Bangles hit ‘walk like an Egyptian’ before killing themselves with an asp and a dagger?

Act Seven

(Note to Ed. Carrie has asked me to get something in about dolphins. Sought to explain it’s not that sort of book but she’s very insistent.)

Oddly, there are a mere two references to dolphins in Shakespeare’s works. Although to be fair, mass trawling and the tuna canning industry were then in their infancy so perhaps it wasn’t as high up the agenda as it is today. I feel quite certain that if William were alive today, he would be doing everything in his power to help us save these wonderful animals and more – that he would want us to make a success of trade with Australia.    

Act Eight

Some chumps have suggested that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays. That he actually got Marlowe to put in the hours on his behalf, while Bill swanned about the place, playing Fortnight… or more likely gin rummy… with William Kemp. 

The idea that some lazy, entitled, nincompoop, might not put the hours in, is frankly an insult to all the great men of history. Including me. So let us move swiftly on.


So, what have we learned about the ‘riddle of Shakespeare’? 

Nothing. Absolutely nothing at all. But the “advance was always the thing wherein I would pay for the holiday in the Caribbean.” 

And the school fees. 

And possibly a roll or two of wallpaper.

Exit pursued by Michael Gove


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