Mayoral hopefuls take the Shakespeare test

April 25, 2008

Should Shakespeare be a factor for Londoners voting for their next mayor on May 1?

The three leading mayoral candidates revealed their knowledge of the Bard on Friday in a live phone-in debate with host Vanessa Feltz on her BBC London morning radio show .


Asked by “David in Finchley” which Shakespearian character best described them, London Mayor Ken Livingstone said he would like to be associated with Julius Caesar .

“Trouble is, I’m sitting next to a couple of Brutuses,” he japed.

Conservative rival Boris Johnson said he hoped to be likened in future to Pericles.

“Pericles, of course, was responsible for the rejuvenation of Athens … and the wonderful thing about the Athenian system was its democracy.

“Everybody had the chance to vote and to decide the future of the policy, as they do on May 1, and that’s why I hope that Londoners in a Periclean way will vote for change for the better,” Johnson said, warming to his theme.

Liberal Democrat ex-policeman Brian Paddick opted out of the contest, protesting he didn’t know enough about Shakespeare to choose a role model. (“Come on,” cried Felz. “You’ve got a degree from Oxford.”)

“Lady Macbeth?”, suggested Livingstone. “Screw your courage to the sticking place, Brian,” said Johnson — an Oxford Classics scholar — quoting the Scottish play .

But it was the candidate without a degree that spotted Johnson’s Shakespearian trickery.

“I think we just caught Boris out,” said Livingstone. “The play Pericles by Shakespeare is not about Pericles, the ancient Greek, is it?”

“I don’t want to disappoint the mayor,” admitted a rueful Johnson. “He’s actually completely right. The Pericles in question is of course Pericles, Prince of Tyre.”

After the broadcast Johnson was unrepentant about his debating dodge, telling me he was just “taking liberties” with the title of the Shakespeare play, about a shipwrecked prince.

“It’s not the same Pericles, but it doesn’t matter. I was just using the name.”

Livingstone was delighted: “I never thought I’d catch Boris out on a classical anything.”

Which Shakespearian characters do you think the candidates most resemble?


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Could I suggest Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Twelfth Night) for Boris Johnson and Autolycus (The Winter’s Tale) for Ken Livingstone.

Posted by smokeyjade | Report as abusive

Ken – Antonio, the false Duke Of Milan in The Tempest.

Boris – Brutus, Caesar’s assassin in Julius Caesar.

The rest? Bit players. One or other of these two will win the day. Either Antonio survives by villainous trickery or Brutus slips the knife between his ribs (seems a bit naughty but he did claim to have done it for the good of Rome).

Posted by Mike T | Report as abusive