Zut Alors! French presidential front-runner François Hollande in Shakespeare gaffe
Published 26/01/2012 | 14:40
WHEN François Hollande cited Shakespeare during his biggest campaign speech on Sunday, it was one of the high points of an effort that helped cement himself as the front-runner in France's presidential race.
To a delirious crowd of around 20,000, the Socialist candidate cited The Bard as he promised to cast off the ennui of the Nicolas Sarkozy era with a new wave of egalitarian idealism.
The "universal message" he wished to convey, Mr Hollande told the crowd, was best summed up by Shakespeare's great words: "They failed because they did not start with a dream."
But despite extensive research, British and French journalists were unable to track down the mystery quote to any play or sonnet by William Shakespeare.
This is hardly surprising, as it can now be disclosed that the true author is alive and well. He is the Telegraph's chief book reviewer.
Nicholas Shakespeare, journalist, novelist, biographer and direct descendant of William's grandfather, said: "I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the French presidential candidate had quoted me."
He instantly recognised the words as coming from his 1989 novel, The Vision of Elena Silves.
It is unlikely to help Mr Hollande's campaign to discover they were uttered by the novel's hero, Gabriel, a Maoist revolutionary who ends up a terrorist for the murderous Peruvian guerrilla group, Shining Path.
Their motto was: "Marxism – Leninism will open the shining path to revolution".
"He is saying the last Marxist revolution of the Sixties had failed, but his is going to succeed and the idea is that they failed because they did not have a dream," said Mr Shakespeare.
The right-wing UMP camp backing the embattled Mr Sarkozy may well seize on this as a sign Mr Hollande is less of reconstructed left-winger than he would have France believe.
In his speech in Le Bourget outside Paris on Sunday, Mr Hollande walked a fine line between playing to the leftist fringes of his supporters – laying into banks and declaring his greatest adversary as "finance" – and promising to balance the budget by the end of his five-year term.
The Right slammed Mr Hollande's speech as catastrophic for the middle classes and François Fillon, the prime minister called his assault on finance "quite criminal" and a ploy used by politicians "since the Middle Ages".
But morale in the Hollande camp is high as a poll published today suggests he will win 27pc of the vote in April's first round, with Mr Sarkozy on around 23pc, just ahead of Marine Le Pen, the far-Right National Front leader, on 20pc.
The Socialist would then go onto win the second round in May by 55pc to Mr Sarkozy's 45pc.
Despondency in the Sarkozy camp worsened yesterday after the President was quoted as saying: "I'm confronted by the end of my career."
Mr Shakespeare, meanwhile, said he was delighted to be quoted by the man who may be France' s next president.
"I was really pleased to see how the quote remains fresh. It can apply to anything and I think it's rather good it's applying to a presidential campaign. You don't need to be Marxist to want a better society."
Translated into more than 10 languages, his book won critical acclaim and was released in France in 1991 with the publisher Albin Michel, but sales were not encouraging there.
"My book reading in Paris was sparsely attended," Mr Shakespeare recalled, adding: "Better late than never. I risked my life researching it. Perhaps they will reprint it now."
Mr Shakespeare's book, The Dancer Upstairs, featuring the same character, was made into a film by John Malkovitch.
Mr Shakespeare, who described himself as a Francophile, said he did not see Mr Hollande as Shakespearean material unlike Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the favourite to win Socialist primaries before his arrest on charges of raping a hotel maid – later dropped.
Mr Hollande only surged after Mr Strauss-Kahn's disgrace.
"His is a true William Shakespearean tragedy – a man who has power on a plate in front of him and something in his make-up causes him to submit to his appetites – his entire life becomes unravelled, unzipped in seven minutes."
French presidents have historically been renowned for their cultural credentials, particularly François Mitterrand.
Mr Sarkozy was the first to be viewed as a TV-addict philistine but has undergone a literary crash course thanks to his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
Only this week he quoted the 17th Century French polymath Blaise Pascal, saying: 'Man is thus created so that everything is organised for him to forget that he is going to die.'