July 20, 2016
If only Boris Johnson were more committed to the Bard
by Kait Howard
Journalist, author, and (opportunistic) champion of literacy during his days as London’s mayor, Boris Johnson is stepping further away from the world of letters as he takes on his duties as Britain’s new, post-Brexit Foreign Secretary.
The Wall Street Journal’s Anna Russell reports that Johnson “has put aside a much-touted book on Shakespeare and a high-profile column for British newspaper the Daily Telegraph,” in order to focus on such responsibilities as negotiating with (read: pissing off) world leaders in the wake of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.
Besides having to forfeit his lucrative weekly column given the clear conflict of interest, Johnson has also backed off on his commitment to publish Shakespeare: The Riddle of Genius in October, because, as a spokesperson for his U.S. publisher, Riverhead, told Russell, he didn’t have time to finish working on it.
For Johnson, who has “drawn attention for the fees generated by his extracurricular writings,” all this looks like a tightening of his purse—Russell reports that he earned a monthly fee of approximately £22,900 for his column, and according to the Daily Mail, he’ll be paying back his £500,000 advance for the book. Then again, Johnson was criticized in 2009 for “calling his then £250,000-a-year fee for the columns, ‘chicken feed’” (what his new government salary of £143,789 means to him can be inferred).
Perhaps the real loss should be felt by readers, who will miss the chance to glean the thoughts on Britain’s national treasure of a man supremely interested in stoking British nationalism. According to a description of the book still up on the Waterstones site, The Riddle of Genius was to be an exploration of “not only the origin of Shakespeare’s genius, but also the nature of his genius”—asking of what, exactly, his greatness consisted. For those watching the Shakespearean drama of Johnson’s recent political career, or those wondering how a dishonest-journalist-turned-xenophobic politician has wrested so much power in Britain, it could have been illuminating.
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.