It was truly an Agincourt moment for the Socialist French presidential candidate, François Hollande. As he stood before a crowd of 20,000 supporters to deliver an impassioned speech laying out his credentials to lead the republic to a brave new future, the front-runner delved for the only writer he knew could match the occasion: Shakespeare.
"They failed," he said of Nicolas Sarkozy's administration, "because they did not start with a dream".
While the call to arms went down well with the crowd at the rally at Le Bourget, near Paris, it left observers scratching their heads. Inquiries showed that the quotation did not match anything from Shakespeare's known canon of plays or sonnets. But while it was indeed the work of Shakespeare it was not by the Bard of Stratford – but by the living British author and book reviewer, Nicholas Shakespeare.
Yesterday, Mr Shakespeare, who is a direct descendant of the Bard's grandfather, declared himself honoured at being confused for his illustrious forebear, and revealed that the words came from his 1989 novel The Vision of Elena Silves. The book tells the story of a Maoist revolutionary who ends up fighting for Peru's notoriously brutal Shining Path movement.
"I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the French presidential candidate had quoted me," said Mr Shakespeare, a committed Francophile. "I was really pleased to see how the quote remains fresh. It can apply to anything and I think it's rather good it is applying to a presidential campaign. You don't need to be Marxist to want a better society.
"He is saying that the last Marxist revolution of the Sixties failed, but his is going to succeed, and the idea is that they failed because they did not have a dream," added Mr Shakespeare.
The left-leaning French newspaper Libération, which reported the blunder, insisted it did not take away from the merits of the speech in which Mr Hollande turned his guns on the banks. Rather than suggesting he stick to Balzac or Molière when seeking rhetorical enhancement in future, the paper said: "The lack of patronage doesn't lessen the pertinence or the quality of Hollande's speech. But it underlies once again the dangers of taking references from the internet."
What makes the error even more surprising is that Mr Shakespeare enjoyed only modest success with his book in France when it was published in 1991. He said he hoped its new-found fame might persuade the publisher to consider reprinting it.
In opinion polls, Mr Hollande, 57, is four points ahead of Mr Sarkozy, who has yet to declare his candidacy although few doubt he will run.
Mr Hollande is standing as the left's candidate only after Dominique Strauss-Kahn was forced to pull out following his arrest for the alleged sexual assault of a maid in a New York hotel room – allegations that were later dropped.
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