Almost half of Britain cannot complete the phrase “O Romeo, Romeo...!”
He is regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and his plays are performed more than those of any other playwright.
His work has been translated into every major language and four hundred years after his death, there are over 60 million Google mentions on the subject of William Shakespeare.
Yet despite this, a recent survey of 2,000 adults in the UK, commissioned by Universal Pictures (UK) to mark the DVD release of The Hollow Crown, revealed some shocking results.
Almost a third of under-12’s admitted to not knowing who Shakespeare is.
5% of 18-34 year olds thought Shakespeare’s most famous play was Cinderella, and 2% of the same group thought that Shakespeare himself was a fictional character.
An amazing 4% of the British population didn’t know Shakespeare was a British playwright, and 27% of adults confessed to having never read a Shakespeare play (this figure jumping to 32% for the over-55’s).
Londoners fell well below the national average when 12% (compared to 4% nationally) failed to correctly answer that Shakespeare was a British playwright. Of that statistic, 6% of Londoners believed that Shakespeare was an artist, 2% thought he was a Roman Centurion and 2% recalled that he was a celebrity. A further 1% thought he was a cartoon character and the remaining 1% had no knowledge of Shakespeare at all.
23% of Londoners also incorrectly answered that Shakespeare was from London, not Stratford upon Avon.
A staggering 49% of British adults are unable to complete the Shakespeare line “O Romeo, Romeo...!” (wherefore art thou Romeo?).
With some adults opting for the less traditional endings; “Take me I am yours!”, “Juliet, Juliet!”, “Where are you Juliet?” or simply, “I love you!”
However 49% of Britons identified Macbeth as Shakespeare’s most recognisable character.
Increasingly however, it transpires that Britons are looking to television for the arts and their Shakespeare fix with 63% of Britons admitting to learning about Shakespeare through television, and not school or traditional educational outlets.
Tom Hiddleston, star of The Hollow Crown believes the dramas make Shakespeare easier to understand for a younger audience; “I hope what makes these films accessible and immediate to a contemporary audience is that I think we have for the first time spoken it very differently, spoken with a fluency and an ease and a very off the cuff spontaneity. Shakespeare is at its best when you speak it like you’re making it up, when it sounds as if it was written yesterday.”
Sharing this sentiment, Jeremy Irons believes that Shakespeare should not be taught at school; “I think so many people are put off Shakespeare at school and like so much of drama you have to see it in order to be moved by it and then you begin to go back to the text and you begin to understand the world, the imagination behind those words.”
According to Paterson Joseph, the classroom is the worst place for it to be taught; “The classroom setting is probably in my opinion the worst place to come to Shakespeare first because Shakespeare never intended his works to be read in a classroom, he intended his works to be heard and to be seen.”
The Hollow Crown DVD re-imagines the classic tetralogy of William Shakespeare’s spell-binding plays; Richard II, Henry IV parts I & 2 and Henry V exploring themes of succession, power, corruption and greed in a singular sweeping production. The stellar cast includes, the Kings, played byBen Whishaw, Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston, who are supported by some of the best Shakespearean actors of our time, including Rory Kinnear, Patrick Stewart, David Suchet, David Morrissey, Simon Russell Beale, Julie Walters, Maxine Peake, John Hurt, Anton Lesser andPaterson Joseph plus lots more.
The Hollow Crown is released on DVD, from 1 October 2012, courtesy of Universal.
The survey was carried out from 14 to 24 September with 2,000 participants by market researchers Vision Critical.
THE HOLLOW CROWN IS AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM 1 OCTOBER COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL