British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

BBC Shakespeare

 The Bard today

In recent audience research carried out by the BBC, we found that almost everyone knows who Shakespeare is, and the vast majority have had some contact with his works, particularly reading plays, watching a film or TV adaptation or through school. Shakespeare is generally felt to be quite hard to understand and most people aren’t that confident to talk about him with others.

Many people are somewhat ambivalent about whether or not they like his plays and poems (perhaps they don’t feel they know enough to say), but amongst those with a view one way or the other the balance is generally positive. Women and ‘the middle class’ claim the greatest understanding and liking of him and his works – but so do younger people.

What’s more, a higher number of people think he is relevant to modern times and ‘for everybody’, than think he has no relevance or is just for an elite, but many are unsure. Younger people associate Shakespeare most strongly with Romeo and Juliet and have mixed memories of Shakespeare at school. Older people have more varied associations and ‘boring’ is the predominant feeling towards school experiences. Shakespeare is felt to be original, intellectual and emotional, but also a bit serious and hard to understand. Few say he is boring or dull, but neither is he ‘fun’. Many want to know more about Shakespeare, and over half are interested in the 400th anniversary (a view broadly shared across the demographic range).

We have started 2016 in the English-speaking world saddened by the proximity of the deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Lemmy. So it seems worth remembering that 400 years ago, one day apart, the world lost not only Shakespeare, but another great contributor to world literature, Miguel de Cervantes. News might not have travelled so fast in 1616 and the instant outpouring of grief might not have been overwhelming, but with the benefit of hindsight, the lasting impact of that double loss in 1616 cannot be underestimated.

Derek Jacobi as Hamlet in HAMLET, PRINCE OF DENMARK, 1980. (1980 © BBC).

Derek Jacobi as Hamlet in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, 1980. (1980 © BBC).

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