The study asked 1,000 children between six and 12 who Shakespeare was. Thirty per cent were unable to answer correctly. Researchers also questioned 2,000 adults with 12 per cent unaware he was a British playwright and 27 per cent having never read a Shakespeare play.
Several actors who have starred in some of the Bard’s leading roles have now called for a rethink on the way Shakespeare is taught in schools.
“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,” said Jeremy Irons, who has starred in The Winter’s Tale and Richard II for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
“Then you begin to go back to the text and you begin to understand the world, the imagination behind those words.”
Paterson Joseph, who has played the role of Othello, said: “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 study, by market research company Vision Critical, also found that a half of adults could not correctly complete the line “O Romeo, Romeo…” and that 5 per cent of people aged 18 to 34 thought Shakespeare’s most famous play was Cinderella. Two per cent of the same age group thought he was a fictional character.