One in three children don't know who Shakespeare is

More than a quarter of adults have never read one of his plays either, survey finds

“To be, or not to be, that is the question.” The problem is, the answer is very likely to be: “You what?”

Because a new survey of schoolchildren across the country has found that nearly one third have no clue who the Bard is.

Of pupils aged between six and 12, an astonishing 30 per cent have never heard of the country’s most celebrated author, never mind his world-famous works from Romeo and Juliet to Hamlet.

The study also reveals that 27 per cent – more than a quarter – of adults have never read a play by Shakespeare, while one in eight (12 per cent) are “unaware that he was a British playwright”.

Mind-bogglingly, five per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds have heard of him – but think his most famous play was Cinderella. Two per cent of the same age group think Shakespeare is a fictional character.

Now some of the country’s leading stage and screen actors have called for a radical rethink of the way Shakespeare’s works are taught to young people.

Jeremy Irons, who has starred in Richard II and The Winter’s Tale for the Royal Shakespeare Company, said: “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.

“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 Othello on-stage, 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 survey, by market researchers Vision Critical to coincide with the DVD release of The Hollow Crown – a BBC adaptation of three famous Shakespeare History Plays - questioned 1,000 school pupils aged between six and 12 and 2,000 adults.

It also found that half of adults are unable to complete the line: “O Romeo, Romeo…” from Romeo and Juliet with the correct answer, “wherefore art thou Romeo?”