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Poll Results – How We Access Shakespeare Today

How We Access Shakespeare Today

We’ve hope you’ve been enjoying the Week so far and thank you for completing the poll on step 1.3. If you haven’t had a chance to submit your answer yet, please have a look here and let us know about your favourite method to access Shakespeare’s work. Here is an analysis of the poll results as they stand on Friday 8 May:

In step 1.3 we asked you to select your favourite method of accessing Shakespeare. Perhaps unsurprisingly, ‘live at the theatre’ came out top with 59%. Although many of the major theatres are not accessible for large swathes of the population due to price or location, Shakespeare’s plays are performed far and wide throughout the world, whether that be via amateur productions, school performances or touring companies. Of course it is impossible to say how the recent closure of the theatres will affect the theatre industry going forward. However, one can perhaps take comfort from the way in which the early modern theatres continued to thrive in spite of regular closures due to the plague.

A remarkably high 18% of respondents chose ‘reading a play or play script’ as their favourite way to access Shakespeare. In terms of cost and convenience, it certainly seems to be the easiest option. As one learner pointed out, Shakespeare wrote for a largely bare stage with minimal props and special effects. His plays create a world with words which, in the words of the Chorus in Henry V, work on our ‘imaginary forces’ – a force which is particularly active when reading. However, as a theatre practitioner for whom performance took precedence over publication, Shakespeare would perhaps be surprised that reading his plays comes second only to seeing them live in the theatre.

A study by The UK-based Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre, which began in April 2020, found that the way people engage with culture is changing as they embrace different types of online content while at home during the crisis. According to this nationwide survey of over one thousand people, nearly 20% of adults in the United Kingdom are now watching theatre, dance or music performances digitally. This correlates with the 20% of respondents who chose a form of digital engagement – whether that be television adaptations, live streaming or cinema broadcasts – as their favourite way of accessing Shakespeare in our poll.

The fact that 3% of people selected other methods shows that this list is certainly not exhaustive, and I’ll be incredibly interested to hear in the discussion the other methods and media by which you’ve encountered Shakespeare. Of course, a poll such as this can only give a limited snapshot of the ways in which audiences are accessing Shakespeare, and the impact that this may have had on their perception of Shakespeare.

In the discussion, you might want to think about how your own encounters with Shakespeare have shaped your perceptions, understandings, and enthusiasms. Is it important to you, for example, to encounter Shakespeare live? Or do you value ease of access over the live experience? Do you associate certain kinds of Shakespeare adaptation with different media? And are your viewing habits changing because of new methods available to you or new limitations currently imposed?

I’m really looking forward to reading your own reactions to the poll results and hearing about the other ways that you’ve accessed Shakespeare in the discussion. It’s been really fascinating to read people’s defining accounts with Shakespeare in the forum discussions. Please do keep sharing and discussing these. It will be interesting and extremely useful to draw on this diversity of experience throughout this course.

© Gemma Miller, King’s College London
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Shakespeare: Print and Performance

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