Geography is one thing, but Shakespeare?

According to this article, a third of British people don’t know that Shakespeare wrote plays:

and also from the article:

Now, I’ve always heard that Americans were notoriously bad at world geography and such, but to not know who William Shakespeare is? If it’s that bad in England, I wonder how bad it’d be over in the States!

A third of people are ignorant hicks in most countries.

Half the population is below average. It’s shocking, I tell you.

The truth is, if you don’t get told things, then you don’t know. A lot of the modern generation gets its direct knowledge from trashy paparazzi magazines, that just perpetuate ignorant nonsense, which circulates around their immediate circle of friends. Beyond that they see no need to self-educate.

What is a statistic like this supposed to prove? People will learn what they want or need to learn, and as unfortunate as this might sound, not knowing historical trivia consistently fails to cause problems in many modern lives.

I’d like to see the original survey. The Sylvia Plath ‘statistic’ makes me suspect it was multiple-choice, with anybody who didn’t know making a 1-in-x stab in the dark.

Others believed poet Sylvia Plath was lead singer of the Black Eyed Peas. Less than a third knew Winnie the Pooh author A A Milne was a writer.

I bet it looks something like this.

Sylvia Plath was:

[ul][li]The model for the Statue of Liberty[/li][li]Lead singer of the Black Eyed Peas[/li][li]That old French singer with the wobbly voice[/li][li]An American poet who married the British poet laureate[/li][li]That suffragette who threw herself under a racehorse[/ul][/li]
A A Milne was:

[ul][li] The first man on the moon[/li][li] That weird looking guy in the Maltese Falcon[/li][li] The writer of Winnie the Pooh[/li][li] The inventor of the crouton[/li][*] The painter of The Hay Wain[/ul]

A survey carried out a few years back, suggested that a lot of British school children believed the Battle of the Boyne was something from Lord of the Rings :dubious:

What’s the Battle of the Boyne? And why should anybody at all know what that is?

Exactly. And:

William Shakespeare was:

[ul][li]A playwright[/li][li]An author[/li][li]An actor[/ul][/li]etc.

In which case it’s not clear whether it’s a test of knowledge about Shakespeare, or of literacy and knowledge of the word ‘playwright’. Plus the fact that most people encounter him not through watching plays but by reading books in school, which could easily muddle the issue further.

Because such knowledge is an aid to understanding not just the seventeenth century but the twenty-first, too.

No, that would be a bad multiple-choice question, because Shakespeare was all three. Only one answer must be correct, so something like:

William Shakespeare was:
[ul][li]An author of plays and poems[/li][li]A prime minister of Britain[/li][li]A king of England[/li][li]A jockey who won the 1930 Derby[/ul][/li]
would be a better question.

It laid the groundwork for the history of Britain in Ireland, which indirectly, down a long circuitous path, led to London being bombed by the IRA for 30 years in the 20th century. It would behove British people to know a little bit about it. Also, it was in UK when it happened, and involved TWO British kings.

Quite true - but I wasn’t trying to write a good question anyway!

Shakespeare is that shithead CEO of Miramax who stole the Best Picture oscar from Saving Private Ryan, right?

An even greater percentage of the British populace would have had no idea who Shakespeare was in the 19th century.

Shakespeare, and civilization, somehow managed to survive.

It’s pointless being shocked by such statistics, they carry no great significance.

OK, I caught it. It was a trick question. He was the horse that won the Derby. And Sylvia Plath wasn’t with the Black Eyed Peas. It was the Jefferson Airplane.

There was another British poll a few months ago asking whether certain famous Brits were real or fictional. Most of them believed Sherlock Holmes was real and Winston Churchill wasn’t.

I thought the lead singer of Jefferson Airplane was someone named Alice.

(No really, when I was really, really little, the only line I understood from “White Rabbit” was “go ask Alice”, so for years as a child I thought Grace Slick’s name was Alice).

Actually, it’s far less important that you know at this moment who Shakespeare or Churchill or Plath were, or what the Battle of the Boyne was about, than that you’re confident in your ability to do a fast Google and bring yourself up to speed while using critical thinking to spot and filter bullshit.

Being critically inquisitive is far more valuable than memorizing trivia, I find.

How tall did you think she was?