Four hundred years ago in London, when most of his audience were illiterate, William Shakespeare was the most popular of playwrights. Today, in London and Hollywood and everywhere, the same is true.
His authority rivals the Bible and the Koran. His lines and stories (at least in print) are so established that they are regularly plundered by other writers for stage and film and psychiatry — as well as after-dinner speakers.
In England he is the national hero of respectable culture, on the curriculae of schools at all levels. Worldwide, Shakespeare and the English language are almost synonymous. Although no-one knows what he looked like, his image is evoked on stamps, in advertising and brand names. I own an empty carton of "Falstaff Sprouts" that I found in the Farmer's Market on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. It is pleasing that the most omnipresent Englishman is not from the military, politics or royalty but from the theatre.
Would this have happened so enduringly if Shakespeare hadn't written the sort of parts in which daring actors continue to test themselves by thrilling a live audience? Throughout the world — far beyond the English-speaking territories — his plays are performed in translation and his poems are learnt and read.
The notion of "The Shakespearian Actor" thrives, at least in my country. As well as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the British public help fund the Royal National Theatre, whose core charge is to preserve and foster his writings. — Ian McKellen, October 2000