January 2,1999

Bard chosen man of Guess What?

Shakespeare named most

important figure of Millennium


LONDON- William Shakespeare, picked as Britain's man of the millennium, was hailed on Saturday as an international superstar-- but scientists felt Charles Darwin or Isaac Newton should have taken the prize.

The choice of the playwright in a poll of BBC radio listeners-- he just pipped wartime leader Winston Churchill--provoked a heated New Year debate about his perennial appeal.

Acclaimed Shakespearean actress Judi Dench said : "He is known in our house as the gentleman who pays the rent."

The Royal Shakespeare Company took his plays to five continents in 1998.

Company spokesman Ian Rowley told the Daily Telegraph: The Japanese see more Shakespeare and put on more productions of his plays than we do in Britain. He's a better international currency than the euro."

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Chairman Stanley Wells said he had been recently contacted by Mongolia's culture minister seeking suupport for a CD-ROM recording of "Hamlet."

"Shakespeare deals in the things that people have to struggle to put up with and the things they enjoy from the young love of Romeo and Juliet to the frustration of King Lear banging on the unopened door of the universe," Wells said.

"Shakespeare in Love" with Gwyneth Paltrow and Joesph Fiennes is already being tipped for a Hollywood Oscar. Leonardo DiCaprio stole teenage hearts in the modern version of "Romeo and Juliet" set in Los Angeles gangland.

The Guiness Book of Records now ranks Shakespeare as the most filmed author with 309 versions of his plays and 41 loosely based on them.

But not all scientists rejoiced in the choice. For Charles Darwin, famed for his evolution theories, came only fourth just ahead of Isaac Newton, inspired into ground breaking thoughts about gravity by a falling apple.

Biologist Lewis Wolpert told The Guardian: "What Shakespeare really did was tell us what we already know but in a very beautiful way, whereas Newton and Darwin transformed the way we thought about humanity and the world."

Professor Colin Blakemoer confessed to voting twice for Darwin: "In the end, Darwin will be seen to have told us more about why we are the way we are," he concluded.



BBC Millennium poll on the Bard with audio clips

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