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Monday, March 1, 1999 Published at 08:28 GMT


Shakespeare voted millennium's best writer

"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, " says the courtier Jacques in Shakespeare's As You Like It.

That may be true for mere mortals, but not William Shakespeare himself who has earned a permanent place in the hearts and minds of his still-adoring readers.

The Bard is the latest winner in BBC News Online's monthly Your Millennium feature. Shakespeare easily knocked out the competition, garnering six times as many votes as number-two Jane Austen or number-three George Orwell.

In March you can vote for your favourite artist of the last thousand years. For inspiration, read the top-10 list suggested by art expert Sir Roy Strong and Victoria & Albert curator Alan Borg.

'Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them'

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Readers overwhelmingly put Shakespeare in the category of being born great.

"The Bard re-invented the English language and elevated the art form of the play to the level it is today," said Tim Helbing.

But the magic of Shakespeare, according to many News Online readers, is how his words resonate as much with audiences today as they did 500 years ago.

"His works incite as much passion and excite the audience as much now as they must have when first performed at the Globe," said M A Hanning.

"His use of words just make me melt inside, everyone at school thinks I'm mad and that I'm too young to read Shakespeare but I love the plays so much," added 12-year-old Sally Charlesworth

Not so lonely at the top

While Shakespeare was the overall favourite, the thousands of readers who emailed News Online also had much to say about the other top writers.

Jane Austen, the only woman to make the top-10 list, was lauded for opening the literary world to women and keeping life's little problems in perspective.

"She makes me laugh and cry. She makes my problems insignificant by poking fun at her characters problems," wrote Lorna James.

Number four, Charles Dickens, was called "still relevant, still funny, still riveting". One reader said he was more relevant than Shakespeare.

"His novels and their characters have entered the imagination of the world," said Ian Croll."While Shakespeare seems to look back to lost times, Dickens seems very modern still, not merely a Victorian curiosity."

Nor were modern writers forgotten. Iain Banks, the author of The Player of Games, Excession and The Bridge, came in strong at number five.

"Poetic, sick, moving, stunning other worlds all at once, fiction and science fiction, huge breadth of talent," Chris Lynas said.

"He writes everything that books should be, great characters, great plot, great writer!" said Fong Chau.

But as with all lists of this kind, there were greats who were forgotten.

Dante Aligheri, author of the Divine Comedy, received a paltry nine votes. Virginia Woolf got two.

But perhaps most unfair Christopher Marlowe, who is thought by some to have written all of Shakespeare's plays, got just one vote.

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