David Brent quotations better known than Shakespeare, Wilde and Wordsworth

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your... sword

Pop lyrics, film scripts and the plotlines from television programmes have undermined people's knowledge of classic literary quotations, research published yesterday shows.

When asked to complete the opening line "I wandered lonely as a ..." from Wordsworth's The Daffodils , among the incorrect answers offered were sheep, bear, desert breeze and daffodil. The correct answer is, of course, cloud.

Many were unfamiliar with Shakespeare, believing that Mark Antony's "Friends, Romans and Countrymen" address in Julius Caesar asked them to lend him their sword, hand, time, friends or money - instead of ears. And only 10 per cent of respondents aged 25 to 44 knew that "Now is the winter of our discontent" came from Richard III .

Just 9 per cent of the same age group recognised the quote "I can resist everything except temptation" as the satire of Oscar Wilde

However, more than one in three respondents knew that the quotation: "Accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue" was said by David Brent, the fictional manager in the BBC sitcom The Office .

Interviewers also found 71 per cent of respondents aged 25 to 44 knew that Darth Vader, evil lord of the Star Wars film series, said: "If only you knew the power of the dark side".

The survey was published to mark the Words Worth Reading event, organised by The Wordsworth Trust and Marie Curie Cancer Care, in which more than 175,000 children from across Britain will simultaneously recite Wordsworth's The Daffodils on 19 March. The pupils, from more than 1,000 schools, will aim to break the record for the world's largest mass poetry reading, while raising funds for the charity and marking the bicentenary of Wordsworth's best-known poem.

Chris Smith, the former secretary of state for clture, media and sport, said: "It's understandable that people should remember contemporary sources better than the classics but we want to ensure they're also aware of some of the great and most enduring writing in the English language."

Researchers also found that lines by the singers Will Smith and Will Young had a higher recognition than Shakespeare among under-25s. The results come from interviews with more than 1,000 people, in varying age groups, last week.

Richard Duggleby, of Yellow Pages , which commissioned the survey, said the results revealed the decline in knowledge of the classics. "The figures suggest the younger you are the less likely you are to be able to recognise, let alone quote, the classics."


1: I wandered lonely as a:

2: Friend, Romans, countrymen, lend me your:

3: The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat ...

4: Who said this? "I can resist everything except temptation"

5: Who said this? "Now is the winter of our discontent"

6: Here is the second verse of the British national anthem. Can you add the missing word? O Lord our God arise, Scatter her......... And make them fall

ANSWERS: 1: Cloud - William Wordsworth, The Daffodils 2: Ears - William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar 3: They took some honey and plenty of money wrapped up in a five-pound note 4: Oscar Wilde 5: Shakespeare's Richard III 6: Enemies