Literature is GREAT - Part 1

Shakespeare, Dickens and more... Britain's literary history is world class, and Richard speaks to experts about some of the country's greatest writers.


Poets, playwrights and novelists, Britain is famous for its literary talent. From Chaucer’s 'Tales' to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter… so much of the world’s greatest literature has come from Britain. 

And the greatest British writer of them all is the Bard himself: William Shakespeare, and this is Shakespeare’s Globe in London, on the banks of the River Thames.

William Shakespeare wrote some of the most famous plays in the world. Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth are among his best-known works. Many of his plays were performed at the original Globe Theatre, a short distance from here. It burnt down in 1613, during a performance of Henry VIII

Shakespeare’s Globe opened to the public fifteen years ago. It’s an idea or ‘best guess’ at what the Globe might have looked like. It’s a theatre, exhibition space and place of international education. It aims to bring an appreciation of Shakespeare to a wider audience.

Dominic Dromgoole is the Globe's artistic director.

Richard: Dominic, tell me about the Globe.

Dominic: The Globe is a recreation of Shakespeare's theatre which was originally built in 1599 by Shakespeare's own company to house his own work and the work of many other playwrights. It's an extraordinary theatre. It has no roof, as you can see, which makes it extraordinary within itself. It has a curved auditorium and a beautiful frons scenae, and it's probably one of the most exciting theatres to watch a play in or to act in in the world.

Richard: So what happens here?

Dominic: We do about 300 performances every year, about 1,500 people attend every performance. We do a variety of plays by Shakespeare, by other contemporaries of Shakespeare, by... new plays as well, and an extraordinary audience comes from all over the world.

Richard: Do you think Shakespeare is still relevant today?

Dominic: More than ever. Shakespeare speaks to us about our own personal feelings, about love, about grief, about jealousy, about joy, about bereavement, about any of a huge number of things. I can hardly think of a contemporary writer who is as relevant as Shakespeare is.


Do you know what? I’ve got a real feeling of what a theatre would have been like hundreds of years ago. It’s inspirational…

To be or not to be? That's the question, isn't it?


The British landscape has had a huge influence on generations of writers and has inspired them to produce some of their greatest works.

The beauty of the Dorset countryside shines through Thomas Hardy's novels, and Wordsworth's poetry is clearly affected by his love of the Lake District.

The landscape of the city has also influenced authors. The plight of the urban poor inspired one the giants of English literature, Charles Dickens.


Charles Dickens was a great British novelist. He lived here, at 48 Doughty Street in London, and his old home has now been turned into a museum. I’m going to step back in time to see how Dickens might have lived.

The Charles Dickens Museum has over 100,000 rare books, works of art and many personal items owned by Dickens himself. Some of his best-loved works, like Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, were written here. Dickens was popular in his day, but his work has never gone out of print.

Julia Ziemer works at the museum.

Richard: Julia, tell me about the museum.

Julia: So, the museum is based at 48 Doughty Street in London. It's where Dickens lived for 2 years with his young family and where he wrote Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby.

Richard: What are your most important pieces?

Julia: We have original manuscript material from Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. We have the desk that Dickens wrote on for his final novel and the painting by R.W. Buss called Dickens's Dream.

Richard: Dickens led a very hard life. Do you think that influenced his writing?

Julia: Absolutely. Dickens was sent to work in a factory when he was just 10 years old, and that experience stayed with him for the rest of his life. If you look at his novels, lots of characters are young children working in horrible conditions.

Richard: Why was he such an important figure?

Julia: Dickens was a unique writer in his time in that he was very popular with the working classes but also respected by the literature community and read by the higher classes.

Richard: He was born 200 years ago. Do you think he's still relevant today?

Julia: Definitely. 200 years on, the things that Dickens was writing about - social inequality, poverty - are still very relevant today.

This is the last desk that Dickens ever wrote at and I can’t wait to have a read of these. Dickens’ work seems to be able to cross the centuries, but he’s not alone. Other British novelists from the past are still popular today.

Task 1

Which of these things does Richard do?


Task 2

Which sentences are true?


Task 3

Make sentences from the video by putting the words in the correct order.


Task 4

Use must/can/might + present tense for present possibilities, and must/might/can + have + past participle to talk about possibility in the past. Use the negative if you need it.


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Submitted by silvanus on Wed, 01/04/2020 - 01:24

Sorry but Richard doesn't sit on the chair where Dickens used to sit; he only has a look at it ...

Hello silvanus,

At the very end of the video, Richard sits by the desk where Dickens used to write. The implication is that he's also sitting in Dickens' chair, which is in front of the desk. I agree that it's not explicitly shown, but I think the implication is clear.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by HelenC on Tue, 28/01/2020 - 14:59

Hello, I find the 'Britain is Great' resources excellent for my students here in Belgium. However, not all of them have downloadable worksheets - for example this one. Would it be possible to put downloadable worksheets on all of them please? Thank you!

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 29/01/2020 - 08:54

In reply to by HelenC


Hello HelenC

Thanks for your comment and I'm sorry for the inconvenience. I've made a note of your request and we will try to get to this at some point, though I'm afraid at the moment we've got our hands quite full with new projects.

I'm not sure if the pages in our Reading, Writing and Listening skills sections and Video zone sections would suit your needs or not, but all of those pages have worksheets.

Thanks again for your feedback.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Marcos Martins on Tue, 10/07/2018 - 18:16

Yes, I read Classic books. I've read some Shakespeare plays at university. I also love crime books like Conan Doyle's and Dorothy L. Sawyers's books but my favorite author is Agatha Christie. Here in Brazil We have many famous writers but the greatest of all time is probably Machado de Assis. Nowadays, Paulo Coelho is probably the most famous writer because I've heard that he is very well-known outside of Brazil.

Submitted by btriton on Wed, 23/05/2018 - 09:48

I have read mainly technical books, a few classical in my language as "100 years of Solitude", of colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, from my country I have read some books of Mario Vargas Llosa, I like of positive literature as "Your erroneous zone", " the sky's the limit" and many other of Wayne Dyer, the last one that I have read was "Unlimited power" of Tony Robbins, it seems marvelous, I like this type of literature.

Submitted by maribaroni on Thu, 31/08/2017 - 18:05

I like the classic authors. I like Robert Louis Stevenson and Conan Doyle (which is not classic, but is good anyway). I'm from Brazil, and here the most important writer we had was Machado de Assis. He lived in the 1800'.

Submitted by Nizam Balinese on Sat, 05/08/2017 - 03:39

Hello everyone.. ☆ Do you read classic books? - I like reading classic books. I think through classic literatures we can find the root of many modern cultures and they might even serve as inspiration for you to make your own art. ☆ Which other English writers do you know? - I know English writer like Lord Byron, one of the greatest British poets. He was a 19th century, Romantic famous for writing the poem 'Don Juan'. His biography are bizarre, interesting and often involve petty insults. ☆ Who are the great authors in your language? - One of the most famous writers with great literature in my language is Chairul Anwar. To talk about Mr. Anwar is to talk about brilliance. His impact and influence in the world of poetry and the political situation in Indonesia is deep. To Indonesian people, his image strongly symbolizes an example of someone who will fight for his beliefs. Even though he often faced danger because of his bravery, he still pressed on.

Submitted by crovina on Sun, 11/06/2017 - 23:31

I usually read technical books, but i like Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter written by Conan Doyle and J K Rowling.

Submitted by zadinka on Thu, 18/05/2017 - 07:30

As I remember when I was in a childhood I didn't like reading at all. Well, now I have absolutely opposite opinion - I am really love reading classic books. But unfortunately there is so little time to do it. As for English writers I like novels which were written by Jane Ostin. Besides, Brontë sisters are great - one of my favorite books is Jane Eyre. But not only novels attract me - novels-dystopias written by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley are unforgettable. The greatest writer in my language is undoubtedly Alexsander Pushkin. But his is not the only one - Lev Tolsltoy, Fedor Dostoevskiy, Maxim Gorkiy and many others are significant persins in russian literature.

Submitted by OlgaM on Mon, 03/04/2017 - 19:37

Why do you say "Dickens was popular in his day, but his work has never gone out of print." His novels were printed during his life. Or I do not understand something?

Hello OlgaM,

Dickens is no longer alive and so 'his day' here refers to a finished time period; therefore the past simple is used ('was').

The phrase 'be in print' means that they are available to buy and read. Sometimes a book is no longer selling well so the publisher decides not to print any new copies, and then we can say that the book 'is out of print'. This means that the second clause refers to an unfinished time period ('never' - a time which is still continuing), describing the whole time since the books were first printed up to and including the present moment. Therefore the present perfect is used ('have never gone').


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank You, PeterM! I have understood about the verb tenses, but I don't understand why but. Dickens was very popular at his time. His books were published in his time and are publishing now. Why but?

Hello OlgaM,

We often see people who were popular in their day but who then become less popular as time goes by. DIckens is a writer who does not fit this pattern because he is still popular today. It would be fine to use 'and' here instead of 'but'. It all depends upon whether or not you think it is surprising that Dickens' popularity has remained high after his death.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team