Culture in Great Britain

It you’re staying in London for a few days, you’ll have no difficulty
whatever in finding somewhere to spend an enjoyable evening. You’ll find
opera, ballet, comedy, drama, review, musical comedy and variety. Most
theatres and music-halls have good orchestras with popular conductors.
At the West-End theatres you can see most of the famous English actors
and actresses. As a rule, the plays are magnificently staged — costumes,
dresses, scenery, everything being done on the most lavish scale.

The last half of the XVI and the beginning of the XVII centuries are
known as the golden age of English literature, It was the time of the
English Renaissance, and sometimes it is even called «the age of
Shakespeare».

Shakespeare, the greatest and most famous of English writers, and
probably the greatest playwright who has ever lived, was born in
Stratford-on-Avon. In spite of his fame we know very little about his
life. He wrote 37 plays. Among them there are deep tragedies, such as
Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Macbeth, light comedies, such as The Merry
Wives of Windsor, All’s Well That Ends Well, Twelfth Night, Much Ado
About Nothing.

English culture tends to dominate the formal cultural life of the United
Kingdom, but Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have also made
important contributions, as have the cultures that British colonialism
brought into contact with the homeland. Scotland, Wales, and Northern
Ireland share fully in the common culture but also preserve lively
traditions that predate political union with England.

Widespread changes in the United Kingdom’s cultural life occurred after
1945. The most remarkable was perhaps the emergence first of Liverpool
and then of London in the 1960s as a world centre of popular culture.
The Beatles were only the first and best-known of the many British rock
groups to win a world following. British clothing designers for a time
led the world as innovators of new styles of dress for both men and
women, and the brightly coloured outfits sold in London’s Carnaby Street
and King’s Road shops briefly became more symbolic of Britain than the
traditionally staid tailoring of Savile Row.

Underlying both this development and a similar if less-remarked renewal
of vigour in more traditional fields were several important social
developments in the decades after World War II. Most evident was the
rising standard of education. The number of pupils going on to higher
education increased dramatically after World War II and was matched by a
major expansion in the number of universities and other institutions of
higher education. In society in general there was a marked increase in
leisure. Furthermore, immigration, particularly from the West Indies and
South Asia, introduced new cultural currents to the United Kingdom and
contributed to innovation in music, film, literature, and other arts.

The United Kingdom’s cultural traditions are reflective of the country’s
heterogeneity and its central importance in world affairs over the past
several centuries. Each constituent part of the United Kingdom—England,
Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland—maintains its own unique customs,
traditions, cuisine, and festivals. Moreover, as Britain’s empire
spanned the globe, it became a focal point of immigration, especially
after the independence of its colonies, from its colonial possessions.
As a result, immigrants from all corners of the world have entered the
United Kingdom and settled throughout the country, leaving indelible
imprints on British culture. Thus, at the beginning of the 21st century,
age-old English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh customs stood alongside the
rich traditions of Afro-Caribbean, Asian, and Muslim immigrants, placing
the United Kingdom among the world’s most cosmopolitan and diverse
countries.

From the plays of William Shakespeare to the music of the Sex Pistols,
British art has had a tremendous impact on world culture. Writers from
every part of the United Kingdom, joined by immigrants from parts of the
former British Empire and the Commonwealth, have enriched the English
language and world literature alike with their work. British studios,
playwrights, directors, and actors have been remarkable pioneers of
stage and screen. British comedians have brought laughter to diverse
audiences and been widely imitated; British composers have found devoted
listeners around the world, as have various contemporary pop groups and
singer-songwriters; and British philosophers have had a tremendous
influence in shaping the course of scientific and moral inquiry. From
medieval time to the present, this extraordinary flowering of the arts
has been encouraged at every level of society. Early royal patronage
played an important role in the development of the arts in Britain, and
since the mid 20th century the British government has done much to
foster their growth.

The independent Arts Council, formed in 1946, supports many kinds of
contemporary creative and performing arts. The state-owned British
Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and privately owned Channel Four
Television are also major patrons of the arts, especially music and
film. The work of filmmakers and actors throughout the United Kingdom is
supported by the Film Council, a government board that helps fund
productions and secure film-related services. This support has
contributed to the great expansion of the market for cultural goods and
of audiences for the arts generally. As in many other highly developed
countries, the clash of tastes and values between generations and, to
some extent, between social classes has occasionally been sharp, as it
was in the 1960s and ’70s. However, the overall effect of social and
financial diversity has been to make culture a major British industry,
which employs more than a million people and commands one-sixth of the
world’s cultural exports, three times greater than Britain’s share of
world trade overall.

The United Kingdom contains many cultural treasures. It is home to a
wide range of learned societies, including the British Academy, the
Royal Geographical Society, and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The
British Museum in London houses historical artifacts from all parts of
the globe. London is also home to many museums (e.g., the National
Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate galleries, the Imperial
War Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum) and theatres (e.g., the
Royal National Theatre and those in the world-renowned West End theatre
district). Cultural institutions also abound throughout the country.
Among the many libraries and museums of interest in Scotland, Wales, and
Northern Ireland are the Royal Museum, the Museum of Scotland, and the
Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh, the Museum of Scottish Country Life in
Glasgow, the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, and the Ulster Museum
in Belfast.

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