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Half of Brits don’t want female Hamlets, claims research

Maxine Peake in Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Theatre in 2014. Photo: Jonathan Keenan Maxine Peake in Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Theatre in 2014. Photo: Jonathan Keenan
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Nearly half of British people dislike the idea of Hamlet being played by a woman, while a fifth are resistant to black actors taking on the iconic role, according to a new survey.

Respondents to the YouGov poll also opposed women taking on classically male parts more than they did black actors playing traditionally white roles.

The survey asked more than 2,000 people whether they had positive, negative or neutral feelings about gender and race-swapping a number of classic roles, including Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes and Robin Hood.

When asked about a female Hamlet, 48% did not like the idea. This contrasts with only 15% who were in favour, and 28% who were “neutral”.

The survey comes two years after Maxine Peake’s critically acclaimed turn as the Danish prince in 2014, performed at the Royal Exchange in Manchester.

Of the same sample, nearly a third had positive feelings about a black or minority ethnic Hamlet, compared with 20% who felt negatively about it.

Across the five roles discussed – including Doctor Who and James Bond – people were more resistant to women playing ‘male roles’ than to ‘white roles’ being played by black actors.

The findings also suggested that women were significantly more accepting of race-swapping than men, with a gap in positivity of at least 13% between them for each role suggested.

With regards to Hamlet, 38% of female respondents were in favour of a black actor playing the role compared to just a quarter of male respondents.

But when it came to women playing men, women in the survey were just as resistant to the idea as men, with the largest negativity difference at 4% (for James Bond).

For Hamlet, 47% of women had negative feelings about a woman taking on the part, compared with 48% of men.

Age was also a factor, with older respondents revealing more negative attitudes towards race and gender-swapping.

Conversely, those aged between 18-24 were unswervingly the most positive about both ideas.

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