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The culture of the United Kingdom—British culture—is informed by the UK's history as a developed island country, monarchy, imperial power and, particularly, as a political union of four countries, which each have their own preserved and distinctive heritage, customs and symbolism. As a result of the British Empire, British influence can be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies such as Canada, Australia, India, and the United States.
The United Kingdom has been influential in the development of cinema, with the Ealing Studios claiming to be the oldest studios in the world. Despite a history of important and successful productions, the industry is characterised by an ongoing debate about its identity, and the influences of American and European cinema. Particularly between British and American film, many films are often co-produced or share actors with many British actors now featuring regularly in Hollywood films. The BFI Top 100 British films is a poll conducted by the British Film Institute which ranks what they consider to be the 100 greatest British films of all time.
The Chandos portrait, believed to depict William Shakespeare.
Robert Burns - regarded as the national poet of Scotland
'British literature' refers to literature associated with the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands as well as to literature from England, Wales and Scotland prior to the formation of the United Kingdom. Most British literature is in the English language.
The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest dramatist of all time. Among the earliest English writers are Geoffrey of Monmouth (12th century), Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century), and Thomas Malory (15th century). In the 18th century, Samuel Richardson is often credited with inventing the modern novel. In the 19th century, there followed further innovation by Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, the social campaigner Charles Dickens, the naturalist Thomas Hardy, the visionary poet William Blake and romantic poet William Wordsworth. Twentieth century writers include the science fiction novelist H. G. Wells, the controversial D. H. Lawrence, the modernist Virginia Woolf, the prophetic novelist George Orwell and the poet John Betjeman. Most recently, the children's fantasy Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling has recalled the popularity of J. R. R. Tolkien.
Scotland's contribution includes the detective writer Arthur Conan Doyle, romantic literature by Sir Walter Scott and the epic adventures of Robert Louis Stevenson. It has also produced the celebrated poet Robert Burns, as well as William McGonagall, regarded by many as one of the world's worst. More recently, the modernist and nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid and Neil M. Gunn contributed to the Scottish Renaissance. A more grim outlook is found in Ian Rankin's stories and the psychological horror-comedy of Iain Banks. Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, is UNESCO's first worldwide city of literature.
Authors from other nationalities, particularly from Ireland, or from Commonwealth countries, have lived and worked in the UK. Significant examples through the centuries include Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and more recently British authors born abroad such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Sir Salman Rushdie.
In theatre, Shakespeare's contemporaries Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson added depth. More recently Alan Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter, Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard and David Edgar have combined elements of surrealism, realism and radicalism.
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