Which Shakespeare plays are most often taught in high school English classes?

Folger Edition of Romeo and Juliet
Photo by James R. Brantley

Think back to your high school English classes. Did you read Romeo and Juliet as a freshman? What about Hamlet in your senior year?

Studying Shakespeare is required in the Common Core English Language Arts standards, but the Bard secured his place on the English curriculum in American classrooms long before the Common Core was established.

As Jonathan Burton explained for the Shakespeare in American Life radio documentary, sections of Shakespeare’s plays appeared in the McGuffey Readers, one of the most common “textbooks” in nineteenth-century America.

Shakespeare appears first in the McGuffey Reader, the Fourth Reader, of 1837, and this work has just two passages in it. One is a section of King John and it’s merely entitled “Prince Arthur” and the name of the play does not even appear. The same can be said of the one excerpt from Julius Caesar that’s also included, which is entitled “Antony’s Oration over Caesar’s Dead Body.” Here it’s important to note that Shakespeare’s name does not appear with these passages, nor does the name of the play.

Today, the Folger Shakespeare Library Editions are the most popular Shakespeare texts used in American high school classrooms. In 2015 and in 2014, Romeo and Juliet was the top seller, followed by Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, and Julius Caesar.

We asked our Twitter followers about which Shakespeare plays they studied in high school, what they thought of them now, and whether that opinion changed as they got older. We also asked about Jane Austen, because of our current exhibition, Will & Jane – but we found, unsurprisingly, that far fewer respondents had read Austen in a high school English class. If they had, it was likely Pride and Prejudice.

Read some of the tweets we received, and leave your own comment below!

Which Shakespeare plays or Austen novels did you read in your high school English class? Tell us in the comments below.

8 Comments


  • I taught in my California district for 40 years. R & J was commonly taught at the 9th-grade level and JC at the 10-grade level, altho’ the curriculum had changed so radically with Common Core that I’m not sure about either of those now. My last 7 years of teaching I taught AP Lit. and included Hamlet and Twelfth Night (honestly, the students deserved to read at least one comedy) in my curriculum.

    • I also taught Pride and Prejudice, The Piano Lesson by August Wilson, Beowulf ( the Heaney translation) and Grendel, plus other works of lit.

  • In high school, we only read Romeo and Juliet 9th grade; however, that year, a BBC production of King Lear was being broadcast on PBS and my teacher gave extra credit if we watched it and wrote a summary of the play. When I taught Honors English, I taught R & J to my 9th & 10th graders as an introduction to the Bard; JC to my 10th graders; and Hamlet, Lear, and Midsummer NIght’s Dream to my 12th grade AP English Lit class.

  • In high school in Detroit, I had to read a play every year: R&J, JC, and Macbeth. We never read Austen in school, and I knew few who did, which is why I insisted on including it in my curriculum. I’ve taught Hamlet to my sophomores every year for four years, but our British Lit course is jam packed with goodies: King Arthur, Shakespeare, Paradise Lost, Swift, and of course Pride and Prejudice and A Tale of Two Cities.

  • I have taught R&J, twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Macbeth. I had a lot of luck with Richard III, too. I always-thought the language was the most important part, and veered away from Will S as rapper. I took a busload of students on a field trip to see Hamlet outdoors once–California Shakespeare Theater. As for Jane Austen, I love Pride and Prejudice, but the Colin Firth version just means that kids watch it and don’t read it. My Advanced Placement students did well with Persuasion, and I paired Northanger Abbey with Frankenstein–and lots of Romantic poetry..

  • We read Romeo and Juliet in 8th grade, Julius Caesar in 10th grade, and Macbeth in 12th grade. There was no Austen in our curriculum, even in “British Literature” in the 12th grade.

    • I taught high school English for 40 years in California. Romeo and Juliet was taught in the 9th grade and Julius Caesar in the 10th. Macbeth tended to be taught in the regular 12th grade classes. For my last 7 years, I taught AP Literature and I used both Hamlet and Twelfth Night in my curriculum (because I wanted my students to be exposed to at least one comedy). The other AP teacher taught Macbeth.


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