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!
@FolgerLibrary R & J, Macbeth, & Hamlet. Enjoyed Macbeth and Hamlet more because that was an upper level class, where as R&J was 9th grade.
— Sarah Wingo (@SgWingo) August 24, 2016
@FolgerLibrary Memorized Hamlet's instructions to the Player King in HS. Still know it. My daughter read my HS copy of P&P.
— Mara Novak (@NaraMovak) August 24, 2016
@FolgerLibrary I read Pride & Prejudice, Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo & Juliet & Hamlet. Loved them all!
— Rose Fairbanks (@Rose_Fairbanks) August 27, 2016
@FolgerLibrary “Merchant”, “Caesar”, & Scottish play, but really discovered S. in my 20s via Charles Williams. Also first found JA in my 20s
— John W Kennedy (@john_w_kennedy) August 24, 2016
@FolgerLibrary My first Shakespeare experience in HS was Macbeth. I remember thinking it was better than Hill Street Blues. It certainly is.
— Rich Sanders (@Askam221Rich) August 29, 2016
Which Shakespeare plays or Austen novels did you read in your high school English class? Tell us in the comments below.