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.