I want to thank everybody for participating in the “What Shakespeare Did You Read In High School?” thread, I got a great deal of detailed responses. Because of the informal nature of the question and the variety of the answers (does “performed it” count as read it? does “read selections from” count? What about home schooling?) I can’t really make statistical judgement on the results. But here’s some interesting bullet points:
- Romeo and Juliet is still a favorite, with the large majority of responders saying that they either read or teach it, normally as the first play (i.e. 9th grade, or even earlier)
- Second place, somewhat surprisingly, appears to go to Macbeth. I don’t really know why that is, but Macbeth gets nearly as much recognition as Romeo and Juliet.
- Hamlet and Julius Caesar split the difference for the next two great tragedies, with Othello pulling up in the #5 spot.
- There was some love for Lear, Titus and Antony & Cleopatra, but those don’t even registered compared to the “Big Five”.
- Many people said that senior was split between several plays. I’m not really sure how you devote an entire year to R&J but only half a year to Hamlet, but I suppose we’ll chalk it up to most of that freshman time being spent learning about Shakespeare as a topic in general.
- Among the comedies, Midsummer wins handily (though still read/taught only about 1/3rd as frequently as the great tragedies).
- Behind Midsummer comes, in order, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and Shrew.
- Props to the one school that’s apparently still teaching Merchant of Venice as required reading!
Discuss. I think that Julius Caesar is so popular because of the tie-ins to the student of ancient Roman history, also going on at roughly that grade level. Hamlet seems obvious to me as an example of just how great Shakespeare can be (I think that teaching Lear to teenagers is a bit of a disservice, actually, as they haven’t got nearly the life experience to understand it. Familiarize them with it, sure, but I wouldn’t expect most (note, I say most, not all) of them to actually “get” it). I truly don’t get the Macbeth thing, though. It’s got a history tie-in, sure, but I don’t recall that being the major point of discussion. I would have thought that Othello would come next.