Which Play Do You Wish You Had Studied?

Richard III? Never read it.
Who’s this guy?

I’m in the middle of a book right now, The Idiot by Elif Batuman, and while I can agree that it’s a very well-written book that deserves that praise it’s getting … I’m not enjoying it.  It feels like homework.  If I was back in college and this was required reading? Fine.  I can read some chapters and then come to class ready to discuss the relationship between Selin and Ivan.  But I’ve been out of college twenty plus years, I read things because I want to, not because I get a letter grade.

I was thinking about what to say to my book club at work and my first thought was, “I’m not about to go reading War and Peace for fun, either.” Then I thought about that for a second and realized, “But for me, King Lear is pleasure reading.”

We often talk about the difficulties of reading Shakespeare and trot out the old “see the play!” cliche.  But what about actually sitting down to study a play? How many of us get the chance to do that once we’ve left school?  I suppose if you’re active in a theatre group you can do that, but I’m certainly not. Most of my friends (barring my online following) barely get my references, let alone have interest in discussing the symbolism in The Tempest. I feel that once you’ve missed your window to study certain pieces of literature, you’re unlikely to get another shot at it.  (In my adult life I also went back to read Catcher in the Rye and, more recently, The Great Gatsby.  Both had that same feeling of, “Ok, I can see why this is good, but … I don’t love it.”)

Most of us probably have easy access to all the plays (the text, at least) and can read them at will.  But which did you *study*? Where a group of students sat with a teacher and went through the deeper intricacies of the play?  More interestingly, which *didn’t* you get a chance to study, that you wish you did?

For me, it’s Richard III.  Never seen it live, and can only say that I’ve read it in the sense that twenty-five years ago I read all the plays.  Never “studied” it, and certainly never had anybody walk me through the finer points.  I feel a gap in my understanding of Shakespeare’s works as a whole, because of that.

Who else? Tell us in the comments which play you want to go back and study like somebody was going to quiz you on it.



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2 thoughts on “Which Play Do You Wish You Had Studied?

  1. Of the plays I’ve only picked up to teach to others, absolutely Richard III. It was an absolute revelation to read. I teach it at Y9 now (a stage when I was probably doing the Dream at school) and there’s a lot more in it for the pupils to get their teeth into. I also chose it as my Y12/13 set text, and we have a lot of fun with it, in perhaps different, more ‘grown-up’ ways …

    Plays I’ve read but neither studied nor taught, but which I’d like to take on – Julius Caesar, for its fascinating characters and super rhetorical set pieces. Then 1 Henry IV because it’s the play that has everything, as far as I’m concerned.

    1. “Julius Caesar” has been interesting for me as I’ve gotten older. When I read it in high school I just sort of lumped it in with “Well, we also study ancient history, so I suppose they’re related.” I remember we would argue whether it counted as a history play for exactly that reason.

      Then I started this blog and began talking to teachers around the world and learned that one of the primary reasons that US schools teach “Julius Caesar” is because there’s no sex or other objectionable material in it. Less for parents to complain about. That would never have occurred to me, but I can see why it makes sense.

      Only recently have I met several fans of the play who would argue that it’s actually one of Shakespeare’s most under-appreciated plays and that there’s tremendous depth yet to be plumbed from it. I look forward to more conversations like that.

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