The Best Shakespeare Plays Taught in School, Ranked
January 20, 2021
The day an English teacher pulls out a Shakespearean play is one that many students dread. How does one even pronounce “iambic pentameter?”. But for me, I relish it – I love Shakespeare. That being said, one has to think about which play is the most enjoyable to read for students? Well, here is my attempt at this – my list as I see it base on analysis, depth of themes, and lasting effects that each play leaves on the reader. Enjoy!
5. Romeo And Juliet
Unrequited love. Tales of true love at first sight. This play has shaped centuries of novels, songs, and art. In comparison to Shakespeare’s other plays, this one lacks substance and is the one most overused in education. While its impact remains strong in every day pop culture, the themes of love, hate, and false dichotomies based on old family quarrels, aren’t as beefy as some of Shakespeare’s themes developed in other plays, making it difficult for this play to hold up to other works; however, it still holds as a favorite to certain literary connoisseurs, such as Mr. Booth and Mrs. McGrath. Mr. Booth, when asked to name his favorite Shakespearean play, said: “Seniors read Macbeth, Sophomores read Julius Caesar, and Freshman read Romeo and Juliet; and if I had a choice, I would pick Romeo and Juliet. I like the romance, other than the bloodthirsty ambition of Macbeth.” Mrs. McGrath, on the other hand, said: “My favorite Shakespeare play is Romeo and Juliet because its the most mainstream, it’s the only one I know very well; it’s the really the only one I paid close attention to… I read it in Junior High.” Though Romeo and Juliet holds high praise from several readers, this play lacks the eloquence and lavishness that I enjoy diving into when I read.
“These violent delights have violent ends, And in their triumph die, like fire and powder, which, as they kiss, consume.” Act II, Scene VI
4. As You Like It
“All the world’s a stage!” The sweet romantic comedy of Rosalind hiding in the woods in efforts to escape her uncle’s court tells a beautiful tale of a fair young lady falling in love whilst disguised as a man. The acts all come together to make a quaint tale and is one of Shakespeare’s happier works. Themes include love, forgiveness, and the destruction of gender norms, which was most definitely bold for the time. As you Like It gives one of Shakespeare’s most well-known quotes: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players, they all have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” Though its jovial writing and picturesque humor throughout, this one lacks an ounce of the heavy- hitting substance found in other works, making this sit in fourth place.
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Act V, Scene I
3. Julius Caesar
Ah, yes. Sophomore English. This play makes the reader weary about their friends; perhaps if they are true pals, or if they will conspire and stab them in the back (literally.) A story full of superstition, foreshadowing, and betrayal, this is full of deeper meanings and required analysis to interpret what Shakespeare was really trying to say. There are clear juxtapositions of several characters throughout the play, the first being between Cassius and Brutus: the former killing Caesar for his own gain, and the latter killing Caesar for the good of Rome. Another would be of Caesar and his reaction to his wife, how he disregards her plea to stay home instead of being crowned, and the relationship between Brutus and his wife Portia, one in which they would both die for each other without hesitation. Though it is not the “best” Shakespeare play in terms of theme and motifs, Julius Caesar leaves the reader with much to think about and is certainly an easy one to remember.
“Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Act I , Scene III
Everyone has heard of Macbeth, even if it is the cursed play! Don’t say its name aloud, because the King of Scotland might haunt you…Maybe not literally, but the strong superstition of early playgoers lingers to this day, showing its impactfulness in it is. While most don’t know the contents of the play itself, cultural references are rich. Hamilton fans can use context clues from Take a Break to determine that Banquo and Macduff are not exactly “friends” with Macbeth. While Macduff and Banquo are fiercely loyal to their king and land, Macbeth is seen killing the king in order to take the crown of Scotland. This is just an ounce of the depth in this play, as it takes several read through to understand the level that this holds.
“Who can be wise, amazed, temp’rate, and furious, loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man.” Act II, Scene III
The story of revenge, loss, and betrayal. The five act play starts off with the King of Denmark dying via poisonous snake bite. His brother, Claudius, takes the throne, and marries his brother’s widow, Gertrude. The former king’s son, the young Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is outraged. In a depressive episode, he sees his father’s ghost, who tells him to take the throne of Denmark and kill Claudius. Was his ghost real? Was it a sign of mania and insanity? Or was it all planned out in Hamlet’s precise and cunning mind? The play continues with Hamlet plotting revenge against his uncle, but little does he know that Polonius and Claudius are spying on him. Some spies they must be, because they haven’t the slightest clue of his endeavors in killing them. Hamlet solemnly gives his “To be or not to be” soliloquy in Act 3, and eventually kills Polonius through a wall tapestry mistakenly. His later endeavors leave multiple characters dead (I mustn’t say who for the benefit of the reader,) and eventually the most important character of all. Hamlet is by far my favorite play to read and analyze; so much analysis is needed to unfold the main themes, but it is completely enjoyable and delivers some of the most iconic speech in all of Shakespeare’s work. This play is not only my favorite, but Mrs. Moore’s and Mr. Horn’s as well. When asked what her favorite play was, Mrs. Moore responded with: “My favorite would be Hamlet… It really just ties into all of Shakespeare, all the themes are still very relevant to today. The struggles that Hamlet is going through, the struggle Ophelia goes through; the deceit, the treachery-they’re all themes that are still relevant to literature today and the different things that happen today.” Mr. Horn, with a smaller, but gratefully impacting answer, said, “Hamlet -just because it makes one question their own existence…What deeper question is there other than ‘who am I?’”. I would highly recommend paying attention in class just a little bit more, to bask in the 1601 tale that will linger for several more generations to come.
“Brevity is the soul of wit.” Act II Scene II