If we were high school English teachers…
Here’s how we would divvy up Shakespeare:
Grade 9 — Twelfth Night
This is a perfect introduction to the bard for minor niners. It’s light, very funny and full of prepubescent jokes — especially from Sir Toby Belch (–>) who may have the best name in the entire anthology.
Twelfth Night also mirrors the difference in maturity levels between ninth grade boys and girls. The play’s females are smart, cunning and forward-thinking. The males are boorish, self-centred and lovestruck. Yup, sounds about right.
Grade 10 — King Lear
By the time you’re 15 years old, you’re well on your way to hating your family. So before you irreparably destroy that relationship, it behooves to see what that really looks like. The King’s two daughters, Regan and Goneril, exemplify this, as do the Earl of Gloucester’s kids, Edmund and Edgar. Needless to say, it doesn’t end well for them.
The tragedy of it all is how the King’s descent into madness is essentially dismissed by his own selfish kids. This alone should give young people pause — especially ones with older parents.
Grade 11 — Romeo & Juliet
Most kids will lose their virginity in Grade 11 (16.9 years old for boys, 17.2 years for girls). But before they do, they should see what being lovestruck can do to them and how being blinded by love can affect everyone else in their lives. In this way, the Montague/Capulet story is a double warning: young love has consequences, and (spoiler alert) falling in love for the first time can cloud your judgement to the point of accidentally killing yourself for no reason.
On a related note, Romeo & Juliet features modern literature’s first wingmen, Benvolio and Mercutio, with the latter having one of the best lines ever written: “A pox on both your houses.”
Grade 12 — Hamlet
You’re 18. You realize you know nothing about anything. You hate your father. Your friends kind of suck. You’re questioning your entire existence. Oh, and the girl you love is a bit of a psycho. That’s the plight of Hamlet and almost every other soon-to-graduate kid out there. It sucks. It’s hard. And it’s refreshing to know that you’re just joining a long line of confused teenagers.
Interestingly, Hamlet’s most famous line, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” is a popular passage with grammarians. Change the punctuation around and it means something totally different: “To be or not? To be. That is the question!”