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Stage and Screen Education and Inspiration The American Identity

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What were some of the most popular Shakespeare
plays in America in the past?

What were some of the most popular Shakespeare plays in America in the past?

Richard III, with its classic Shakespearean villain, has always been popular in America. In the years just before and during the Revolution, patriots also liked to compare Richard to King George III. Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet are other perennial favorites, and Julius Caesar has been frequently studied in school as well as performed.

In the period before radio, movies, and television, there were also far more stage productions of all types in America. More of Shakespeare’s plays were regularly produced, including works like Coriolanus.

Some plays were also much more popular in America in the 1800s than they are today. A good example is King John, which provided many of the Shakespeare quotations used in nineteenth-century school readers and was well known to those who read Shakespeare on their own. After Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie died, Lincoln read several Shakespeare passages to his private secretary, including the lines spoken by Constance in King John about her dead son: “Father cardinal, I have heard you say / That we shall see, and know, our friends in heaven.”

Tobias Bauer after Max Adamo. King John. Print, late 19th century. Folger Shakespeare Library.