Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Allen Webb

Second Advisor

Dr. Ellen Brinkley

Third Advisor

Dr. Anthony Ellis

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Edward L. Rocklin


This dissertation analyzes Shakespeare’s role in American education from colonial times through the Progressive Era. The history is divided into four overlapping historical periods, each represented in its own chapter and derived from four different sets of primary sources. The first chapter provides a synopsis of Shakespeare’s presence in American education in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and then, through case studies of the records of two nineteenth-century university literary societies – the Hasty Pudding Club of Harvard University and the Sherwood Rhetorical Society of Kalamazoo College – examines the role extracurricular activity played in first introducing Shakespeare at the university level and creating a foundation for the formal study of his plays which would come later in the century. The second chapter evaluates the evolution of nineteenth-century school readers, the primary texts used in schools for teaching reading, and their incorporation of Shakespeare. Early in the nineteenth century, readers included brief Shakespearean excerpts to be read aloud in class as students studied elocution and learned the skills of proper public speaking. American theater had a dubious and lowbrow reputation in the nineteenth century, and to distance themselves from theatrical association, reader editors only rarely attributed these passages to Shakespeare. As the century progressed, though, and both Shakespeare and theater’s reputation increasingly became the property of highbrow culture, reader editors gradually included longer passages and even entire scene sequences. The third chapter compares the school Shakespeare editions edited by Henry Norman Hudson and William James Rolfe in the late nineteenth century, and finds despite superficial differences and editorial conflict, both series demonstrate a focus on literary and textual scholarship absent in the readers that had preceded them. The fourth chapter is an analysis of early contributions from 1912 through 1930 to English Journal, the first professional periodical to record the collective voice of American teachers. These reveal innovative dramatization approaches to teaching Shakespeare that had been shunned in the previous century, as well as the use of new visual (i.e. picture books, postcards, etc.) and auditory (i.e. phonograph) technologies popular in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access