replacing shakespeare (part 1)

[estimated reading time 2 minutes]

i have recently spoken and written quite extensively about why we should completely eliminate classic and traditional literature from our school and college english studies. but this has lead to another interesting question — given how much time has been devoted to studying shakespeare, byron, bronté and steinbeck, what do we replace them with in our curriculum?

well, i’ve got you covered. in this series, we’re going to explore a variety of books that can be used in the classroom to teach the same themes but without all the ridiculous traditional language and confusion of past societies involved in studying the outdated cannon.

we’ll start with the most common shakespeare and move on to other frequently-studied books in american, canadian and british classrooms. if you have any particular books or themes you’d like to explore with your students and you don’t know what books might be best to tackle, please reach out and i will make sure that’s the next one on the list. today, though, we’re going to start with probably the most-well-known of all shakespeare’s dramatic works — romeo and juliet.

romeo and juliet

this play is the story of two young people who fall in love, a love prohibited by their families and societal norms. they try to fight against fate and end up dead and only then do their families finally discover there was no reason for them to have been fighting in the first place. it’s a story as old as human society and has been told in many ways. but the important part is its thematic relevance, as that’s often why we teach literature. so let’s look at those individual themes and what might be useful as replacement books. of course, i’m not suggesting you study all of these books in class — just pick one or two to fill in the gap left by the elimination of the bard. but this should give you a wide variety of choice depending on what other aspects you want to explore and what you think might best fit your situation.

the power of love

  • the hunger games by suzanne collins (2008)
  • the lost ones by anita frank (2019)
  • heaven by kawakami mieko (2009)
  • memorial by bryan washington (2020)
  • the court dancer by shin kyungsook (2018)

love becoming violence

  • a woman is no man by etaf rum (2019)
  • when we were friends by elizabeth arnold (2011)
  • the historians by cecilia ekbäck (2021)
  • magma by thora hjörleifsdóttir (2019)
  • out by kirino natsuo (1997)

fighting against society

  • tomorrow when the war began by john marsden (1993)
  • someone else’s garden by dipika rai (2011)
  • the nightingale by kristin hannah (2017)
  • all the birds in the sky by charlie anders (2016)
  • a nail, a rose by madeleine bourdouxhe (1989)

fate as unavoidable

  • the passenger by lisa lutz (2016)
  • pachinko by lee min jin (2017)
  • daughters of the dragon by william andrews (2014)
  • the accomplice by joseph kanon (2019)
  • the poppy war by rebecca kuang (2018)


  • the collection by nina leger (2019)
  • happening by annie ernaux (2001)
  • straight from the horse’s mouth by meryem alaoui (2018)
  • kim jiyoung, born 1982 by cho namjoo (2016)
  • automatic eve by inui rokuro (2014)
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thank you for reading. your eyes have done me a great honor today.