25 Plays all High School Seniors Should Read (Before They Graduate) Part 1

Written by Ashleigh Gardner

April 27, 2017

You know what’s great about being a high school senior? Graduating obviously! But another great thing about being on the cusp of your transition from high school to college (or the professional acting world) is that you’ll now get the chance to audition for some of the greatest plays ever written. You’ll have the opportunity to audition for theatres to earn the role of Freddy in Pygmalion, Nick in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, or Cory in Fences. Ophelia from Hamlet, Irina from Three Sisters, or Lysistrata from — well — Lysistrata.

To have a better chance at being cast in any of those amazing plays, you should read them first. Below is Performer Stuff’s top 25 list of plays every high school senior should read before graduating. We’ve also included a summary and our favorite character(s) from each.

1. Lysistrata by Aristophanes

Summary: A woman encourages her fellow women to keep their lovers from sexual privileges until they agree to establish peace to end the Peloponnesian War.
Best Character: Lysistrata for gumption, sense of humor, and intelligence.

Find monologues for free here.

2. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Summary: While Thebes was under the rule of King Laïus and Queen Jocasta, a strange and monstrous Sphinx appeared. Laïus went to ask aid of the oracle of Delphi, but was slain mysteriously on the road. Soon afterward, the Prince of Corinth, Oedipus, who had left his home, faced the Sphinx and read her riddle. Having been defeated, she flung herself from her rock and died. The vacant throne was offered to Oedipus, and with it the hand of the Queen, Jocasta. Some ten or twelve years afterward a pestilence has fallen on Thebes. At this point the play begins. (This is the story where a man accidentally kills his father and marries his mother.)
Best Character: The blind prophet Tiresias for wit, bluntness, and eccentricity.

Find monologues for free here.

3. Everyman by Anonymous

Summary: A medieval English morality play that has the capability to be performed in any time period. An allegorical story about Everyman, a character who represents all mankind. Over the course of the play, Everyman encounters different characters who tempt, insult, and shun him — all except Good Deeds. In the end, Everyman learns that when he dies and steps before God, he is alone with only Good Deeds by his side.
Best Character: Everyman for character journey and endless options for character development.

4. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Summary: The king is murdered by his brother, Claudius, who takes the throne and marries the king’s wife, Gertrude. Gertrude’s son, Hamlet, takes serious issue with this change, goes a little nuts, and puts his trust in his best friend, Horatio, and two friends from school, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Meanwhile, he’s also lashing out at Ophelia, daughter of wise-man Polonius. When Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, returns from school to find out Hamlet’s murdered Polonius and pushed Ophelia to suicide, they battle it out, and everyone except Horatio dies.
Best Characters: Hamlet, Horatio, and Ophelia for strong characters having to deal with the throes of great change.

Find monologues for free here.

5. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Summary: Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet are in love, but their parents hate each other. A blood feud prevents them from publicly announcing their relationship, so they get married in secret. When Juliet finds out she has to marry a guy she doesn’t really know, she takes a sleeping potion, making her family think she’s dead. News reaches Romeo, and, distraught, he commits suicide over her sleeping body. When Juliet wakes up, she finds Romeo dead and kills herself from grief.
Best Character: Mercutio (Romeo’s best friend) for comedic timing, a show-stopping monologue, and swagger.

Find monologues for free here.

6. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Summary: Upon Julius Caesar’s return to Rome, he encounters a soothsayer who warns him to “beware the Ides of March”. He disregards this warning. The focus then turns to Caesar’s friend Brutus and Cassius, who tries to convince Brutus to betray Caesar, saying that Caesar would not make a good ruler if he accepted the crown from Mark Antony. Brutus experiences a moral dilemma, torn between killing his friend and allowing Caesar to take the throne and possibly harm the people of Rome. Brutus sides with Cassius and the other betrayers. In one of the most famous scenes in theatre, Brutus stabs Caesar on the floor of the Senate on the 15th of March — “the Ides of March”. Caesar responds, “E tu, Brute?” and dies.
Best Character: Brutus for experiencing one of the most difficult decisions ever faced in theatre.

Find monologues for free here.

7. Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Summary: A Scottish general named Macbeth receives a prophecy from three witches telling him that he will be king one day. Motivated by greed and ambition (and his power-hungry wife), Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the throne for himself. He is then wracked with guilt and paranoia, and because he must keep killing in order to maintain his rule, the guilt and paranoia persist. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth spin into a darkening web of lies and deceit and into ultimate madness and death.
Best Characters: The three witches (who can be played by a variety of different actors in different ways).

Find monologues for free here.

8. Othello by William Shakespeare

Summary: Young Desdemona is in love with a black soldier named Othello in her father’s army. Though her father approves of the match, Othello’s confident, Iago, becomes jealous of Othello’s promotion and conspires against Othello with Rodrigo, a man who lusts after Desdemona. Iago sets up a ruse to make Othello think that Desdemona cheats on him, and Othello suffocates Desdemona with the pillows of their marriage bed.
Best Character: Iago for being one of the most villainous characters ever to grace the stage.

Find monologues for free here.

9. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Summary: Hermia is in love with Lysander and Helena is in love with Demetrius, but Demetrius loves Helena. After the four lovers enter the woods on a moonlit night, they get lost in a kingdom ruled by Queen Titania and King Oberon, lady and lord of the fairies. Oberon and his faithful servant, Puck, cause trouble when Puck accidentally makes Lysander and Demetrius fall in love with Helena and Titania fall in love with a boastful actor named Bottom — who Puck turns into a donkey. A raucous good time for all involved with a happy ending.
Best Character: Puck for pure knavery.

Find monologues for free here.

10. Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Summary: Doctor Faustus, a well-respected scholar, becomes bored with traditional methods of acquiring knowledge — intense study of medicines, law, and religion — and yearns for something more. He decides to learn to practice magic and summons a demon named Mephistopheles and promises his soul to the devil for 24 years. Over the next 24 years, he traipses around the world impressing dignitaries with magic, but when his time is up, he is carried off to Hell by a host of demonic forces, leaving his limbs behind.
Best Character: A clown named Robin, the servant of Wagner (Faustus’s servant), for comic misadventures.

11. Tartuffe by Moliere

Summary: A grifter named Tartuffe tricks Orgon into taking Tartuffe into his home and allowing him to live with his family. Tartuffe pretends to be a religious man, pious, and full of authority from God, and Orgon, convinced of Tartuffe’s piety, promises Mariane, his daughter, to the fraud. Valère, Mariane’s original fiance, struggles to regain the hand of his true love Mariane with the help of Elmire, Orgon’s second wife. Luckily, and by happenstance, the king hears of Tartuffe’s treachery and sends a jailer to arrest him.
Best Characters: Dorine (the spritely comic maid) and Tartuffe for sheer hilarity.

Find monologues here.

12. The Miser by Moliere

Summary: Old man Harpagon is a cheap man with children who have both fallen in love, but Harpagon wants to marry his son’s girlfriend, and he wants to sell his daughter off to another rich old man. Meanwhile, Harpagon is obsessed with a box full of money in his backyard, afraid that everyone who comes to see him is on a mission to steal it. When a servant takes off with the money, Harpagon’s son, Cléante, makes a deal with his father — Cléante will send the police after the perpetrator if Harpagon allows Cléante and his sister to marry their respective lovers.
Best Character: Harpagon (a character role) for pure fun.

Get monologues here.

13. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Summary: Probably the wittiest comedy in the English language. Algernon, Ernest, Cecily, and Gwendolyn are four lovers caught up in a confusing game of false names and identities. When Ernest is in the country visiting his young ward, Cecily, he takes on the name “Jack” to appear more professional. He tells people that he has a reckless wanton younger brother in London named “Ernest”. His friend, Algernon, becomes interested in Cecily and travels to the country to visit her, taking on the name “Ernest”. When Ernest (Jack) tells everyone at the country estate that his “brother Ernest” in the city has died, confusion takes over and the farce deepens.
Best Character: Algernon for trickery and charm.

14. Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov

Summary: “The Prozorov sisters, Olga, Masha, and Irina, dream of freedom, sex, romance and Moscow. Two figures appear in their lives. Vershinin, the new battery commander, has hopes of a better future for mankind. Natasha, a local woman, has hopes of a better future for herself. Each will transform the Prozorov family. A complex lattice of stories works itself out, bringing reward to some, despair to others.” – Samuel French
Best Character: The middle sister, Masha, for wit, intelligence, and a biting sense of humor.

15. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

Summary: “This epochal drama of marriage and the individual portrays a controlling husband, Torvald Helmer, and his wife, Nora, a submissive young woman who, when their idealized homelife collapses, comes to the realization that she must finally close the door on her husband, children, and life in “a doll’s house” in order to find and live as her true self.” – Samuel French
Best Character: Nora for inspiring feminists everywhere.

16. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

Summary: This play is the basis for My Fair Lady. “The phoneticist Henry Higgins is the Pygmalion figure who believes he can transform Eliza Doolittle, a cockney flower girl, into a duchess at ease in polite society. The one thing he overlooks is that his ‘creation’ has a mind of her own.” – Samuel French
Best Character: Eliza Doolittle for gumption and sass.

17. Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill

Summary: Set in the summer home of the Tyrone family during 1912. The matriarch of the family, Mary, returns from a sanitorium where she has attempted (although unsuccessfully) to combat her morphine addiction. Her son, Edmund, develops the symptoms of tuberculosis, and Edmund’s brother Jaime and father Tyrone must deal with the addictions and illnesses of their family members while bickering between themselves. The play takes place in four acts over the course of one day, and it’s a beautiful doozy of a play.
Best Character: Edmund for intelligence, grace, and personal struggle with family.

18. The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

Summary: Tom Wingfield, an aspiring poet who works at a shoe factory to make ends meet, is desperate to get out from under the thumb of his mother. He feels obligated to his family but also burdened by their existence. His sister, Laura, has a limp as a result of a childhood illness and also maintains a mental fragility and his mother, Amanda, is constantly bugging him about his decision to go out every night to the movies. A play that’s fascinating to watch and to perform.
Best Character: Tom Wingfield for one of the most interesting sets of monologues ever delivered in modern theatre.

19. The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman

Summary: Martha and Karen, two friends who have built a boarding school from an old farm house, are accused of having a lesbian affair when one of their students, Mary, becomes enraged at being punished and concocts a lie to get revenge. Mary tells her grandmother the lie, swearing it to be true, and when her grandmother calls the other girls’ parents, the lie spins so out of control that it destroys the lives of the two women forever.
Best Character: Martha for a complex internal struggle.

20. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Summary: “Set on Chicago’s South Side, the plot revolves around the divergent dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger family: son Walter Lee, his wife Ruth, his sister Beneatha, his son Travis, and matriarch Lena. When her deceased husband’s insurance money comes through, Mama Lena dreams of moving to a new home and a better neighborhood in Chicago. Walter Lee, a chauffeur, has other plans: buying a liquor store and being his own man. Beneatha dreams of medical school. The tensions and prejudice they face form this seminal American drama.” – Samuel French
Best Character: Beneatha for bravery, intelligence, and outspokenness.

21. Fences by August Wilson

Summary: “Troy Maxson, a former star of the Negro baseball leagues who now works as a garbage man in 1957 Pittsburgh. Excluded as a black man from the major leagues during his prime, Troy’s bitterness takes its toll on his relationships with his wife and his son, who now wants his own chance to play ball.” – Samuel French
Best Character: Troy for conflict between his son and his unrealized dream of pro ball.

22. The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Summary: “The story focuses upon a young farmer, his wife, and a young servant-girl who maliciously causes the wife’s arrest for witchcraft. The farmer brings the girl to court to admit the lie—and it is here that the monstrous course of bigotry and deceit is terrifyingly depicted. The farmer, instead of saving his wife, finds himself also accused of witchcraft and ultimately condemned with a host of others.” – Samuel French
Best Characters: Mary Warren and Abigail Williams for fatal shenanigans.

23. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Summary: “The story revolves around the last days of Willy Loman, a failing salesman, who cannot understand how he failed to win success and happiness. Through a series of tragic soul-searching revelations of the life he has lived with his wife, his sons, and his business associates, we discover how his quest for the ‘American Dream’ kept him blind to the people who truly loved him.” – Samuel French
Best Character: Biff Loman for a strong conflict between his personal goals and what his father wants.

24. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee

Summary: A strange, quirky, and darkly comic portrait of George, a college professor, and Martha, his wife, who entertain a younger couple after — and during — a night of drinking. George and Martha’s relationship quickly reveals a deep animosity they hold toward each other stemming from a hidden truth that has festered for too long.
Best Characters: Honey and Nick, two drunkenly unaware, unassuming, and unprepared 20-somethings.

25. American Buffalo by David Mamet

Summary: “In a Chicago junk shop three small time crooks plot to rob a man of his coin collection, the showpiece of which is a valuable “Buffalo nickel”. These high-minded grifters fancy themselves businessmen pursuing legitimate free enterprise. But the reality of the three- Donny, the oafish junk shop owner; Bobby, a young junkie Donny has taken under his wing and ‘Teach’, a violently paranoid braggart- is that they are merely pawns caught up in their own game of last-chance, dead-end, empty pipe dreams.” – Samuel French
Best Character: Bobby for making the difficult decision to take initiative.

Don’t let this list scare you! It’s definitely possible to read one play a night or over a weekend. In fact, to make it more fun, read the play out loud with a friend or two and decide which characters you’d be best for!

Interested in reading more plays? Check out our other features below!

Ashleigh Gardner received her AA in Theatre/Drama/Dramatic Arts from Valencia College and her Bachelors Degree in English Literature and Masters Degree in Literary, Cultural, and Textual Studies from the University of Central Florida. She is a playwright, an actor, and PerformerStuff.com’s Editor. 
Thumbnail: Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash