Thursday, July 19, 2012

Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal [Reprint]

Icon Books
Published September 11, 2012
272 pages

A blessedly brief work on the Bard, this book is a guide of sorts to approaching Shakespeare's works, either for the first or hundredth time.  Crystal begins with some background on Shakespeare and his plays, including Elizabethan audience expectations versus modern deifying of the playwright.  This tendency to put Shakespeare up on a pedestal is part of what makes people unwilling, nervous, or incapable of understanding and enjoying his writing.  Crystal also describes the Globe Theatre and how a typical performance of a play would have looked and sounded.  Not being a Shakespeare expert by any means, this was all information that I found fascinating, and reading just this far helped me to realize that simply reading Shakespeare in a classroom for analytical purposes is, without doubt, the least interesting way to experience Shakespeare.

Throughout the rest of the book, Crystal's main thesis is that Shakespeare wrote everything he did in the ways that he did with very deliberate purpose, and by understanding these methods it is possible to better interpret and act out the plays in a way closer to what Shakespeare seems to have envisioned.  By paying attention to prose vs. verse, any deviations from iambic pentameter, use of thou and you, and characters with no speaking lines, Crystal argues that readers can make more meaning out of plot and characterization.  He illustrates his tips with short bits of his own analyses.

Overall, Crystal does a wonderful job of presenting strategies that can help make Shakespeare more approachable, more understandable, and more enjoyable to the "average" reader, and would be a wonderful supplement in English classes.

Rating: 5/5

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a great tool to use in the classroom, even for a teacher who is afraid of how they should approach Shakespeare. (Certainly not me, but others. Though I would have this on board as a reference.)