Books: Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal

This little gem has been on my To-Read list for far too long, but the good news is that today I get to check it off, and it was well worth the wait.

I’ve studied Shakespeare as Literature, and I’ve watched loads of performances (I was even in one myself), but I must honestly admit that studying Shakespeare as a performance text has not been my strong point. For all the experience I have with the Bard, and all the love I bear towards him, I still find him quite daunting and difficult.

In general, I’m far more comfortable exploring themes, motifs, symbolism, character comparison, historical analysis, and all that Literature stuff, than delving into the metre and art of performance first hand. With a bum ear for rhythm, thinking about metre normally leaves me red faced in embarrassment and frustration.

While Crystal’s little book did not turn me into a great scansion artist, he did ignite a curiosity and new-found boldness. As he stated in his opening pages, he made the text accessible in a new way without dumbing it down. He skillfully avoids the trap of becoming weighed down in alienating jargon, and, instead, illustrates his points with humour and clarity.

To be clear, the book does far more than focus on metre. Crystal gives his readers a look at Shakespeare from all angles–businessman, artist, performer, poet, and much more–while offering an easy path to begin discovering Shakespeare in new ways.

Even as someone coming to the book with a fair amount of basic knowledge, it was a refreshing, and frequently surprising, read. I cannot recommend it highly enough to any who have a curiousity about Shakespeare; whether it is slight interest or a consuming passion, this book will have something in it for you.


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