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Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a Taste for the Bard [Paperback]

Ben Crystal
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

7 May 2009
Who's afraid of William Shakespeare? Just about everyone. He wrote too much and what he did write is inaccessible and elitist. Right? Wrong. "Shakespeare on Toast" knocks the stuffing from the staid old myth of Shakespeare, revealing the man and his plays for what they really are: modern, thrilling and uplifting drama. Actor and author Ben Crystal brings the bright words and colourful characters of the world's greatest hack writer brilliantly to life, handing over the key to Shakespeare's plays, unlocking the so called difficult bits and, astonishingly, finding Shakespeare's own voice amid the poetry. Told in five fascinating Acts, "Shakespeare on Toast" sweeps the cobwebs from the Bard - from his language, his life, his time - revealing both the man and his work to be relevant, accessible and full of beans.

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Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a Taste for the Bard + Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (Eminent Lives)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd (7 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848310544
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848310544
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 12.6 x 18.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ben Crystal is a British actor and writer. He studied English Language and Linguistics at Lancaster University before training at Drama Studio London. He has worked in TV, film and theatre, at the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe, London, and is a narrator for RNIB Talking Books, Channel 4 and the BBC.

He co-wrote Shakespeare's Words (Penguin 2002) and The Shakespeare Miscellany (Penguin 2005) with his father David Crystal, and his first solo book, Shakespeare on Toast - Getting a Taste for the Bard (Icon 2008) was shortlisted for the Educational Writer of the Year Award, 2010. His new series of introductions to Shakespeare's plays - Springboard Shakespeare - was published by Arden Shakespeare in June 2013.

In 2011, he played Hamlet in the first Original Pronunciation production of the play for 400 years with the Nevada Repertory Company, and in 2012 he was the curator of the first CD of extracts of Shakespeare recorded by professional actors in Original Pronunciation for the British Library.

In July 2014, he brought his ensemble to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe, and produced the first reading of Macbeth in OP in Shakespeare's theatre for 400 years. In January 2015 he will take his ensemble to Stockholm to present their production of Pericles in OP, which will be live-scored by the Swedish Radio Symphony as part of conductor Daniel Harding's Interplay Festival.

He and his ensemble perform and give workshops on Shakespeare around the world, and some of this work can be viewed at

He lives in London and online at and Tweets from @bencrystal

Product Description


'Ben Crystal's excellent book is an ideal way to gain an understanding of why Shakespeare is so brilliant and so enjoyable.' -- Sir Richard Eyre 'This is a brilliantly enjoyable, light-hearted look at Shakespeare which dispels the myths and makes him accessible to all. I love it!' -- Judi Dench 'A recent poll of teenagers found Shakespeare to be the least favourite read of those consulted. Ben Crystal, an actor at The Globe and author of two previous books on the Bard, hopes to change all this. He does so by focusing on the universality and timelessness of Shakespeare's appeal and by unraveling the poetry and its impact on our language, as well as the whole notion of what constitutes 'entertainment' in our times.' -- Publishing News 'A master class for modern beginners and old hands alike.' -- Times 'Having Crystal as a companion through the stickier parts of Hamlet and Macbeth is like going to the theatre with an intelligent friend.' -- Independent 'Enjoyable, light-hearted, accessible guide to Shakespeare.' -- Inthenews 'An enthusiastic, accessible and entertaining introduction to Shakespeare.' -- Bookbag 'This book makes the reader want to get to a Shakespeare play as soon as possible to see how much of it has sunk in.' -- Ham & High 'Shakespeare on Toast is reassuring, and appealing, and Crystal's bounding enthusiasm is hard to resist. If, like Crystal, you're a bit of a Shakespeare evangelist, you'll want all your Shakespeare-resistant friends to read it. I'll certainly be buying copies for mine.' -- Around the Globe '[Crystal] is at his best when demonstrating the plays' origins in the demanding world of early modern theatre.' -- Times Literary Supplement 'This should be required reading for actors, anyone doing English Literature at school or university, and the girls who spoiled the performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor I went to at the Globe this summer by whispering to each other that they couldn't understand a word. Highly recommended.' -- Civilian Reader Blog 'Humorous, unpretentious and fascinating.' -- Independent on Sunday 'a surprise hit' -- Libby Purves, Midweek, Radio 4 'Ben Crystal's witty and engaging book is a relaxed, user-friendly reminder that enjoying Shakespeare should be as easy as breathing.' -- Dominic Dromgoole, Artistic Director, Shakespeare's Globe 'Digestible and informative how-to-guide... Crystal's explanations fizz and sparkle with educated clarity and infectious enthusiasm.' -- What's on Stage 'It's a lively and unpretentious attempt to make Shakespeare more accessible to those who are daunted by his status and reputation.' -- Rosemary Ham, Speaking English Journal 'Before you read the play, go and see it. Before you go and see it, read Shakespeare on Toast!' -- Stewart Ross, judge for the Society of Authors, Ceremony for the Educational Writer of the Year Award 2010


A masterclass for modern beginners and old hands alike. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eureka!! I have found it. 11 Jan 2009
By Quintus
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is amazing how things happen. I was in the car on my way to pick up my Granddaughter listening to the radio when I heard Ben Crystal being interviewed about a book called Shakespeare on Toast. I was intrigued by the title and Bens explanation about the key to understanding The Bard. Like many people I wished I could understand the plays but my only contact with his works had been at school in the 1960's. They were hard to understand when read by pupils who had no interest and seemed bored by the whole experience.

If only Shakespeare on Toast had been available then, it would have put the plays in context with the time they were written and explained something of the man and the times he lived and worked in. Shakespeare never intended his plays to be just read, but performed on stage. The book explains that if it had not been for two actors writing his plays down 20 years after his death his plays would have been lost forever.

The dreaded iambic pentameter is also explained in a simple and straight forward way. The way speeches should be spoken were included in the play by Shakespeare himself as an aid to the actors.

Ben Crystal hands you the key to understanding all this and more in this book. If you have a passing interest in the Bard but always thought he is elitist then, like me, I am sure you will enjoy this book as much as I did.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crystal Clear Shakespeare 12 Jan 2009
Ben Crystal deserves an award for making the bard so accessible.

A conversation over dinner with mates in October about the relevance of Shakespeare in 2008 resulted in one of them buying me this book: "read it, Crystal's the Jamie Oliver of Shakespeare," said my friend. I grudgingly leafed through it only to become fixated with just how easy Crystal explains what is wrongly perceived as a difficult area. It was the stocking filler for all my friends.

I'm a convert and I hope to see more in the "Toast" series.
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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Be realistic 20 Dec 2009
"This book is certainly not the only way into Shakespeare.
But it is quick, easy, straightforward, and good for you.
Just like beans on toast."

So now you know where the title came from. The author wrote this book for people who like the idea of Shakespeare but who don't like the idea of poetry, can't follow the language and fall asleep within thirty seconds of looking at a book of his plays. He sets out to take the reader through an introduction to Shakespeare step-by-step on the assumption that if he just explains the right way then you will see the light.
You might remember the comedy sketch programme The Fast Show on TV? One of the characters was a guy with a bobble hat who just walked as he talked to camera and said things like, "Books, what are they all about then? Brilliant! All them words and stuff, explaining things! And pictures too! Brilliant!" The experience of reading this book is a bit like that: blokey plain-speaking combined with 101% enthusiasm for the subject, and even an occasional "Brilliant" thrown in. He also uses personal experience, claiming that despite now having a degree in linguistics and being an actor he was Once Like You and Me, swamp-dwellers, until this or that helped him see the light.
When it works well the effect is impressive. The book builds up to his interpretation of a passage from Macbeth (where Lady Macbeth awaits her husband as he murders the king), where he points to the way the text is laid out on the page as an indication of how Shakespeare wanted the lines to be delivered and reflects on the differing emotions of the characters. This was very helpful, if a little long-winded, but actually left me wanting an interpretation of a different passage, possibly one that is a little more complicated.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare For All 13 Mar 2009
A very good book - I am a Shakespeare lover so he was talking to the converted but the book works very well.
I love how he claims Shakespeare back from the Literary elite and places him firmly in his Elizabehan context.The football analogy is spot on!.
The only part that dragged for me was the end when the over analysis of one play Macbeth occured - that stopped me giving it 5 stars because that part didnt speak to me as vibrantly and powefully as the earlier parts.
Overall a great idea and very well presented - the overall premise is if you really want to apprecaite the great man go to a Theatre and not a class room - HEAR HEAR .
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revolutionary and Persuasive 2 Sep 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Shakespeare on Toast" is one of the very perfect books on Shakespeare I have ever read!

Crystal claims throughout the book that Shakespeare wrote for the actors and audience and expected his plays to be 'audited', not read - a perspective which Crystal makes very, very persuasive, and therein is REVOLUTIONARY.

Reading "Shakespeare on Toast" you suddenly realize you cannot be proud of having read all of Shakespeare's 39 plays and 6 poems - they need be heard, seen, audited, enjoyed on stage!!!

I particularly appreciate Crystal's frankness and open-mindedness, as he never claims every line of Shakespeare is sacred, but rather straightforwardly notes he was not enthusiastic about the Bard before, nor blindly accepts all the plays he wrote are equally brilliant.

The fact that Crystal himself radically changed his attitude to Shakespeare from hatred to conscious admiration gains him experience to be so considerate of his reader's presence. And very often, hardly has a question formed in your mind, he immediately points it out himself and gives a satisfactory answer.

The pages on iambic pentameter in a Macbeth scene are certainly one of the bestest interpretations of Shakespeare ever!

Crystal compares Shakespeare or Shakespearean notions to modern artists, works and films to be more clear and accurate in what he means to say. But I very much appreciate that he does not depict Shakespeare absolutely modern but always notes we should remember there are 400 years separating us from the Bard and he need be understood within his own 'native' framework of Elizabethan England.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book - let down by Kindle formatting
Enjoyed this book enormously, and felt I learnt quite a lot from it. However one criticism - not of the content or writing - but of the look of some pages on Kindle. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Penelope A. Wythes
5.0 out of 5 stars I love it
Just the job
Published 2 days ago by christine
5.0 out of 5 stars amazingly insightful
I bought this book as it was recommended by a fellow student, it is well worth the money. It simplifies things like iambic pentameter, as well as when to use you or thou. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Educational, amusing, non-stuffy guide to appreciating Shakespeare
An excellent, clearly written, yet without being 'dumbed down' explanation of just why we should appreciate the works of Shakespeare. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Ebook Proofreader
5.0 out of 5 stars Every English teacher and student should read!
As well as being packed full of information for English students, it's actually just a cleverly written, easy to follow book that's full of incredible trivia, and really sheds... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Laura Jane
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent book, prompt delivery
Only issue is with the book itself, really didn't talk much about Shakespeare's works - just how to read them, context of the time, vague (obviously) info about the man. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Andrew Wasyliw
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely loved this book.
I bought this because I was considering studying the Open Uni's Shakespeare module as the last one for my degree, but was a bit worried about how I'd get on (I don't have much of a... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Emma
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful and revealing
This breezy but passionate little book is a wonderful primer for those getting interested in Shakespeare and also highly enjoyable for anyone with a deeper acquaintance with the... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mr G
5.0 out of 5 stars Raise a toast
I have read numerous books on Shakespeare and I thought, much to my own conceit, that I pretty much knew everything there was to know about old Shakey. How wrong I was. Read more
Published 8 months ago by C. S. Bancroft
4.0 out of 5 stars delightful content, spoiled by the style
This book is full of enthusiasm, delightfully easy to read and presents important ideas in a very accessible way. Read more
Published 8 months ago by tangerina
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