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Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a Taste for the Bard Paperback – 7 May 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books (7 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848310544
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848310544
  • Product Dimensions: 12.5 x 1.7 x 18.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 28,289 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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Annie Martirosyan on 2 Sept. 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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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Steve on 12 Jan. 2009
Format: Hardcover
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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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Quintus on 11 Jan. 2009
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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62 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Walker on 20 Dec. 2009
Format: Paperback
"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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