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The Sydney Morning Herald – February 7th, 2009 – Pick of the Week
If you have a friend of member of your family who is about to study Shakespeare and they find the Elizabethan English and profound poetic utterances intimidating, then this book should be read before attempting the greatest intellectual journey that literature can offer.

Alternatively, if you have read Shakespeare or seen a Shakespearean play and you have not been swept off your feet by the sheer power and beauty of the drama and the language, then you, too, should read this book.

Shakespeare is not only the greatest playwright, he is so far ahead of other dramatists that they seem shuffling and stunted beside him. It is rare to find a book that takes his genius as its premise, refuses to become excessively intellectual about his work and encourages readers to enjoy the simple pleasure of great plays written superbly.

This is the modest aim of actor and English language and linguistics graduate Ben Crystal and, in spite of the dubious title (subtitled Getting a Taste for the Bard) this is a book that argues pervasively the case for reading, seeing and enjoying Shakespeare.

Crystal’s approach is simple: he teaches the reader how to understand the plays in the context of the sparse stages of the Elizabethan era and the original audience’s familiarity with the stories.
He discusses in detail the rich subtlety of the language and points out that modern audiences should not be daunted because “of the 900,000-odd words in Shakespeare… only 5 per cent of them would give someone wandering around in the 21st century a hard time”.

Most critically, he explains what iambic pentameter is, how it is used and what its vital function is in the plays.

It has often been said that the greatest Shakespearean actors know how to read the poetry. Certainly, this remarkable book explains why the poetry is so important and so great.

This is a remarkable primer for anyone who wants to understand the true genius of the greatest writer the world has ever known.

— Bruce Elder

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