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British Theatre Guide – January 2009

He is hardly the first person to attempt it, but Ben Crystal does an excellent job of demystifying Shakespeare, perhaps unique in his desire to do so on behalf of the hip-hop generation.

In addition to training as an actor, the author has studied English language and linguistics and already co-written a couple of books about the Bard, and, most usefully for these purposes, an analysis of Shakespeare’s Words.

Like most of us, his initial introduction to the canon came about at school when the prospect of reading vast quantities of unintelligible words, seemingly written in a language very different from his own, proved terrifying.

Having got over his own hang-ups, Crystal is now keen to help others to do the same, probably far less painfully. His main advantage is relative youth and an ability to talk directly to those in their teens and 20s, liberally dropping in contemporary cultural references from film, literature and music.

These place William Shakespeare in a modern context as a kind of rather older brother to Miles Davis and Philip Glass but also and on the literary side, Charles Dickens and Ken Follett, with TV and film represented by Scarface and Friends and, dumbing down considerably further, Big Brother Live or EastEnders.

If that makes the book sound lightweight, it is unfair, since perhaps the greatest value in what Ben Crystal offers is an intelligible explanation of both the background to the works and also the language and poetry. He is the first person who has made a decent fist of explaining the use of language and iambic pentameter to this reviewer.

The book is set out in five acts and then divided up into scenes. The final act pulls apart and then puts back together the short scene following Macbeth’s murder of Duncan, putting into practice much of the theoretical information provided earlier in the book.

If you want to help a younger friend or relative to get hooked on Shakespeare, you would do well to commend this competitively priced manual. Not only will it help them to appreciate perhaps the greatest writer of the last millennium but it will also give them a really good read.

Philip Fisher

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