Category Archive: Reviews

    “A real tour de force” – blog review

    A very kind blog review:

    The final part of Shakespeare on Toast has Crystal putting everything together in a fascinating analysis of one of the key speeches in Macbeth.  It’s a real tour de force…

    I think this book is wonderful.  I have learned plenty from it and I suspect anyone other than an English literature academic would do the same…  I reckon it should be compulsory reading for all teenagers studying Shakespeare and so, for that, Saint Jamie of the Bard gets my vote.


    Read the full review here

    Review of Gnomeo & Juliet for The Atlantic Magazine

    An excerpt of my review published today in The Atlantic Magazine:

    I like adaptations of Shakespeare. He often adapted well-known stories and so the plots of his plays would have been very familiar to his audience—the fall of Troy would have been a bedtime story, the legend of Romeo and Juliet a fairy tale, and A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, with its forest-bound love story featuring a man turned into an ass by tricksy fairies, a pre-Brother’s Grimm fable….

    Gnomeo and Juliet has a stellar cast of voices, ninja gnomes, er, music by Elton John, and, um… I’m sorry. It’s no good. I tried to like it, I really did. But it was, by turns, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, cheap, and dull, with jokes about women, gays, and foreigners that I thought we’d done with decades ago.

    Click here to read the full review…

    A Review of a great new Graphic Novel – Kill Shakespeare!

    I was asked recently to put some ‘unfettered’ thoughts together about the first edition of a new graphic novel, Kill Shakespeare!

    First off, I think it’s *beautifully* drawn. Reminds me of Hellboy, particularly the ghosts and witches. It looks great, has a good pace, and is exciting to read. I like the story too: it’s a nice twist – one I’d been toying with for a while – and it left me wanting to read more.

    Click here to read the review in full – though you will have to read past another’s vitriol to get to my thoughts.

    Congrats to Anthony & Conor, and all else responsible…

    My review of James Shapiro’s Contested Will, Independent on Sunday

    My review of James Shapiro’s Contested Will, and Doug Stewart’s The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare, in today’s Independent on Sunday:

    For so long, I had not wanted to get drawn in to this unanswerable debate. No more. Now I’m out and proud. Shapiro’s is an important book, which goes a long way towards putting an end to the authorship question once and for all. Bring on the conspiracy theorists, I have met their nemesis, and its name shall be Contested Will.

    So it was with eagerness that I turned to Doug Stewart’s The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare, keen to delve deeper into one of the stories that Shapiro thrillingly covers in a dozen pages: the story of the forger William Henry Ireland.

    Click here to read the review in full…

    Misha Adair on Books Review of Shakespeare on Toast

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    Misha Adair on Books – February 2010

    Everyone meets Shakespeare at school. Which play stripped you of your Shakespeare maidenhead? Hmmm? Romeo and Juliet? Macbeth? King Lear? Othello? Much Ado About Nothing? A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Julius Caesar? Antony and Cleopatra? Chances are it was one of those, and chances are it was one of those for your parents as well. And their parents also.

    But have you read a whole play he wrote since you cast aside your school uniform and went out into the wide world? Go on – be honest now…

    Teaching Shakespeare is riddled with difficulties: about four hundred years of linguistic evolution means that his English isn’t quite ours – it’s a moderate, but present language barrier. Then, of course, great slabs of the plays are written in verse. All students seem to be allergic to poetry at first – seriously, you need an EpiPen in clear view and the patience of a saint to convince them that they won’t suffer catastrophic anaphylactic shock if they read and try to understand a poem.

    Taking on the knotty task of bringing the mountain that is Shakespeare to the people since relatively few of them will go to Shakespeare is Ben Crystal (son of the linguist David Crystal), with Shakespeare on Toast.

    The title rather leads you to expect a relentless dumbing down of the Swan of Avon, but although Crystal can be a bit puppyish and twee from time to time, you’d have to know a hell of a lot about the Bard to get through the whole book without once saying ‘Egad! I didn’t know that!’ or something similar.

    The book is tricked out with a handy index (I do love a good index, don’t you?), a neat little glossary of key terms and a recommended reading list that is a tiny bit suspect because three of the ten books on it were penned by members of the Crystal family. In a rather too cutesy touch, the whole thing is divided into acts and scenes rather than chapters, but that’s the sort of thing it’s relatively easy to forgive Crystal for.

    ‘Here’s a thing: Shakespeare is partly responsible for the film career of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger got his first part in an American film (Hercules in New York) because Joe Weider, his friend and promoter, convinced the film’s producers that Arnie had been a great Shakespearian actor in Austria, which, of course, he hadn’t.’

    It’s hard not to love a book that opens like that. Sprinkled through Crystal’s enthusiastic guide to understanding and loving big Will are hordes of neat and shiny little factoids, such as:

    ‘Shakespeare invented the word assassination… Even-handed, far-off, hot-blooded, schooldays, well-respected are Shakespeare’s too, as are useful, moonbeam and subcontract.’

    Crystal writes engagingly about the Elizabethan theatre and times and he’s refreshingly honest about how difficult it is to edge your way into the world of Shakespeare when the Bardolators (Bardolatry: obsessive worship of Shakespeare) are guarding the portals. But the best bits of all come when he starts to look closely at the writing itself.

    Act Four is entitled ‘Catch the Rhythm’, and it’s easily the best section of the book. Here Crystal lives up to his name, with a lucid and fascinating look under the hood of Shakespeare’s writing. Without swamping us in terminology of questionable utility (can you name five metric feet? What’s the difference between an anapaest and a trochee? Can a line of eleven syllables still properly be considered to be iambic pentameter? C’mon, c’mon: I’m waiting…) he takes us on a gentle walking tour that shows all the craft that goes into Shakespeare’s writings: and crucially, he’s not afraid to gush when gushing is in order.

    The most useful contribution that Crystal makes, overall, is proving to us that Shakespeare doesn’t need to be modernised. Big Bill was so far ahead of his time that we’re still catching up to him.

    We’ve all seen what happens when a director gets a rush of cocaine to the head and decides to do a modern Shakespeare, haven’t we? It all ends with Leonardo DiCaprio screeching unintelligible things at the rain, or Heath Leger hamming it up in Ten Things I Hate About You or the utterly, unspeakably hideous O (a pathetic re-hashing of Othello that – preposterously – reinvents Othello as captain of a high school basketball team).

    Shakespeare on Toast is scholarly enough to be informative, populist enough to be entertaining and good enough to eat. It’s a minor triumph.

    Misha Adair

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    The Independent – September 26th, 2008
    A tasty snack with genius.

    The front cover of Ben Crystal’s new book makes daring claims. A glowing recommendation from Dame Judi Dench calls it “brilliantly enjoyable”. The title is explained inside: “[This book] is quick, easy, straightforward, and good for you. Just like beans on toast.” It is a good job the book is so compelling, or the author would look like a blinking idiot…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    The Times – September 20th, 2008
    You gotta love a writer who opens his book with action hero lines and stage directions for Hamlet the Terminator (“shoots Polonius with an Uzi… lights his cigar, castle explodes”).

    You can dismiss it as dumbed-down Shakespeare if you like…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    The Guardian – January 31st, 2009
    At first this seems insufferable: a matey attempt to make Shakespeare “relevant”, to rescue him from being considered as boring old “Literature with a capital L”…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    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.
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    Folger Magazine – Spring 2009
    Notions that Shakespeare is stuffy, elitist, or just plain boring are knocked soundly on their heads in this engaging look at Shakespeare’s plays, characters, and language.
    [Click Here To Read full review] – June 2009
    By analysing Shakespeare’s language (from his use of pronouns to his choice of insults), Crystal’s explanations fizz and sparkle with educated clarity and infectious enthusiasm. One for all ages.
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    The 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.
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    Around the Globe Magazine – Autumn 2008
    If you’re a reader of Around the Globe, the chances are you’re not too scared of Shakespeare. But there are a lot of unfortunate Bardophobes out there, Ben Crystal tells us, and apparently his book is just the cure they need. At various points in Shakespeare on Toast Crystal reminds us that he used to be one of them – he “once wouldn’t be seen dead near a production of Shakespeare”. But now he’s seen the light, and, well, there’s no zealot like a convert…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    The Shakespeare Bookshop – December 2008
    Ben Crystal will be familiar to readers as one half of the father and son double-act that brought us the brilliant Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion and The Shakespeare Miscellany. In Shakespeare on Toast he trades reference for irreverence with a much more personal book, aimed at encouraging…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    The School Librarian – Winter 2008
    Highly recommended… Crystal states that he wants to ‘make Shakespeare’s works accessible without dumbing them down’ and this he does admirably…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    NATE – National Association for the Teaching of English – Autumn 2008
    Ben Crystal will be known to many readers as the co-writer (with his father David Crystal) of Shakespeare’s Words and The Shakespeare Miscellany. In his latest book, he ‘knocks the stuffing from the staid old myth of Shakespeare’ according to the jacket blurb ‘in a breezy, accessible introduction to the greatest writer of plays’. As an actor he has no truck with idea of studying Shakespeare’s drama as anything other than a plays in performance…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    Times Educational Supplement – November 2008
    ‘Who’s afraid of William Shakespeare?’ asks the jacket cover of this little treasure rhetorically and concedes ‘just about everyone’. I remember Dame Helen Mirren claiming that “When you do Shakespeare they think you must be intelligent because they think you understand what you’re saying”, implying that even actors didn’t know what Shakespeare means half the time…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    The Independent Features Shakespeare on Toast – February 27th, 2009
    In his latest book, Shakespeare on Toast, Crystal tries his damnedest as an actor, scholar and Shakespeare’s biggest fan to demystify the Bard for doubting 21st-century theatre-phobics. Crystal is a fine actor and not exactly quintessentially highbrow, and his enthusiastic comparisons of Shakespeare’s Globe to “a modern football match” and his plays to “Elizabethan soap opera” will have shocked those among Us who want to keep the riff raff out of the stalls…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    HushHourHash – October 30th, 2008
    I was at Borders (Wheelock Place) recently and I was blissfully browsing when I came across a delightful book, “Shakespeare On Toast – Getting A Taste For The Bard” written by Ben Crystal. The size of the book, the paper stock and texture, and the irreverent cover design somehow reminded me of Stephen Fry’s book, “The Ode Less Travelled”, which had the noble intention of making poetry more accessible…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    Civilian Reader – November 28th, 2008
    An enthusiast bursts the bubble of Shakespeare elitism, opening its doors to all

    Crystal romps through the facts about Shakespeare’s life in under fifteen pages and then dismisses them with a cool ‘I don’t care who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays.’ He then launches into a pithy and witty account of what Elizabethan life was like, what it would have been like going to the theatre in Shakespeare’s time, and why exactly he wrote in poetry anyway…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    In The News – October 18th, 2008
    In a nutshell…
    Enjoyable, light-hearted, accessible guide to Shakespeare. What’s it all about?
    Shakespeare On Toast
    is a step-by-step manual to unlocking the ‘difficult bits’ of Shakespeare, and bringing his works to life. Covering everything from context to metre, Crystal blows the cobwebs from the Bard and reveals his plays for what they are: thrilling and uplifting drama…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    The Bookbag – October 2008
    Shakespeare on Toast claims to be for virtually everyone: those that are reading Shakespeare for the first time, occasionally finding him troublesome, think they know him backwards or have never set foot near one of his plays but have always wanted to…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    Library Thing – July 2009
    There are LOTS of Shakespeare books out there but this one is one of the most easiest to read. Ben Crystal gives you the opportunity to study Shakespeare’s work and realise that while it looks difficult, it is actually not that complicated when you begin to think about it a bit more…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    Libby Walkup Reviews The Bath Literature Festival Talk – March 8th, 2009
    The large second floor room was full for actor and author Ben Crystal (Shakespeare on Toast) and rightly so. His energetic talk brought life and meaning to his book, which is what he wanted to do with Shakespeare for the masses. An actor and teacher, he saw Will S’s words falling through the cracks in productions, so he brought his dad, a linguist, to decipher the Original Pronunciation or OP. This was a combination of three things, rhyme scheme, spelling and guess work…
    [Click Here To Read full review] Reviews The Bath Literature Festival Talk – March 7th, 2009
    The Bath Literature Festival is well underway, attracting hordes of word-lovers and writers to the Georgian city. While poetry aficionados and perplexed tourists crowded into the innovative Poetry Taxi outside Bath Abbey, others, including…
    [Click Here To Read full review]

    Library Thing Review of Shakespeare on Toast

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    Library Thing – July 2009

    There are LOTS of Shakespeare books out there but this one is one of the most easiest to read. Ben Crystal gives you the opportunity to study Shakespeare’s work and realise that while it looks difficult, it is actually not that complicated when you begin to think about it a bit more.

    This book reminds us that Shakespeare was no different than say a blogger or TV soap script writer of today. He wrote on demand and talked about the social issues of the day. The only difference between a Shakespeare script and a TV script is that some of the language is a bit old fashioned and some of the words are now out of use. Apart from that it’s still the same kind of writing you’d expect to see today from elsewhere.

    Crystal also reveals the clues that Shakespeare hid in his work, the “director’s instructions” for how his actors should act out his work. This is absolutely fascinating but at the same time, it can get a bit difficult to follow and this point of the book is where you have to slow down and really concentrate!

    Sprinked with bits of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets so you can put the theory into practise, this is a must-have for all Shakespeare fans.

    Mark O’Neill

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    “A must-have for all Shakespeare fans” — Library Thing

    A review of Toast just in,‘s Mark O’Neill says:

    Sprinked with bits of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets so you can put the theory into practise, this is a must-have for all Shakespeare fans.

    Click here to read the review in full…

    WhatsOnStage Review of Shakespeare on Toast

    << Back to Reviews Page – June 2009

    “Reading Shakespeare is like following the clues in a Sherlock Holmes novel,” insists actor and linguist Ben Crystal in this digestible and informative how-to guide.

    The Bard’s plays, he explains, are manuals for Elizabethan actors on how to perform the most engrossing of soap operas, with blood, murder, lust and love aplenty. You just have to learn to decipher them.

    By analysing Shakespeare’s language (from his use of pronouns to his choice of insults), Crystal’s explanations fizz and sparkle with educated clarity and infectious enthusiasm. One for all ages.

    Hear Crystal at the Globe on June 22, the Way With Words festival in Devon on July 15 and at Camp Bestival, Dorset on July 25.

    Laura Silverman

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    “Fizz and sparkle” — WhatsOnStage

    A review of the paperback of Toast, from‘s Laura Silverman:

    Crystal’s explanations fizz and sparkle with educated clarity and infectious enthusiasm. One for all ages.

    Click here to read more…