This is a great book for Shakespeare beginners, and anyone wanting to get a better insight into Shakespeare’s theatre, and especially his use of dramatic verse. I’d hazard a guess that there’s something new in this book for everybody.
Ben Crystal writes in direct simple language and Shakespeare on Toast is an easy read. He puts Shakespeare into context – historical and literary – and attempts to illuminate the work and its historical importance by finding modern parallels and debunking some generally held myths. His emphasis is on Shakespeare on stage, and on the poetry in the plays, and he looks at various prejudices that make Shakespeare’s work appear inaccessible to some. The general thesis is that anyone – indeed everyone – can and should enjoy both plays and poetry – and he argues his case well.
The final pages of the book consist of a close analysis of some dramatic scenes, provided as an example of how to apply close reading, contextual knowledge and an understanding of blank verse to the interpretation of the plays. It’s also a model or template for further study. These pages would be useful for any student of Shakespeare, especially at GCSE or A level. The explanations of the way Shakespeare used and developed blank verse are clear: this can be a difficult concept to grasp, and the examples and analogies given are helpful.
There is an interesting section on the sonnets that I enjoyed particularly – and that, along with the comments on the way the first folio would have been used by actors, was the bit that was new for me.
I’d certainly recommend this book to all students of Shakespeare, and other interested parties.