Friday, October 19, 2012

Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a Taste for the Bard, by Ben Crystal

Shakespeare on Toast:
Getting a Taste for the Bard
Author: Ben Crystal
Publisher: Icon Books
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
FUN! That's the best way to describe the experience of reading Ben Crystal's Shakespeare on Toast. The author's goal was to make Shakespeare more accessible to readers of all ages who may be reluctant to take on the bard. I'm sure there are a million other books with that goal in mind and I'm certainly not able to provide a comparison of all the other books on the subject, nor can I say which ones I would or would not recommend. What I can say is that I would definitely recommend this one. The only thing that kept me from reading it all in one sitting is that I kept getting up to share what I'd learned with my partner (who is a secondary school English and history teacher and was eager to listen to all of my interruptions...thanks Mike!).

I'm actually planning to start a new project next year called "Shakespeare in a Year" in which I attempt to read all of Shakespeare's plays in a year (or at least before I'm forty, which is more than a year but less than five). I've been rather intimidated by the entire prospect and have been avoiding it at every turn. But this book actually helped. I think I can do it now!

Hit the jump to read some to the cool facts I learned!

Here are some of the things I learned from Shakespeare on Toast that will help me enjoy Shakespeare more in the future (or at least be less intimidated):

--In Shakespeare's time, printing presses were still a relatively new technology and most playwrights did not intend to sell their plays for publication. Plays were generally sold to theatres, who produced them and ran new plays daily. Sometimes theatre houses would sell the scripts to publishers, but not always. During the Black Plague, however, theatres were shut down, sometimes for months or years at a time, meaning that playwrights and actors were out of work. When the plague hit London, playwrights might have been more likely to sell their works to publishers since there would have been no other way for them to earn money (apart from, you know, getting a job);

--The second person pronouns "thou" and "you" (and their variants--thee/thine, your/yourself, etc) were not interchangeable. "Thou" was the more intimate form of address, similar in use to "tu" in French, while "you" was more formal, like "vous." Whenever Shakespeare has a character address another as "thou" or as "you" there is good reason and he is revealing something about the relationship and status of the characters involved. Also, if a character switches from "thou" to "you" (or vice versa) it indicates that something has changed. For instance, in Macbeth, Lady Macbeth refers to her husband as "thou" (as you would expect, since it's the more intimate form of address) but after he tries to convince her that they should not kill Duncan, she switches to "you" and never says "thou" again. That's cold.

--Elizabethans did not talk exactly like Shakespeare, but not exactly NOT like Shakespeare either. His plays would have been poetic, even for them, but for the most part understandable. Kind of like how people today don't speak the way song lyrics are written (unless they're teenagers who are updating their Facebook statuses) but we still understand what singers are talking about. 

--There was no such thing as a "posh" accent in Shakespeare's time, so royal or aristocratic characters would have had to have been distinguished from commoners by their dialect, the floweriness of their speech. So some of the extra "floweriness" is like a stage direction for the actor to act like an aristocrat.

--Sometimes there would be copies of popular plays written by members of the audience who copied them down from memory and sold the transcripts, much like bootleg DVDs made by people with video recorders in movie theatres today.

Okay, I could just go on and on and on. You should really just read the book. It's so great!

You May Also Like:

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Barnes & Noble Leather Classic)

Falstaff's Big Gamble, by Hank Quense

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

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