Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a Taste for the Bard

Praise for
Shakespeare on Toast

‘Ben Crystal’s witty and engaging book is a relaxed, user-friendly reminder that enjoying Shakespeare should be as easy as breathing.’ Dominic Dromgoole, Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe

‘A brilliantly enjoyable, light-hearted look at Shakespeare which dispels the myths and makes him accessible to all. I love it!’ Judi Dench

‘Ben Crystal’s excellent book is an ideal way to gain an understanding of why Shakespeare is so brilliant and so enjoyable.’ Sir Richard Eyre

‘A masterclass for modern beginners and old hands alike.’
The Times

‘Humorous, unpretentious and fascinating.’
Independent on Sunday

‘A tasty snack with genius … Having Crystal as a companion through the stickier parts of
is like going to the theatre with an intelligent friend … Crystal tries his damnedest as an actor, scholar and Shakespeare’s biggest fan to demystify the Bard for doubting 21st-century theatre-phobics.’ Katy Guest,

‘There are gems of close reading and theatrically focused attention throughout … Crystal ends up admirably succeeding in his ambition to provide a toolbox for getting to grips with Shakespeare’s plays.’ Steven Poole,

‘Remarkable … This book should be read.’
Sydney Morning Herald

‘Ben Crystal is the Jamie Oliver of Shakespeare.’ BBC Radio 5

‘An exhilarating and impassioned introduction to Shakespeare’s plays.’
Shakespeare Bookshop Newsletter

‘A succulent slice of the Bard … Crystal wears his erudition lightly … Enormously enjoyable!’
Good Book Guide

‘Fascinating and wide-reaching.’

‘Ben Crystal is a “restaurateur” par excellence for serving up a seemingly simple snack that actually has enough complexity to delight a gourmet.’
Times Educational Supplement

‘Insightful blasts of textual analysis’
Times Literary Supplement

‘An excellent introductory text.’
Glasgow Herald

Shakespeare on Toast
is reassuring and appealing … you’ll want all your Shakespeare-resistant friends to read it.’
Around The Globe

‘Fascinating … Ben’s knowledge comes across naturally and without pretension. He brings the understanding of an actor together with the analysis of an academic and it works.’
National Association for the Teaching of English, Classroom magazine

‘Fun and fascinating … English staff would be delighted with Crystal’s practical suggestions to help the reader in deciphering and appreciating Shakespeare’s works as they stand rather than “in translation”.’
School Librarian

‘An excellent dish indeed … Highly recommended.’

‘Ideal for reading on the go. Ben Crystal has made it easier for readers new to Shakespeare to approach his plays, and he has also given possibly jaded Shakespeare teachers and students a light and breezy refresher course.’

‘Could Ben Crystal be the Simon Schama of literature? Crystal succeeds in providing a pacey, informative and accessible “manual” to Shakespeare.’

‘An enthusiast bursts the bubble of Shakespeare elitism, opening its doors to all … This should be required reading for actors, anyone doing English Literature at school or university. Highly recommended.’

Shakespeare on Toast
focuses] on the universality and time lessness of Shakespeare’s appeal by unravelling the poetry and its impact on our language, as well as the whole notion of what constitutes “entertainment” in our times.’
Publishing News

Printed edition first published in the UK in 2008 by
Icon Books Ltd, Omnibus Business Centre,
39–41 North Road, London N7 9DP
[email protected]

This electronic edition published in the UK in 2012
by Icon Books Ltd

ISBN: 978-1-84831-477-1 (ePub format)
ISBN: 978-1-84831-478-8 (Adobe ebook format)

Text copyright © 2008, 2009, 2012 Ben Crystal
The author has asserted his moral rights

Extract from
The Last Action Hero
© 1993 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
All rights reserved. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

Extract from
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
© 2005 Aardman Animations Ltd.
All rights reserved.

Lyrics from ‘Shakespeare’ reproduced by kind permission of Akala and Illa State Records.

Every effort has been made to seek permission to reproduce other copyright material.

Drawing on page 51 by Jim Alexander
Graph on page 217 by Nick Halliday

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, or by any means, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

Typeset in Minion by Wayzgoose



Praise for Ben Crystal

Title Page


About the Author


Act 1: Setting the Scene

Scene 1: Hollywood

Scene 2: A Present-Day Street

Scene 3: A Library

Scene 4: Stratford-Upon-Avon

Scene 5: An Elizabethan Theatre

Scene 6: A Classroom

Scene 7: A Soap Opera Set

Act 2: Curtain Up

Scene 1: Mars, 23rd Century

Scene 2: The Globe, Bankside, 17th Century

Scene 3: A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Scene 4: A Room Full of Character

Scene 5: Venice, Verona, Vienna

Scene 6: The Mind of a 21st-Century Fellow

Scene 7: Walford, Home of the God of Love

Act 3: Listen Carefully

Scene 1: The Year 2001

Scene 2: A Library

Scene 3: 13th-Century England. A Field

Scene 4: A Christmas Tree, Liverpool

Act 4: Catch the Rhythm

Scene 1: Theatre Way, Wigan

Scene 2: A Kitchen, Baking Verse-Cake

Scene 3: A Cardiac Unit

Scene 4: A Maternity Ward

Scene 5: Breaking the law at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London

Scene 6: A Kitchen: 154 Ways to Cook an Egg

Scene 7: An Orchestra Pit

Act 5: Enjoy the Play

Scene 1: A London Printers, 1622

Scene 2: A Graveyard

Scene 3: Backstage at Shakespeare’s Globe, 1599

Scene 4: Brooklyn, 1990

Scene 5: London, England, 1600s

Scene 6: The Mind of an Elizabethan, 1605

Scene 7: A Castle, Scotland, 11th Century

Scene 8: 221b Baker Street

Scene 9: The London Underground

Scene 10: Checklist



Supporting Artists

Stage Management


About the author

Ben Crystal is an actor and writer. He studied English Language and Linguistics at Lancaster University before training at Drama Studio London. He has worked in TV, film and theatre, including the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe, London, and is a narrator for RNIB Talking Books, Channel 4 and the BBC. He co-wrote
Shakespeare’s Words
(Penguin 2002) and
The Shakespeare Miscellany
(Penguin 2005) with David Crystal, and regularly gives talks and workshops on Shakespeare.

He lives in London, and online at


Never, never, never, never, never.

King Lear
, Act 5, Scene 3, line 306

hat quote is one of the most stunning lines in Shakespeare, and after reading this book you’ll be able to give a number of very good reasons why this is true.

But first and foremost: this book is not a number of things.

This book is not a particularly ‘actorly’ book, full of stories of acting Shakespeare. There are plenty of other books out there full of fabulous anecdotes about acting Shakespeare.

Nor is this really a scholarly book, full of incredibly complicated analyses of structures and themes that may (or may not) be in Shakespeare’s plays. There are plenty of academic books already out there too.

When I began to write this book, I looked around to see if anyone else had already done a similar thing, and while there are plenty of quite tricky, advanced books on Shakespeare, and plenty of ‘Shakespeare Made Easy’-type books, there didn’t seem to be one that tried to make Shakespeare’s plays accessible without dumbing them down.

There are also dozens of ‘Introductions to Shakespeare’
available. I couldn’t find a single one that shows the reader how to make Shakespeare their own; that once read, has given them the ability to go to any Shakespeare play and feel comfortable reading or watching it.

This book is certainly not the only way into Shakespeare.

But it is quick, easy, straightforward, and good for you.

Just like beans on toast.

Act 1

Setting the Scene

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