I purchased this little gem from The Globe Theatre when I visited it in June for a beautiful performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I chose it because I adored the title and artwork, and who doesn’t like a bookish souvenir or two? (My other bookish purchase was Bill Bryson’s excellent Shakespeare: The World as a Stage, which I would highly recommend).
This may sound awfully snobbish, but I don’t have much trouble at all with Shakespeare, and find him rather easy to understand, particularly after studying him for several years at school and undertaking to read the remainder of his plays over the course of this year. Crystal states that those who wish to garner more understanding of Shakespeare’s work are his primary audience, but I still got rather a lot from the book despite the fact that I do not fall into the majority camp. The first thing I noticed about Shakespeare on Toast was the marvellous way in which the chapters were organised into ‘Acts’ and ‘Scenes’. Each separate scene of Crystal’s is only a few pages long, so it is both an easy volume to read all in one greedy gulp (as I did), or to dip in and out of when you have a few moments to spare.
I liked the way in which Crystal put each of Shakespeare’s plays into context, examining the social aspects of the time which he believes inspired the Bard – for example, the belief that Macbeth was written following the failed attempt by Mr Fawkes and Co to blow up the Houses of Parliament. I learnt some things whilst I was reading that haven’t been covered in lessons or books about Shakespeare which I’ve participated in or read – namely that you can buy plush Shakespeare dolls. Truly. They are really rather creepy.
Shakespeare on Toast is interesting and informative, and is a great little book for anyone interested in the plays. Crystal’s writing style works nicely, and his informality makes it a marvellous volume to engage with. I liked all of the little textboxes throughout too, which contained extra information, and which were a nice addition to the main body of text.