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Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: Shakespeare on Toast

Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a Taste for the Bard
Ben CrystalIcon Books

Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a Taste for the Bard opens with Shakespeare’s importance to language (neologisms and common phrases) and film (sixteen in 2005 alone), but he also points out that the work of Shakespeare, a man of humble birth, wrote 95% of whose words we use, making his work more accessible than an episode of The West Wing.  wants Shakespeare to be acted before dissected. Shakespeare had not sought to print them but to show them.  Also, since visual images would be rare, viewers in his time would have used their imaginations and seen the actions were more real than those of us who require CGI to visualize reality.  Moreover, the plays--comedy or tragedy--ended in a dance with the living and dead, friends and enemies dancing together to show that they had seen a play.

The author feels it is a crime to update Shakespeare’s language as it excises the poetry.  He emphasizes this by discussing how knowing thee/thou are informal, and the iambic pentameter put in the mouths of kings and queens.  The meter, moreover, showed where it should be stressed (or where it was broken to a purpose not unlike jazz), showing changes mood and emotion.

Next, the author puts Shakespeare into context in terms of political and social history.  He tries to put readers in the minds of the 17th  century--kings chosen by God, the danger and reality of witches.

The commentary here should prove a powerful introduction to Shakespeare.  Will this woo otherwise recalcitrant readers of Shakespeare?  Maybe.  Some readers will always balk, but maybe his idea of viewing the plays before reading them would have a stronger impact on bringing in fans of Shakespeare into the fold.  The author admits that he also was once not a fan.

While the first half works to convince readers to be fans (discussed above), the latter half is for the rest of us, showing context, language and some basic patterns to poetry that give deeper insight into the Shakespeare’s works.  This book is recommended for those who are wondering what the big deal’s about, for those who already are fans but not academics, and for teachers of Shakespeare who intend to introduce Shakespeare. 

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