Ben Crystal is the co-author of Shakespeare's Words, the definitive glossary of Shakespeare, and The Shakespeare Miscellany, which is a great reference book and very entertaining. As an author and also as an actor, and with his father David, Ben has pioneered the Original Pronunciation (OP) movement -- reading and performing Shakespeare in a true Elizabethan accent.
Ben's book, Shakespeare On Toast, is a very engaging and fun look at other ways to appreciate Shakespeare, and unlock his plays. I think that Shakespeare wrote everything with care, and if we don't understand something he wrote, then we aren't trying hard enough to understand. I am always surprised when other people say that this play or that play is not written well, or that Shakespeare made mistakes.
So, it is a pleasure to read how Ben thinks there is always a reason for everything Shakespeare wrote, and that the fun is in the search for that reason.
Ben's book helps us read Shakespeare's plays as manuals for actors, and not as Literature, and how to break down the plays line by line. Ben's method of deciphering the meaning behind iambic pentameter is brilliant, and you get a unique glimpse into Shakespeare's mind as he would have written his words.
I don't want to spoil the pleasure you will have reading this book, but there is one last thing: when I wrote my adaptations of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice I did not find any proof that Shakespeare's audience spoke aloud as the plays were performed.
I found proof within the plays, and I still contend that the soliloquies are actually colloquies, but I never read any scholarly work that supported my idea.
I came to the conclusion that even if I could not prove that they did speak aloud, it really did not matter, because I needed them to speak aloud in order for us, the modern audience, to understand what the plays were saying.
So, it came as a real surprise and I was very pleased that Ben writes about the Elizabethan audiences as rowdy and noisy and that there was "no 'theatre etiquette' that made the audience sit or stand still quietly" and that "The Elizabethans would have had no reason, no etiquette, to stop them from heckling, shouting, throwing things at the actors, either in appreciation or disapproval."
I have to think that Ben's experience as an actor really gives him an appreciation for how Shakespeare wrote not for university classrooms and libraries, but for a paying audience of Elizabethans -- who were probably more than a little tipsy!
Do yourself a favor and buy this fun and illuminating book.