In a world where language is becoming increasingly abbreviated by way of the text message, or, as is the case in England at least, deplorable Yardie slang speak - a modus operandi whereby young men try desperately hard to sound like Jimmy Cliff in the film The Harder They Come, but in reality, sound more like gagged-up, paraplegic tosspots with brain damage (with a vocabulary of approximately five words, of which 'laahk' is pronounced every eight or so seconds) - tis hardly surprising that in many circles, Shakespeare is considered one of three things: a make of cider, an exotic vegetable, an academic science.
So Shakespeare On Toast – Getting a Taste For The Bard could hardly be more well timed or aptly titled. It's a book which shoots straight from the hip and one which attempts to alter the above myopic/monolithic thinking, by concentrating on the current day relevance of William Shakespeare, rather than on the dense, academic and prolific prodigy of yesteryear.
Right at the outset, author Ben Crystal sets the tone by suggesting that just about everyone is afraid of The Bard: ''He wrote too much and what he did write is inaccessible and elitist.'' But by writing a book that's as easy and as pleasant to read as it is understandable, Crystal bequeaths the reader with a veritable treasure trove of literary definition. As Dame Judi Dench comments: ''This is a brilliantly enjoyable look at Shakespeare which dispels the myths and makes him accessible to all.''
By traipsing the thin line between extraordinary playwright and literary messiah, Crystal invites the uninitiated to boldly consider Shakespeare's work by way of acute, yet simplistic explanation and example. Be it the language the playwright used at the time of writing: ''It ain't what you say, it's the way that you say it;'' the sheer internationalism of the subject matter: '' His plays are set all over the world, and yet most could be set anywhere, in any country. He doesn't just write about what it is to be English, he writes about what it is to be human, and that opens his writing up to the world;'' the deconstruction and value of the dreaded iambic pentameter: ''Understand iambic pentameter and you understand Shakespeare;'' or the mere philanthropy of his subject matter: ''We want to see what it's like to fall in love with your best friend's girlfriend. We want to know what it's like when all your friends are using you, and then, when you need them the most, they turn their back on you. We want to hear what it feels like to kill the person you love more than the world, and then try to live with the consequences. We want, in other words, to see The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Timon of Athens, and Othello.''
We also want (and need) to understand these great works, which is why I'd strongly recommend this book for anyone who's actually studying Shakespeare. And even if you're not, I'd still recommend it - even if only to be reminded that genius and humanity does eventually traverse all.
Shakespeare On Toast - Getting A Taste For The Bard
By Ben Crystal
Icon Books - £11.99