Springboard Shakespeare by Ben Crystal
Rehearsing his lines ahead of the opening of Macbeth at the Springfield Theatre, Homer Simpson improvises as only he can: “‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…’ OK, today’s Tuesday so that would be Friday.” The beer-loving dunce would have done well to purchase Ben Crystal’s fine guide to Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy. ‘Guide,’ though, doesn’t quite do it justice. What Crystal has written is part reading guide, part theatrical guide and part critical analysis, presented in three sections – ‘Before’, ‘During’ and ‘After.’
The ‘Before’ section contains useful and succinct notes on the features of and differences between verse and prose, the relationship between the characters and an overview of Shakespeare’s audience and the period in which he wrote. There’s also a useful map and a glossary of difficult terms.
If you’re a teacher and plan to show your class a film version of Macbeth or, better yet, take them to a theatre production, then you will appreciate the ‘During’ section. Crystal gives a clear synopsis of every scene, analyses extracts of key speeches and examines difficult vocabulary. He isn’t afraid to point out that certain scenes or speeches can be difficult or even boring if not performed well. He also includes a ‘Side-note’ section in which he discusses scholarly disagreements over a word or phrase. For example, in act one, scene seven, Macbeth asks his wife what might happen, ‘If we should fail?’ In most modern versions Lady Macbeth replies, ‘We fail!’ As Crystal points out, though, in the First Folio her reply is, ‘We fail?’
In the ‘After’ section Crystal takes advantage of his stage experience to scrutinise the play from an actor’s perspective. “I like this play,” he writes, “but it’s the one I had to work hardest at.” He probes possible problems for directors, such as how to stage the battles and how to play the tricky role of the porter in act two.
Overall, this book would be an invaluable supplement to a Shakespeare lesson, whether to aid students in their first steps through the world of the Bard or for more advanced students who would benefit from interesting questions about the staging and philosophy.
Also in the Springboard Shakespeare series: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and King Lear. Get them on our website now!