“The play’s the thing”: actor’s insights into Shakespeare

Shakespeare expert Ben Crystal gave Sixth-Formers studying Hamlet valuable guidance when he visited the School.

The actor, author and producer underlined the importance of considering the play as a performance, of taking into account the original setting of Shakespeare’s plays in the Globe Theatre and of pronouncing the language as the bard himself would have spoken it.

Librarian Ciara Murray said: “I first heard Ben speak at a conference with his father, the linguist David Crystal, where they discussed Shakespeare’s language and choice of words in depth. They revealed ways of thinking about Hamlet and its performance that I – despite having studied it on several occasions! – hadn’t considered. The boys enjoyed this experience of seeing how a professional actor interprets the intricacies of Shakespeare. Performance is a key element to consider when studying drama.”

""Ben has written Shakespeare on Toast, Hamlet: Before, During, After, and, with his father, the Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary, all of which are available in The Queen’s Library at the School.

He spoke to 61 boys studying Hamlet at A-level and gave them a taste of the original pronunciation of Shakespeare’s language, for which he and his theatre company, Passion and Practice, are known.

""To demonstrate the importance of considering the play as a performance and of sticking closely to Shakespeare’s own stage directions, he used the opening lines of the tragedy and invited pupils Mark Sturge and Keenan Dieobi to act out the guardsmen scene, with input and instructions.

Pupil Ravi Karia found the event “all-round excellent and very eye-opening”, while his Year 12 classmate, Ahmed Al-Sallakh, said: “He showed us that we should be studying Shakespeare more as a play rather than a book, and that every line of Shakespeare was written to make it easier for the actors to portray the ideas he wanted to show.”