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Shakespeare Unlimited podcast

David and Ben Crystal Share Shakespeare Quotations for Everyday Life

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 226

a large blue butterfly with the words Everyday Shakespeare Lines For LifeShakespeare has the perfect lines for riding into battle or stumbling around a stormy heath. But does he have the right stuff to take us on a daily commute or a trip to the grocery store? On this episode, David and Ben Crystal join us to talk about their new book, Everyday Shakespeare: Lines for Life, which offers daily Shakespeare quotes you can apply to your everyday existence.

The Crystals—David is a linguist, Ben is an actor—are the father-son duo behind the Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary; Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion; and The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation. Host Barbara Bogaev asks them about the quotations they included, why they chose to forego the typical contextual notes, and how you can improve your memory for Shakespeare’s words.

Listen to Shakespeare Unlimited on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Soundcloud, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Everyday Shakespeare: Lines for Life is available from Chambers Books.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published January 2, 2024. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This episode was produced by Matt Frassica. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. Leonor Fernandez edits our transcripts. We had technical help from Voice Trax West in Studio City, California. Final mixing services provided by Clean Cuts at Three Seas, Inc.



MICHAEL WITMORE: We know Shakespeare has the perfect lines to accompany us into battle or out on the stormy heath. But does he have the right stuff to take us on a daily commute or a trip to the grocery store?

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger Director.

One of the biggest challenges for anyone teaching Shakespeare is making the plays feel relevant. We tend to remember the big set pieces and the famous speeches—but what about the poetry that speaks to everyday life? If you focused on those lines, how would that change your experience of reading Shakespeare?

David Crystal is a linguist who has published over 100 books. Ben Crystal is David’s son, an actor. Together, they’ve co-authored several books on Shakespeare’s language, including the Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary; Shakespeare´s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion; and The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation.

The last time the Crystals appeared on this show, in 2014, they discussed their work on Original Pronunciation, or OP. That’s the study of the way English might have sounded in Shakespeare’s day. Performing Shakespeare in OP can uncover meanings and puns otherwise lost in modern pronunciation.

For their most recent book, Ben and David combed through all of Shakespeare to find the lines that spoke to everyday concerns—love, loss, money, nature, children, arguments, celebrations. They found thousands of quotable lines that could apply to daily life in any century. Then, they grouped the lines by seasonal theme, and chose one for each day of the year.

For example, the quotation for the day I’m recording this comes from All’s Well That Ends Well. It laments the loss of mystery in our de-mystified age:

They say miracles are past, and we have our philosophical persons to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless.

The Crystals’ new book is called Everyday Shakespeare: Lines for Life, and it can be used either as a quotation reference or as a daily reading practice. Here’s Ben and David Crystal, in conversation with Barbara Bogaev.


BOGAEV BOGAEV: Do you both read Shakespeare every day, like a practice? Like yoga or meditation? I’ll throw that to you, David.

DAVID CRYSTAL: Yeah. Well, not consciously. I don’t have a set time, but it’s unbelievable the number of times in the day when little fragments of Shakespeare come into the head, and out they pop. And they make some, you know, contribution to the conversation. Doesn’t matter who I’m talking to or whether they recognize it, Shakespeare or not, I’m not entirely sure. But when talking to Hillary or Ben, then, of course, it’s an immediate stimulus for some sort of repartee. That happens all the time.

BOGAEV: Is Hillary your wife?

DAVID CRYSTAL: Yes. Hillary is my wife—and also technical adviser. Without her, I would not be talking to you now.

BOGAEV: Okay. Ben, what about you? Is Shakespeare, like, a practice, like yoga or meditation, for you every day?

BEN CRYSTAL: I think, you know, just like Dad says, rather than come to it like one might do to a yoga class or a meditation mat. I find that as I walk through life and think something or feel something, drifting through my consciousness comes—I wouldn’t say perfect—but a very articulate and eloquent way of expressing that which I’m experiencing. Yeah, more often than not, it’s under the hand and name of this guy, Shakespeare.

BOGAEV: I imagined that one or both of you might have some kind of practice and that that’s what gave you the idea for the book. But what did give you the idea for the book, and who got the idea originally? David.

DAVID CRYSTAL: Well, it was in fact Ben’s idea. I mean, it could have been mine. I wish it had been mine. It very quickly did become both of us’s very, very quickly.

Because what you do, you see, when you get an idea like this is you want to test it out as quickly as possible just to see if it’s got legs. The very first thing we did was, each of us quite separately went through the entire canon, all the plays and all the poems. And if you’ve done that, you know how long it takes.

But with the specific question in our minds, what is there, in this amazing body of work, that speaks to us in this everyday kind of way. We’re all used to the very famous quotations of the, you know, “Is this a dagger that I see before me,” type. But that’s not so everyday. I mean, perhaps there are some listeners to this podcast who do see daggers every day, I don’t know. But, you know, it isn’t so immediately relevant to our everyday.

We spent quite a lot of time, each of us individually, going through and pulling out as many of these absolutely down to earth, everyday-relevant extracts. And the extraordinary thing was that, you know, Ben was absolutely right. He said, “We’ll find thousands.” I said, “No, Ben. We’ll find a few hundred at most.”

Well, At the end of the day, how was it, Ben? How many did we find at the end? Five thousand, was it?

BEN CRYSTAL: I think that’s the count that you got to in the end. Yeah.

BOGAEV: What made you want to do this? Where’d the idea come from?

BEN CRYSTAL: Well, you know, teatime at the Crystal’s, as Dad says, it was often filled with Shakespeare.

BOGAEV: Teatime. You’re sitting there drinking tea and talking about—

BEN CRYSTAL: And throwing Shakespeare back and forth at each other. I remember when we first did Shakespeare’s words back in the early noughties. I read The Rape of Lucrece for the first time. Not a piece of Shakespeare that many people are familiar with. A very horrible tale. But filled with these—what I would call—bon mots. These little, memorable phrases that stick with you.

And I’ve still got the little piece of paper, the little post-it note, that I wrote down.It easeth some, though none it ever cured, / To think their dolor others have endured.” Dolor meaning pain. The quote essentially means misery loves company. That that’s been on my notebook ever since.

There was a collection of the Tao Te Ching that I’d fallen in love with too.

BOGAEV: Oh, I love that too!

BEN CRYSTAL: Right? And, you know, you’ve got a hundred or so lessons or something in that, however you want to call them. And to read a bit, like the sonnets, you know, to read them from one through 154, you probably won’t get to the one of the best ones. You probably won’t get as far as 18 because the first 17 can be a bit dull.

But if you flip around them, if you flick through it like a coffee [table] book, like I found my way through to the Tao, and land on one that resonates with you today, then then you might start to explore further.

The idea with this book was really to make bite-sized, manageable chunks that not only could have been perhaps written yesterday. But could be small enough, or accessible enough, or resonate enough that you might feel comfortable enough to say it out loud or even to memorize it. And, if even if you don’t, that you could flip around until you find one that that does resonate with you.

BOGAEV: And that’s the thing. The Tao book was that for me, a springboard, and I imagine this book is a springboard for people for more Shakespeare reading. But how do you think about or how did you think about the seasons and the themes? You know, what makes, for instance, an October Shakespeare quote?

BEN CRYSTAL: We do very much hope that the book is a springboard either to—each quote each day at the bottom as a stamp from the source material, whether that’s the player or a poem, and a little bit of context. Then, at the back of the book, an index—a line index—a line reference, so that you can find out more if you are intrigued by it. But, rather—

DAVID CRYSTAL: That’s the best bit then. That’s the best bit is the index, is the best.

BEN CRYSTAL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah… Dad did the indexes.

But rather, it was quite controversial to begin with, this is one of the first books of Shakespeare quotes that doesn’t have an act, scene, and line reference immediately after the quote, because we wanted the quotes to live by themselves.

Indeed, some of the quotes have no commentary at all. We very much wanted there to be white space to leave the reader with their own space to interpret whatever they felt it might mean.

Indeed, that they can just live off of what’s there, rather than feel that they need to understand what a line reference is or what Hamlet‘s about in order to access. In terms of the actual—

BOGAEV: That’s also—that’s very interesting about the book, really, because you do include commentary on many of the quotes. How did you approach that commentary? Did you approach them as standalone thoughts?

BEN CRYSTAL: Once we had these 5,000 lines or so, Dad went through them and whittled out a bunch that he felt wouldn’t sit very well in the book. And then I went through all of that and shuffled what we had left into loose themes.

Then came the biggest jigsaw puzzle I think I’ve ever done. Having established that we had a dozen or so themes—eventually, it was about 16 or so. We were sitting at the kitchen table, and, actually, Dad, I think it was your thought that, “Why don’t we map the book across themes?”

So, January became some of the best quotes that we had. February’s love and loss—love and laughter, sorry. March is a look into grief and then hope. April’s nature, like you said, Dad. June, because it’s a hot month in the northern hemisphere, for insults and arguments and fights and politics. In July, back to work, and money and projects in September. October’s the month of the day of the dead, so let’s look life and death.

We had this, kind of, super-narrative arc over the course of the year. Then, over the course of each month, there would be an arc, as I say, from love to laughter, or from grief to hope, or from fights to insults or something like that.

And then over the course of each page spread as well, hope. You know, we try to suppose the thoughts or have them resonate with each other so that there’d be a little journey to be found, if people didn’t want to read the book every day or wanted to read it in a different number of sittings.

Part of my own biggest passion—and I know Dad shares it too—is that there’s this idea that Shakespeare is difficult. I think it’s partly from the way that it’s taught on the on the page, predominantly, rather than on the stage. We teach our next generations how to pass exams with these works rather than how to play with them.

And, after all, it is an earlier version of our spoken English, and it’s written in poetry, and there are lots of folk that don’t feel that there’s any space in their life for art, let alone types of art like poetry or drama or theater.

So, this idea that Shakespeare is difficult, we really—in lots of different ways within our work together, I’ve been trying to embrace that challenge and battle with that idea.

We both agreed—although we did have to tussle over it for quite a while—that these standalone quotes were, in some respects, the most important. That whilst we have plenty to say, either linguistically or dramatically, about what the quotes might mean, there are tons of books out there with reams of content of picking apart every single syllable, full stop, and exclamation point, or lack thereof, of Shakespeare. So how about a book that that offers that too—and we get very specific on some things as well. But also, how about [we] offer that space?

BOGAEV: Well, I like how you gently bring Shakespeare into the modern day. For instance, in your introduction, you say about Shakespeare’s use of the word “man” that it was, of course, normal in his very gendered time. But you encourage people to read “human” in its stead. It made me think that must have been a conversation that you two had together or maybe with your editor.

DAVID CRYSTAL: Yeah. We do that quite a lot quite a lot, don’t we? I mean, that’s a perfect example of the kind of discussion that we would routinely have as we were editing our entries together.

The gender issue is pretty important, and it is notable that every time Shakespeare uses the word “man” or “men” or something like that, or “he” or “his,” that we generalize it. I mean, when Shakespeare says he is doing something and it’s a general point, then we recommend to the reader, or to the listener of the audiobook, that they replace that “he” or “his” by any pronoun they care to use.

Also, proper names. When we talk about Horatio, the philosophy point, you know, “more in life than your philosophy, Horatio.” Well, replace Horatio by some other name, one that will make sense to you in your home environment, and so on.

We do recommend that these quotes, in order to make them relevant to the individual user, in that person’s everyday life, that they are prepared to play with them. We think Shakespeare would have loved this. Play with the quote—

BOGAEV: Yeah. That you bring yourself to the text. You bring yourself to Shakespeare.


BEN CRYSTAL: There’s a combination—just to pick apart Dad’s use of “relevance” there, because that’s such a big question with Shakespeare—We were really reaching towards inclusivity and playfulness. That Shakespeare can be a starting point. That we can break the works out of the glass that so many people tried to protect him in for the last hundred, hundred-and-fifty years, and be rough with him.

BOGAEV: Well, speaking to that, though, were there quotes that you considered and then tossed because they you couldn’t get them to quite meet your standard for reaching for inclusivity? Or things that you at first overlooked, but then reconsidered and thought they did.

BEN CRYSTAL: Only about four thousand.

DAVID CRYSTAL: Yes. There were lots of those.

BOGAEV: Can you give us an example?

DAVID CRYSTAL: I think anything that was a little bit too specific in the context of his time, where you’d have to have an awful lot of cultural background in order to understand what the quote was about, we tended to move away from those. They would require too much explanation.

You know, stuff from the history plays, for instance, that had a lot to do with local politics or methods of fighting and all the rest of it, which sort of intruded into the general point that was being made. We kept away from those.

Insofar as there’s a difference between Ben and me, in our two professionalisms, one of my jobs was to check that out, really. To go through the various quotations and see to what extent the various words were difficult in a way that needed some sort of explanation.

One of the things any reader of this book will notice is that there isn’t that much linguistic explanation in it, and the reason is very obvious. Ben earlier on said that people think that Shakespeare is difficult, that there are lots of words in Shakespeare that are difficult. Well, when you add them up, you don’t find that many of the million or less words there are in the canon—only five percent of those words are different in meaning or use from those that we have in the present day. This is early modern English. It is not middle English or old English or something. The vast majority of the quotes don’t need any linguistic input. But then, every now and again, they do.

That was my specific role, I think, in in this particular book. And I was surprised to find that I didn’t have to do that much, actually. That’s why so many the quotes do stand alone.

BEN CRYSTAL: I joked earlier about the 4,000. Of course, you know, of that 4,000 that we didn’t—that we found, there weren’t that many that, I suppose, close the door of inclusivity.

But of the 4,000 or so that were left over. I would say—god, I don’t know. What you think, Dad? But at least a thousand of them could have quite easily been in the book. We had to cut the wheat from the wheat, let alone the wheat from the chaff. There were so, so many.

How on earth—he was so good. And, of course, it wasn’t just him. It was all of his actors, too, that manifested these great writings. But he had it, yet. He was all right at it, I suppose.

BOGAEV: A rare one that needed some—a little bit of historic context that I appreciated was, “Look, he’s winding up the watch of his wit. By and by it will strike.”

You point out that, you remind us how new this is, the image of a winding watch. It’s easy not to pick up on that, you know? Timepieces had just come into use towards the end of the 16th century. It’s the equivalent, I guess, to mentioning, like, a VR headset or something.

DAVID CRYSTAL: Yeah. That’s a very good example of where it is important to put some cultural awareness into the commentary.

But, I guess, on the whole, perhaps only maybe 10, 15, maybe 20 percent of the things in the book are like that. For the most part, the quotes could really stand alone with very little commentary indeed.

BOGAEV: Yeah. Now, we can just kind of blitz around your book a little bit because I’m sure some of these are your favorites. I always loved on February 28th, “Though I am not naturally honest, I am sometimes by chance.” I imagine that might have been one of your favorites. Is that why you chose it?

DAVID CRYSTAL: Yes. This is Autolycus, isn’t it, in The Winter’s Tale?

You know, that’s the kind of quote where you might think, “I could—I won’t ever be using that.” Oh, on the contrary, you know, one suddenly finds oneself in a situation where—we’re not talking about a serious crime or anything like that—We’re just talking about a little piece of pretense or a little white lie or something of that kind, and somebody catches us out. Or we say something in a way that is not typical of the way we normally talk, and then that quote drops into the conversation very, very naturally.

BOGAEV: Oh, now for real, do you quote Shakespeare in everyday life? I mean, full disclosure, I have such a terrible memory. I always get them wrong. Also, it feels pretentious to me, so I don’t. But do you, outside of teatime with Ben?

DAVID CRYSTAL: Oh, yes. And, all the time.

BEN CRYSTAL: Way too much.

BOGAEV: Way too much.

DAVID CRYSTAL: Yeah. But, notice, it doesn’t have to be accurate. It doesn’t have to be an exact quote. This is what people sometimes think, “If I quote Shakespeare, I must get him exactly right.”

Well, we know from the various editions and versions of Shakespeare that there was an awful lot of revision that went on in his time. It’s perfectly normal. I mean, the actors of his time, with the best will of the world—Will in the world—

BEN CRYSTAL: Terrible.

DAVID CRYSTAL: —wouldn’t necessarily have been able to get all his lines exactly right.

It doesn’t matter in that somebody… not misquotes, but remembers as much of the quote as is necessary in order to make the point in their everyday chat. Ben and I would certainly often be exchanging quotes, but they wouldn’t necessarily be the exact replica of what’s in our book or in the First Folio.

BEN CRYSTAL: In terms of the quotes that we throw back and forth to each other, sometimes it catches us off guard. There’s a lovely one from Henry VIII, another play that that not many people might think can be quoted. The line goes, “Nature does require her times of preservation,” which is a lovely line about the world and the natural world. It was quite a surprise to me when I asked Dad if he wanted a glass of wine whilst we were reaching the end of editing the book. He looked up at me and said, “David does require his time of preservation,” and accepted the glass of wine.

You know, it’s always surprising. One, the degrees to which you can play with these works, that they’re ready to be played with. There’s nothing bad will happen if we muck about with them and if we adapt them.

DAVID CRYSTAL: “Nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

BEN CRYSTAL: Well done, Dad. Absolutely.

BOGAEV: This is a real window into your family life.

BEN CRYSTAL: Oh my goodness, Barbara, you want a window into the family life?

Listen, we were writing the book. This actually happened. We were together in Wales, where it rains a lot. My mother was looking at the forecast because we going to go out that afternoon or later on in the evening. She says, “All right. It’s going to rain later.”

I heard her from the other room, and so I lifted my voice and said, “It shall be rain tonight,” and in the other room, two rooms away, Dad calls, “Let it come down,” from Macbeth. And my mom screams at us both, “Get out of the house, the pair of you.”

BOGAEV: That’s wonderful.

BEN CRYSTAL: Is it? I’m not sure.

BOGAEV: Were there quotes though that you came to and found very new, or found new, or a very different meaning in them when you were considering them for the book?

BEN CRYSTAL: There’s one I always hail to, because I loved it so much. One of my favorites is Two Noble Kinsmen. And we open each month with a quote that sort of sets the tone for the month. October being the month of life, essentially, it starts with birth and then love and then marriage and then some of Shakespeare’s quotes on death as well, before the spookier ones for Halloween. And, there’s a lovely interchange between Arcite—however you’d like to say his name—and Palamon, when they’re prisoners in Athens. This is, a line of Arcite’s, about their friendship. But out of context and by itself, for me, it became a line about us all, really, on this planet and how we are joined. We are together in… we are unified by our humanity.

It goes like this. “Here, being thus together, we are an endless mine to one another. We are one another’s wife, ever begetting new births of love; we are father, friends, acquaintance; we are, in one another, families; I am your heir, and you are mine. This place is our inheritance; no hard oppressor dare take this from us; here with a little patience we shall live long and loving.”

And I just thought, “Wow.” That’s entirely about their friendship, but taking it out of context, it’s everything.

BOGAEV: Oh, that’s lovely. Now, you give helpful hints to remembering quotes. Can you share some with us?

BEN CRYSTAL: Yeah. Absolutely.

So, a little context here. My Shakespeare theater companies have been exploring for the last ten years a modern adaptation of Elizabethan or Jacobean rehearsal practice where they only had two or three days to raise their shows.

One of the first questions that we get asked is, “How, if you do have that limited amount of time, how do you possibly remember the lines? How can you possibly learn all of Hamlet—Hamlet’s part anyway—in a day or less than a day?”

I know this to be true because we’ve put it into practice successfully enough times around the world now to know that it would have been easy for Shakespeare’s actors. They were doing a different play every day of the of the week, Monday to Saturday, and famously said to have had up to 40 plays in the head at any one time.

Their memories would have been very muscular. Like any muscle, if you train it and hone it, it will get stronger. You may not be able to do a pull up today. But if you keep practicing at it, you’ll be able to do two eventually and then four and five and ten.

It’s the same with the memory. We start the book with shorter quotes, and over the course of the book, there are longer ones for, hopefully, memories that get stronger.

And one of the things that you can do is write it out into your own hand. We know that Shakespeare’s actors would have had to copy out their own parts in their own hand. That was partly practical, because handwriting wasn’t necessarily easily legible for others if it wasn’t your own. But also, if you sort of imagine you’re copying something out, you’re sucking those words into your short-term memory there.

If you were to come back to that line in five minutes or ten minutes, I’d pretty much guarantee it won’t be there. But if you leave it alone for a day, if you come back to it the next morning, perhaps, or even the day after, you might be surprised that it’s sunk in from your short-term memory and into your longer-term memory.

Of course, after all, these lines were written by Shakespeare for a group of actors that he knew didn’t have much time, but did have—or at least some of the more experienced ones had—quite muscular memories. He was also writing these lines for the younger apprentices that these memories mightn’t have been so strong yet.

But the tips that we give are very much based on the tips that we’ve—the techniques that we’ve learned help with an Elizabethan-style quick raise. So, we like to think that they’re Shakespearean tips as well as modern ones.

BOGAEV: Why does your acting troupe, the Shakespeare Ensemble, do this? I mean, what are the benefits of doing things like putting up two plays a week the way Shakespeare did? Doing things on such short notice or of short duration. What does it illuminate about the plays, or what does it do for you as actors?

BEN CRYSTAL: Well, it’s certainly a lot of fun. Just for starters.

BOGAEV: That’s enough.

BEN CRYSTAL: Well, it’s half a good reason. The other half of the reason is—you could ask the same question about the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre or the Shakespeare North Playhouse, the new, original practice space I’m an associate artist of in Merseyside, or the Blackfriars. Why do we explore putting actors into costume that is as close as we can make it from 400 years ago, or the fighting style or the dance style?

What we’ve learned from these so-called quick raises is that it brings about a freshness and a dynamism that—and a uniqueness in playing. Mike Alfreds wrote a book called Different Every Night, and I think that it’s not just in schools and universities that we’ve lost sight of these things as being plays rather than reads. I think it’s in production too. That the standard rehearsal time for a professional production of Shakespeare can be anything from six to 10 weeks. That a lot of energy, a bit like a modern musical, is spent making very careful choreography look new, look fresh, look improvised.

Because we know that Shakespeare’s actors didn’t have very much time to rehearse. In fact, they probably only had enough time to rehearse the dances and the fights, the complicated bits that are either dangerous or need to be too pretty to risk improvising. Because they were performing in the same sort of space with the same group of folk, that offers them a wonderful opportunity to play with each other. To play with the space, to play with these words, and for each performance to be completely—

BOGAEV: Spontaneous.

BEN CRYSTAL: Spontaneous. That is the process that was written into the DNA of these works. So, every time we do it—and we’ve done it all over the world now in in lots of different ways. Every time slightly differently.

All I can… it’s hard for me to say because I’m usually inside of the process, but the response from the audience has been universally—indeed, even when we performed in English or in Original Pronunciation to audiences that don’t speak English, the response has been really quite overwhelming. That we’re tapping into an energy and a performance style that feels, like… well, like what it is: a modern adaptation of something that we’re gauging what it was like 400 years ago.

We’ll never know the degrees of authenticity. But, of course, with any modern Original Practice exploration, you don’t want authenticity. When you go to Shakespeare’s Globe, you don’t want to be ankle deep in excrement and mud and blood from the bear baiting. And you don’t want the building to burn down, so there’s fire sprinklers. And, you know, in this modern world, we want as diverse a range of company as possible, so we don’t want it to be all-male either.

But what we do want, and what is so far away from so many people’s experience of Shakespeare in school, what we do want is for the “two hours traffic” to be visceral, and exciting, and emotionally engaging, and demanding. And, as you say, Barbara, spontaneous.

DAVID CRYSTAL: Yeah. Oh, I do enjoy listening to Ben when he goes on on this particular topic. His use of the term “exciting” is so exactly right for the actors.

I had a personal experience of this once when he was doing Henry V at Shakespeare’s Globe a few years ago in Original Pronunciation. All the actors had their cue parts. You might think, “Well, in this day and age, everybody knows that play. So, what relevance for the cue parts approach?”

Well, for some reason, best known to him, he cast me as Fluellen, probably because I could do a good Welsh accent. There’s a point after the Battle of Agincourt when Fluellen comes in and Henry is standing there and he talks to Fluellen. Fluellen has to give a speech which begins, “Your grandfather.”

Now, every time I’ve heard that play, it’s said Henry is interested in what Fluellen has to say, and it’s a kind of serious little bit of dialogue. Well, Ben was playing Henry. I was playing Fluellen. I had my part. I’d never rehearsed it with him before. I had no idea how he was going to react to my beginning of this speech

BOGAEV: Oh, fun.

DAVID CRYSTAL: I start my line.

BEN CRYSTAL: And, of course—sorry, just to jump in—having only my part, all I have is that is the cue words of when to speak next. I have no idea how long Dad’s speech is, at all.

BOGAEV: I could imagine what’s coming.

DAVID CRYSTAL: Yeah. I start my speech thinking that Henry is going to listen intently to this and praise me for it. And Ben sort of looks at me and throws his head up in the air, and thinks, “Oh god, not Fluellen again. Not he’s going to go on about this. No! No! No!”

BEN CRYSTAL: “We’ve kind of got a war on here!” You know? “We’ve got some things to do.”

BOGAEV: He’s a busy man.

DAVID CRYSTAL: That immediately threw me, in the sense that I no longer know quite how to say these lines, and that was the sort of excitement.

You’ve got to say the lines, and now you’ve got to react to this reaction in a way that makes sense. And, the next night, it might have been completely different, as he said.

BEN CRYSTAL: You’ve got to play together.

DAVID CRYSTAL: Yes, it was great fun, and it is exciting. There’s a sort of electricity about the situation where no actor knows exactly how the other actor is going to react to them at any given moment.

BOGAEV: Well, you two. So much fun to talk with you. And thank you so much for the springboards. All of them.

BEN CRYSTAL: Right back at you, Barbara.

DAVID CRYSTAL: Thank you so much, Barbara. Lovely to talk to you.


WITMORE: That was David and Ben Crystal, interviewed by Barbara Bogaev. Their new book, Everyday Shakespeare: Lines for Life is out now from Chambers books.

This episode was produced by Matt Frassica. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer, with help from Leonor Fernandez. We had technical help from Voice Trax West in Studio City, California. Final mixing services provided by Clean Cuts at Three Seas, Inc.

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Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. Our building in Washington, D.C. has been under construction for the past three years. But we’re looking forward to fully reopening in 2024. You can find more about the Folger at our website,

Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.