David and Ben Crystal Introduce the Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary

Father and Son David and Ben Crystal
A host of Shakespeare enthusiasts gathered at Manchester Metropolitan University this afternoon for the Manchester Children’s Book Festival Trailblazer event, ‘Working and Playing with Shakespeare in the Classroom’. The event introduced Oxford University Press’ new Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary written by author and linguist David Crystal and his son, Ben Crystal, a successful author and actor.
As many students of English Language and Literature know, Shakespeare can often be baffling, even the most academic amongst us stumbling over his use of iambic pentameter and challenging phrases. Described by its authors as ‘half dictionary, half encyclopaedia,’ the Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary, however, untangles a lot of the difficulties of the playwright’s most well-known works, explaining over 4000 words and phrases (including the insults!) and putting them into context.
In addition, the words in the dictionary are grouped together according to theme and are reinforced by colourful, child-friendly illustrations. Asked why this kind of dictionary hadn’t been compiled before, David, who in 1995 was awarded an OBE for his services to linguistics, said, “I think it was just a case of having a linguist to explain the words, an actor to bring the phrases to life and a talented illustrator all in the right place at the right time. By grouping the words together and illustrating them, children can make the connections between words and context much more quickly.”
David and Ben signing the dictionary
At the event, the pair (accompanied by their dog, Edie!) demonstrated how the dictionary can be used within the classroom, explaining words like ‘arras’ and ‘closet’ and expressing the importance of context. The audience were then given the opportunity to buy a copy of the book and have it signed by the authors before Ben went on to discuss the issues surrounding the teaching of Shakespeare in the modern classroom, using examples of text from Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.
The dictionary is especially useful for teachers of English and drama and for those struggling to enable children whose first language is not English to engage with Shakespeare’s work. Jane Lawton, an Ethnic Minority Achievement Teacher, commented, “I particularly like the pages where the vocabulary is grouped into themes which means EAL (English as a Foreign Language) students can make connections much more quickly.”
The event ended with a lively question and answer session.
The Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary is available now here and from Blackwell’s.

One comment

  1. An entertaining and informative event. The time went too quickly-I could have listened and learned for much longer. Similar events would be much appreciated!


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