Critical Mass

Preview 2008: John Reed’s “All the World’s a Grave: A New Play by William Shakespeare”

By Jane Ciabattari

This excerpt is from NBCC member John Reed's forthcoming “All the World's a Grave:A New Play by William Shakespeare,” to be published by Penguin/Plume in Fall 2008. 

Author's introduction: I have taken lines from the known works, and reconstructed them into a tragedy starring Hamlet, Romeo, Juliet, Iago, Macbeth, Gertrude (as Lady Macbeth), Lear and Rosencratz and Guildenstern. 

In short: Hamlet goes to war for Juliet, whose father is the wrathful King Lear. Right by the Prince’s side: Honest Iago, and handsome Romeo. Back home: the Queen is tupping Macbeth, while the witches are at their cauldron, brewing foul trouble … 

In its entirety, the work is a little shorter than “Hamlet”
—at over 30,000 words, Shakespeare's longest play—and about the length of “Coriolanus” or “Richard III.” 

I hope it’s fun. That Hamlet have a reason. That Juliet have an affair, with Romeo. That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a relationship. But it’s also my intention to have Shakespeare weigh in–not only on contemporary letters and contemporary publishing–but on a world of love, war and madness. Our times. 

This very short scene ends Act I; previously, Hamlet has gone to war for Juliet, and captured her. Iago, an old soldier, hates the Prince for the unnecessary bloodshed. —John Reed

Outside the Boar’s Head: soldiers, at a wagon, load corpses.

IAGO(to audience)
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows, yet none knows well:
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell. 

Inside the Boar’s Head Tavern: drunken soldiers celebrate.
A fist bangs on a table.
Romeo—sincere, besotted:

Here, with a cup that's stored unto the brim,
(a cheer)
We drink this health to the Prince and Princess 
Who, even in pure and vestal modesty,
Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin; 
(a cheer)
Whose golden touches soften stone and steel; 
(a cheer)
Whose health and royalty we pray for,ay,
Who will be king and queen of Bohemia:
Save our graces! 
Laughter and a louder cheer.