All The World's A Grave (Plume)

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I had just decided to name my new play “A Year Without Shakespeare,” to express my weariness with the recurring unimaginative return again and again to the Bard. Then I came upon John Reed’s NEW/old play, and I feel fired up! What a dramatic re-imagination is herein offered us!  

—Richard Foreman

The literary Trick of the Year! 

—Page 6, New York Post

I can’t quite believe “All The World’s A Grave”: Such an Original idea. 

—Ian McKellen

It’s a shrewd, gutsy remix that brings the conscience of Shakespeare to our troubled time.

—Spalding Gray 

In All The World’s A Grave, Reed is a director, an orchestrator, and an assembler taking what was present to work with, and making one brand new Reed/Shakespeare partnership play. He says it’s a Shakespeare play, but really it’s a Reed. How could it not be? Reed does to Shakespeare what Shakespeare did to himself. However, this is part of his big question, his radical literary populism, asking where is the author now, where lies the genius ? ... It is at once an act of homage and conquest.  

—Jordan A. Rothacker, The Believer

An inspired bit of bricolage ... This “remix version” of Shakespeare proves fascinating and entertaining. Reed clearly loves the Bard. His pastiche contains many of Shakespeare’s best passages, which are always a delight to reread. More impressive, though, Reed fashions from this familiar material a story containing enough surprises to delight even those well versed in the Bard.  

—Jack Helbig, Booklist 

What's destabilizing—and often wildly comical—is not just the rude mash-up of characters and settings violently plucked from their canonical sources but the way in which the power of Shakespeare's language flickers uneasily, surging and hissing and fizzing out only to revive and fade again as the words play against their new contexts. 

—Christianity Today, Favorite Books of 2008 

We haven’t experienced this much haughtiness since college!

—Timeout New York

 Reed's performance (classical post-Modernism, I guess you could call it) turned out to be a fabulously imaginative reinvention of existing Shakespearean plays into a completely new one, like a chemistry experiment re-linking polymers into new fabric. … Reed, a proven Thomas Edison type among fiction writers (Tales of Woe, an anti-sentimental stories-plus-graphics collection about awful things that happen to people, was his latest light bulb) turns five tragedies (in play form, with stage directions) into a convincing new five-act tragedy. The woven layers sometimes feel as rich and subtle as a three-dimensional Swiss lace, but it all becomes wonderfully clear, sophisticated fun. 

—Allan Jalon, Huffington Post

Reed caramelizes the Bard’s plays into a great and terrifying world ... a dizzying feat of writing and scholarship, and uncannily contemporary in its brew of constant trouble. 

—Lynne Tillman

This is the Frankenstein's monster of Shakespearean tragedy. 

—William S. Niederkorn

The power of Shakespeare's language flickers uneasily, surging and hissing and fizzing out only to revive and fade again as the words play against their new contexts. 

—John Wilson, Books and Culture

Reed has brought music's remix culture to literature with stunning results.

—David Gutowski, largeheartedboy

All the World’s a Grave alerted the world to a timbre of postmodern genius never before seen in American letters. 

—Rami Shamir, Evergreen Review

A wicked illusionist. 

—Los Angeles Journal

This send-up of the bard is both new yet familiar; by using a literary form of montage, Reed plays with our understanding of some of the best known characters from Shakespeare's oeuvre and creates a work that is eerie in its timeliness. 

—Finn Harvor, Rain Taxi 

Reed has managed to take a dated masterpiece ... and revive it for the odd, casino-like social and political world we're mired in today; in the process he's created his own masterpiece. 

—John Grooms, Creative Loafing, Charlotte

Nobody can write like Shakespeare, the visionary John Reed reminds us in “Gist” the first part of the closing meditation to his All the World’s a Grave. Nobody can write like Shakespeare primarily because that copypasta style of cutting-and-thieving plot, character, poetry that Shakespeare relied on itself relies on a much greater archive of writing in the public domain. What’s at stake is as much the cultural ownership of great literature, as the definition of the same.   

—Shathley Q, Popmatters

An absolute feast of Shakespeare remixed, reborn, and given a freshness I didn't expect--and it's somehow seamless in the re-appropriation for this new narrative.

—Sustainable Arts Foundation 


What it is: the known works of W.S., reconstructed, line by line, into a new tragedy, starring Hamlet, Juliet & Romeo, Iago, Macbeth, The Queen, Three Weird Sisters, Rosencrantz & Guidenstern, and the Ghost of the King.

The story: Hamlet goes to war for Juliet, the daughter of King Lear.  Having captured his bride—by unnecessary bloodshed—Prince Hamlet returns home to find that his mother has murdered his father and married Macbeth.  Hamlet, wounded and reeling, is sought out by the ghost of his murdered further, and commanded to seek revenge.  Iago, opportunistic, further inflames the enraged Prince, persuading him that Juliet is having an affair with Romeo; the Prince goes mad with jealousy.

The issues engendered: War, parody, the question of what is authorship, sex and exploitation, the current Shakespeare fracas, the long history of Shakespeare adaptations, Shakespeare and Hollywood, the Public Domain, the literary canon, the state of contemporary letters in relation to “great” works, the creative future we bequeath our children.


Iago & Hamlet—Act 1, Scene I

Hamlet monologue—Act 1, Scene II

Juliet & Hamlet—Act 1, Scene IV

Lear monologue—Act 3, Scene II

Iago & Lear—Act 3, Scene VI

Macbeth & Witches—Act 4, Scene VI, or excerpted by the Brooklyn Rail  

Queen & Macbeth—Act 4, Scene VII

Queen monologue—Act 4, Scene VII


The endnotes are organized by act and line number, as keyed to the Penguin/Plume edition.  They reference the provenance of each line, notable meter, and scene locations.   


There are currently four quarto versions, cut for the stage.  Lengths (at 10,000 words per hour):

 5,000 words: selection

 8,000 words: selection

14,400 words: Quarto 3

17,400 words: Quarto 1 (10,000 words shorter than the Penguin/Plume edition).

Inquiries regarding theatrical rights should be directed to: