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A Shakespeare Poem From a Play: "All the world's a stage"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Edward de Vere, 17 Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Edward de Vere, 17 Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Introduction and Text of "All the world's a stage"

Before beginning his heady analysis of the seven ages through which each human being's life develops, the character named Jaques begins his extended metaphor playing on the word "stage" by asserting, "All the word's a stage."

Jaques bangs on with the theater metaphor, claiming, "And all the men and women merely players: / They have their exits and their entrances."

Spotlighting an example man, he states that this "anyman," or perhaps, "everyman," is likely to "play many parts" in the play. Each act of each human being's life may be thought of as an age, of which there are seven successive stages.

All the word's a stage

Jaques to Duke Senior

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Recitation of "All the world's a stage" by Morgan Freeman

Commentary

According to the Shakespeare character, Jaques, in the play, As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, a man's lifetime undergoes seven distinct ages.

First Movement: A No-Accomplishment Baby

At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

Naturally and expectedly, the first age of a man's life is infancy. As a baby, a man acquires no accomplishments. In fact, he does little more than "mewl" and "puke" in the arms of a nurse.

By stating that the infant is cared for by a "nurse," the character reveals his level of aristocracy. A lower-class infant would be cared for by his mother.

Second Movement: Educated Against His Will

Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.

After infancy, this anyman passes into the stage of a "whining schoolboy." Pessimistically, the speaker paints a dire picture of this stage of life. This lousy little school kid bops off to school against his will.

The boy possesses a shiny face, scrubbed clean by his nurse, of course—or mother if he happens to be lower-class. The boy creeps toward the school "like a snail," no doubt hating every step, wishing he were going anywhere else.

Third Movement: Of Heaving Breath

And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.

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The lover's character seems more pleasing than the mewling, vomiting infant and the snotty-nosed little school-hating school-boy. But the lover's his behavior bears a resemblance to a "sighing" "furnace." The horny youth warbles a "woeful ballad / Made to his mistress' eyebrow," in his often vain attempt at seduction.

Jaques' focus on the "mistress' eyebrow," an inconsequential item on the face, reveals a lack of inspiration—that same lack he seems to be exhibiting for each stage of man's existence.

Fourth Movement: Feeding the Ego

Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth.

At this stage, the man becomes full of himself, as he goes in search of a reputation, even though it may be one that bursts as easily as a bubble. The man then takes "strange oaths," while wearing his facial hair "like a pard." Negativity sets in as he becomes "jealous in honour" and also "sudden and quick in quarrel."

Jaques decides that looking into the mouth of a cannon is an unsuitable place to establish a stellar reputation. It needs to be kept in mind that these ages of man's life and their evaluations are just the opinion of this speaker who is making these descriptions.

Fifth Movement: Only Playing a Part

And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part.

By the fifth age, the man is accumulating body flesh as he undergoes the unpleasant increase often called "middle-age spread." The unlucky bugger sports a "fair round belly." The man's eyes have become "severe." He wears his beard trimmed short, which contrasts with the soldier's scruff of a beard.

While the man at this stage may seem capable of spouting wise aphorisms, Jaques does not take such wisdom seriously, asserting that the man is only playing "his part" in this life as a play where "all the world's a stage."

Sixth Movement: The Return of the Schoolboy

The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.

As chronological age has moved the man forward, he lands on the stage where he has difficulty even maintaining his earlier activities. He no longer fits into his clothes because he has become thin, losing that round belly from before.

The man at this advanced stage sports glasses to assist his failing vision. With his shrinking body, even his voice is undergoing a transformation from its "manly" huskiness to that of a childish whine, reminiscent of the schoolboy.

Seven Movement: The "Sans" Man

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Jaques, who is after all French, then calls the last stage one wherein the man is "Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." Without all his adult features and qualities, this man is now reduced to a "second childhood."

Each stage has produced a progression leading to a state of virtual nothingness, or worse—a man, who has become a pathetic child, returning to near infancy from where he started.

(For an introduction to the "real" Shakespeare and the classic 154-sonnet sequence, please visit "The Real "Shakespeare" and an Overview of the Shakespeare Sonnet Sequence.")

The De Vere Society

Questions & Answers

Question: In the Shakespeare poem, "All the world's a stage," how was middle age represented by the speaker?

Answer: By the fifth age, the man is accumulating body flesh as he undergoes the unpleasant increase often called "middle-age spread." The unlucky bugger sports a "fair round belly." The man's eyes have become "severe." He wears his beard trimmed short, which contrasts with the soldier's scruff of a beard.

While the man at this stage may seem capable of spouting wise aphorisms, Jaques does not take such wisdom seriously, asserting that the man is only playing "his part" in this life as a play where "all the world's a stage."

Question: Why is the last stage of man's life called "second childishness" in Shakespeare's "All the World's a Stage"?

Answer: "Second childishness" is merely an alternate expression for "second childhood."

Question: What style and technique are used in "All the World's a Stage"?

Answer: The effusion, "All the World's a Stage," is an excision from the play, "As You Like It." Thus, it is not a free standing poem at all. Its style follows that of the play, written primarily in iambic pentameter. Its technique relies on an extended metaphor of life as a play.

Question: Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage" features an extended metaphor for what?

Answer: The speaker of the poem is metaphorically comparing a human being's lifetime to that of an actor on a stage. The human being experiences seven "stage" or ages of life, as s/he journeys from birth to death.

Question: What is the theme of the poem, ''All the world's a stage"' by Shakespeare?

Answer: That a man's lifetime undergoes seven distinct ages, through which each individual plays parts in life as actors play upon a stage in a theater.

Question: What are some supportive points that support Shakespeare saying that society is a world stage in "All the world's a stage"?

Answer: Spotlighting an example man, Jaques states that this "anyman," or perhaps, "everyman," is likely to "play many parts" in the play. Each act of each human being's life may be thought of as an age, of which there are seven successive stages.

Question: Why does Shakespeare call the world "a stage"?

Answer: According to the Shakespeare character, Jaques, in the play, As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, a man's lifetime undergoes seven distinct ages. Before beginning his heady analysis of the seven ages through which each human being's life develops, the character named Jaques begins his extended metaphor playing on the word "stage" by asserting, "All the world's a stage." Jaques continues with the theater metaphor, claiming, "And all the men and women merely players: / They have their exits and their entrances." He then offers an example as he states that this "anyman," or perhaps, "everyman," is likely to "play many parts" in the play. Each act of each human being's life may be thought of as an age, of which there are seven successive stages.

Question: The title of the poem is a metaphor. How is that metaphor demonstrated in the first five lines?

Answer: The metaphor of life--the world--as a stage plays out in the first five line by employing the following terms related to the stage of a theater: players, exists, entrances, parts, acts. The speaker is using the metaphor to compare the lives of human beings to actors on a stage.

Question: What is the controlling metaphor in "All the world's a stage"?

Answer: According to the Shakespeare character, Jaques, in the play, As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, a man's lifetime undergoes seven distinct ages, metaphorically compared to the theatre.

Question: Explain the last two lines of "All the world's a stage"?

Answer: Jaques, who is after all French, then calls the last stage one wherein the man is "Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." Without all his adult features and qualities, this man is now reduced to a "second childhood."

Question: What kind of a man is Justice?

Answer: "Justice" comprises the fifth age; the man is accumulating body flesh as he undergoes the unpleasant increase often called "middle-age spread." The unlucky bugger sports a "fair round belly." The man's eyes have become "severe." He wears his beard trimmed short, which contrasts with the soldier's scruff of a beard. While the man at this stage may seem capable of spouting wise aphorisms, Jaques does not take such wisdom seriously, asserting that the man is only playing "his part" in this life as a play where "all the world's a stage."

Question: Which Shakespeare sonnet is this one?

Answer: This poem has been excised from the play, "As You Like It", Act II, Scene VII. It is not one of the sonnets, of which there are 154 in the sequence.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on January 11, 2020:

Thank you for your comment and kind words, James!

The Shakespeare writer, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, had a deep thinking, philosophical mind. HIs plays all demonstrate his ability to plumb the depth of human experience, as well as create fascinating, rich dramas out of historical events. And his sonnets are masterpieces in self-observation with an eye toward chiseling in stone truth, beauty, and love.

James A Watkins from Chicago on January 07, 2020:

I absolutely love the 'All the World's a Stage' poem. And I enjoyed the way you broke it down for us, further explicating its meanings. A beautiful Hub. Thank you.

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