Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage"

Updated on September 28, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Edward de Vere, 17 Earl of Oxford - the real Shakespeare


A Poem Excised From a Play

The title of this article follows the same rule for titling untitled sonnets: "When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text." APA does not address this issue.


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 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 world’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

First Movement: "At first, the infant"

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: "Then the whining schoolboy"

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: "And then the lover"

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: "Then a soldier"

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: "And then the justice"

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 state 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 sixth age shifts"

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: "Last scene of all"

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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


    Submit a Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)