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

Updated on September 28, 2017
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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


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