This famous speech was first published as part of As You Like It in the First Folio in 1623. Scholars are unsure when the play was performed for the first time but it was likely sometime around 1603. The play is a five-act pastoral comedy that features a monologue in which Jacques considers the nature of the world, the roles men and women play, and how one ages, being ‘All the world’s a stage.’
Explore All The World's A Stage
The speaker, Jacques, begins ‘all the world’s a stage’ by asserting that life is like a stage on which “men and women merely” play roles. They play different parts throughout their lives, as the speaker is now. In the bulk of this monologue, the speaker spends time going through the seven stages of life. One starts in infancy, moves through childhood, and into the best part of their life when they’re a lover, soldier, and judge. Later, they lose control of their senses and eventually can’t take care of themselves.
The Seven Ages of Man in ‘As You Like It’
The seven stages of life, as described by Jacques in As You Like It are:
- Infant (lines 5-6)
- School-going boy (lines 7-9)
- Lover (lines 9-11)
- Soldier (lines 11-15)
- Justice/judge (lines 15-19)
- Comfortable old age (lines 19-25)
- Helplessness/return to childhood (lines 25-28)
Meaning of All the World’s a Stage
On its most basic level, Shakespeare uses the monologue from Act II Scene VII of As You Like It to compare life to a stage. His speaker, Jacques, is suggesting that life is a stage, and men and women are players who take on different roles throughout their lives. The concept comes, in part, from medieval philosophy.
In ‘All the world’s a stage’ Shakespeare discusses the futility of humanity’s place in the world. He explores themes of time, aging, memory, and the purpose of life. Through the poem’s central conceit, that everyone is simply a player in a larger game that they have no control over, he brings the themes together. Shakespeare takes the reader through the stages of life, starting with infancy and childhood and ending up with an old man who’s been a lover, a soldier, and a judge. The “man” dies after reverting back to a state that’s close to childhood and infancy.
Listen to Morgan Freedom perform the ‘All the world’s a stage’ monologue.
Tone and Mood
In’ All the world’s a stage’ Shakespeare creates a somber and depressing mood through the simple breakdown of life, success, love, and death. The beauties of life are compiled into a short monologue that’s over almost as soon as it began. With this, the reader is left to consider their own life and what “stage” they’re in now. The speaker knows that this is the way the world is, everyone listening to his words is all going to end up back where they started as children and there’s no way to change that fact. Listen to Benefict
Structure and Form
‘All the world’s a stage’ is an excerpt from William Shakespeare’s well-loved play, As You Like It. Specifically, it is a monologue that can be found in Act II Scene VII. The monologue is twenty-eight lines long and is in part written in blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter. This means that the lines do not rhyme, but they do (at some points) contain five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed.
It is also important to consider how a performer might’ve used the stage to their advantage when performing these lines and the impact that formal elements like enjambment and alliteration would’ve had on the audience’s understanding of the speech.
Shakespeare makes use of several literary devices in ‘All the World’s A Stage.’ Some are:
- Simile: ‘creeping like a snail’; ‘soldier… bearded like the pard’; etc.
- Metaphor: the entire poem itself is more like symbolism; men and women are portrayed as players whereas life is portrayed as the stage.
- Repetition: another figure of speech used in this poem; words like sans, age, etc. are repeated.
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;
Before the listener starts to get concerned about the role they have to play, Jacques adds that a “man,” (or woman) plays many different parts in their lives, as an actor does. Whoever the actor may be on stage is not only “Jacques” he’s also many other characters throughout his career. It’s in the fifth line of the monologue that Shakespeare brings in a slightly more complex concept, that of the “seven ages” of humankind. The first of these is the “infant.”
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchelAnd shining morning face, creeping like snailUnwillingly to school. And then the lover,Sighing like furnace, with a woeful balladMade to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,Seeking the bubble reputationEven in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,Full of wise saws and modern instances;
The man’s youth has given way to a full beard like a “pard,” or leopard. In these lines, there is also an interesting metaphor comparing a human/animal blowing a bubble with its mouth to staring down a cannon that might fire at any moment. Finally, this metaphorical person becomes “the justice,” or magistrate, someone with a steadier knowledge of what’s right and wrong. They have “Wise saws,” or wise sayings and “modern instances,” or arguments for legal cases.
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shiftsInto the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wideFor his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,Turning again toward childish treble, pipesAnd 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.
In the sixth stage of the man’s life, he moves into the “pantaloon” or comfortable clothes worn by old men. His youthful clothes are too loose because he’s lost weight with age. He’s also lost his deep voice. It reverted back to something that’s closer to what he had in one of the earlier stages of his life.
The last stage of a man’s life is his “second childishness and mere oblivion.” This is when he loses control of everything that made him an adult. Now, he’s helpless and dependent on others, as he was when he was a child. He is “sans,” or without, “taste,” “eyes,” and “teeth.” The final image is the man without “everything.” His life, all its intricate memories, and details, are lost.
Readers who enjoyed the ‘All the world’s a stage’ monologue should also consider reading some of William Shakespeare’s other best-known poems. For example,
- ‘Sonnet 73‘ – part of the Fair Youth sequence. This poem speaks about aging and uses a pensive, introspective tone.
- ‘Sonnet 5‘– depicts the passing of time and relates nature’s four seasons with the stages of life.
- ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow‘ monologue from Macbeth.