Summary of "All the World's a Stage" by Shakespeare

by Asha Kalyani, Demand Media

    A classic sample of William Shakespeare's powerful poetry is the monologue that begins with the line, "All the world's a stage..." With vivid imagery, this short poem depicts human life through the analogy of a play being acted out on the stage of the world.

    Summary

    The pithy poem "All the World's a Stage" appears in Shakespeare's play, "As You Like It" (act 2, scene 7). It is a speech delivered by a character named Jaques, who comes across as a bit pretentious by introducing his dramatic lines with words that would have already been familiar to hearers: "All the world's a stage." He goes on to describe in vivid language the seven ages of man. Each person lives out essentially seven scenes on this stage of earth -- one goes from being a baby "mewling and puking in his nurse's arms" to being old and reaching that "...second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

    Speaker

    Jaques, who delivers the lines, is a somewhat glum (but self-assured) character who resides in the forest of Arden, the home of shepherds and those who have been banished by family or state. These gloomy lines that depict the bleak scenes of man's life are quite in character for Jaques. As they are well formulated into a complex simile, the lines give the idea that Jaques has prepared this fancy speech ahead of time to have something polished to deliver when the opportunity presents itself.

    Stage

    "All the world's a stage," Shakespeare wrote. This poem images life as a play we are acting out, and the world as the stage on which we act it. This idea of the world being a stage was not first thought up by Shakespeare. He piggybacked on an idea proposed by thinkers before his day, but he was the first to put this idea into such powerful lines of clear verbal imagery.

    Scenes

    Jaques' monologue continues "...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." He then goes on to describe what these seven ages are, and most of them sound rather bleak. Yet it is also clear that the drama of life, though it has its fair share of tragedy, is also partially comic, and at times romantic. The person Shakespeare describes here goes from being a crying baby, to a young boy who walks unwillingly to school, to a lover, to a soldier, to a justice, to a spectacled old man and finally to an ancient and bedraggled man sinking into oblivion before death.

    About the Author

    Asha Kalyani has more than seven years of experience writing about linguistics, language learning and many other educational and cultural topics. She received a Master of Arts in applied linguistics and enjoys teaching and interacting with people of all language and cultural backgrounds.

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