In the poem, the seven stages of life are described (Voost 89). In lines one through five, Shakespeare sets the foundation of life. He explains that “All the World’s a Stage,” and “men and women” are “players” (2). They come upon the stage, and they leave the stage. Shakespeare ends the foundational description, and moves on to the seven stages of life. In the beginning of life in the form of infancy, who mewl and puck “in the nurses arms” (6), then the “schoolboy, with is satchel” (7), then the lover, who sighs “like a furnace” (9), then a soldier, who is ”full of strange oaths”(11), then the justice, “with eyes severe and beard of formal cut” (16), then man as an elder, “with spectacles on [his] nose” (20), and lastly, the return to infancy in the form of death, “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything” (27). The word sans is a French word, and means without. Thus, the last line means without teeth, without eyes, without taste, without everything.
Shakespeare writes about the metaphor of the world, which can be seen as a stage, and men and women, who can be seen as actors. In “The Merchant of Venice”, the character, Antonio, a merchant of Venice, compares the world to a stage in the following lines:
“I hold the world but as the world, Gratioano;
A stage where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one.” (Act I, scene i, lines 77-9).
In 1511, it was when Desiderius Erasmus, a Renaissance humanist, wrote a book entitled, The Praise of Folly, which asks, “For what else is the life of man but a kind of play of play in which men in various costumes perform until the director motion them offstage?”(Erasmus 74) As well, the division of life into stages was common in art and literature. However, the number of stages varied between three and four. For example, it was Aristotle divided life into three stages (Baldwin 84). The concept of seven stages is from Medieval philosophy, who often grouped things in groups of seven. For example, there are the seven deadly sins. In the 12th Century, it was a tapestry owned by King Henry V, which depicted the seven stages of man (Garber 292). However, according to T.W. Baldwin, Shakespeare divided the life of a man into seven stages, based upon a book, Palingenius which he most likely studied in grammar school. Other elements are taken from The Metamorphosis by Ovid (Burrow 184).
Although Shakespeare usually writes in iambic pentameter, this speech has more meter variations then are usually prevalent in his writings. For example, line one consists of only three feet, which include a trochee, a trochee, and a spondee. However, all the other lines have five feet. For example, line three consists of five feet, but the meter includes a trochee, iamb, iamb, iamb, and iamb. When Shakespeare begins the line with a trochee, it is usually an action verb. For example, lines six, nine, thirteen, and twenty-three, which include the verbs of “Mewling” (6), “Unwillingly” (8), “Sighing” (9), “Seeking” (13), and “Turning” (23). Although there are variations, the meter is primarily iambic pentameter.
“All The World’s A Stage”
By William Shakespeare
1. All the world's a stage,
2. And all the men and women merely players.
3. They have their exits and their entrances,
4. And one man in his time plays many parts,
5. His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
6. Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
7. Then, the whining school-boy with his satchel
8. And shining morning face, creeping like a snail
9. Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
10. Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
11. Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then, a soldier,
12. Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
13. Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
14. Seeking the bubble reputation
15. Even in the cannon's mouth. And then, the justice,
16. In fair round belly, with a good capon lin'd,
17. With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
18. Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
19. And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
20. Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
21. With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
22. His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
23. For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
24. Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
25. And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
26. That ends this strange eventful history,’
27. Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
28. Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything (Shakespeare 1647-8).
Baldwin, T.W. William Shakespeare’s Small Latine & Lesse Greek. Urbana, Ill: University Press. p 652-673.
Burrow, J.A. The Ages of Man: A Study In Medieval Writing and Thought. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005.
Erasmus, Desiderius. The Praise of Folly. Trans. Clarence H. Miller. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979..
Garber, Marjorie B. Profiling Shakespeare. Routledge, 2008. p.292.
Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. Rolfe Humphries. Bloomington: Indiana University Press; 1961.
Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It.” The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Stephen, Greenblatt. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. 2008, p 1625-91).
Voorst, Van. Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man. 1948.
#1. The first page of the play, “As You Like It,” by William Shakespeare, published in 1623.
#2. The wrestling scene from “As You Like It,” by William Shakespeare, published in 1623.
#3. Audrey, by Philip Richard Morris.
#4. A watercolor illustration: Orlando pins love poems on the trees of the forest of Arden.
#5. Rosalind, by Robert Walker Macbeth.