What does the quote "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players" mean?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The different roles to be played in the world are already written out and predetermined. The individual has no choice but to play his or her part, just like an actor who is assigned to play a particular role. The infant has to act just like an infant, crying and eating and sleeping. The infant boy finds himself playing the role of a schoolboy, and he acts like a schoolboy is supposed to act, including creeping to school very reluctantly. Not all boys go through the soldier stage that Jacques describes, but those who become soldiers will look and act like soldiers. We all find ourselves playing different roles and trying to act the way we think people in those roles are supposed to act. When a man becomes a father, he tries to act like a father; and when a woman becomes a mother, she finds herself trying to act the way she thinks a mother is supposed to act. The world is a stage because there are only certain roles to be played and people try to fit into those roles. Even if they are rebellious, they end up playing the roles of rebels--drinking, swearing, smoking, using drugs, getting into trouble. In some cases they end up in prison, where they try to play the role of tough convicts. It is truly impressive and amusing to see how so many people seem to fit precisely into the roles they are playing. Professors act like professors. Cab drivers act like cab drivers. Waiters and waitresses look, stand, walk and talk like waiters and waitresses. Bus drivers certainly act like bus drivers--and, of course, cops always act like cops. If movies had existed, Jacques might have been made to say that all the world's a big motion-picture set and all the men and women are movie actors--some of them stars and some of them merely extras.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"All the world's a stage" is the first line of a monologue from William Shakespeare's play, As You Like It.  In this monologue, the character, Jacques, describes life as a stage on which men and woman are "merely players" during their lives.  One man plays "many parts" in his life that is divided into seven acts.

This monologue is an extended metaphor.  The seven acts are the "seven ages" of man with the first being infancy, then the schoolboy, followed by the lover "Sighing like a furnace."  After the lover, man plays the part of the soldier "Jealous in honor...Seeking the bubble reputation," then the

justice, in fair round belly with ...eyes severe and bear of formal cut,/Full of wise saws and modern instances

The sixth age "shifts/Into the lean and slippered pantaloon" as man ages and his manly voice changes again "toward chidish treble..." The "last scene" is the "second childishness and mere oblivion" in which man has lost teeth, eyes, taste--everything.

ladyvols1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Touchstone's comment that "from hour to hour we ripe and ripe,/ And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot" is a comic foreshadowing of Jaques' "Seven Ages of Man" speech at the end of this scene. Jaques' assertion that he laughed for a hour by Touchstone's dial is ironic, for again he did not realize that Touchstone was satirizing his philosophy."

"In his "Seven Ages of Man Speech" (II.vii.139-66), Jaques says, "All the world's a stage, / And all the men and women merely players" (II.vii.139-40). He seems to see nothing of lasting value in life because these players come and go; it would seem that one player is as good as another. About the stages humans pass through as they mature, he has nothing good to say: infants are "mewling" and "puking''; the schoolboy is ''whining''; lovers sigh melodramatically; the soldier fights for as inconsequential a thing as reputation; the judge is corpulent and self-indulgent; the aged man shrinks in his clothes and wheezes; and finally, near death, man becomes a child again with no teeth, failing eyesight, and a loss of appetite."

malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Understanding the meaning of what you're reciting is a very good idea!  It's hard to get the meaning across to your audience if you don't understand what you're saying.

The original character who speaks the speech, Jacques, is VERY cynical about life, and he is talking about the seven stages of a person's life.  Most often, we only hear the first part of the speech as it is quoted endlessly by theater/acting/drama buffs (like myself - I have a t-shirt with those first 4 lines on it!).  But the rest of the speech is what really tells us what Jacques is feeling about life.

We start out as puking babies, go through all the necessary stages of life, then end up just like babies again as old people - "Sans (without) teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." (Act II, scene 7)

So re-think what you're saying in terms of explaining the stages of life to your audience.  It's not a sugary sweet speech - rather, it indicates a great deal of cynicism about the seven ages of man!  Good luck!

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The fact that Jacques recites these lines in "As You Like It" may have no special significance. I suspect that Shakespeare wrote out many short speeches and sololiquies extemporaniously as the ideas came to him and then saved them until he found a character and a spot where he could insert them in one of his plays. I suspect this was true of "To be or not to be," of Polonius's advice to Laertes (which sounds very wise for a silly old man like Polonius), and of many others, including even Macbeth's "Tomorrow and tomoorrow and tomorrow." Jacques is supposed to be characteristically melancholy. There is nothing particularly melancholy about the "All the world's a stage" speech. It could have been spoken by Rosalind or Touchstone or by Hamlet or by Iago. It was really Shakespeare himself speaking through one of his actors. What is great about the "All the world's a stage" is not that it characterizes the melancholy Jacques, but that it contains a lot of truth.

gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ah, a fun question. This quotation has several meanings. First, and most simply, it means we all have roles to play. We like to think we are independent, and that we choose how we act, but in reality, we are acting according to scripted roles.
Second, in context, the line refers to the fact that we (as humans) go through stages in life. We make entrances onto the stage (we're born), play a role (baby, child, etc.), and then exit (die).
Third, it points out how we like to make ourselves feel important, but from some perspectives, our pain, however real to us, is just entertainment to others watching. A pessimist view, no?

gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The meaning should start in context: this is a play in which people are playing parts (the actors, playing characters), and in which some characters are pretending to be others (living under false names, as men when they are women, etc.). Therefore, it is a statement that is already true: that's the world they are in.

However, on a deeper level, it is a cynical line: it says we all play roles, and that none of us are honest or sincere. We just pretend.

Going deeper still, it suggests there is an author behind us, a God perhaps, who writes us into being, and it recognizes how brief our lives are.

brandih eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An explanation of this quote can also be found in our free Shakespeare Quotes section.

pankh | Student

the answer to this question is, we human beings are merely puupets. we are given different roles and we play them thinking that this is our's decision.As a man made puppet show, every human character has different roles to play in his/her life.. We may call it different stages. the first role to be played is of an infant (also the entrance to the stage) who pukes in the nurses arms. the second role is of a child,who carrys a schoo bag which is like a burden to him and unwillingly creeps to his school. the third role is of a lover,who is a narrative poet for his mistress. then he plays the role of a soldier,who fights with all his courage and lives a disciplined life. then is justice, where he is full of wise sayings. The sixth age is of a old man with slippering pantaloons,with a spectacles on nose. he is again into his childhood i.e. second childhood with oblivion i.e. forgetfulness. The seventh and the last stage is of death,which is the exit of the character.

              and thus the human being who is merely a player finishes his role from the play of life.

aarti | Student

This quotation has several meanings. According to this, we human beings have to go through various stages in our life. As described by Jacques in the act that there are seven different stages in our life. These are the stages: Infancy, Childhood, The lover, The soldier, The justice, Old age, and Mental dementia and death. Shakespeare means that the world is nothing but a theatrical stage where we humans are actors. From our birth we enter the stage and keep on acting true to our age, until old age when we act the last scene.

keshavmwd14 | Student

All the world's a stage...

Here this line is a metaphor where qor planet earth is being compared to a stage.

All the men and women merely playes....

From the above line we can easily make out that when the world is compared to a stage so the life of a person is compared to an actor/actress performing their role. In the same way the exits is refered to the end of life while entrance is refered to a new life.

wikky | Student

actually ,"all the world" is meant to the people living in the world and he refers the birth as entering to the stage and death as leaving or exiting the stage.he have made our life a simily to  the stage.

in the case of a stage:

we are entering the stage,we do our role,and leaves after that .its according to us ,the programme becomes good or bad.

like as, in the case of life:

we are born to this world,we live ,we die.good or bad ,we do many things while we are alive and later that makes us a memorable one.

do good things ,you may be respected and remembered as a great person.

do bad things,you may not be remembered or you may be remembered as a cruel one.

nirmita | Student

This world has been referred as a stage and we mortals have been referred as the characters of vivid scenes  taking place in our day to day life. One man in his life enacts different roles and goes through different stages of life. He has to behold good times as well as confront adversities of life. That is why shakespeare has made us simply players or performers who come on this earth by taking birth (entrance) and depart for eternity through the medium of death (exit).

harrystyleslove | Student

He thinks our life is one big performance where we act a certain way to impress those who judge us in the audience. Men and woman are merely actors and players as well. Life is a drama, and the script and fate is already written for us. It shows we're all just puppets on a string. It means when we enter the stage (birth) we struggle from the beginning (mewling and puking) and as we become more dependant we become more couragous (soldier). As we get older we enter a second 'childhood' as such and become more dependant on people again. We exit the stage (death)  He shows we shouldnt take life to seriously, as it is short, and some peoples acts can end quicker than expected. Nothings permanent. By saying 'exits and entrances' he's referring to the fact people walk in and out of your life and some live a big impact, and some leave a small one.

He's also referring to the seven stages of life, where we grow up from an infant, to becoming old and dying, which is a cycle we cant break

ankita009 | Student

all the worlds a stage and all the men and women merely players...

it was said by the melancholy Jaques.. it basically means that this long journey,  this life that we call it so is nothing but a stage.. we live nothing but a drama whose script is unknown.. the different stages of our life are nothing but scenes in the drama... some live every stage and reach the very end... but for some the journey ends a little sooner. that totally depends on fortune....

Jaques is the person saying it therefore there is nothing pleasing about life written here.. he does not speak about the innocent and pure face of the child... but its mewling ang puking... etc.. ec..

akakios | Student

Shakespeare exlains that the world is like a stage where the actors of a play give their performances,the actors here being the men and women of the world each of whom are protagonists of their own play i.e.,their life.
Every person is a like a player who enters the stage in the form of birth,plays his/her parts through(which involve the seven stages of life) and finally exits the stage in the form of death.


lovesbooks123 | Student

I feel like it's a reference to the way society can dictate how we interact with one another. The things we say, and do; interactions. Also perhaps the games we play, and manipulations to derive a particular outcome of a scenario.

But at the same time, I see where people come from with the whole "stages of life" idea. From birth to death, there are phases in life that we must enter/experience learn from, and move on to the next, all the while palying a part within a particular point in life.

coryengle | Student

As You Like It is a satirical play, and one of the things it is satirizing is artifice. Rosalind pretends to be Ganymede, Orlando pretends to be a Petrarchan lover (because he thinks he's supposed to), Touchstone pretends to be a high-class city person (he's actually a clown), and, quite frankly, Jaques pretends to be more melancholy than he really is. There are many other examples. Besides the literal meaning of the "All the world's a stage" speech, which has been explicated lengthily here, Shakespeare also employs it to make fun of people who are fakers and role-players. Like I said - it's a satire (along with many other things).

jeffsam | Student

ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE: means that tha world we live in is all a part of a play on a stage.

AND ALL MEN AND WOMEN ARE MERELY PLAYERS: this means that like in a play actors have there entrances and exits. Similarly in history of our world which is like a play men and women are born(entrance) and live(play their part in life's story) and die(exit).

yaacov613 | Student

The most simple and easy to understand answer is:

Human life (and all life in the Universe) depends on Destiny (written by God). Before we are born we already have a script. We are merly actors. All human life is mechanical from childhood to death. Probably Shakesperare adapted this quote from Eastern knowledge where it is very common.

studiousshah | Student

This quotation has several meanings. First, and most simply, it means we all have roles to play. We like to think we are independent, and that we choose how we act, but in reality, we are acting according to scripted roles.
Second, in context, the line refers to the fact that we (as humans) go through stages in life. We make entrances onto the stage (we're born), play a role (baby, child, etc.), and then exit (die).just according to jaques,we play many roles at a time.

our birth is our entry,

our death is our exit,

here our life acts as a drama,

our body acts a character in seven diff.roles(according to jaques)

our destiny is a script,

our frds and family acts as the diff.person performing their roles

kmmanu | Student

William Shakespeare is d greatest writer and dramatist d world has seen!! Shakespeare has brought out his thought in a pessimistic manner through the melancholic character Jaques!! He refers to d world as a stage wherin several character enter,play their role and finally exit!! The entering of d stage is compared to the glorious entry of the child in the world- Birth!! The characters playing the role is referred to living lyf and most importantly the exit which is death from the stage which is d world!!!

Shakespeare refers the world as a stage and we people as characters!! he feels that we characters enter the stage, play our roles and exit.We enter d world by being born and we play our parts and exit through death!!!

priyaaa | Student

All the wrld’s stage, and all the men n women merely player’s” is d phrase tht begins a monologue from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, spoken by melancholy Jaques in Act 2 Scene VII. The speech helps to create a unique insight into the play n its events.  The  speech address the themes of satire, philosophy, and the ages of man. Jaques sees the world as a stage upon which all the men and women  perfomer. The speech compares the world to a stage and life to a play, and catalogues the seven stages of a man’s life, sometimes reffered to as the seven ages of man: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon and second childhood, “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”


debashreebanerjee | Student

In the previous lines, Duke Senior refers to the world as a theatre. Jaques simply follows suit and says that indeed, the world is a stage and all the 'men and women'- the inhabitants of the world are simply actors who invariably perform the series of roles given to them. In a way, these few lines are a prelude to the seven ages of man.

janeybobaney | Student

Well, I think what it means is that everyone is watching your actions, whether you think you are alone or not. People are constantly performing. Take teachers, for example. If something personal and horrible happened to a teacher, he or she would still have to be smiles and giggles, no? Otherwise he or she would get fired. We have to always hide our emotions, for fear of offending someone. All the world is a stage... I comprehend it as everyone is acting...

sweetrinky | Student

jaques compares the world with a stage where drama is performed. just like a drama  or a play is performed in a stage and it has its beginning and end and many characters are involved in the play, in the same way the world has many people living in it and everyone has taken birth some day and also has to die some day. all the men and women involved in their own play of life has to perform their role in their life on earth therefore the world is compared to a stage where we live our mortal existence as human beings just like the characters of the play who has their own time of exits and entrances in the satge while the play is being performed 

reachanukriti | Student

this is a historic line by shakespeare . In this line jaques tries to personify the world as stage and the humans in this play as actors .

He tells the life story of a normal human life. It shows the seven stages of a man as a baby a child a lover a soldier a middle aged greedy man a old man and then death. They entrance is marked as a birth of infant and exit as an old mn shrouded in death.

neelukakker | Student

his quotation has several meanings. First, and most simply, it means we all have roles to play. We like to think we are independent, and that we choose how we act, but in reality, we are acting according to scripted roles.
Second, in context, the line refers to the fact that we (as humans) go through stages in life. We make entrances onto the stage (we're born), play a role (baby, child, etc.), and then exit (die).

ashleyrick | Student

It means that the world, in which we live is a stage and the people living here are the actors performing there particular roles.

And remember guys no one else can play your part well as you do, so just be, what you are?

priyo123 | Student

The following quotes mean that the birth and death of a man are just like actors and actress in a drama the life consist of seven stages first in nurse's lap then as a school boy then as a lover then a married man and at last becomes an old man and dies out.

adarshanurag | Student

"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players".

This verse is spoken by melancholy Jaques in Act 2 Scene VII of the play As You Like It. Here, reference is to The Globe Theater where the plays of William Shakespeare was played. Shakespeare says that this human earth is like a stage where a human plays various roles in his life. Men and women have their entrance and exist just as human beings born and die. They have several roles to play and the most important part is their act of seven stages which include a newborn, whining school boy, a lover, a soldier, a judge, slipered pantaloon and old stage which indicates second childishness.

kainaat18 | Student

I love this Quote! Its true this quote has several meanings. one of them is we are here for a limited lifespan and within this we all have to perform our own roles.

harshita01398 | Student

This means that our life is like a play where world is the stage to perform and all men women are the actors who perform on this stage.........!

sonvita | Student

According to Jaques the world is a stage and all men and women are merely actors, who have their entrances and exits. Human beings enter the stage of life when they are born (entrance) and leave it when they die (exit). During the course of a lifetime a man plays many roles from to manhood, to retirement and old age and finally death.

this quote is saying that we all have a part to play, that we are not as independent as we would like to think because we act certain ways because of those parts or roles we have to play (and we eventually play them weather it is through the use of guilt, or envy or other emotions) and we are all simply playing our parts. 

laurto | Student

I love this quote because it can be interpreted in so many ways! First off, its saying that everyone plays a role. Everyone has a different role in everyone's life, but a role nonetheless. Everyone has their moments, they have their exits and entrances, and we're some kind of entertainment for other people (like a play!). Definitely of the best Shakespeare quotes in my opinion!

ahmedrehan | Student

It means that the world is just a theatre for which the story has been already written ( our destiny) and humans are just following (acting) it.

anni2399 | Student

it means that all the peole on the world have their entries and exits. once they are born they have 7 roles to play...


karan123- | Student

it means that all humans belong to nature and their lives are like a stage.they enter (are born) the stage(life) and play their part(doing their activities) and then they exit(die) the stage after their part is over


lizbobizz | Student

It asks us to see this metaphorically,

we "strut and fret our hour upon the stage"

look at how we live, do you think this is true?



penemra | Student

simply it means we humans r in a play. with each having an entry point nd exit point with different roles to play. :)

sourya | Student

The world is just like a theatre where a play is being acted out.All men and women are mere actors in that play and each has their own entry and exit points.

abhi4307 | Student

In ACT 2 SCENE 7, Jaques wnats to say that The World is like the stage of a theatre where all the persons of this world are the actors

vllady | Student

The world is a set event and we are momentarily allowed to be on earth

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