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

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"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.

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ladyvols1 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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"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."

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malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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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!

billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.

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gbeatty | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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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?

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gbeatty | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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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.

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pankh | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

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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.

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aarti | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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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.

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keshavmwd14 | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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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.

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wikky | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) eNoter

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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.

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nirmita | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Honors

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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).

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harrystyleslove | Student | (Level 1) eNoter

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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

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ankita009 | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) eNoter

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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..

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