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

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

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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!

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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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