All the world’s a stage

May 2, 2006 at 1:59 am Leave a comment

William Shakespeare

Listen

All the world’s a stage,

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. At first, the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lined,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

I have very fond memories of this speech. The first time I ever performed it in public, I was ten, firmly in the middle of my second age. The occassion was the Primary School English Recitation Contest at my school, and I still remember the shocked look on the faces of the judges when, having been subjected to almost an hour of “Once there was a little boy” and “Farmer Brown went to town” they suddenly got hit with Shakespeare. I’m not going to pretend I read it remotely well, or that I even understood all of it, but it certainly made an impression.

It’s not just that it’s such a gloriously theatrical speech – though it is, of course, it’s the Shakespeare equivalent of a Verdi aria – it’s also Shakespeare’s most cogent statement of a theme he returns to again and again in his plays [1] – the idea of the play as a metaphor for life.

[1] Including the line in Merchant of Venice that goes: “I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano – / A stage, where every man must play a part” – a line whose discovery I owe to my friend M. I would have been truly awed by her knowledge of Shakespeare’s texts if she had not then gone and spoilt it by confessing that she’d always thought that was the “All the world’s a stage” speech. Sigh.

Entry filed under: English, William Shakespeare. Tags: .

Bottom’s Dream Queen Mab

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