The World-Stage and The Seven Ages of Man

Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It (first performance – 1603) contains one of his most famous monologues. In the speech “All the World’s a Stage” (Act II Scene VII) given by the melancholic traveller Jacques, the human condition is compared to a stage play and men to actors playing seven parts during their lives. Those of (1) the Infant, (2) the School-boy, (3) the Lover, (4) the Soldier, (5) the Justice, (6) the Pantaloon [Stock character from a 16th-century brand of Italian theatre called commedia dell’arte. According to dictionary.reference.com, a pantaloon is “foolish old Venetian merchant, usually the head of a household, generally lascivious and frequently deceived in the course of lovers’ intrigues”] and (7) the Old Man.

The speech:

 

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 school-boy 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 honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then, the justice,
In fair round belly, with a 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.

 

English artist Robert Smirke (1753-1845) created a series based on the monologue between 1798 and 1801.

 

Age 1: The Infant, Robert Smirke, Wikipedia

 

Age 2: The School-boy, Robert Smirke, Wikipedia

 

Age 3: The Lover, Robert Smirke, Wikipedia

 

Age 4: The Soldier, Robert Smirke, Wikipedia

 

Age 5: The Justice, Robert Smirke, Wikipedia

 

Age 6: The Pantaloon, Robert Smirke, Wikipedia

 

Age 7: The Old Man, Robert Smirke, Wikipedia

 

——

 

More recently, the American artist James Christensen created a piece titled “All the World’s a Stage” which features Shakespeare in the middle of a theatrical setting (Globe Theatre) surrounded by characters from his plays.

 

All the World’s a Stage, James Christensen, jameschristensenart.com

 

 

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