Shakespeare's Seven Stages of Life

Updated February 21, 2017

Shakespeare's seven stages of life appear in the comedy "As You Like It," likely written around 1600 and first published in 1623. The plot partly involves a duke who has been overthrown from power. In banishment, he's accompanied by the melancholy Jaques. Jaques delivers the speech that begins with "all the world's a stage," and outlines the seven stages of a person's life, from the helpless days of infancy to adolescence, young adulthood, middle age and ageing and death. The speech appears in Act II, Scene 7 of the play. Before the seven stages are outlined, Jaques says: "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."

Stage 1: Infant

"At first the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse's arms."

Stage 2: Schoolboy

"And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel, and shining morning face, creeping like snail, unwillingly to school."

Stage 3: Lover

"And then the lover, sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad, made to his mistress' eyebrow."

Stage 4: Soldier

"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."

Stage 5: Justice

"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."

Stage 6: Advanced Age

"The sixth age shifts, into the lean and slipper'd 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."

Stage 7: Dementia and Approaching Death

"Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

Significance of Speech

The line "all the world's a stage" is one of the most quoted of Shakespeare. The "stage" referenced has nuanced meanings. First, there are the literal stages of life, from infancy to death. Then, there is the metaphor that mankind is merely performing a predetermined role as part of a grander production. Our roles, Shakespeare seems to be writing, are largely not of our own making. Mankind follows a similar path, and no matter how we act our parts -- our lives -- we all end up the same: in "mere oblivion." The speech is a dark moment is what otherwise is considered a comedic play, and contrasts the optimism of other characters with the defeatist, dour Jaques.

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About the Author

Tallulah Philange has worked as a journalist since 2003. Her work has appeared in the "Princeton (N.J.) Packet," "Destinations" magazine and in higher education publications. She also has edited and produced online content for those publications. Philange holds a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from American University and a Master of Arts in communication, culture and technology from Georgetown University.