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Sail through Shakespeare’s melancholic soliloquy on life’s seven stages

The phrase ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players’ opens a well-known soliloquy from William Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It. Today, it’s one of the Bard’s many fragments of writing that still linger in the collective consciousness. However, that opening quote, and the eloquent lament on life’s seven ‘acts’ that follows, is often stripped of its in-play context as words spoken by a character, ‘the melancholy Jaques’. In his monologue, Jaques depicts life as a metaphorical stage that seven characters enter and exit without agency, spanning from the ‘mewling and puking’ infant to the ‘quick in quarrel’ young adult to the ‘second childishness’ of old age – with each phase as preordained as the next.

Whether Shakespeare himself had as bleak a worldview as Jaques or sympathised more with his foil in disposition, the jovial jester Touchstone, is, of course, lost to the centuries. However, the passage, here embedded in a stylish, nautically-themed animation from TED-Ed, nevertheless raises intriguing questions about the nature of moving through life. Are we inevitably blown about by the winds of each passing stage? Perhaps we can claim some degree of agency amid life’s tides – or at least find joy in their rising and falling? Regardless of your outlook, Shakespeare’s melancholic yet enchanting web of words seems to urge the viewer to find some wonder and meaning in the very act of contemplating these questions.

Written by Adam D’Arpino

Directors: Jérémie Balais, Jeffig Le Bars

Narrator: Jack Cutmore-Scott