Mera J. Flaumenhaft, “Is All the World a Stage? Marriage and a Metaphor in As You Like It,” in Perspectives on Politics in Shakespeare, eds. Murley and Sutton, 71–104
As the action falls still toward the end of act II of As You Like It, a strange fellow names Jaques steps forward to deliver one of the most famous speeches in Shakespeare. Announcing that, “All the world’s a stage / and all the men and women merely,” he moves into the show-stopping “seven-ages-of-man” speech. When it concludes, the action resumes. The familiar metaphor raises serious questions about the rest of the play. In what sense are we all “merely players”? Do the seven “parts,” so vividly depicted and so easily memorized, truly describe our own experience as we move through the stages of our lives? Shakespeare invented Jacques and added him to his source-story. What is he doing in this happiest of plays about love and marriage?
Parts I and II of this chapter examine the famous dour speech and the solitary man who makes it. They serve as a negative prelude to parts III, IV, and V, where the positive outcome of the main plot is explored, and love and marriage emerge as the foundations of flourishing human communities. Jacques’ dissonant drone is overwhelmed and left behind as love reconstitutes fractured families and courtship repairs the court.