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Everyone’s an actor: The inner thespian as told by Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man

Everyone’s an actor: The inner thespian as told by Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man

English speakers worldwide have heard the expression “All the world’s a stage”, whether they know it’s from William Shakespeare or not, whether or not they know it’s from As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII.

By Joel Adams

Monday 28 October 2019, 02:00PM

It’s a nice image. The whole world is similar to the stage with lots of drama, comedy and tragedy, and we all play our part, but I think Shakespeare was actually saying something else as well. I think he was saying “Everyone’s an actor”, because he goes on to say that we play many roles in a lifetime, and if you examine the truth of that statement in your life, you will see it holds water.

One judge of the law once said that his job would be much, much easier if people were not such great actors. When you think about it, we act every day, and Shakespeare, after saying the whole world’s a stage, goes on to name seven roles someone might play in his lifetime. I think there are more, but the seven will suffice us for today. And when he said they play a role, he meant just that – we play multiple roles to achieve our aims in life.

What are these seven ages/roles we play according to the Bard?

1. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms…

A baby acting? A baby learns very early to act out his/her need for food rather dramatically and loudly. Have you ever seen the video of the baby crying for its mother whenever it gets a glimpse of her? Whenever the mother goes out of view, the baby returns to her play happily until the mother appears again, and the very convincing crying resumes. Oscar-quality acting even before having acquired the gift of speech.

2. And then the whining schoolboy…
Creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school…

Let’s be honest. Don’t we all remember feigning sickness to get out of going to school or church? And sometimes it worked. Congratulations on the good acting job.

3. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow…

When a young man’s fancies turn to thoughts of love, he suddenly is willing to play almost any role he thinks will attract a young lady’s attention, even writing a poem about her beautiful eyebrows, which a month before he hadn’t even noticed.

4. Then a soldier…
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the Cannon’s mouth…

We don’t all go off to actual war, but the roles we play in young adulthood are very real struggles to achieve fame and notoriety, or worldly success, thereby gaining attention and admiration. And if you don’t think that’s acting, just recall how you rehearsed to ace those job interviews or even to ask a girl out on a date.

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5. And then the justice,
In fair round belly…
Full of wise saws and modern instances…

A middle-aged spread, respectable gentleman, always dropping words of wisdom, acting as if he really has the answers. We also learn to smile and seem to enjoy things and people that bore us if that is what is expected. Acting again.

6. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose…
His big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble…

As we shift into senior citizenship, we are forced to play a role that feels very foreign indeed, a role that of all the roles we’ve played we feel least prepared for. How many times I look in the mirror and wonder who that guy is and where the years went!

7. Last scene of all…
Is second childishness…

And there you have it, acting from the cradle to the grave.

None of this necessarily means we are lying or being false; it just means we are adapting our behaviour and acting to suit the particular situation we find ourselves in.

And with that said, I want to add that, whether you ever go on the stage or not, learning a bit of or a lot of the skill of acting can be a great help in life. And, hey, if you take the time to learn it, why not get up on the stage every once in a while and use it that way, besides using it in your everyday life to:

  • live a richer life by developing vivid personal awareness, higher communication skills and a strong dose of compassion for others;
  • learn how to relax and focus, get to know your mind, body and voice in a deeper way and how they affect others;
  • gain insight regarding others, observing them more carefully and interacting with them in greater sensitivity; 
  • understand connections between you and others, how to make those connections, sensing hidden agendas and nuances; and
  • “play” your own life better.

So why not try joining an acting class or a group of actors? In a place like Phuket, we have the rare opportunity to reinvent ourselves in a new and unexpected way. Try it! You might like it!

Joel Adams is building a vibrant thea­tre community right here in Phuket. You can contact him at or by phone on 093 6490066. Facebook: Theatrix Group


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