Course of
Linguistics and Literature

Professor TAKADA Shigeki (English Language and Literature)

[Theme] All the World's a Stage, And all the men and women merely players.

I specialize in Shakespeare and the culture of the English Renaissance, focusing mainly on dramas of the era.
The following passage appears in Shakespeare's play "The Tempest."

"Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve, and, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep." (Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 146-58)

These are the words of the magician Prospero to his audience after he has shown them his masquee. This speech is well known as an example accurately expressing the idea that the world is a thing of mere imagination, and we humans are the actors performing upon this fictitious stage. In Shakespeare's other works, there are many phrases comparing life to a play and the world to a theater. This view is not, however, unique to Shakespeare, but rather one of the characteristic ideas of the Renaissance. In this age, many circumstances caused people to become acutely aware of the brevity of human life as well as the fictional nature of the world around them.

At that time, in England, the feudal order of the Middle Ages had been collapsing, while the middle class was emerging equipped with economic force; thus, the society was getting much more fluid than ever before. Although this situation provided talented and ambitious individuals with opportunities to fully display their abilities, people were now confronted with the need to "act" in accordance with this new "scene" that utterly differed from the one into which they had been born. In the process of refining their environs, people began to feel as if they were simply acting out a fictitious role. Moreover, while this fluid society gave rise to some favored souls who were instantly vaulted to positions of influence, there were also those who found themselves cast down from such positions in the blink of an eye. The thought that just at the foot of their brilliant stage lay a bottomless abyss took hold, especially fervently amongst those at the summit of power. The phrase "All the world's a stage, And all men and women merely players" came about as condensed expression of this situation blending fascination with anxiety, and glory with misery.

By studying the works of Shakespeare and other playwrights who understood this simile to be more than just a figure of speech and searched deep for its meaning's through their works, I hope to explore the mystery of our being in the world.

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