The Seven Ages of Man – Conversation and Reading ESL lesson

Ever since I came across a beautiful reading of “All the world’s a stage” by Benedict Cumberbatch I’ve wanted to make a conversational, not-too-deep-into-poetry lesson. As most of my students are busy adults, I was almost convinced they would hate to spend the lesson reading Shakespeare. Fortunately, I dared to give the lesson described below, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of enthusiasm, interest and appreciation of this wonderful piece of poetry.


1. Think of stages a person goes through in his/her life.

Let me start. Infant, …

How many did you come up with?

(Possible answers  – infant, childhood, teenager, young adult, adulthood, retirement and elderly)


2. What activities and characteristics are typical for each stage?

Ex. infant – crawling, learning to walk, learning to talk, being fully dependent on its parents

3. How far do you agree with these statements? Make comments based on your experience.

“For the first half of your life, people tell you what you should do; for the second half, they tell you what you should have done.”

                                                                                                                               Richard Needham

“Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up all by itself.”

                                                                                                                                Tom Wilson

“The time to begin most things is ten years ago.”

                                                                 Mignon McLaughlin

“To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.”

                                                                  Bernard Baruch

“In youth we run into difficulties; in old age difficulties run into us.”

                                                                  Josh Billings

“The follies which a man regrets most in his life are those which he didn’t commit when he had the opportunity.”

                                                                                                                                       Helen Rowland

“If youth knew; if age could.”

                              Henri Estienne


4. You are going to read  William Shakespeare’s poem from the play “As You Like It” (short version).

The poem is called “All the world’s a stage”. Read the first part.

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,


In what way, do you think, the rest of the poem will be connected with the topic of stages of life?

5. Listen to the poem and identify the stages of life the poet names. Listen several times, if necessary. At this point your main goal is to hear and understand the names of stages of life only.



6. Read the poem and make sure you understand it.


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. At first, the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school.


mewl  – cry weakly

puke – vomit

satchel – a small bag used for carrying books or clothing

whine – complain or protest in a childish fashion


And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.


furnace – a large enclosed container in which you burn fuel, used for heating a building

woeful  –  sad

Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon‘s mouth.


oath – a solemn, formal declaration or promise to fulfill a pledge, often calling on God, a god, or a sacred object as witness.

bubble –  something insubstantial, groundless, or ephemeral

cannon – a large powerful gun used in the past that shot large solid metal balls


And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lined,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;


good capon lined = ‘to line’ means to fill something at the edges, and ‘capon’ was chicken to eat – so the man was fat from eating good chicken

 wise saws = wise sayings or phrases (old-fashioned English)

instances = examples


The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide.


lean and slipper’d pantaloon = here ‘lean’ means ‘thin’; a slipper is what people wear indoors; a ‘pantaloon’ meant an old man – so this describes a thin old man who stays inside

 pouch = a small bag for carrying money

hose = tights, thin trousers that men wore in Shakespeare’s time

 well sav’d = kept carefully

Note: It’s a short version of the poem where there are only 6 stages mentioned.

7. How is Shakespeare’s vision of stages of life different from yours? How far do you agree with his view?