All the world is a stage

View and read Act IV scene 1 from the play Henry V

Video—1 hour and 27 minute to 1 hour and 41 minute (1:27-1:41)


Describe in one paragraph (5 sentences minimum) how Shakespeare explores the idea of “metatheatricality” in the scene. Remember that metatheatricality has to do with self-referentiality. How does Shakespeare play with the idea that theatre is like life, and life is like theatre? Is there a sense that there is a “play within the play” happening on stage? You must provide two direct quotes from the text to support your response, text directly. 

Due Tuesday March 5

19 thoughts on “All the world is a stage

  1. Winson Chen

    I believe that in Act 4 scene 1 from Henry V, William Shakespeare is using metatheatricality to talk about kings and their duty. King Henry, in disguise, says this line to his soldiers:

    “The King is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant, for they purpose not their death when they purpose their services. Besides, there is no king, be his cause never so spotless”

    I believe that what Shakespeare is trying to get at is that a king isn’t perfect and cannot answer every single person and their troubles. There were still kings around during the time this play was written so Shakespeare could be telling the audience at the time that every king has their flaws, but are trying their best to value their subjects. This commentary continues once the soldiers leave and King Henry seems to speak directly to the audience which lines such as:

    “Must kings neglect that private men enjoy And what have kings that privates have not too, Save ceremony, save general ceremony?”

    King Henry, in this moment, is mulling over his duties as kings and how his people feel. I think Shakespeare is trying to say that kings have wants and so do his people and it’s often hard to please both sides. This commentary is like a play about kings and people within the play of Henry V.

  2. Tshari Yancey

    In Act IV scene 1 I think metatheatricality is applied when speaking to the three soldiers and they present to him what the aftermath of the war he’s sending his people in. ”  But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in a battle, shall join together at the latter day, and cry all “We died at such a place,” some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left.” (Williams, p.140). It shows because of the King Henry’s selfishness he didn’t question the lives of his noblemen. “if they die unprovided, no more is the King guilty of their damnation than he was before guilty of those impieties for the which they are now visited. Every subject’s duty is the King’s, but every subject’s soul is his own.” (King Henry, p.180) It benefits him that he wins but what about the rest that die in vain and the families they leave behind? even using them not repenting as a way to not feel guilty for risking their lives. And prays that God will not avenge upon him, in the upcoming battle.

  3. obeek

    To me Shakespear seems to be exploring the idea of metatheatricality by having his actors take on multiple roles in the play while poking fun at the secondary roles. When Henry disguises himself as a soldier he is essentially putting on a performance within a performance & makes a few joking references of this fact. At P143:105 he says “the king is but a man, as I am” which is a joke & a fact at the same time. Shakespear also explores the topic through 4th wall breaks like at P151:240 where Henry addresses the audience directly or again at P155:320 where he refers to the audience as “my friends” & talks to them. These moments remind us that we are watching a play.

  4. Henry

    Henry Brito


    In Act IV, Scene 1 of “Henry V,” Shakespeare explores metatheatricality, subtly showing that life and theatre are reflections of each other. This scene, set on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, finds King Henry wandering among his soldiers in disguise, engaging in conversations that reveal the burdens of kingship and the common man’s perspective on war and duty. Through being in his act of disguise, Shakespeare creates a “play within the play,” where Henry effectively becomes an actor within his realm, blurring the lines between his royal identity and the common soldiers he interacts with. This showing of double roles not only brings out the performative traits of leadership and identity but also serves as a showing of the nature of authenticity and perception. Shakespeare underscores this metatheatrical element with Henry’s reflection on the king’s role and the common soldier’s duty, in the lines, “Upon the king! let us our lives, our souls, / Our debts, our careful wives, / Our children and our sins lay on the king!” and “What infinite heart’s-ease / Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy?” These quotes show the play’s exploration of the burdens and performances required by roles in society, playing with the concept that life itself is a stage, and we are all but players.

  5. Deondre Marcelle

    The point of metatheatrical is to show two sides of the same coin within one play. Often in plays you are told how actions are from one side which is usually the main character the play is about. In Henry V Shakespeare uses this technique to show this. In the play king Henry goes in disguise and talks to troops. He is trying to have them believe what he believed he is told hence him saying “There is some soul of goodness in things evil” (Act IV Scene 1 line 4). This is King Henry fully believing in what he is told that the French about his French campaign that it may be an evil act but it results in good things as well as being down with good intentions. While at the same time doing as just “another solider”, so that his troops have full faith in him for this war. However later we can read “Keep thy word. Fare thee well” (Act IV Scene 1 line 229). This shows the other side of the coin. The men within the war are staring to see that King Henry’s actions don’t actually benefit them as they once thought. This shows distain for the king. He acknowledges this later on the following acts we go to see how this changes him and how he gets the trust he once had back. This explores the idea that people believe things that they are told until shown otherwise similar to how someone believes in a lie until the truth is then reveled.

  6. jacqueline_f

    Jacqueline Flores: D273

    1. In Shakespeare’s play Henry V where a character has had a sense of awareness I would say would be when King Henry is talking with Pistol and Pistol asks him what his name was. In the play in the scene, we see how the character King Henry stated his name was “Harry Le Roi” However after Pistol had made a quick joke about the name the actor/character looked around the audience very quickly as to say “What’s funny”. The character has come to be aware that it’s a show. Shakespeare allows us to express 

    2. Shakespeare’s plays portray real-life stories or fictional ones that issue dilemmas of everyday people. Teaches lessons that they can learn from the plays. Whereas when it comes to life being like theater I think it goes back to it too. Where we can take experiences we have from our real life or events that have happened and learn from those mistakes and be able to tell those stories. 

    3. When King Henry chooses to adopt the false appearance of Pistol, there seems to be a play inside the play, but that false appearance gradually creeps into his identity as well, not simply his actions. At the beginning of his speech or dialogue is very well-spoken and in the play as well he talks just as he normally would. Reading his dialogue, “No, my good knight. Go with my brothers to my lords of England.” (Lines 31-32) Reading his dialogue it sounds like he is again well-spoken. However, when it comes to accidentally bumping into Pistol we see how he quickly changes his act and presumes the role of a Welshman. By this, He is free to express his own opinions and more readily hear his own soldiers’ actual, truthful sentiments. As he no longer is in the role of the king. Quote “No. Nor it is not met he should, for, though I speak it to you, I think the King is but a man as I am. The violet smells to him as it doth to me.” (Lines 104-107) He’s playing a character, someone who again is asking the troops what they feel and what their opinions on the war. And we as the audience are watching a play about the King as he plays the character of a gentleman of the company to the troops.

  7. Jesus Diyarza

    Shakespear explores the idea of metatheatricality in the scene where King Henry disguises himself as an ordinary soldier. He overhears the conversations that the soldiers are having and some of them have no hope that they will win the war and that the King knows that they are not bound to win due to the conditions that they are living in and the amount of soldiers that have already died. “But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in a battle, shall join together at the latter day, and cry all ‘We died at such a place,’ some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe some upon their children rawly left“ (138) King Henry tries to make it seem like the king, himself, knows what he is doing but the soldiers still doubt the courage and motives of the king

    Another scene where life is like theater is where King Henry reflects upon himself and is overwhelmed with the sense of responsibility he has over the lives of his soldiers. “ The farcèd title running ’fore the King, The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp That beats upon the high shore of this world; No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony, Not all these, laid in bed majestical, Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave Who, with a body filled and vacant mind, Gets him to rest, crammed with distressful bread ” (272) He would much rather be a slave receiving orders and living an ordinary life than having to worry about the state of his country

  8. Julio Capellan


    In Act IV, Scene 1 from Shakespeare’s Henry V, metatheatricality is shown as the characters of the play perform in a way that acts as a mirror to theater itself. For example, in the dialogue between the Chorus and audience, “Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them printing their proud hoofs in the receiving earth” (lines 11-12), the chorus is breaking the fourth wall by bringing attention to the lack of space provided by the stage, thus urging the audience to use their imagination. The line between reality and fiction is blurred, the audience is took on a trip experiencing the shapeshifting factor of theater. The play essentially develops a play within it, through interaction between the characters, Chorus, and audience. “Now entertain conjecture of a time / When creeping murmur and poring dark / Fills the wide vessel of the universe” (lines 1-3). Shakespeare’s use of metatheatrical elements provides a connection between life and theater, suggesting that both consists of roles being played and narratives being followed.

  9. Habib Bodunrin

    Shakespeare plays with the idea that life is like a theater, through Act 3 scene 3 because it conveys how conflict can be solved without the use of physical violence. It also portrays a more psychological side of war where words are used to convince a side to surrender instead of physical words. For example when Henry states “The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand, Desire the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters.” This statement  shows how Henry is trying to make the governor feel afraid of his military by making threats relating to stealing what is there in the kingdom. As well as when he said ” Your fathers taken by silver beads and their most reverend heads dashed to the walls, your naked infants spitted upon pikes while the mad mother howled in confused.” In this context Henry is making more threats in order to make the Governor feel worried about his people, and make him feel as if he will have consequences to face if he doesn’t confine to Henry demands. Which is related to the quote: theater is like life and life is like theater because when people make threats to other people and they bring someone or something too close to them they will develop some kind of feeling. A feeling of fright, worry, distress as well as sorrow since it is more personal due to it being tied to someone closest to them. Similarly to when Henry was talking about the consequences that the citizens of the Governor town would face, making the townspeople feel some kind of way.  It also makes a play portray itself as real life, showing some kind of conflict and how it can be solved.  This would in turn have the sense of a play within the play for a theater because the language Henry uses against the Governor is creating an exaggerated drama. Drama used in order to make the audience feel like there would be some big consequences for the governor if he didn’t comply when in actuality nothing dangerous really happened.

  10. steve_d

    The way that Shakespeare plays with the idea that theatre is like life, and life is like theatre is when certain people tire of their roles they feel the need to portray someone who is the oposite of themselves to see how the world truly works. In this quote this idea is portrayed  As good a gentleman as the Emperor. KING HENRY Then you are a better than the King PISTOLThe King’s a bawcock and a heart of gold, a lad of life, an imp of fame, of parents good, of fist most valiant. I kiss his dirty shoe, and from heartstring I love the lovely bully. This interaction shows how people will put on a literal show to make life either better for themselves or to mask their intentions from others. Now the question of whether life is a play within a play this scene portrays it perfectly: King Henry I myself heard the King say he would notbe ransomed.WILLIAMS:Ay, he said so to make us fight cheerfully but when our throats are cut, he may be ransomed and we ne’er the wiser. KING HENRY  If I live to see it, I will never trust his word after.WILLIAMS  You pay him then. That’s a perilous shot out of an elder gun, that a poor and a private displeasure can do against a monarch. You may as well go about to turn the sun to ice with fanning in his face with a peacock’s feather. This whole quote is theatre within a conversation about different roles and how they are portrayed. King henry is the would be director/writer, and the soldiers are just character writing themselves into a story about how their lives are meaningless compared to his. This sense of having to be someone else to see how other people think of you is an attempt at him not only knowing what his troops think of him, but to also know how the king himself fits in his own life.

  11. Christopher Swift Post author

    FROM Alex Cisneros.

    What was metatheatrical about the Henry V acts was that the scene had some parts left for the audience to imagine. This is because in some scenes like the scene where it was pitch black the actors and audience had to imagine that the actors were in the dark. It is also explained that the audience should imagine most of the scenes.

  12. Odalys

    One way this scene from Shakespear explores the idea of “metatheatrical” is  when the king says “There is some soul of goddess in things evil, Would men observingly distill it out”. We can see the ending of this quote ends like an open ended question directed to the audience. This idea that even though there are evil things around people can still choose to see the goddess can be used in the real world. Lessons can be learned from theater and applied in real life which supports the concept that theater is like life and life like theater. Another scene from Shakespeare that explores the idea of “metatheatrical” is through the self-referentiality of the king when he decides to make reference of himself to the three soldiers he is talking to. In the text it says, “Methinks I could not die anywhere so content as in the king’s company, his cause being just and his quarrel honorable”. We can see the idea of a “play within the play” because the king is pretending to be someone else in a play thats about him.

  13. Rodolfo Ferreira

    It was great to see how the actors played this out on Henry V to make the audience think they were in a different space, for example, walking with the lamp (OFF). That way, the audience could start thinking about what was happening in the play and understand how the actors were portrayed. Finally, I like how the back of the stage was made.

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