The Seven Ages of Man by William Shakespeare

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;
And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. 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. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. 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
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Summary

The poet compares the world to a stage in a theater and men and women to players. Each player has his/her exit and entrance. Similarly, men and women enter the world on birth and exit from it on death. They come to this stage, play their different roles and bid good-bye. These parts, acts or stages are normally seven.

The birth of a child is the first act of the drama of human life. The human baby cries and vomits in the nurse’s arms. Soon he starts going to school. He has a shining face and carries a bag of books. He goes to school unwillingly, creeping like a snail. This is the second act of his life. The third role that he plays is of a lover. The young lover sighs like a furnace and sings some mournful songs praising the beauty of his beloved.

The fourth stage is that of a soldier. He sports a beard like that of a leopard. He is quick-tempered in matters of honor. He seeks reputation even at the risk of his life. He is not afraid of death and danger while fighting for reputation. However, his reputation is short-lived. It is hollow like a bubble.

Then comes the middle age. The fifth stage is that of a judge. He is fat with a round and fleshy stomach as a result of eating chickens. He has a beard of formal cut. His eyes are now harsh-looking. He becomes strict in his behavior. He uses many sayings and modern instances to support his arguments of wisdom.

The sixth age takes a person to old age. Man becomes weak in health and thin in body. He wears slippers, spectacles and clothes of his youth. These clothes are now too loose for his shrunk and thin legs. His voice becomes unmanly. He pipes and whistles. He lisps like a child as he is toothless. He looks a comic figure.

The last role is that of an extremely old person. This ‘act’ shows him as helpless as a baby. He is toothless, hard of hearing, weak in eyesight and forgetful. In fact he loses control over all his senses. He departs from this world after playing these roles of life.

Analysis

The Seven Ages is an extract from Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. In this extract Shakespeare compares life to a drama in which a person plays different roles as he progresses through the various stages of life. He compares the world to a stage and human beings to players, who enact their roles from infancy to old age and then exit the world.

Human beings are mortal. The world is timeless. Each person plays a role assigned to him or her in the same way as an actor or an actress does in a drama on a stage in theater. We enter the world when we are born. We live in this world through various stages. We leave this stage when we retire from life i.e we die. Most of the people pass through these seven stages. However, only a few persons’ life make any significant impact on the world.

The first stage is that of infancy when the infant is crying and puking in the nurse’s arm. The attitude of the poet is to strike a general truth about the infants. It is that infants generally cry and vomit in the nurse’s arm. The human infant is the weakest of all the infants of the other species. He has to be carried in arms and protected for over a year. The poet is also mocking the those who sing praises of infants and call them images of God. The poet finds some faults and defects in every stage of life. He does not say anything positive or favorable because the speaker of these lines, Jacques is a melancholic and pessimistic person who finds nothing good or worthwhile in life.

The second stage is that of a childhood — a bright faced school-going child, who creeps like a snail and is unwilling to go to school. The school going child has a shining face in the morning. Perhaps his mother has scrubbed it hard to make it glow. He is neat and tidy. He carries a bag of books. He goes to school quite unwillingly. He is creeping like a snail which indicates clearly that the boy is not interested in going to school. The poet is right in making generalizations about the school boys. All young school boys usually dread going to school.

The third stage represents a lover full of passion, who sighs and sings sad songs in praise of his beloved. He is infatuated by a beautiful face. He is impelled to sigh loudly due to his frustration in love. The dejected love sighs like a furnace. The simile may appear farfetched, but it drives home two points. Firs, the lover’s sighs are quite loud as the sounds of bellow is. Secondly, they are quite frequent and hot. The poets mocks not only the lover but the other poets of his age as well, who used to compose poems praising the various aspects of the beloved beautiful face.

Then fourth stage follows the brave soldier who is ready to do and die, is jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel. He strives for momentary reputation. He is full of oaths. He has picked them from the countries he has traveled in. He is bearded like the leopard. He doesn’t look handsome. He is ready to risk danger or death to uphold his self respect. He is very conscious of the fair name, high fame, honor and glory. The reputation earned by the soldier’s sacrifice is transitory like a bubble. Facing a canon’s mouth invited sure death but it provides honor and glory to the brave soldier.

The next role that he plays is that of a justice. He is a mature person in his middle age. He has severe eyes and a beard of fashionable cut. He looks well dressed. Hos fat round belly indicate his love for food. It is filled with fat chickens. He quotes many sayings and examples to show his wisdom. He cites these examples and saying while hearing and deciding cases. Shakespeare seems to have a dig at the judges of his time. He directs our attention to their fair round belly lines with good capon. It is said that the judges of that era used to accept bribes – baskets of chicks and capons – and were known as basket judges. Though specimens of corrupt judges may be found in modern times as well, this generalization is too harsh comments on judiciary.

The sixth stage is that of a lean, bespectacled, wrinkled wan, wearing loose hose. The hose, when the man was young fitted well but due to his age the shank muscles have shrunk and the hose is ill fitted now. His baritone has changed into a shrill voice like that of a child. In his slippers and loose fitting garments he looks a funny man – Pantaloon – a comic figure in Italian comedy.

From here, he reaches the last stage and plays his last role, that of an extremely old man, a senile man, weak in body and mind. This marks the beginning of a second childhood. He is once again in need of help and care. He is without teeth, without taste – without everything. His eyesight is quite weak and fails to recognize people. He forgets everything and is forgotten by everyone. And with this end the seven acts of a person’s life. He exits from the stage.

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