“The Seven Ages Of Man” according to Shakespeare

“The Seven Ages Of Man” according to Shakespeare – revisited

The following is from an article I found on the Internet, titled: The Seven Ages Of Man

In Act 2 Scene 7 of “As You Like It”, Jaques speaks his ‘Ages of man’ monologue (better known by most as the ‘All the world’s a stage‘ speech).

In this monologue Jaques starts by explaining that “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players”, then goes on to describe these seven stages of life that men go through in some detail:

Stage 1, Infancy:

A helpless baby, just crying and throwing up.

“At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.”

Stage 2, Schoolboy:

This is where his formal education starts but he is not entirely happy with school. His mother is ambitious for him and has washed his face thoroughly before sending him off to school but he goes very slowly and reluctantly.

“the whining school-boy with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like a snail Unwillingly to school.”

Stage 3, Teenager:

He’s grown into his late teens and his main interest is girls. He’s likely to make a bit of a fool of himself with them. He is sentimental, sighing and writing poems to girls, making himself a bit ridiculous.

“the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.”

Stage 4, Young man:

He’s a bold and fearless soldier – passionate in the causes he’s prepared to fight for and quickly springs into action. He works on developing his reputation and takes risks to that end.

“a soldier, Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth.”

Stage 5, Middle-aged:

He regards himself as wise and experienced and doesn’t mind sharing his views and ideas with anyone and likes making speeches. He’s made a name for himself and is prosperous and respected. As a result of his success, he’s become vain. He enjoys the finer things in life, like good food.

“the justice, In fair round belly, with good capon lin’d, With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws, and modern instances”

Stage 6, Old man:

He is old and nothing like his former self – physically or mentally. He looks and behaves like an old man, dresses like one and he has a thin piping voice now. His influence slips away … the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,

“With spectacles on nose and pouch on side, His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound”

Stage 7, Dotage and death:

He loses his mind in senility. His hair and teeth fall out and his sight goes. Then he loses everything as he sinks into the oblivion of death … second childishness and mere oblivion.

 “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

For some reason I got thinking recently about this section from one of Shakespeare’s plays as I contemplate my move from Stage 6 to Stage 7. Like many, I recall studying his plays at school. One of my favourite radio programmes during my adult years was “Desert Island Discs” when some celebrity was asked to select 8 pieces of music he/she could take if cast alone on a desert island. In addition they could choose a favourite book besides the Bible and the works of Shakespeare that would already be there. If struck me then and still does that along with the KJV Bible, the works of Shakespeare was deemed the most important in the English language, as no doubt did those who were responsible for organising the school curriculum. Later in life I chose to study for a degree in the Arts to add to the one I already had in the Sciences and one of the units was Shakespeare. This contributed to my love of Shakespeare to this day.

People may well come up with their own views why Shakespeare might be deemed as canonical. It seems to me three reasons were his intriguing and gripping plots, his brilliant use of the English language and his unsurpassed understanding of the human condition, which he was able to convey in his writings. “The Seven Stages of Man” is but one of many examples, and for those of us who have lived through stages one to six and facing the prospect of stage seven, while our experience won’t be exactly the same as is depicted here, it is not so much different. If nothing else, it helps us to understand better the human condition and act in the appropriate way, which includes empathy toward others transitioning between the stages and making the most of our life, given it is so short.


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