Seven Ages Of Man --AS YOU LIKE IT William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Lines 139-166, Act II, Scene VII


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 school-boy, 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 honour, 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 slipper'd 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.

“The Drama is the action of soul upon soul. It is philosophic in the deepest sense, and yet it is not a philosophic disquisition. It is the noblest preaching on the most momentous truths, yet never sermonizing.  A noble, vivid aim, clearly and definitely acknowledged, must thrill and hold the spectator.” The comedy is not for sport, nor to kill time. It takes up the moral sphere of human life's activity. In kaleidoscopic glimpses it flings a slice of life before us, and it works out for righteousness.  Shakespeare’s As You Like It is such a model piece where such truism is abundant. Here Jaques and Touchstone is two visionary judges to human desires and destiny. The quoted passage can be seen through this perspective.

 “The Seven Ages of Man" is one of the most famous passages in all of Shakespeare and is spoken by the melancholy Jaques, a representative of the malcontent spirit appearing in Elizabethan literature about this time, in As You Like It. The passage is stunning poetry–in fact, it is often included in anthologies as a separate poem demonstrating the remarkable power and beauty of Shakespeare's words. However, it is cynical and pessimistic in its metaphorical message, making the world a stage, life to a play and human beings actors in the gloomy drama of life. Each man, it says, goes through life playing various parts popularly known as the seven ages of man: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon, and ends up old and toothless as a second childhood.

Among the characters much of the charm of As You Like It is the melancholy Jaques, in whom rests a good deal of pessimistic observation upon life. Witticisms and rhetoric fly fast and furious in this poetic scene from dramatist William Shakespeare. Here in this quoted lines Jaques compares the world as a stage and we the inhabitant as stage actors through the beautiful theatre metaphor. We the players come to the stage of earth in infancy and exit as old man dead. The transition of everyman from infancy to old man passes through seven stages and first of this stage is Infancy. Infancy, period from birth to about few years of age is an important time, characterized by physical and emotional growth and development. According to Shakespeare everyman in his or her infancy ‘mewling and puking in the nurse's arms’- the time of shaky performances with the support of fellow other actors of this world be it parents, nurses or servants.

The next we perform a “whining school-boy.” The “school-boy” is reluctant to attend the school so early. Despite of this, “unwillingly” with his school bag the boy snail through the lazy way. His “shining morning face,” tells the time of early dawn and metaphorically it also tells the time of prospective beginning of the life. Some might say that his mother takes a lot of care to make him shining in the morning but the boy is yet to start for the day.

With the passing adolescence he then falls in love. The lover’s character is full of stormy emotions and fanciful desires. Tempered by infinite passion of love he tunes himself ‘with a woeful ballad / Made to his mistress' eyebrow’. This strange fit of passions makes him a worthy loveable character for ever.

The composition of the forth stage of human life often reflects the boastful attitudes toward the civilizations and societies they represent. More importance was attached to ego than to judgment. The man is the soldier and always run for the reputation despite of knowing them as bubbles. His “strange oaths,” his look of facial hair “like a pard”, “jealous in honour” and “sudden and quick in quarrel”- everything makes him a unique character. But to throw him before the cannon’s mouth or imminent danger is never to be appreciated.

In fair round belly with good tasty food, with eyes penetrating and beard of formal cut,
full of wise saws and modern instances, man acts his fifth part as a judge. His body develops as he gets matured. Practically, his is a blend of custom, morality, religion, and education. The visible authority can be well located in him. Here he acts like the ruler, or chief; the ultimate authorities to pass a judgment on any aspects of life.

The sixth stage of human life is its autumnal decadence. The picturesque setting of man is gradually going spectre thin and can no longer fit into his clothes. With spectacles on nose and pouch on side, his voice is turning again toward childish treble.

The last stop of human life is his old age, his “second childishness”.Strange eventful history of man comes to an end. He is so old that his memory does not function properly.Here without teeth, without sight, without taste, without everything, he waits for the final retreat of death.

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