The Seven Ages of Man
The Seven Ages of Man is a passage from the play as You Like It authored by William Shakespeare. The poem is not on only full of drama as expected in all of Shakespeare’s poems and play, but it also shows his several philosophical thoughts regarding life which is heard through the speaker’s voice. In the poem, the author has compared and divided human life into stages. The narrator talks of seven life stages which have different features and qualities. However, through the narration from stage one to seven, it is clear that Shakespeare used a negative tone to bring out the entire concept and themes in the poem. In some way or another, the readers end up sympathizing with the narrator because of the tone of the poem.
Shakespeare sees the world as a mere stage where people act and play their roles. However, it is the roles that they play that bring out the negative tone in the poem. In the first stage of human life you find an infant who Shakespeare not only describes as helpless because they have to be carried, but is also annoying. The infant vomits through and through and cannot stop crying. In the second stage, the infant has grown into a young boy who is going to school, but does not willingly attend school. In the third stage, the narrator talks of a lover who is confused about life and only thinks about love. The fourth stage is filled with hope as he grows old and becomes part of the army but the same negative thoughts are repeated. He is short-tempered and also aggressive which are negative traits attributed to this stage of life (Bloom, 2008).
In the fifth stage, as the man grows old and mature with a family, instead of using his wisdom to make the world a better place, he starts to judge people and orders them with his authoritative voice. In stage six of life, the man is not only old and tired, but is also weak to an extent that his authoritative voice is gone and he only trembles while talking. In the seventh stage, the man is toothless, and does not have any hearing and vision ability. He is more in a vegetative state before his life comes to an end.
Shakespeare used a striking metaphor and symbolism to portray the human life though in a negative way. In all these seven stages, it is clear that man suffers from their first day on earth to the last day they die and exit the world which is compared to a theatrical stage in the poem. The one concept that Shakespeare used in this poem is overgeneralization of life but in a negative way which gives the readers a feeling which is not only negative but insignificance. However, just like a theatre stage where each character appears, they have to make room for other new production by exiting the stage.
Through Jacques, Shakespeare suggested the various productions that exist in the world which is compared to a vast stage. The metaphor here is where Jacques stated that “all the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players (Shakespeare, 1602).” The most intriguing thing is that they are all the same in regards to occurrence whereby you find that people go through similar experiences in life. The only difference that may exist is that the events may differ in regards to places or the ways in which they take place and Shakespeare clearly depicted this in through the character Jacques. Today, it is common to have similar experience when watching a film whether it is action or romantic, in the end, you will come to realize that the films are similar the only differences are the actor, costumes or the setting (Bloom, 2008). This is the reason the readers have to applaud Shakespeare for this amazing comparison that he has made of life and theatrical stage.
Shakespeare however used positive imagery to portray the stages that man has to go through in life. In this passage of the poem, he mainly used visual imagery to bring out the entire picture to the readers. A good example of imagery is where Jacques states that “with eyes severe and beard of formal cut (Shakespeare, 1602).” In these lines, Shakespeare used these vivid descriptions to appeal sense in the readers who are able to visualize the way in which this character looks like. The readers can visualize that the man whose life is being described in the poem despite the challenges he has experienced in life since birth is handsome a quality that adds value to him. It can be anticipated that Shakespeare wanted to give the readers some positive feeling that have been missing from stage one. Through this, the readers are also able to understand the poem better and relate well to the narrator’s feelings.
Shakespeare also used imagery as a device to make the meaning clear and stronger to the readers. He not only used sound words in this case, but also colorful words as figures of speech to connect to the readers. In this way, it is easy to make sense out of the poem as the readers build images while evaluating every word. A beard is something that can be seen thus the readers can easily visualize how the man looked like. Another aspect of imagery that exists in the passage is the seventh stage where the man is without teeth, hearing and visual ability (Bloom, 2008). It is easy to comprehend how he looks like at this stage.
Shakespeare used the word “second Childness” to deepen the understanding of the readers enabling them to have a clear image of how the man appears at this stage of life. A child cannot only defend himself, but cannot also see clearly or hear properly. They not only have teeth, but also require the help of the parents or caregivers to survive. However, at the second stage of being a child that is brought by old age, one has to exist to live room for other people which is a good metaphor used by Shakespeare in the poem to elaborate on the different stages that man have to pass through in life.
Another important literal device that is evident in this passage of the poem is symbolism which Shakespeare has used to show a connection of life. The author used Jacques description of human life to symbolize his life or times. He must have written the poem based on what he experienced or saw people passing through during his times. This is the reason Shakespeare was able to clearly write about the stages of human life something which some other philosophers such as Aristotle also wrote about. He wanted to make the readers understand the stages in life thus used the narrator as a symbol to describe everything and bring the picture to the reader’s mind.
In the poem, the soldier symbolizes strength and some sort of protection. It is rare to see a soldier with a beard thus the reason it is likely to be a symbol that Shakespeare used to depict the fourth stage in life where people are able to defend themselves. At this stage, most people are financially stable and are able to not only protect themselves, but also their young families. However, self destruction is also possible at this stage and Shakespeare used the word cannon’s mouth to symbolize it.
Shakespeare also used another object which has similar characteristics to human beings as a literal device. The word “pard” in the poem can symbolize leopard which he used to describe the face of the man. However, this is also a negative personification which is an aspect that is the main tone of the poem. A leopard is not only a fierce animal but also aggressive to human. In some way or another, Shakespeare was trying to depict man at this stage to be aggressive to other humans. There is no aspect of true love that has been mentioned in the poem rather a man who is full of problems.
The main theme that is evident in the poem is transformation. The readers see the Jacques describe the man as he transforms from childhood to old age. However, in all the stages of transformation that Shakespeare has described, he used a negative personification. The readers see man transform from a helpless child who not only pukes, but is in the hands and care of the nurses. He transforms into an angry adult who is as aggressive as a leopard to an old man who is not able to hear, see and without any teeth. Shakespeare used the aspects of transformation to describe the man and also to explore more about the transformation that most actors in theatre go through. The characters not only transform physically through their clothing, but their roles also change with each stage as the play advances which clearly depicts the transformation of human life.
Bloom, H. (2008). As You Like It: Bloom’s literary criticism. New York: Infobase.
Shakespeare, W. (1602). Hamlet. London: Thomas Thorpe.