The Seven Ages of Man is one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches. It begins with the famous, “All the worlds a stage”.
This conjures up for many of us a fabulous picture of life as an act, where we play our parts behind our masks. This is a potent idea that explains the way people deal with many of the problems they face in life.
I found that almost the whole of the first half of my life I lived behind a mask. Only when I realised what was happening was I able to change. Once I came out from behind the mask I was able to live an authentic empowered life.
The Seven Ages of Man
But back to Shakespeare and his 7 Ages of Man.
The speech lays out his, humourous, view of a man’s life from the cradle to the grave. Is there any modern equivalent of his ages, are they applicable today? Let’s look at his ages and see if we can find equivalents.
Seven Ages of Man 1 – The Infant
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms
Things have clearly not changed here. I remember this from my own two boys.
Seven Ages of Man 2 – The Whining School-Boy
With his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school
Well that was both me and my children, and, I suspect, my father too. If we ever get to school-boys not whining then I think something will be very wrong with our education system!
Seven Ages of Man 3 – The Lover
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad made to his mistress’ eyebrow
I think this has changed a lot. It sounds like sex was either unheard of (yea, right…) of it was kept well hidden. Today lust is far more the issue rather than poetic swooning.
Seven Ages of Man 4 – 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
A ‘pard’ is a leopard. ‘Seeking the bubble reputation’ probably refers to the soldier’s desire for fame based battle record, even when it means he faces death.
I’m sure we can all recognise this man in Iraq or Afghanistan. The nobility of a soldier has always seemed a little thin to me, it clearly was in Shakespeare’s time as well.
Seven Ages of Man 5 – 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
A ‘good capon lin’d’ refers to a castrated cockerel, suggesting his days of being a lover are over. ‘Wise saws and modern instances’ are up to date examples of wise sayings, suggesting a life of experience.
We jump to older wise man who seems to have lost all speed and passion. His wisdom has deprived him, almost, of life.
Seven Ages of Man 6 – 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
He is completely defined by status and money. He is at the top of the social order. His fear of death makes him try to defy his age, but we all know the foolishness of men with wigs and face lifts. Certain celebrities jump immediately to mind, Donald Trump, for instance, or even Bill Clinton. These men are dangerous because they have everything to lose.
Seven Ages of Man 7 – Second Childishness
Mere oblivion; sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything
Everything’s gone, he is left as a slobbering old man, deserted by family, dumped in a home. So true of today’s society.
The ages left out? The working man, the father and … What do you think?
To finish let’s look at the whole speech:
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 lin’d,
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 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. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
—As You Like It – Act II Scene VII – William Shakespeare