‘The Seven Ages’ taken from William Shakespeare’s famous play, ‘As You Like It’ describes the seven phases in a man’s life – from childhood to old age. The poem is a monologue and a melancholy by Jaques, a character in the play. The world is but a global stage and all men and women presented here are mere puppets in the hands of destiny. Just like the infrastructure of a stage, the world has its own entrances and exits. Every man in his entire lifetime has many parts to play. His total number of acts in his life time are ‘the seven ages‘.
This poem has a great meaning. It uses drama to symbolize and portray life. It talks about the progression of life through time. As time goes by, man changes greatly. From Shakespeare’s eyes, life has been divided into seven separate stages. He talks briefly about each of these seven stages throughout all of this short, but powerful poem. Shakespeare wants to render a message through his poem, “The Seven Ages” that men and women are ‘merely players’ in the drama of life. They are termed as ‘merely players’ because no one lives forever but plays his or her part and departs. At birth, they enter a stage and during death, they leave it. Man passes through seven phases of life in accordance with their age.
The poem is composed in free verse. The style is narrative. The poem describes seven different stages of life in brief but has a powerful impact throughout. The speaker is a man who is familiar with drama and is expressing his many philisophical ideas on life.
Poetic Devices Used In The Poem
Similie : A simile is a comparison between two unlike things that have something in common. A simile always uses the words like or as to make a comparison.
- Creeping like a snail – the schoolboy does not want to go to school. He thinks by creeping like a snail, he will never reach the school. His slow pace reflects upon his reluctance to go to school.
- Sighing like furnace – a furnace is a fireplace with a blower to speed up combustion. The lover pines away and craves for his love. So he heaves deep sighs like the wind bag of a furnace.
- Bearded like the pard – the soldier is as ferocious as a leopard. He also has a beard like that of the animal. Secondly, beard is the symbol of manliness or manhood.
Metaphor : A metaphor is a figure of speech comparing two unlike things that have something in common. In this, the comparison is made without the use of like or as (because there is nothing common between the things that are being compared).
Examples : Seeking the bubble reputation – Reputation has been described as bubble because it is transitory (short-lived) by nature.
Alliteration : It is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of successive words (initial alliteration) and within words (internal alliteration).
- A world too wide (‘w’ sound is repeated)
- For his shrunk shank (‘sh’ sound is repeated)
Stages of Life in the Poem
- Adulthood (Justice)
- Middle age (Nearing old age)
- Old age (Extreme)
Shakespeare considers the world a stage and men and women actors on the stage of life. They play seven roles according to their age. Man makes entry on the stage of life with infancy. Absolutely helpless and dependent, he weeps and vomits all the time in the nurse’s arms. Later, that infant grows into a schoolboy, who has a bright and fresh face but unwilling to go to school and creeps like a snail. The third stage is that of a lover who is lost in his thoughts of love. It is his early youth, the peak of love and high romance. He sighs like a burning furnace and sings the sad songs of romance in praise of his beloved’s beauty.
In the fourth stage, as he grows older, he joins the army and becomes a soldier. He is physically fit and is aggressive, short-tempered and ambitious in nature. It is the stage where life is full of obligations, commitments, compliances, oaths and vows. His beard is like a leopard. He endlessly fights for his honour, a full presence of mind which is sudden and quick in quarrel and a heart to maintain a dig’ nified and short-lived reputation. The fifth stage is the adulthood where a man tries to live fair and justified life. His belly becomes bigger than normal. He is conscious about his diet and consumes a good intake of ‘capon’ (roasted chicken – it’s an indirect reference to the corrupt practices that he indulges in. he accepts bribes and feeds himself lavishly)his eyes are severe with seriousness and his beard is leveled to a formal cut. He is to take a lot correct decisions to keep up with the ever changing times. So, this stage is the most powerful stage in life. The fifth stage shows that with maturity and wisdom, the family man becomes a judge. He is a fair, healthy man full of wisdom. His look is authoritative and he advises people.
The sixth stage is the middle age; it is where he prepares himself for the next level in life – old age. His strength begins to weaken and becomes lean and thin. He wears his slippers and a bit loose stockings. He looks like an old fool in his rugged and loose stockings; these stockings belong to the times when he was young and had a well – built body. He wears his spectacles on his nose and his loose skin hangs on the sides (because his body has shrinked). He looks funny in his hose, which he had since his youth, they now look funny on him because he has become weak. Even his voice begins to descend to a lower tone, that of a child. In his free time, he smokes his pipe and whistles his matured melodies. Thus, this age is about the man who has grown old and is seen in a pantaloon and spectacles. His authoritative voice has grown weak and his voice trembles as he talks.
In the last phase of his life, man forgets everything and is forgotten by everyone. All the events in his life (marriage, job, falling in love, etc.) and he himself become a history. It is his second childhood because he loses control over his senses and becomes dependent on others (as the infant). All his faculties start diminishing and loses his teeth, his vision and his sense of taste and everything else. After this, the man part in the play ends and he exits from the stages of his life forever.