A Short Introduction to The Seven Ages by William Shakespeare

October 24, 2013

all the world's a stage

William Shakespeare, the brilliant playwright, wrote literary masterpieces which were greatly admired for their keen observation and portrayal of diverse human characters.  He also wrote profound philosophical verses describing the human experience.  One poetic verse which is taken from the delightful play “As you Like It” is The Seven Ages by William Shakespeare.  It beautifully traces the seven stages that a human being can go through from the infant stage to old age.

Read the first few lines of Seven Ages and reflect on the lines and jot down what comes to your mind.

“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,”

Here, William Shakespeare likens the entire spectrum of human life to a drama or play.  He likens human beings to be a part of the entire drama of life.  Each human has an entrance, “birth,” and exit, “death.”  One human being in his life-time will have multiple stages and experiences.  Thus, William Shakespeare sets the stage for his brilliant and profound verses with an excellent interplay of language and metaphors.  Do you sometimes think that life and the human experience is like a drama which human beings find themselves engulfed in?  Write your own reflections on this theme.

Now, read the next few lines and reflect on them.

“His acts being seven ages.

At first, the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

Then, the whining schoolboy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like a snail

Unwilling to school.”

William Shakespeare then comes to the crux of the poetic verses by stating “his acts being seven ages.”  He then elucidates on the acts in the drama of the life of a human being.  He describes the helpless infant “mewling and puking,” crying and vomiting and being under the care of parents and babysitters.  He then depicts the traditional school setting and the plight of the schoolboy who reluctantly goes to school.

William Shakespeare then uses a brilliant interplay of words to describe the remaining five stages after the infant and the schoolboy.  These include the lover, “the soldier,” “the justice,” the “elderly man” and the senile and helpless stage of old age. These can be likened to archetype-like stages which a human being can go through which comes full circle and ends in “second childhood.”

photo credit:pablo.sanchez via photopin cc

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