The man in the poem goes through these stages:
• Infancy: In this stage he is dependent on others and needs to be constantly attended to. • Childhood: It is in this stage that he begins to go to school. He is reluctant to leave the protected environment of his home as he is still not confident enough to exercise his own discretion. • The Lover: In this stage, comparable to modern day adolescence, he is always remorseful due to some reason or other, especially the loss of love. He tries to express feelings through song or some other cultural activity. • The Soldier: It is in this age, comparable to modern day young adult, that he thinks less of himself and begins to think more of others. He is very easily aroused and is hot headed. He is always working towards making a reputation for himself and gaining recognition, however short-lived it may be, even at the cost of his own life. • The Justice: In this stage, comparable to modern day adult, he has acquired wisdom through the many experiences he has had in life. He has reached a stage where he has gained prosperity and social status. He becomes very attentive of his looks and begins to enjoy the finer things of life. • Old age: He begins to lose his charm - both physical and mental. He begins to become the brunt of others' jokes. He loses his firmness and assertiveness and shrinks in stature and personality. • Mental dementia and death: He loses his status and he becomes a non-entity. He becomes dependent on others like a child and is in need of constant support before finally dying.
The poem commences with life being compared to a huge stage where all of us are only actors. Each person has an entry into the world at birth and exits it at death. According to Shakespeare, every man plays several parts during his life time. On the stage of life every man has seven acts. The first act of man is infancy. At this time all that the baby does is cry and puke on his nurse's lap. After he goes through his infant life, he emerges as a school child who slings his bag over his shoulder and creeps most unwillingly to school. At the next stage in life, the young man is a lover who is busy composing ballads for his beloved and sighing deeply for her attention. He graduates into a bearded soldier who promises solemnly to guard his country. He is filled with national pride, is quick to be insulted and is always ready to spring up in defence. At this point of time he is more concerned with status and reputation. From the agile soldier, he goes on to become a judge whose waistline grows as he becomes fatter and fatter. He wears a short, formal beard and his eyes become intense. He is full of wisdom, speaking to everyone in a just and wise manner. After he has played this part, he goes into the sixth age. He becomes thin, wears spectacles, the skin around him hangs loosely. He is made fun of as being a funny old man. His youth has been left behind. His clothes hang loosely around him and his once manly voice turns into a high pitched, childish one. With this, man enters the last act where he experiences his second childhood as he becomes dependent on people once more. He is overcome by senility and forgetfulness as he loses his faculties of sight, hearing, smell and taste, slowly and ultimately dies.
Background of the Poem
William Shakespeare was a great playwright and a poet who reflected the intricacies and realities of life in a very subtle manner. In his famous play 'As You Like It', Jacques gives a speech about the seven stages in a man's life. Jacques' speech became a masterpiece and extracts of the speech are often quoted in literature. Since Jacques was a melancholy character, he presents a negative picture of life. Summary
Through Jacques, Shakespeare puts forth the view that the world is a stage in which human beings play their part. There are seven acts like seven stages in a man's life. A person performs multifarious roles in a single life-time....
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