March 02, 2022

#08-193: The Seven Ages of Man

"The Seven Ages of Man: 1. the infant; 2. the schoolboy (childhood);
3. the lover (adolescence); 4. the soldier (young adulthood);
5. the justice (middle age); 6. the pantaloon (old age); and 7. senility and death.

Note: We generally count a life in three or four phases: childhood, adolescence, ad adulthood (perhaps adding "old age"). Shakespeare saw seven!

Get Ready: What phase of life are you in ? What are its characteristics?

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.

So says one of Shakespeare's most famous speeches, spoken by a melancholy and philosophical character named Jaques in the comedy As You Like It. The speech goes on to describe the phases we "players" go through, in a passage that has come to be called "The Seven Ages of Man."

"At first the infant," he says, "Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms." Not terribly pleasant, always crying and spitting up!

Next, the child is a "whining schoolboy," always "creeping like snail Unwillingly to school." What kid loves school?

The teenager is "the lover," always writing sad songs about "his mistress' eyebrow." Jaques is mocking "puppy love."

The young adult is "a soldier… bearded like [a leopard]" and always looking for a fight to defend his honor, even on the battlefield: "in the cannon's mouth."

In middle age, the player gets a respectable job and grows fat: "And then the justice, In fair round belly…" He pretends to be wise, always quoting proverbs and telling stories.

In old age he becomes the "pantaloon," a foolish old man from an Italian type of play. He wears slippers and has "spectacles on [his] nose"; his legs have become so skinny that his stockings are too big for him. And his voice has become higher, "Turning again toward childish treble."

And then the end: "Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

"Second childhood" can mean senility, the loss of one's mental capacities. "Oblivion," of course, is death, and "sans" means "without": he is without teeth, without eyes, without taste, and, in death, without everything.

And there we are: a rather pessimistic view of human life as an infant, child, teenager, young adult, middle aged person, senior, and the senile person near death.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. creeping
  2. melancholy
  3. oblivion
  4. pantaloon
  5. pessimistic
  6. puppy love
  7. senile
  8. spectacles
  9. treble
  10. whining

  1. the state of being forgotten or nonexistent
  2. higher in tone, opposed to bass
  3. with a negative point of view
  4. deep but temporary affection in youth
  5. complaining
  6. gloomy; depressed
  7. showing a decline in short-term memory and alertness as a result of old age
  8. moving slowly
  9. eyeglasses
  10. something like trousers

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for March 2, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. f; 3. a; 4. j; 5. c; 6. d; 7. g; 8. i; 9. b; 10. e