How could Poetry Week be complete without an offering from William Shakespeare, arguably the most famous poet, actor and playwright of all. Today, I would like to share “The Seven Ages of Man” which appears in the play “As You Like It” but is more commonly known by its opening line “All the world’s a stage”.
The world, according to Shakespeare, is a stage and life is a play. Men and women are actors in this play, and we perform seven different roles according to our stage in life (age).
The first role we play, as described by the poet, is that of an infant who is being carried by a nurse. The infant cries and vomits all the time. Later, that infant grows into a schoolboy, (role number two), who is not willing to attend school. The third stage is that of a lover who is lost in his thoughts of love. The lover writes poetry to his lady about her 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 but ambitious in nature.
The fifth stage shows that with maturity and wisdom, the man becomes a judge. He is a fair, healthy man full of wisdom and his look is authoritative. The sixth stage is the wise old man who is seen in a pantaloon and spectacles. His authoritative voice has grown weak and now trembles as he speaks. The final stage is about the senile man who has lost his teeth, his vision and his hearing, now left helpless as a baby. Finally, the play ends and he exits from the stages of his life forever.
Ok, so the famous playwright who staged his work in a theatre called The Globe believed that the world is a stage and that life is life a seven- act play. What is the message here, though?!
The message here, which is just as true today as it was back when this was written, is that we are all actors. Most of us modify our behaviour and perform according to the the company in which we find ourselves. For instance, our behaviour and language is very different in a business meeting to what it would be when we are among close friends..
This begs the question; how often do we share our real selves with others?! Naturally, we can do this with our friends and families, but even then there are times when we pretend to be happy or sad if we think that’s what situation and circumstances require of us.
For me, the message is about how we all act and play a role, even if we aren’t always aware of it. The world is a stage, after all.
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.
Then the whining schoolboy, 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 honor, 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 lined,
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 slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, 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.