About the Poet:
William Shakespeare is regarded as the greatest writer in the world of English literature. He was an English poet, a dramatist and an actor. Shakespeare was born and brought up in Stratford-upon-Avon and is often regarded as the ‘Bard of Avon.’ He is considered as the national poet in England. His works consist of about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, some long narrative poems and other verses. There is considerable controversy regarding his physical attributes, sexuality, religious beliefs etc. Some of his famous dramatic tragedies include Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and King Lear. Shakespeare died on 23rd of April, 1616 at the age of 52, survived by his wife and two daughters.
About Seven Ages of Man:
The poem Seven Stages of Man is an extract taken from one of Shakespear’s famous comedies “As You Like It”. It is a pastoral comedy believed to have been written around 1599 and first published in the First Folio (1623). The speaker of the poem is melancholic Jaques in act 2 scene 7. The poem starts with the famous line “All the world’s a stage” and is regarded as a mouth piece of Shakespeare;s philosophy.
Origin of the Idea of Seven Ages of Man:
The idea of the comparison between the world and a stage was prevailing notion. The year Shakespeare was born Richard Edwardes’s play Damon and Pythias were written which contains the lines:
“Pythagoras said that this world was like a stage
Whereon many play their parts; the lookers-on, the stage”
The words might have also arrived from Petronius’ quod fere totus mundus exerceat histrionem (because almost the whole worlds are actors), a phrase widely circulated in then England.
Stanza-wise Summary of Seven Ages of Man:
In the poem, Seven Ages of Man Shakespeare compares the entire world to a theatrical stage, where all the human beings perform their allotted role given by the God. Every individual has to go through seven acts that are seven stages of man’s life.
The first stage, in this phase of his life man, appears as a child in the world. As a child, he is a helpless creature. He cries in the arms of his nurse for one reason or the other. He cries and vomits.
The next phase of his life man appears as a child in the world. He goes to school with a bag hanging from his shoulder. He goes to the school creeping like a snail. He marches to the school unwillingly.
In the third stage of his life, a man plays the part of a lover. He grows into a young man full of desires, ambitions, and dreams. He becomes a romantic young man. He falls in love and sights like a furnace. He begins to write sad poems to his beloved he cannot control his sad feelings.
In the fourth stage of his life man becomes a foul mouthed soldier who has learned queer words at this stage, he tries to give himself a formidable look with a beard like a part. He is emotional and jealous. He quarrels with others for his honor and grace. He hankers after temporary and bubble fame.
In the fifth stage of his life, he becomes a judge. He becomes mature and experienced in his thoughts. The heat of youth has completely cooled down and he becomes very realistic. He wishes to grab wealth by foul or fair means. He begins to accept bribe and thus adds much to his material comforts. He becomes ease loving and therefore becomes fat. His belly becomes round. He eats healthy fowls and chicken presented to him as a bribe. His eyes become severe and he grows the beard of formal cut.
Then, in the sixth stage of his life, man grows old. He looks quite ridiculous in his movements. He wears glasses because his eyesight is weak. His shoes become wide for his feet. His voice suffers a change. It becomes a shrill and quivering whistle.
However, in the final stage, the man turns into a child once again. He seems to forget everything. He becomes ‘toothless’. His eyesight is weakened and he is deprived of taste. He is ready to leave this world.
Shakespeare has the seven stages of man’s life with a touch of satire and cynicism. In each stage, man imagines himself great and important, but there is something ridiculous in his behavior all through his life. Shakespeare has described each of the man’s life stage with great economy of words. He uses living and concrete images to describe the different stages of life. The use of the word ‘mewling’ of the infant’s cry and the school boy’s reluctance for going to school described in phases ‘creeping like a snail’ are examples of living images.
Suggested Reading: Summary of The Seven Ages of Man in Hindi
Here is a detailed video playlist for the Summary and Analysis of the Poem: