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The concept that the earth is like a big stage is in itself a striking metaphor, apart from the changes that men and women go through during a specific performance. The earth is pictured as a theater stage on which various characters appear for a short while and then empties out to make way for a new production. Over the centuries there have been many productions, and there will be many more in in the future. Since these productions are only make-believe, it doesn't really matter which role a person plays. He can be a king or a jester. Everything in life is only make-believe. Shakespeare has Macbeth say:
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and sfury,
Signifying nothing. (5.5)
And Shakespeare has King Lear tell Gloucester:
When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools. (4.6)
The only thing that lasts is the stage itself. A similar observation was the theme of an interesting apocalyptic novel by George R. Stewart titled Earth Abides (see link below). And this thought is contained in Ecclesiastes 1:4-5 in the Old Testament:
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
The sun also ariseth.
Ernest Hemingway borrowed that last line as the title for his novel The Sun Also Rises.
Shakespeare seems to be suggesting, through Jacques, that there may be many different productions on the vast stage of the earth but they are all essentially the same. These days it is a fairly common experience to be watching a romantic-comedy or a cops-and-robbers movie and realize halfway through that we have seen the same movie before, only with different actors in different costumes.
Jaques agrees with the Duke saying that all the world's a stage and compares all men and women to actors on this stage. Each one of them has their own exits (deaths) and entrances (births). Men and women play many parts in the drama of life which Jaques divides into seven acts or stages.The first stage of life is that of an infant crying and puking in the nurse's arms. An infant is helpless and is totally dependent on others. The second stage is that of childhood which is also the school going age. Jaques gives the picture of a bright eyed boy with a shining morning face with his school bag reluctantly drag himself to school in a snail pace. The third stage is that of adolescence, when a man plays the part of a lover. He is attracted towards women and composes poems to describe and glorify his lover. He experiences the emotions of joy, passion, disappointment and anxiety in this difficult period of life. The fourth stage is that of adult or manhood. Jaques cites the example of an arrogant soldier who wears shaggy beard that makes him look like a fierce leopard. He is bold, brave, ambitious and full of energy. He curses and swears in strange and manly fashion and is eager to establish a status in society. He is quick to defend his honour and fiercely guards his reputation. He is ready to risk and sacrifice his life in the battlefield and seeks glory, fame and recognition. The fifth stage is the middle age. Jaques depicts this character as the portly judge. This is the stage when a man is more grounded in life. He is no more impulsive and the experiences in life makes him a mature and balanced person. He is content with life which reflects in his attire, behaviour and conversation. Speaking about the judge, Jaqued pictures him as a man 'with a fine round stomach filled with the best meat of the capon' (which he gets as a bribe), is wealthy, full of wise sayings, possesses a severe look and has a well trimmed beard to suit his profession of a judge. The sixth stage of life is the phase when a man starts to grow old. He becomes physically weaker and his mind becomes duller with the onslaught of time. He looks silly and funny with spectacles in his nose, slippers on his feet and purse slinging on his side. He becomes frail and thin. He wears an ill-fitting pair of trousers. The breeches which he had worn in his youth preserved cheerfully for his old age don't fit him anymore as they are too big for his thin legs. His manly voice has become shrill and feeble like a child's voice. The seventh and the final stage is when a man grows extremely old and senile. This last stage depicts the final stage of man on earth. It brigs an end to his presence on earth and speeds up his journey towards his death. His acts on the stage of the world slowly comes to a closure. Man loses his rational power and becomes forgetful and helpless. He again slips back to the infancy stage heavily dependent on other and Jaques calls this stage as 'second childishness'. He loses his teeth, his eye sight,his taste buds and reahes a vegetative state. He is on the verge of losing everything-even himself to the final call of death.
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