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Please give a summary of the poem "Seven Ages of Man" by William Shakespeare.

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priyanganie | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 26, 2012 at 9:09 AM via web

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Please give a summary of the poem "Seven Ages of Man" by William Shakespeare.

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted June 26, 2012 at 1:12 PM (Answer #1)

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Jacques’ set piece here is almost a lesson to actors, as he compares the stages of Man’s (male) maturation, by making use of three devices that are available to the actors:  physical changes, clothing changes, and changes in social status.  The physical changes begin in infancy (mewling and puking), to middle age (fair round belly), to the famous list of losses in old age—teeth, hair, etc.; the clothing and props changes begin with the satchel of the schoolchild, to the slippers and pantaloons of old age; the social changes, from schoolboy thru solder and justice to second childhood.  The details of each age act like synecdoches (a detail standing for the abstract totality)—beard, spectacles, etc.—each detail a stage prop or costume piece to make the character immediately recognize to the (theatre or social) spectator.  While it is tempting to say that this poem is independent of the play, and just dropped into it like classical  Spanish Golden Age plays’ habit of inserting poems in the middle of the dramatic development, this speech is well within Jacques’ character in this play—playful, comically philosophical, verbose.  The actual progression through the seven "ages" serves as the structure for the speech.

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vrindabhateja1310 | Student , Grade 9 | eNoter

Posted September 25, 2012 at 1:54 PM (Answer #3)

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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 but surely, and ultimately dies.

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