In the "Seven Ages of Man" speech from As You Like It, why does the lover sigh like a furnace?

The reference in Shakespeare's As You Like It to a lover "sighing like furnace" (2.7.155) can represent a young man's sighs for the object of his affection or the heart-rending, lovelorn sighs of unrequited love. "Sighing like furnace" can also refer to the passion that a young man feels for his sweetheart, and to the love songs that he sings to her and about her.

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The simile that Shakespeare uses here is entirely appropriate in that a furnace is a place of extreme heat, as is the heart of a young man overburdened with love. The lover's heart is burning with desire for his beloved, a desire that cannot be quenched. As such, the lover sighs, a clear sign of the pain that love, especially if it is unrequited, can inflict upon the lover.

At the same time, the “sighing” to which Jaques refers could also be interpreted as the huffing and puffing sound made by a furnace. In that sense, the lover is not just consumed by the heat of passion; he's also huffs and puffs as he writes sad poems about his beloved.

It's clear from this less than flattering comparison that Jaques is having a bit of fun at the expense of young men in love. Although a young man in such a condition may feel that the urgings of his heart are the only important things in this world, Jaques puts him right by placing his amorous feelings in context. The lover may think that he and his beloved are at the center of the universe, but in actual fact, they're just acting out a part in the seven ages of man played out on the world's stage.

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In William Shakespeare's comedy-romance As You Like It, a melancholy lord named Jaques has chosen to live in the Forest of Arden with the banished Duke Senior, whose dukedom was usurped by his brother, Duke Frederick. In act 2, scene 7, Jaques gives a monologue to Duke Senior and the other nobles and lords who live in the forest with him which begins, "All the world's a stage, / And all the men and women merely players" (2.7.146–147), which has become known as the "Seven Ages of Man" speech.

In the monologue, Jaques describes the seven "ages" or seven stages of a man's life, from infancy to death, and compares them to parts or roles that a man might perform on stage in a play. It's not likely that a man would have much opportunity to play the first two roles on stage, that of an infant and a schoolboy, but the third through sixth parts are easily recognizable as the "stock" characters of the lover, the soldier, the lawyer or judge, and the foolish old man, which are well-known characters who appear in plays throughout theatrical history.

Jaques says the the third role that a man might play in his life is that of a lover.

And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress's eyebrow. (2.7. 154–156)

The lover is played in As You Like It by Orlando, a young man who has fled to the forest to escape being killed by his evil brother, Oliver. Orlando is truly in love with Rosalind, who is Duke Senior's daughter and who has also been exiled to the forest, but Orlando expresses his love for Rosalind by composing poorly-written love poems to her and then posting the poems on trees throughout the forest, which directly corresponds with Jaques lines, "with a woeful ballad / Made to his mistress's eyebrow."

Jaques even makes mention of the widely-posted woeful poetry when he later meets Orlando.

JAQUES. I pray you, mar no more trees with writing love songs in
their barks. (3.2.266–267)

Jaques line, "Sighing like furnace," has multiple levels of meaning. The line can represent the sighs of the young man who is desperately, perhaps even hopelessly in love. In Orlando's case, Rosalind has no idea that Orlando is in love with her until she reads some of the poetry he's posted in the forest.

The line can also represent the hot-blooded passion that a lover feels for his beloved "mistress" or sweetheart, such as the unrestrained, passionate love that Romeo has for Juliet.

A third interpretation is that the line refers to the love songs that a young man might sing to his beloved. Orlando doesn't sing to Rosalind in the play. If the quality of Orlando's singing is anything like the quality of his poetry, this is probably a good thing. Nevertheless, there are many songs sung throughout the play which reflect Orlando's love for Rosalind, and Orlando is content to let other people sing them.

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pohnpei397 is correct here.

The furnace reference has to do with heat, such as that heat which is closely associated with sexual passion. Shakespeare is using the furnace not just for the sighing sound that it makes, but to infer that the lover is "hot" with love for his mistress. It's a great simile that is ahead of its time from a literary standpoint.

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Of course, a poem may be interpreted however the reader wishes.  My interpretation does not agree with that of the first answer.

Here are the lines about this age of life

And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow.

To me, this is meant to show how ridiculous people can be when in love.  I think that the reason for the "eyebrow" is that people in love think their lover is so perfect that they will write poems praising even such body parts as an eyebrow.

The reason, to me, that he sighs "like furnace" is because he is so overcome with passion.  He is burning and sucking up all the oxygen around him.  So I think the description of this age is about the foolishness and passion of people who are young.

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The way in which Shakespeare describes the character is with a lack of interest or sentiment towards his mistress, as he doesn't even have a desire to look in her eyes. 

Shakespeare's poem reflects the self-reproach or remorse one feels through the great sense of guilt that one has acquired through the infancy and childhood stages that came before this early adulthood stage.

This may be a result of a loss of love.  In order for the guilt to be manifested, man uses poetry, music or some other form of culture as a means of expressing oneself.

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