One of the most famous divisions of human life into seven stages is made by Jacques in William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. This kind of division was quite common in Shakespeare’s era, when human lives in fact tended to be divided into periods of seven years. Thus, age 7 marked the beginning of the age of reason, when children were considered to be intelligent enough to know right from wrong. Age 14 was associated with the start of puberty, with all its attendant complications. Age 21 was associated with the achievement of adulthood. These cycles of seven years continued throughout the rest of a person’s life. Thus, age 63, because it was the multiple of 7 times 9 (both symbolic numbers) was called “the grand climacteric” – a period of significant risk.
The seven stages of life outlined by Jacques in As You Like It still seem relevant today. They are as follows:
- Infancy, when a child is especially dependent on its parents and immediate family.
- Childhood, when a child is sent off to school to be educated by others besides its own parents and family.
- Adolescence, when the child is likely to begin to develop sexual and romantic feelings for other persons outside the family circle.
- Young adulthood, when the child begins to become a responsible member of the community and may marry and even begin to have children of his or her own.
- Middle age, when the grown child now is fully involved in his or her job and in raising his or her own children.
- Old age, which Jacques, speaking of a typical male, memorably describes as follows:
The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.
In this period, children may be present mainly in the form of grandchildren.
7. Extreme old age, leading to death. Jacques says of this period that it is the
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Children and grandchildren are present at this stage mainly as caretakers and then, ultimately, as mourners.
Shakespeare’s quick overview of human life still seems accurate, and children are often present, in one way or another, at each of the seven stages.