In Shakespeare's As You Like It, what is the effect of the repetition in the last stage of man as described in Jaques' speech?

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act 2, Scene 7 of As You Like It, the melancholy Jaques muses on the stages of life. The speech begins with infancy, with man "Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms" (144), and then it ends in a similar fashion, as Jaques claims that all of us return to an infantile state:

... Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history, 

Is second childishness and mere oblivion;

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. (163-66)

Jaques' speech essentially muses on the ridiculousness of human life, as each of his seven stages can be seen as pathetic and bereft of dignity. The repetition in the final stage, in which man becomes a pathetic copy of his infant self, is particularly pessimistic, as it argues that the average human life accomplishes very little and all of our efforts simply take us back to the state in which we began. As such, by repeating the first stage of man in the final stage, Jaques underscores his pessimistic worldview and suggests that the course of human life is pathetic and full of folly. Of course, this opinion is Jaques' personal worldview, and so it isn't necessary to take it completely to heart. Indeed, the play's happy resolution does something to destabilize Jaques' pessimism. Be that as it may, Jaques' "Seven Ages of Man" remains an important and thought-provoking speech.  

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As You Like It

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