Jaques is a contradictory character who is alternately a melancholy, romantic sentimentalist and a pessimistic, sometimes cynical realist who fancies himself a philosopher-poet....
The famous "Seven Ages of Man" speech is spoken by Jaques (pronounced "JAY-kweez") in act 2, scene 7, of Shakespeare's pastoral comedy, As You Like It.
Jaques is a contradictory character who is alternately a melancholy, romantic sentimentalist and a pessimistic, sometimes cynical realist who fancies himself a philosopher-poet. In the "Seven Ages of Man" speech, Shakespeare affords Jaques an opportunity to exhibit all sides of his personality.
The speech is a brief analysis and summation of a person's life, considered in what Jaques calls "acts" and "scenes," within the overall context of the production of a play. It is filled with visual imagery that succinctly follows a single subject through the course of the "seven ages" of his life.
Jacques's speech is prompted by Duke Senior's proceeding lines.
DUKE SENIOR. Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy;
This wide and universal theatre
Presents more woeful pageants than the scene
Wherein we play in.
This prompts Jaques to launch into his own observations about life, in an extended metaphor.
JAQUES: All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
"At first the infant . . ." draws us into the speech and its subject, like a close-up in a movie.
The camera moves a little farther away, and we watch the child, now a "whining schoolboy," swinging his satchel at his side, "creeping like snail / Unwillingly to school."
The visual imagery continues throughout this speech, as we now move to a sighing lover singing a "woeful ballad" to the object of his affection. Then the face of the child as a soldier is described as "bearded like the pard [leopard]." The field of view widens to show the soldier standing in midst of battle, then bravely charging into "the cannon's mouth." Next, in the courtroom, we see the child as a middle-aged "justice / In fair round belly with good capon lin'd / With eyes severe and beard of formal cut," wisely administering to the law.
Then we see the man as "a lean and slippered" older fellow, puttering around his home, "With spectacles on nose and pouch on side," weak-kneed, and his sagging stockings too big for his legs. As we watch him wander aimlessly through his rooms, we hear him talking to himself, his once manly voice "Turning again toward childish treble," whistling through his teeth.
“Last scene of all / That ends this strange eventful history," we see a close-up of the face of the child as an old man, toothless and blind. The face gradually changes back to the face of the child, and the camera pulls farther and farther away as the scene fades out to "mere oblivion."
With that, Shakespeare ends the speech and concludes the extended metaphor and all its vivid imagery.