What are the poetic devices used in the "Seven Ages of Man" in As You Like It?

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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.

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First, Shakespeare employs metaphor in the lines, "All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players . . ."  He directly compares the world to a theater's stage, and all the men and women in the world to actors who perform on that stage.  

There is also a great deal of imagery in the poem.  For example, there is the visual and auditory image of the infant "mewling and puking in the nurse's arms"; there is also visual imagery in the description of the schoolboy's "shining morning face, creeping like snail / Unwillingly to school."  Here, we get a sense of the schoolboy's bright and hopeful face as well as his reluctance to drag himself to school.  Next, Shakespeare uses an auditory image which is also a simile to describe the lover, who is "Sighing like a furnace": we can hear the puffing of a furnace and imagine the lover to be sighing over his love.  

Shakespeare uses another simile to compare the soldier to "the 'pard" (leopard); his beard is scraggly, but there is something lean and hungry about him: he wishes to make his name and secure his reputation.

Shakespeare employs another metaphor to compare old age to "second childishness," which focuses on the ways in which those two stages of life are similar: people in both stages lack teeth, clear sight, and taste.  He says, finally, that they exist "sans everything": an overstatement or hyperbole.  

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Shakespeare's "Seven Ages of Man" is an analogy of the different phases of life that a man goes through during a lifetime. The use of imagery, metaphor and simile are the strongest figures of speech used to drive home the message of the passage. He starts out with describing the common actions and conditions in which we all find ourselves as a baby who is dependent on a mother figure, then he moves on to describe what each stage thereafter looks and acts like in its own time thereby making his way to the end of a person's life. Some examples of figures of speech used include, "the whining school boy," then, "Sighing like a furnace," "Bearded like the pard," "round belly," "beard of formal cut," "and his big manly voice,/ Turning again towards childish treble," all discuss by simile and metaphor the phases of a man's life.  It all ends with the man in a "second" childhood by the time he is old and loses everything from his teeth, to sight, to taste and everything else.

The timeline is organized in a way that the audience may follow easily through the passage of a man's life; and, he uses the rhythm of iambic pentameter, but the structure is not limited to ten syllables of stressed and unstressed accents.

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yohayoha | Student

"all the worlds a stage" metaphor

"and all the men and women merely players" metaphor

"even in the cannon's mouth" personification

"for his shrunk shrank" alliteration

 

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