What are the seven ages of man in Jaques’ speech in act 2, scene 7 of As You Like It?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The famous monologue of the pessimistic character Jaques, who contemplates the invariableness and futility of life, comes in Act II, Scene 7 of Shakespeare's As You Like It. For, he declares, in each stage of life, man is powerless and deserving of ridicule.  In what Shakespearean critic Harold Bloom calls "Jaques's reductionism," he describes each of man's ages in minimal terms: the infant, the schoolboy, the lover, the soldier, the justice, the older man, "lean and slippered pantaloon," and finally, the senile, aged man, "second childishness and mere oblivion."

  1. The infant, who is reduced by Jacques to a helpless, mindless creature that exhibits mere animal functions, "Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms."
  2. The schoolboy, who whines about his controlled condition as he "creeps" to school, reluctantly obeying authorities.
  3. The lover, who is all emotion and no reason as he "Sigh[s] like a furnance, with a woeful ballad."
  4. The soldier who, in seeking "the bubble reputation" even in the face of death, acts like all other soldiers: He acts impetuously, spurred by military fervor and honor.
  5. The justice, the litigator, who is fatted on good food and other privileges for his having served the "wise saws" of his society.
  6. The older years in which man is less active in his society; he wears a "slipper'd pantaloon" and spectacles on his nose, and both his body and voice are less virile. 
  7. The final years of old age, the "last scene of all" in which man is reduced to again being like the babe, without teeth and in "mere oblivion," uncomprehending of the world which he soon will leave.

Certainly, Jaques reduction of man to these seven stages evinces his satirical and bleak view of life.


See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial