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

Quick answer:

In "Seven Ages of Man" from As You Like It, Shakespeare employs several poetic devices. The speech, given by Jaques, uses an extended metaphor comparing life to a play. It provides a detailed visual journey through the seven stages of a man's life, from infancy to old age. The devices used include metaphor, imagery, simile, and hyperbole. For instance, the world is metaphorically described as a stage, the schoolboy is depicted 'creeping like a snail', and old age is likened to 'second childishness'.

Expert Answers

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

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Explain three poetic devices in the the poem "The seven ages of man."

There are many poetic devices in this poem by Shakespeare.

All the world's a stage,

A metaphor comparing the world to a stage. This is the central metaphor of the entire poem, as Shakespeare explains the different parts man must play "on the stage of life."

There is a simile:

And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.

"like a snail" - comparing the schoolboy to a snail, creeping slowly to school because he does not want to go to school.

There is an example of personification:

Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth

The cannon is an object, so obviously cannot have a mouth.

The ending of the poem completes the metaphor that life is like a stage, and man plays seven different roles on this stage, coinciding with phases of his life:

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

The last "scene" or "stage" of a man is old age, where he has no teeth, no eyes, no taste, no nothing (excuse the double negative). This is an example of imagery.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Explain three poetic devices in the the poem "The seven ages of man."

Here's the poem:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice
In fair round belly, with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. 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 towards childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Metaphor: "All the world's a stage"

Simile: "And then the lover, Sighing like furnace"

Alliteration: "plays many parts,"; "quick in quarrel,"

Consonance: "shrunk shank"

Sibilance (-s sounds): "shoolboy with his satchel"

Assonance: "sixth age shifts"

End rhyme: "side" / "wide"

Costume/clothing imagery: "spectacles"; "pantaloon"

Body imagery: "mouth"; "belly"; "nose"

Theatre imagery: "stage"; "players"; "entrances"; "exits"

Anaphora: "Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

Caesura (puntuation in middle): "Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,"

Enjambment (no punctuation between lines): "Seeking the bubble reputation / Even in the cannon's mouth."

End-stop (punctuation at end of line): "Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,"

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Explain three poetic devices in the the poem "The seven ages of man."

1. Parallelism, or parallel structure is the device through which the repetition of grammatical structures occurs.  Each stage starts with the title of the stage, then a participle phrase or several.

At first the infant, mewling and puking...

And then the schoolboy... creeping like a snail...

And then the lover, sighing like a furnace...

Another parallel moment is the last line: sans... sans...

2. Similes:

creeping like a snail unwilling to go to school

Then a soldier ... bearded like the pard

3. Metaphor: (maybe even an extended metaphor)

All the world's a stage

The comparison here is obvious, I think you can explain it yourself. Watch how the references throughout the rest of the poem use terms from theater (exits, entrances, parts, players)

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
Last Updated on