Found in Act II, Scene VII of William Shakespeare's play "As You Like It," the Seven Ages of Man monologue is delivered by Jaques, a courier, to the exiled Duke Senior. In it, Jaques explains that everyone is a puppet in the hands of fate, and each man has to play his part at the appropriate time.
The monologue begins with Jaques declaring that "All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players." This oft-quoted line establishes acting and actors as the theme of the monologue. The line equates the world, or life, as a stage that is acted upon by everyone. The line also introduces the concept of fate: "players," or actors, can only say what the playwright has written. Jaques continues by explaining that people change in personality over time, and an individual plays seven distinct characters during his lifetime.
The first stage is the Infant, who is described only as being able to cry and puke in the arms of a nurse. The second stage, the school-boy, is described in more detail; he carries a bag, has a freshly washed face and walks slowly and "unwillingly to school."
The next three stages take place in a person's middle life, starting with the lover. The monologue mocks the feelings of young love, joking that the lover constantly sighs and writes bad poetry dedicated to his sweetheart's eyebrow. The next character, the soldier, is described as honorable but headstrong, and the first character to wear a beard, which is kept short and rough. The soldier is looking for honor and reputation, even at the expense of his own life. The next age is that of the justice, who focuses on money and wisdom rather than glory and reputation. His stomach grows and he cuts his beard to a more traditional style.
The last two stages comprise those found in old age. The sixth age is comparable to modern retirement age. The man has slowed down and spends most of his time in his slippers, wearing his reading glasses and smoking his pipe. His body begins to weaken and his voice becomes softer. The final scene of life is called the "second childishness," meaning the man has become again like the infant, unable to take care of himself without the aid of a nurse.
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