As You Like It: The Seven Ages of Man

Departing from Shakespeare’s more gloomy plays, such as Hamlet and Richard III, As You Like It is refreshingly upbeat. All of the subject matter, characters, and the plot of the play is very fantastical, yet it is the very unrealistic nature of the play that makes it very relatable to arguably any member of the audience at any stage of his or her life. In Jaques’ monologue, the seven ages of man, he states that man evolves from “the infant” to “the whining schoolboy,” to “the lover,” next to “a soldier,” then to a “justice,” into “the lean and slippered pantaloon,” and then finally back to a “childish” state, “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything” (2.7.150-172).

This monologue by Jaques speaks to every human on earth, as it is true, we do all progress through these stages as we age. Shakespeare built on this universal accessibility by representing all seven ages of man in the characters of his play, except for that of the infant. Therefore, any viewer of the play at any stage of life can find a character within the play that he is able to identify with.

The most obviously represented age is that of the lover, as Orlando is entirely consumed with Rosalind and spends all of his time in the play searching for any means by which to reach the desired end of having her for a wife. The age of the justice can be seen in multiple members of the cast. Duke Senior is clearly in the “justice” phase of life. Physically, as Kenneth Branagh’s film portrays him, he has both a “round belly…and beard of formal cut,” but is also very wise, as Jaques says a man is at the justice age. In Branagh’s film in particular, the monk that they all must pass in order to enter the forest could be seen as a figure of justice, as he offers the wisdom that he has gained through his life in the forest to those who dare to enter it. Duke Frederick is undoubtedly the soldier. He is “jealous in honor,” “quick in quarrel,” and is the root of all problems in the play. Silvius embodies the “whining schoolboy,” as Corin attempts to teach him about love, but he ignores anything Corin has to say and simply refuses to abandon his own self-destructing love for Phoebe. Jaques himself represents the “pantaloon” stage. He is a cynic, those around him tend not to really enjoy his company, and the charm of the other stages has worn off of him. He even acts out in a childish and selfish manner at times, like when he dramatically runs off on his own to wallow in his sorrows. Finally, Orlando’s servant, Adam, displays the final stage of life, as he withers away when he follows Orlando into the forest.

All these characters coming from all stages of life offer every member of the audience a particular character to identify with, given the particular stage that the viewer is at in his own life. Furthermore, specifically in Branagh’s film, the audience is offered the comfort that all of the characters in the play end up either coming around or being happy in the end. Orlando finds his love, Duke Senior is reunited with his daughter, Duke Frederick makes up for his wrongdoings, Silvius ends up with Phoebe, Jaques finds solace in the forest when he sits and meditates next to Duke Frederick, and Adam endures his “second childishness, and mere oblivion” in the company of Orlando, who he was forever loyal to. Shakespeare assures all audience members that, despite what stage they may be at in life, everything will turn out okay. Whether or not this is believed to be true depends on the individual viewer, but all relatable characters meet a happy end, and Shakespeare reassures the audience that all of their problems will be resolved.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Shon Ani says:

    Thank you for the piece…..a welcomed distraction

    Liked by 1 person

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