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The Seven Ages of Man...

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Jaques also breaks down a human life into seven stages:

  1. Puking infant
  2. Whining school boy
  3. Young, sighing lover
  4. Soldier
  5. The "justice" or upstanding leader
  6. Silly old man who thinks he's still young ("pantaloon")
  7. Super-old man, toothless, blind, and as helpless as a baby

As it turns out, this isn't a new idea. The whole "ages of man" concept is pretty ancient. (We're talking Aristotle.) As literary critic Anne Barton reminds us, "for all its verbal poise and inventiveness," Jaques's speech "is also a set piece which, for Elizabethans, must have verged on the banal."

You probably noticed that Jaques's little formula is a major overgeneralization of human life. Barton also argues the speech is "generalized and demonstrably untrue." The evidence? As soon as Jaques finishes saying that old age is like a second infancy, Orlando walks in carrying his old servant, Adam. Now, Adam is definitely weak and close to starving after wandering around the forest, but he's not exactly a toothless and blind baby either. As we know, Adam is courageous, honest, loyal, and he's lived a long and rich life. (Read more about this in "Characters.")

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