Undoubtedly, Shakespeare has achieved a great renown in the field of literature. His plays, poetry and other literary work are a great help for the men of letters of all ages. His song, “The Seven Ages of Man” shares a great knowledge as well as a philosophy of man. It occurs in Act II, scene VII of ‘As You Like It’, one of the Shakespeare’s most popular comedies. It is sung by Jacques, one of the noble men living a life of exile in the Forest of Arden with a duke who was dethroned and betrayed by his wicked brother. Shakespeare has introduced so many songs in it, appealing to the problems of mankind and bringing the king to peaceful level. That’s why poetry is greater than philosophy and history. Apart from it, this pastoral song provides healthy entertainment. Being a psychologist, he studies man thoroughly and makes out all sort of peculiarities.
01. Main Points:
In this song, he commonly takes man as subject and divides his life into seven ages. His first age is infant, a newly born baby in the lap of mother or nurse, crying like kitten and vomiting in the arms of nurse due to over- eating. His second stage is an unwilling school boy, whining to go to school but wishing to waste the time in games. On being pressurized, he moves to school like a snail. It is the slowest creature. His third stage is a lover. He is a young man, fallen in love with a beautiful girl. In separation of her, he sighs like furnace and composes sorrowful songs, appealing to the beauty and charm of the eye brow of his beloved. His fourth stage is a soldier, a loyal servant of his country, takes strange oaths and is jealous in the matter of gaining renown. He is ready to go in the mouth of cannon for temporary reputation. His fifth stage is justice, whose belly is full of chickens as the symbol corruption. He is stock of wise adages which he uses in his speech to satisfy the others. His sixth stage is the old, he wears spectacles and keeps his old things safe. In this stage, his legs shrink and a change comes into his voice. His seventh stage is childish. He goes into oblivion and loses teeth, eyes, taste and at last life.
02. The Structure of Song:
The song is written in blank verse, unrhymed iambic penta meter. It consists of ten syllables or five meters. It is richly used by Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare in their works. In this song, the poet makes some lines rhymed. In last line of the song, a regular rhythm of the verse is found. It has five syllables which are heavily stressed _teeth, eyes, taste and first and last syllables of everything, whereas in front of these stressed syllables, the five unstressed syllables are placed. Simultaneously, one can find the pause at the end of lines as well as in the middle of lines. In so many lines of the passage, a sentence ends in the middle of line and makes pause, there in, before starting the new sentence. Then quite a few lines run on to the next with no pause. We find sufficient regularity in the patterning of lines and their meters. Such regularity gets the readers feel that it is poetry with much freedom that happens in a real speech in a real situation. Besides, in order to enjoy and understand this dramatic piece of verse, it must be read aloud. Indeed, Shakespeare was a great poetic craftsman and if his words are spoken with a full sense of their meaning and spirit, everything else will come right.
03. Figures of Speech:
The poet uses figures of speech with a great charm. Its main function is to make language figurative and decorated. Apart from it, it conveys the poet’s main theme clearly and easily. So Shakespeare has used simile, metaphor, alliteration, symbols and rhythm:
(i) Simile: In this figure of speech, the poet compares two unlike objects by using words as and like. He has used simile on three different places. In the second stage, the poet compares an unwilling school boy with snail. The snail is the slowest creature. So he moves like the snail because he likes to play. So he prefers game to school. In the third stage, the poet compares sighs taking in grief and pain of the lover with the sound of furnace. The last simile is used in the fourth scene, where he becomes a soldier and stands as a great loyal to his country because he takes strange oaths which remain inevitable to be filled anyhow. His beard is compared with the stains of leopard. So his beard is his honour that is dearer to him than his life.
(ii) Metaphor: It is an implied simile. It shows direct comparison of two things. In this song, Shakespeare shows direct comparison of the world with stage, where all mankind come and play their roles. Besides, he compares all men and women with actors.
(iii) Alliteration: It is the repetition of same letter at the beginning of word. In seven ages of man, we find a good example of alliteration in the old age where he talks about shuddering of his legs. Although his legs shrinks but he never avoids doing his hobby.
(iv) Rhythm and Symbols: Rhythm stands opposite to alliteration. In it, the repetition of same word is found in a line. For example: sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste and sans everything. The repetition of ‘sans’ shows rhythm. Symbol is very interesting figure. The poet uses it in order to explain some particular thing more and more, as the readers may not face any difficulty. Shakespeare uses word exits which symbolize death. It means when his life is ended, he passes away. Entrances symbolize birth, when a person comes in this world to play his role. Soldier’s beard is symbol of bravery.
04. A Psychologist:
Shakespeare is a great psychologist. The function of psychologist is to study the mind of mankind. This song is laden with such interpretations. He analyses the psyche of mankind and according to it, he divides his life into seven ages. He describes the real activities of infant, unwilling school boy, lover, soldier, justice, old and childish in a true manner. He examines and opens their psyche completely. It seems that he himself enters all ages and examines thoroughly, whatever comes out, he describes with his skill without any hyperbole. So it is his personal experience. They are interpreted in best manner and such skills are not found in others. All prove him a great psychologist.
05. A Humourist:
In humour, Shakespeare is mild. His way of description of first five ages makes the audience laugh very much, but in the remaining two ages, his tone becomes melancholy because he jumps to the last days of man. He is not bitter in describing them but is very polite to them. When he describes the age of soldier, there he shows humour that is harsh to some extent. But, overall, his humour is polite and appreciable. Such disposition makes him a great humanist and humourist. Indeed, he pays a great attention to man and his problem. He engages himself to find the methods to solve them. One can watch the poetic skills of the writer. Whenever the duke is plunged into a problem, he gives attention to him and introduces a song.
‘As you like it’ is a pastoral comedy by Shakespeare. He has used simple and polite diction and language. His using of phrases, figures of speech, blank verse and simple language really make his style great, holding amazing philosophy about man.