Speech Study: All the World’s a Stage… (the rest of the ages)

A couple of days back, we started a dive into As You Like It‘s “All the world’s a stage” speech, and we got through the first three of the “seven ages” of man. So let’s finish it off, shall we?

                              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,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, 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 lined,
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 saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward 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.
  • II.vii.138-65

As we noted at that time, the discussion of the first age was accomplished in one-and-a-half lines, the second in two-and-a-half, and the third in two full lines (over the course of three poetic lines). We had seemed to be growing in length and rhythmical complexity. And this growth does continue.

The fourth age is that of the soldier. And like the third and the first ages, the introduction of this age comes mid-line (as opposed to a given line’s start), and like those previous two, the introductory line has a feminine ending leading straight into a trochee to kick off the next line. But where those earlier two ages went back to iambs immediately, the soldier does not, instead following up with spondee:


/ ~ / / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,

This use of stresses, combined with the concussive consonant first sounds of “bearded” and “pard,” contributes to pounding martial tone. The next line (even without the feminine line ending leading into it) is again kicked off by a trochee. In fact, every line of the soldier section starts with a trochee. The third line of the section has a couple of additional interesting aspects to it:

  • the use of “jealous” (which does not use the meaning we are most used to [“in love or affection, esp. in sexual love: Apprehensive of being displaced in the love or good-will of some one” (“jealous, adj.; 4a”. OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 15 August 2014.)]), but rather “zealous” (1b. OED.) or “apprehensive of losing some desired benefit (4b. OED.), mixing the zeal and the fear of a soldier
  • the “in” used in the “jealous in honor” links this phrase with “sudden and quick in quarrel” from later in the same line
  • the consonance of “quick” and “quarrel” also ties the line together.

The fourth line brings in the concept of reputation, but a reputation that is “fragile, unsubstantial, empty, or worthless” (“bubble, n.; 3a”  OED.), especially as it is found in the “cannon’s mouth,” a maw that few can survive.

But this soldier does survive, and Jaques moves from the warrior (using three full lines and two half-lines), to start the next stage–the justice–mid-line (again), and the introduction of the justice (again) has a feminine ending. Only this time, there’s no leading trochee in the next line, and the consecutive unstressed syllables find their opposing twins (or should that be triplets?) in the two spondees that follow (“round belly” and “good capon”). While there are no alliterative usages within the line, there are sonic links between this line and the next iambic one (“fair”/”formal”, “belly”/”beard”, “capon”/”cut”, “lined”/”eyes”, and “severe“/”beard”). With the next line after that (beginning “Full of”), we’re back to an altered rhythm (led with a trochee, followed by a spondee) and the diction of this third full poetic line could end the section. But it doesn’t. Instead we get “And so he plays his part” to take us to the middle of the following line so that the “sixth age” of the pantaloon (or “A feeble old man; an old fool” [“pantaloon, n.; 1b”  OED.]) again begins mid-line.

Why is it that six out of the seven ages of man begin mid-line? The effect is to push the line forward, propelling it, but usually after a caesura or pause. Is this supposed to signify Jaques trying (maybe too hard) to complete this extended metaphor? I’m not sure…

The first part of this longest section of the speech alternates between hissing S’s (“sixth”, “shifts“, “slipper’d”, “spectacles“, “nose”, “side”) and plosive P’s (“slipper’d pantaloon”, “spectacles”, “pouch”), before sliding into just the S’s (“hose”, “saved”, “his shrunk shank”, “voice”, “childish“, “pipes“) approximating the aging “whistle in his sound.” And the penultimate line of the section foreshadows (with “childish”) the final stage of man, “second childishness and mere oblivion.” And here, mere can mean either “pure, unmixed, unalloyed; undiluted, unadulterated” or “insignificant, ordinary; inadequate, feeble” (“mere, n.; 1a and 1c,” respectively  OED.), and oblivion “the state or fact of forgetting or having forgotten” (“oblivion, n.; 1a,”  OED.).

The third- and second-to-last lines of the speech, while rhythmically iambic (and still tied together by the S’s [“Last scene”, “ends this strange”, “history”, “second childishness“]), lead to the most un-iambic line of the entire speech:


/ / / / / / / / -~- /

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Iambic pentameter has been described as the rhythm of the heart, and if that’s the case, then this last line is a heart laboring, working too hard, to the point of arrest and stoppage.

Four spondees, hammering home every “sans,” every bodily function, every thing.

Sans.

Without. At the end of life, we’re left with nothing, less than what we have coming into the world.

It is no shock then that at the end of this speech, Orlando returns with Adam, an old man, ready to die.

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