What Is the Theme of “The Seven Ages of Man”?

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The theme of William Shakespeare’s poem “The Seven Ages of Man” is how life is much like a drama, where men and women live brief lives as if they were actors in a play, entering life to play their parts before departing from mortality. In “The Seven Ages of Man” Shakespeare describes the seven distinct stages in human life, cycling from birth to death. The poem, used in Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It,” is written as a monologue in a free-form, narrative style, using numerous literary techniques, including alliteration, metaphor and simile.

The first stage of life that the poem describes is infancy, where a sobbing baby must be nursed all the time. The next stage of life is that of schoolboy, who unwillingly attends school and lacks discipline. The schoolboy then grows into the lover, who is preoccupied with writing poetry to his love.

As he grows older, though, the lover becomes more mature and joins the army, becoming the soldier. He is now quick to fight, prone to jealousy and very ambitious, seeking recognition and reputation. Through more aging, though, the soldier turns into the judge. This healthy, wizened man advises other people and has earned his social status.

Soon, though, the wizened man grows old and becomes the pantaloon. He looks like a shell of his formal self, and his voice begins to weaken, resembling the sound of a child’s. In the final, seventh stage of life the man is crippled with age. With his senses so deadened, he is utterly helpless and much like that of an infant, relating to the very beginning of life. In this way, Shakespeare describes life in these seven stages, purposely book ending life with a similar characteristic of helplessness found after birth and before death.