The poem is a part of the monologue of Jacques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It (2. 7. 139-167) .The first two lines are oft-quoted, and the poem has been frequently anthologized.
The very first two lines of the poem exemplify Shakespeare’s notions regarding Life, Destiny and Providence. He strongly believes in preconceived notions regarding life. The poet comprehends that the stage is set by the Ultimate Creator, and we are mere puppets out to act our roles out as directed by Him. Their exits and entrances are ‘stage-managed’ or predetermined. A man generally plays seven typical parts. Like Ben Jonson’s flat character types based on the theory of humours, these are typified mainly according to age of the person .
In the first stage, he is the infant, in the second, he is the schoolboy .Though he is endowed with a shining face and the vigour of youth, he moves likes a snail unawares of the blessings he is attributed with. He is afraid of what the world holds in store for him, and apprehensive of moving out of his protective shell. Then comes the lover who visualizes the world as a bed of roses. He is so obsessed with his love that he fails to see anything beyond that. Like a furnace, he burns with the effervescent emotion of love. He seeks pleasures in his woes. Subsequently comes the soldier who is as ‘bearded as a pard’ or as hairy as a leopard. He wants to take the world by storm, full of promises. He seeks a bubble reputation, a transitory form of accomplishment, that is real only for the present, never for the past or the future. He is impulsive in expressions, and instinctive in emotions.
The judge was typically with a big belly and ‘capon lined.’ The capon was a delicacy of times and used to bribe officers pertaining to the law. Therefore, Shakespeare indirectly points to the corrupt practices of the time He had a beard of formal cut, as his profession demanded of him, and severe or keen eyes as required of a judge. His wise saws or age-old aphorisms are well-balanced with a modern outlook.
The sixth stage, that of the Pantaloon, refers to the figure of Pantalone in the Italian Commedia dell' Arte tradition. The figure was typified as a foolish character. Here Shakespeare caricaturizes him as being ‘lean and slippered’. A bespectacled man, he has a pouch by his side perhaps owing to his failing memory. The world is too wide for him now. Firstly, his shrunken size makes the world seem huger for it. Secondly, now as his utility value has gone down, he has become too small for the world. His manly voice ‘mellows’ into a childish treble. There are ’pipes’ and whistles in his sound implying the squeaking, and also the loss of his masculinity. The last stage:
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
The word ‘san’ is issued by Jacques to affect courtly French. Characterized by dementia, the person is also devoid of the sensory perceptions, and therefore no better off than an infant who at least possesses these.
© Rukhaya MK 2012
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