William Shakespeare lived for only 52 years, but in that time he managed to turn out plays that still speak to us today. I like the ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech from As You Like It. Maybe one of the reasons this resonates today is that Shakespeare was talking about people, and people haven’t changed that much over the centuries. Here are his seven ages, with my illustrations:
1. The Baby
With luck, you arrive in this world to parents who bring you up proper. We’re all born helpless and we leave this world in the same condition, see later. This baby has been born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
2. The Schoolboy
Youth is wasted on the young, they say. There is so much to do and learn. Children arrive at school keen, curious, and eager to learn, and the first thing the school does is knock that out of them. No wonder so many go ‘unwillingly to school’.
3. The Lover
Testosterone is now raging and you have a careless attitude to risk. This may manifest as driving too fast, or a less than careful attitude to sex. Your getting through this bit unscathed depends on how well Mum and Dad did their bit in stages 1 & 2. It all ended badly for these star-crossed lovers.
4. The Soldier
This is that early job. At the bottom of the ladder, you get all the 3-d jobs (difficult, dirty, and/or dangerous). When your manager says those dread words, ‘it’ll be good experience for you’ it invariably heralds a duff task.
One of the most important skills in life is dealing with other people and this is the time to learn that skill. You will make mistakes. Right now you know everything but if you get the chance to look back on your actions from your older self, you will cringe with embarrassment.
5. The Judge
This is your managerial job. You are now a chooser of the slain, you no longer have to go over the top yourself. You’ll be better at this bit if you remember what it was like for you on the way up. Towards the end of this stage, you start thinking about giving something back. Some people shift into the charity sector, some go part-time or move into a portfolio career. You go onto reduced hours and you can now afford that elusive work/life balance.
6. Old man
You might still be working, but some things become too much effort. Driving in the dark, hill starts, motorways in the rush hour, become things to avoid if possible. It’s not that you can’t, it’s that you can’t be bothered. While in your youth a foreign holiday and new experiences were an attraction, now you are not so enthralled with travel. Physically you are fine as long as you don’t have to run a four-minute mile.
7. Second childhood
The slide into oblivion begins. You become physically more frail. Never mind going for a walk, putting on your trousers is enough of a challenge. You’re not as supple as you once were. Memory starts to fail – usually short-term memory, while you can still remember with absolute clarity events of fifty years ago. Now where did I put my glasses?
Rather than Shakespeare’s end, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything, I’ve gone for a more cheerful look at second childhood.
© text & images Jim Walshe 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file