William Mulready. The Seven Ages of Man. 1838.

Oil on canvas, 35.5 x 45 inches. Victoria and Albert Museum. Steel engraving, approximately 7 x 9.5 inches, by H. Bourne. The engraving is from Charles Knight's two-volume Imperial Edition of The Works of Shakespere(London: Virtue and Company, 1873-76).

After the return of As You Like It to the stage in its original form in 1740, the play became a perennial favorite, especially in the nineteenth century; the play and the productions were reliable sources for painters with at least 150 pictures exhibited over five decades from the 1820's to the '70's (Altick 269). The favorite subjects were the wrestling match (I, ii), Jaques's reported musings on the wounded stag (II, i) and Jaques's observations on the seven ages of man (II, vii), the passage illustrated here. The scene was repeated by the painters at least ten times (Altick 271).

Mulready crowds into a single canvas all the ages--from mewling infant to "mere obvilion"--enumerated by the melancholy Jaques.

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.