As infamous as Shakespeare is, and as well known as his works are, some prose
are just simply more extraordinary than the rest. There are many ways to look at Jaques
speech, such as use of language or imagery yet, something we often do not reflect on is
the sound of the prose. When reading this particular speech, the subject is directly
related to the sounds Shakespeare has chosen. We are guided gracefully through the
stages of life in twenty-seven lines. As it is read aloud, the reader hears the actual sounds
that each stage exhibits, and finds themselves part of the speech, experiencing it, as
opposed to merely reading it.
The introduction is like a drum-roll before the show starts. The intonation at
which the reader proceeds begins with a high sound due to"...(a)ll..." 1 being the first
word. The 'aw' sound is repeated at the beginning and three times during the next
sentence, "And all the men and women merely players;" (2.7.140). The next sentence is
lower in pitch, using a lower 'e' sound "..exit and their entrances," (2.7.141).
Reappearing in the final two sentences, before the actual ages begin, is the 'aw' sound.
The fluctuation like that of a ring master, is striving to gain attention before the show
The first three stages can be considered the childhood progressing into adulthood
stages. "Mewling and puking..." (2.7.144), are two words, which when said, they are
slurred and unclear, much like that of the speech of an infant. The 'ew' in mewling and
the 'you' sound in puking are common noises from young children. Next we reach the
schoolboy stage. Young men are often reluctant to attend school, and their protests take
the form of "...whining..." (2.7.145). When the word whining is pronounced, it sounds
like a whine. The word starts with a dragged out 'why' sound, making the reader again
feel like they are making the sounds which are pertinent to that age. Words associated
with lovers are soft and flowing, much like those used by Shakespeare in the prose of this
age. "Sighing like furnace, with woeful ballad" (2.7.148), depict more emotion than seen
within the prior two stages. When sighing is pronounced, it takes the form of an actual
sigh, causing the reader to actually act out the verb instead of simply speaking it. The
three initial stages are complete, leaving the reader dangling on the edge of adulthood.
Soldiers are usually equated with fast wit and decisiveness. The use of short
words and short sounds emphasize these next five lines of prose in Jaques' speech.
"Jealous in honor, sudden, and quick in quarrel," (2.7.151) is a line which is said quickly
and brashly due to the short sounds such as "...pard," (2.7.150) and "...quick..." (2.7.151)
which are contained within it. The stage of the justice is equated with wit and wisdom.
A slower sounding, softer word choice is effective here. "In fair round belly..." (2.7.154)
is much softer than the previous stage. The 'ou' sound in round and the 'ell' sound in
belly combine to make a softer tone. As the man in this speech ages, his vocabulary as
well as the sounds he uses illustrate how he is aging.
The last two stages in Jaques's speech in Shakespeare's As You Like It, are
nearing the end of the man's life. Looked fondly upon, a "...pantaloon," (2.7.158) is
simply an older man wanting to be young again by pulling pranks and such. The sounds
in this age, are still soft, with more 's' sounds. "...(S)lipper'd..." (2.7.158), "With
spectacles on nose, and pouch on side," (2.7.159), "For his shrunk shank,..." (2.7.161) as
well as, "...whistles in his sound." (2.7.163) are all examples of usage of sound. The
speech is breaking down as the man ages, and he begins again to slur words and use more
s', possibly due to the loss of teeth as he ages. In the final stage, second childishness, a
regression back to childhood is evident. The speech is almost completely reverted to the
soft s's made as a child. Out of a possible twenty-four words, fourteen contain the s
sound, the last sentence being almost all s', " Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans
everything." (2.7.166). Therefore as the reader speaks this speech, he is actually acting
out how speech is gained and then is eventually lost. Through his effective use of sound,
Shakespeare successfully guides the reader along the seven stages of life, masterfully
using the sounds which are apparent during the actual stages themselves.
Shakespeare, William, "As You Like It", The Riverside Shakespeare, Evans et al.,
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974) 365-400.