Shakespeare on “The Seven Ages of Man”

seven-agesOver the years, I have read countless books that — one way or another — discuss an organization’s “lifecycle.” One of the best is also one of the oldest: Ichak Adizes’s Corporate Lifecycles: How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What to Do About It (1990). There is much to be said for viewing an organization as (no pun intended) a living organism. That is, one that ingests, digests, breathes, excretes, reproduces, etc. The opportunities for useful insights increase significantly when we view an organization as a “garden.” Horticultural metaphors are abundant. For example, leaders are “gardeners” who “grow” businesses, people, etc.

Probably the best thinking on this subject is evident in the works of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) and one of my favorite passages is in As You Like It (Act II Scene VII) when Jaques invokes a “life is theater” metaphor as he shares his (Shakespeare’s) thoughts about “The Seven Ages of Man.” Perhaps as you read this passage, you will be able to determine the current “age” of your own organization.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and 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.

Then, the whining schoolboy 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 lin’d,
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 sav’d, a world too wide,
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again towards 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.

Posted in

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.