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Shakespeare on Old Age

Please click on the links to each play for explanatory notes.
Helpful resources are also at the bottom of this page.

Unregarded age in corners thrown.
As You Like It (2.3.44)

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.
As You Like It (2.7.143-70)

Beauty doth varnish age, as if new-born,
And gives the crutch the cradle's infancy.
Love's Labour's Lost (4.3.250)

Age, with his stealing steps,
Hath clawed me in his clutch.
Hamlet (5.1.73-4)

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Sonnet 73

When sapless age and weak unable limbs
Should bring thy father to his drooping chair.
Henry VI, Part I (4.5.5-6)

I have liv’d long enough: my way of life
Is fall’n into the sear, the yellow leaf;
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have; but, in their stead,
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.
Macbeth (5.3.30-6)

To view with hollow eye and wrinkled brow
An age of poverty.
The Merchant of Venice (4.1.281-2)

O, sir! you are old;
Nature in you stands on the very verge
Of her confine: you should be rul’d and led
By some discretion that discerns your state
Better than you yourself.
King Lear (2.4.140-44)

Sir, I am too old to learn.
King Lear (2.2.99)

Pray, do not mock me:
I am a very foolish fond old man,
Fourscore and upward, not an hour more or less;
And, to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
King Lear (2.7.70-4)

A man loves the meat
in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.
Much Ago About Nothing (2.3.223-4)

As they say,
when the age is in, the wit is out.
Much Ago About Nothing (3.5.31-2)

But not a minute, king, that thou canst give:
Shorten my days thou canst with sullen sorrow,
And pluck nights from me, but not lend a morrow;
Thou canst help time to furrow me with age.
But stop no wrinkle in his pilgrimage;
Thy word is current with him for my death,
But dead, thy kingdom cannot buy my breath.
Richard II (1.3.230-6)

His silver hairs
Will purchase us a good opinion
And buy men's voices to commend our deeds:
It shall be said his judgment rul'd our hands;
Our youths and wildness shall no whit appear,
But all be buried in his gravity.
Julius Caesar (2.1.158-3)

And as with age his body uglier grows,
So his mind cankers.
The Tempest (4.1.213-4)

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In the Spotlight

Points to Ponder

"At least two old men, Duncan in Macbeth and Adam in As You Like It, seem to have been specifically drawn for pathetic contrast. There are touches of the same quality in Titus Andronicus, a first sketch of Lear, and in Cymbeline. In the historical plays, the subject matter, since times succeed to times, naturally led to numerous portraits of men past their powers: "Old John of Gaunt" and York in Richard II, Gloucester in Henry VI, and, for the women, the Duchess of York in Richard III and the Duchess of Gloucester in Richard II are early examples of old age full of sorrows and bitter memories." [J. F. Pyre]. Read on...