Resonances of ‘Seven Agers of Man’are unavoidable, when, as I am forced to do in updating my icon for this blog, I come face to face with the camera’s unforgiving mirror.
Not that the adjective ‘lean’ has much to do with me, but then I suspect Shakespeare himself may have indulged in a little poetic license there. In all the dioramas of my dreams, there was never one of the great bard sitting comfortably before a roaring hearth with Anne in which he appeared ‘lean and slippered’. Okay, a definite maybe for the footwear, but always supporting a comfortable paunch from all those carousing Falstaffian years as a player in the court of ER1 (yes, yes, alright; I know she was a Tudor, but ET? Come on!)..
The comment ‘I have lived too long’ is frequently traded among others of my vintage, more often than not as a device to procure reassurance from those with a head start of a generation or two.
“How old are you? You don’t look it! No, really?”
I may not look it, mate, but I certainly feel it! Blue veins, wrinkled skin and liver spots don’t lie; nor can my slowness of thought and action be excused in any other way. Age is an affliction to be experienced as much as it is to be perceived, so kindly turn your back while I get out of this chair, because the trousers I’m wearing are inclined to become unhitched.
I read back through the ‘Seven Ages of Man’ the other day (as you do: you know, any Sunday morning; check the football scores, put on your ‘Selections from Gilbert and Sullivan’ CD, take down your well-thumbed copy of ‘As You Like It’ from your library shelf and turn to Jacques’ speech? Here’s a quick reminder in case your copy is still at the binders, or something:
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.
Then, the whining school-boy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like a 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 a 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 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.
Good, I think. All so relevant, even today, isn’t it? I don’t recall having a nurse to mewl at, and satchels were in pretty short supply at my parents’ pay-grade, but there were a few singed eyebrows in the furnace of my experience, and if I didn’t exactly stare into the mouths of too many cannons, I could be quite tetchy if someone called my reputation into question (or said I was thick – same fing, innit?).
In fact, dear old Willie’s analysis retains its relevance right up to my current, sixth age, although I would vie with any reference to a childish treble, and I don’t whistle!
But now, hang on a minute! ‘Stay thy hand’, to quote Mrs. Beaton’s ‘Book of Household Management’. Stage seven is frankly scary. First thing, looking for a stage eight – it isn’t there! This is it! And the script has changed. I’m no longer on my sad but dignified road to oblivion, because the moment anything gets even slightly ‘sans’ it’s not the knell I’ll hear tolling but an ambulance siren.
You see, I don’t mind the ‘sans’s. I fear them, yes, but not as much as I fear some earnest little person kick-starting me like Victor Frankenstein’s pet project; carting me away from my home to be intubated, stented and stitched together with bits of pig. All in the cause of giving me a couple more years of half-life, at the expense of distress to my relatives and GBH to a perfectly decent Wessex Saddleback.
Let’s look at life in the round. Let’s be honest, Mother Nature has finished with the human body at age forty-five, or thereabouts. We’ve done all the breeding, we’ve seen the progeny on their way, after which we are just using up valuable resources. We eat: God, how we eat! We breathe air, we occupy real estate. In a world where space is at a premium we demand more than our fair share.
No, of course I’m not saying we should all cash in our chips at forty-five! Should misfortune strike at such an age the earnest little person should be encouraged to jump on the chest of that luckless soul and do all he can to bring them back. What I am saying, though, is if my final crisis offers the option, I would take a needle of mercy rather than a defibrillator.
We inhabit a world overloaded with our species, one in which some unpleasant choices concerning population will eventually have to be made. Voluntary euthanasia is one of the simplest and least contestable solutions: it eases the burden on resources, it frees the medical profession for more important work, and it returns dignity to a final process which has become, for many, a complete nightmare.
Just because we can prolong life, doesn’t mean we should.