Seven Ages of Men

Samuel Hay Kauffmann

February 24, 1898

January 12, 1971

The memorial commissioned in St. Paul’s Rock Creek Cemetery and created by sculptor William Ordway Partridge (April 11, 1861 – May 22, 1930) for Samuel Kauffmann, long-time owner of the Washington Evening Star, is a classical Greek ode to life and to death with a Shakespearean addition.

The monument features an exedra, a semi-circular structure, often with a bench with a high back. Originally the exedra was designed in antiquity to facilitate philosophical discussion and debate. In cemetery architecture the exedra is usually part of a landscape design.

Continuing the classical design, the seated sculpture is of a woman dressed in classical clothing, flowing gown and sandals.  The allegorical figure represents “Memory.”

Her head is bent in sorrow and she is depicted holding an asphodel wreath.  The asphodel plant has been associated with the mythology of death and the afterlife since ancient Greek times.

The centerpiece of the memorial, however, is pure Shakespeare.  Bronze panels on the back of the exedra illustrate the Seven Ages of Men from Jaques’ monologue in Act II of Shakespeare’s, As You Like It.  The phrase that begins the description, “All the world’s a stage,” is likely one of the most often quoted Shakespearean passages.  It would seem that that play has seven scenes according to Jaques.  The bronze panels depict the seven ages as described in As You Like It in italics below:

Infancy:

At first, the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.”

In this first stage of life, the infant is helpless and knows nothing.

Schoolboy:

Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel,

And shining morning face, creeping like snail,

Unwillingly to school.”

The school boy is unsure of himself and wants to stay in the close and protective comfort of home.

The Lover:

“And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.”

Men at this stage of life is quick to express his love and share his feelings.

The Soldier:

Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth.

At this stage, man is quick tempered and willing to take risks, to build his reputation.

The Justice:

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.

After gaining wisdom and social status, man strives to enjoy his gains and the finer things in his life.

Old Age:

The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered 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.

In old age, the once strong and vibrant man now becomes weak physically and mentally, literally shrinking.

Incapacity:

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

In this last stage, man reverts to the beginning at where he started in infancy—totally dependent on the care of others.  The ultimate end, of course, is death.

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 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 honor, 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 slippered 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.

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