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SHAKSPEARE has divided the life of man into seven ages. The passage is one of the most popular to be found in his works
All the world's a stage,
The ancient physicians were fond of dividing the life of man. They cut it up into portions varying from three to twelve. It is remarkable that Shakspeare has adopted the same number of ages as Hippocrates. Seven distinct periods of human life may, indeed, be discerned by palpable marks : and Dr. Elliotson, in his work on physiology, has ably delineated their boundaries. A concordance might be published on this subject which is rarely to be met with between physic and poetry.
It has not I believe been noticed by the critics, that although Shakspeare has said that all the women as well as the
men were players, he has given us only the parts played by
Did the poet consider that the women had seldom an eye to stage effect ? had no bye-play ? needed no prompting? obeyed no managers ? However this may be, a modern poet, Rogers, in a prologue, which was recited by Mrs. Siddons for her benefit, has given us a series of female parts adapted, like those of men, to a seven-act drama. In the course of the present work, we shall, perhaps, avail ourselves of Rogers's aid, in occasionally bringing women upon our little stage.
The theatre at which the company of players, to which Shakspeare belonged, used to act in the summer, was the Globe, on the Surry side of the water. Its sign (for the theatres had all signs) was Hercules carrying a globe, with a motto, Totus mundus agit histrionem, which may be Englished, All the world's a stage. With reference to this sign, and the success which the children of the chapel met with in acting against the regular players, it is said, in Hamlet" Do the boys carry it ? Ay, that they do, my Lord, Hercules and his load too.”
An ingenious variation of Shakspeare's simile will be found in “ Tom Jones.” After observing that Shakspeare and other writers had compared mankind to players, yet that none had considered the audience at the representation of the drama, Fielding continues—“ As nature often exhibits some of her best performances to a very full house ; so will the behaviour of her spectators no less admit the above mentioned comparison, than that of the actors. In this vast theatre are seated the friend and the critic; here are claps and shouts, hisses and groans; in short every thing that was ever seen or heard at the Theatre Royal. Let us examine this in one example ; for instance in the behaviour of the great audience on that scene which nature was pleased to exhibit, where she introduced Black George running away with £500 from his friend and benefactor.
Those who sat in the world's Upper Gallery treated that incident, I am well convinced, with their usual vociferation; and every term of scurrilous reproach was most probably vented on the occasion. The Pit, as usual, was, no doubt, divided; those who delight in heroic virtue and perfect character, objected to the producing such instances of villany, without punishing them very severely for the sake of example. Some of the author's friends cried — Look'ee gentlemen, the man is a villain, but it is nature for all that.' And all the young critics of the age, as the clerks and apprentices, called it low, and fell a groaning. As for the Boxes, they behaved with their accustomed politeness. Most of them were attending to something else. Some of those few who regarded the scene at all, declared that he was a bad kind of man; while others refused to give their opinion, till they had heard that of the best judges.”
Fielding, probably was not aware that Lord Bacon, if not also Pythagoras, had, before him, considered man's title to sit as part of the audience at a theatre.
Pythagoras, being asked by King Hiero what he was, answered—If Hiero were ever at the Olympic games, he knew the manner, that some came to try their fortunes for the prizes; some as merchants to utter their commodities ; some to make good cheer and be merry, and to meet their friends; and some came to look on: and that he was one of them that came to look on. But men should know, that in this theatre of man's life, it is reserved only for God and angels to be lookers on.”