See the rules for the Rewrite Shakespeare Contest.

The Atlantic Monthly | March 2004
Writing Contest
Rewrite Shakespeare


Congratulations to the winners of our Rewrite Shakespeare Contest!


P. J. Church—Fayetteville, AR
Mary Beth Culp—Palos Verdes, CA
Robert Gehl—Bowling Green, OH
Rachel Hoffman—Malibu, CA
Aaron Hunter—Winterport, ME
Kristin Reinhard—Annandale, NJ
Tom Schiller—Glendale, MO
Scott Smith—Bountiful, UT

Honorable Mention for Creativity:

Erica Fousler—Melrose, MA
Entrants to the contest were asked to rewrite Shakespeare's response to the assignment given to him in the article "Would Shakespeare Get Into Swarthmore?":
Directions: Consider carefully the following quotation and the assignment below it. Then plan and write an essay that explains your ideas as persuasively as possible. Keep in mind that the support you provide—both reasons and examples—will help make your view convincing to the reader.

"The four stages of life are infancy, childhood, adolescence, and obsolescence." —Art Linkletter

Assignment: In an essay, discuss your opinion of the quotation above. Support your view with one or more examples from literature, the arts, science, politics, current events, or your personal experience or observations.
Entries were scored by Princeton Review staff according to the College Board grading rubric for the new SAT essay section. Winning revisions were those that received the highest possible score of 6. The entry receiving honorable mention was one that, though it would have received a lousy score in the context of the SAT, was so original that we had to recognize the author and share the entry with readers of The Atlantic Online. Each winner will receive one paperback copy of The Best American Essays of the Century, edited by Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Atwan, and The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike and Katrina Kenison.

The Princeton Review would like to thank all those who participated in the contest. We hope that this was as fun for readers as it was for our staff.


inkletter posits in his statement that there are four stages in life. I would argue that "stages" implies the continuity of a single personality over the course of a life, and that rather than a single personality with stages, life itself is the stage and each of us are actors that play roles on that stage. To extend the theater metaphor further, consider that we each make an entrance and exit in the form of birth and death. During the time between birth and death we play many distinct and separate roles, roles that are sometimes at odds with earlier roles we have played, thus demonstrating that rather than possessing a singular personality, we are each more like a guild of actors.

To simplify my thesis, I will focus only on the roles played by a man over the course of his life, starting with the Infant. In this role, the actor is helpless, dependent on others for support, and not even in control of his own bladder and bowels. I can demonstrate that this is actually a role, because if it were only a "stage" it would be much the same in all eras. But the "era" itself could be considered the "director" which determines how the role is played. In the late 19th and early 20th century, prior to child-labor laws and compulsory schooling, it was necessary to get kids out of the dependent stage and into the steel mills (or onto the farms) as quickly as possible. But today in the 21st century, with the trend of coddling child-worship and the invention of size six Pampers, one can continue to play certain aspects of the Infant role all the way up to kindergarten.

The next two roles—the Schoolboy and the Lover—quickly fade from one to the next. The Schoolboy is reluctant to play his role, and this has long been known. Take, for example, Mark Twain's portrayal of boyhood through his fictional character, Tom Sawyer, where Tom is shown to avoid school and go swimming whenever possible. But it's while still a Schoolboy that a man begins rehearsing for the role of Lover. Consider again Tom Sawyer, who is smitten with love for the young Becky Thatcher, so much so that he valiantly takes a caning for her in front of the entire class.

After the Lover, we have the role of Warrior. Some men play this role literally and seek their glory in the military. But all occupations that men use to pursue their glory are seen through metaphors of war. The writer's pen is his sword, and the businessman seeks his glory and honor in battling at the corporate front, sometimes even engaging in "hostile takeovers." This is best exemplified—and satirized—by the Monty Python film The Meaning of Life where we see an ancient warring naval vessel morph into a modern day corporate building, and the building literally begins to sail around to do battle with other corporate buildings manned by warrior-businessmen.

As the Warrior's belly and bottom widen, and the certainty of middle-age sets in, we observe that a man begins to play the role of Judge, making moral pronouncements that he believes are based on his own experiences, but which are usually in direct opposition to the earlier roles he has played and forgotten. The Judge is most in opposition to the Schoolboy and the young Lover. In our current era, the best example of this is the Baby Boomer, who once fiercely embodied the rebellious Schoolboy and unrepentant Lover, but having forgotten the necessities of playing those roles, pontificates on "abstinence" and delivers smug platitudes to the young like "just say no" and "this is your brain on drugs."

The Judge's energy and certainty do finally fade into the Sunset years of old age, which is a much more childlike role, and thus often more compatible to performing as protagonist with the Schoolboy, with the Judge as antagonist. Often kids share much in common with their aging grandparents, as opposed to their parents, the pompous Judges. In the Sunset role, there is more time available to reflect and remember the importance of playing the reluctant Schoolboy and passionate Lover role to the hilt, and thus we see the charitable lenience so many grandparents tend to grant their grandchildren.

The final sad role is a reprise of the first: a return to helpless infancy, in which a man is dependent, toothless, possibly back in diapers, and often viewed as a burden. Again, this role is greatly influenced by the era in which it is played. At one time, a family would, with integrity and devotion, take care of the aged Infant, thus surrounding a man's final performance with a soundtrack of dignity and love. But today, with the Warrior busily building his stock portfolio, and the Judge spending his huge tax cuts on an unsustainable lifestyle fueled by maxed-out credit cards, the Second Infant is usually ushered off to whither and die in a nursing home, which is truly the stage of "obsolescence" to which Linkletter refers. For a man's final performance and closing curtain to fall on such a dismal stage makes life's play a tragedy.

—P. J. Church
Fayetteville, AR

Reader's evaluation: Mr. Church's essay demonstrates good organization, employs impressive vocabulary, has a variety of sentence structures and uses clear and appropriate examples throughout. Most importantly, it's really long. Grade: 6 out of 6.

h, that this too, too modern mania for simplification would resolve itself into a metaphor that adequately expresses what a piece of work is man! In identifying only four stages of life, Mr. Linkletter tragically neglects the infinitude of man's faculties. It is disheartening to note that Linkletter is not alone in his insistence that a human life can be reduced to a few meager phases; the mythical Sphinx, whose absurdly accessible riddle maintained that humankind cycled through a paltry three stages, was toppled by the equally simple-minded Oedipus, who, in recompense for what was evidently perceived as a stunning demonstration of unalloyed genius, was led to the throne of Thebes and the bed of his mother. Clearly, life is simple only to those who believe that the ability to distinguish a hawk from a handsaw makes mankind a paragon of animals. The genuine expression of genius consists in discovering ever more Byzantine labyrinths of development through which man must pass as he shuffles off his mortal coil. Defying augury, I have thus far defined seven such stages, but rest assured that there are more waiting in the wings.

Life begins with infancy, generally defined as the period between birth and the realization that one's mother has a sex life. This jolting apprehension engenders in the child an unhealthy obsession with conjugal relations, a "why him, not me?" quandary destined to dog the wretched pup throughout the next six stages of his existence. This filial jealousy can become so pathological that the child may find himself believing that his father is the worser part of the parental unit and that his mother can save herself from the pigsty of an enseamed bed only by refraining from sex until abstinence becomes habitual. Indeed, his fixation on the image of his parents making the beast with two backs can lead to such somatic reactions as severe bouts of vomiting, which are but the physical manifestations of the subconscious desires the child wishes so desperately to expiate. However, wanting to spare his mother the anxiety of seeing her precious progeny so indisposed, the child is likely to be found throwing up in his nanny's quarters while she tenderly holds his head over the chamber pot. It is at this point that the child learns the truth of the old bromide that "love is a choking gall."

To pass successfully through the infancy stage, the child must carefully navigate the narrow strait between enforced restraint and fairly liberal indulgence (assuming a tolerant nanny with a taste for the occasional game of Nymphs and Satyrs). He then must contend with the social mandate that he be suitably educated. Whereas infancy is characterized by an obsession with the dominant female figure in his life, the schoolboy years are noteworthy for their exhumation of the heretofore latent desire to become better acquainted with those of his own gender—a desire for which the public schools of Britain have traditionally offered generous exploration. The form and feature of blown youth is often blasted with ecstasy as he emerges with his shining morning face after a night of furtive nocturnal experimentation, and the schoolboy may fervently believe that there is indeed a divinity shaping his end as he wanders the streets with inchoate longing and knickers askew. When the chapel bell tolls for him, the clapper clanging in a portentous monotone, he reluctantly heeds the cacophony and creeps like a snail unwillingly back to school, this time to find himself sitting at a desk entertaining his logic teacher's baroque hypothetical premises—"Why may not imagination trace the novel dust of Alexander till he find it stopping a bung-hole?"—and like-mannered time-wasting piffle. Beyond learning such practical facts as two bees minus two bees equals no bees, he finds little worthwhile and wishes mostly to sleep—perchance to dream, but mostly just to sleep.

Almost unaware, the schoolboy finds, as he passes beyond the ivy-covered walls of his apprenticeship in the arms of Morpheus, that he is once again stirred by the charms that he initially associated with his mother. However, manly-hewed though his body may be, during the lover phase of his development, an individual is more likely than not to demonstrate a bafflement that is similar to, if somewhat more voluble and anguished than, that which he experienced during his first mewling, emetic brush with female sexuality. For example, when confronted with a scorned mistress's vulnerability, confusion, and pain, he may present almost schizoid symptoms, saying first, "I did love you once," followed almost immediately by a Janus-faced retraction: "I loved you not." At times the vicissitudes of passion may drive the lover to the brink of madness, which may manifest as a rejection of the very institution of marriage and an advocating of nunneries as the only fit abode for women. And yet, at the end of the day, what matters most to the lover is living life on a grand scale, a scale that may lead him to proclaim, for example, that his love for a particular woman surpasses that of forty thousand brothers for their sister. The lover's existence is so conflicted that he may, in a burst of life-affirmation, extemporaneously praise the sky as a magical roof buttressed by beams of golden fire, only to lament shortly thereafter that the earth's atmosphere is nothing more than a collection of four and stale air. In his heart there is a kind of fighting that does not let him sleep, and his sole aim in life is apparently to make everyone around him as miserable as he is.

When he inevitably discovers that all of this love stuff smells to heaven, the individual proceeds to the fourth stage of his existence, that of soldier. He comes to believe that, even though all may be fair in love and war, the latter at least provides the advantage of being fully armed. His heroes during this phase are the likes of imperial Caesar and the great Alexander; so bellicose is he in his conviction that the warrior is the highest form of life that he is unfazed even by the realization that their martial brilliance cannot keep them from becoming the diet of worms. However, beneath the soldier's armor, one often finds remnants of the lover's soul, and he has been known to exploit his exploits to attract members of the fairer sex. This individual operates on the premise that his chosen one will love him for the dangers that he has passed, and that he in turn will love her for loving him for the dangers that he has passed, and that she in turn will love him for loving her for loving him even more for the dangers that he has passed, and so on and so on until one or both of them ends up dead all because neither could ask the other the simplest of questions, such as, "Where the hell is the handkerchief that I gave to you as a token of my undying adoration?" Such lapses in communication have wreaked havoc on relationships ever since Eve neglected to tell Adam that she got the apple from a talking snake; thus does the soldier/lover invariably decide that he is better off barking orders on the battlefield than purring sweet nothings in the boudoir.

As he ages, man determines that the passing years have given him the dubious right to levy judgment on all and sundry, and thus does the justice phase of his existence commence. Ever-ready with a quick mot juste in the face of even the most highly-fraught situations, the justice strides through this stage of life wholly unaware of the damage he leaves in his wake. For instance, in zealous execution of his duty, he may lie in stealthy wait for clues to a potential litigant's true frame of mind and then leap like a horse at the hurdle to the most simplistic conclusion possible (e.g., that the object of his scrutiny is crazy); then, in sharing this intelligence with relevant parties (e.g., the individual's mother), he initiates a bloody interlude unprecedented in the annals of gore, including, even, the Passion of the Christ Himself. Even those individuals who pass more prudently through this phase can be somewhat extreme in their execution of justice, requiring, for example, a pound of flesh to pay off a debt or the murder of a daughter for refusing to marry the man her father has chosen for her. In such men, the quality of mercy goes beyond being strained; it seems to be begging for expulsion, which, when it inevitably happens, leaves others wading through life in excrements.

The sixth stage of man's existence is one of post-midlife frustration, which finds the individual desperately trying to compensate for his waning masculinity by putting on an antic disposition and persisting in the delusional belief that he commands the world in a nutshell, thus making him the king of infinite space. His efforts to restore his lost youth are most piteously observed in his penchant for risqué puns that do nothing but underscore his inability to walk the walk even as he talks the talk. For example, he may ask a lady of good breeding if he might "lie in her lap" in a blatant attempt to evoke in her mind both the sexual act and his prowess in the manly art of sexual deception. However, were he honest with himself, he would accept that all he really wants is the lazy comfort of resting his head on the cushiony plumpness of her ample skirts as he reclines to watch a play. One may only infer that the advancing years have rendered him too infirm to sit up straight in a chair like the rest of us; this infirmity may also have something to do with his retreat to literalism when questioned about the intention behind his request to lie in his lady's lap. After all, his youthful hose has become increasingly spared of use in a world too wide for his shrunk shank; thus, for the man in this stage of his life, it must remain only a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.

The final phase of a man's life is that of the sweet and bitter fool who behaves and reacts very much like the child that developed during phase one. He can be paranoid and petulant, believing, for instance, that a daughter who refuses to be sycophantic in her expression of love has poisoned him as surely as the venom from a serpent's tooth. He can be excessive in his self-criticism, much like a child, who, when snubbed by his mother will attempt to wrack her with guilt, referring to himself as a knave, beggar, coward, panderer, and mongrel bitch all in an effort to revive her affection for him. At long last, however, he comes to understand that men must endure their going hence even as their coming hither, thus binding the two end joints of life's wheel in a single eternal circle. Nature is his goddess, and to her law his services are bound.

Some are born great; some achieve greatness; and others have greatness thrust upon ‘em. The seven stages of man's existence offer ample opportunity for virtually anyone to be considered great, if only for a mere quarter of an hour. Though he knows that golden lads and girls all must like chimney sweepers come to dust, he knows too that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in anyone's philosophy. Whether he returns to the base uses of the grave or hears flights of angels singing him to his rest, we shall never know, for the rest is silence.

—Mary Beth Culp
Palos Verdes, CA

Reader's evaluation: Ms. Culp's essay is an interesting attempt to converge the lessons of Shakespeare and Freud, neither of whom is named in the essay. Together, the writings of the two arguably cover every emotion, delusion, and ambition ever experienced by man. The essay's scope, therefore, is bold. Unfortunately, although Ms. Culp's sentences are loaded with references to these two men's works, none of these references is explicit. In the quick once-over a College Board reader would give this essay, such subtleties would be missed. However, its model organization, use of dozens of SAT words ("cacophony" is a classic) and sheer length (nearly 2,000 words) make up for this shortcoming. Grade: 6 out of 6.

rt Linkletter's assertion that the stages of life are "infancy, childhood, adolescence, and obsolescence" is an insightful look into today's societal values, specifically our valuation (or devaluation, as the case may be) of our elderly. For example, the stage of childhood, where we play our first role in the theatre of life, is lauded for its innocence, its hopefulness, and its future value. All this, despite the infant's inherent helpless dependency and gross behavior: crying, self-defecation, and vomiting.

The second stage, childhood, is equally revered, but for slightly different reasons. An example of this is the image of Twain's Tom Sawyer; with his scholastic insouciance and luminous malfeasances, he is indelibly etched on society's consciousness. This is in spite of the fact that often the child is an unwilling actor on the stage of life, many times decrying the imposition of social rules by his adult mentors.

The third stage, adolescence, is the stuff of legend and fondness for our culture. The varied roles that the adolescent or young adult plays, be it as a lover, composing odes to every follicle of his sweetheart, or as a soldier: proud, jealous, aggressive yet ever idealistic, and thinly, almost mockingly bearded, are often the subject of nostalgic songs, doting books, and film. Too often, however, society forgets the consequences of this "boys will be boys" attitude: either introverted, almost suicidal behavior, or extroverted violence, as we have seen in Columbine.

In contrast, the fourth stage of life, adulthood, is the beginning of the end for a man. Gone is the innocence and glory of youth, replaced with corpulence, decadence, and sarcasm. The fashionable youth is replaced with the bespectacled man most comfortable in pajamas, with a voice that shrinks just as his limbs do. He is forgotten, degenerating into a second childhood, a childhood repulsive due to its regressive dependence. Consider, Dickens' Scrooge: a spiteful and hated old man. At this point in life, a man is merely waiting to die, losing his teeth, his sight, his mind, and his life, but not before losing the love and admiration of a fickle society bent on youth-worship—in other words, he becomes "obsolete."

—Robert Gehl
Bowling Green, OH

Reader's comments: This is the pithiest high-scoring essay we received. It very elegantly addresses the writing assignment, incorporating most of the elements an SAT essay reader will be looking for. It is missing distinct introductory and concluding paragraphs, but the reader, if reading "holistically," as he is supposed to do, would see past that. Grade: 6 out of 6.

he span of any lifetime will find a man or woman playing many roles, each in accordance with the stage of life in which they find themselves. While the above quotation from Mr. Linkletter offers four stages, at least seven identifiable life stages are important. These stages can be further classified as associated with the early, middle adult, or late life years, and as will be shown, each stage is characterized by unique behaviors and roles.

The early stages of life include infancy, childhood, and adolescence. The stage of infancy begins at birth and can best be described as a period of helpless oblivion. It finds the infant, crying, dependent on the arms of the nurse for comfort and protection. The stage of childhood follows that of infancy. This stage is one in which youthful countenance and vigor may belie vulnerability, whether to an imminent danger, as in the case of Richard III's nephews, or in the form of a petulant attitude towards the benefits of education. The stage of adolescence that follows is often a period of increasing strength, but also of emotional turmoil. Romantic love plays an important role in the development of personality that takes place during this stage. The passionate, emotional nature of these years is often characterized by impulsive thought, speech, and action: the characters of Romeo and Juliet from the play of the same name provide an excellent example of such behavior. Thus adolescence and the early years end with the emergence of strong, well-defined individuals on the cusp of adulthood.

The stages of life most often associated with the adult years were not mentioned by Mr. Linkletter. While presumably an attempt at levity, such an omission does a disservice to these significant years. These stages span a considerable length of time and often represent the most active and productive portion of a life; thus, any comprehensive chronological analysis should give appropriate treatment to these years. The first stage of adult life is that of the soldier. The dearth of such characters testifies as to the importance of their role; Laertes, a companion of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, provides one readily accessible example. While this soldier's impetuous nature may seem reminiscent of his recent adolescence, his actions are now directed toward the attainment of valor, honor, and renown. The consideration of reputation takes on increasing importance in the stage of the justice, or esteemed councilor, which follows that of the soldier. The girth and attire of these characters often speaks to this reputation and may also symbolize the fullness of experience from which they speak. An example of such a character is that of Polonius, the father of Laertes and advisor to the King of Denmark. While some have characterized Polonius' council as foolishness, none can deny that it is given in earnest and represents the sum of his considerable experience. Thus the stage of the justice represents the apex—in wisdom, in reputation, in girth and in attire—in the chronological progression of life.

The end stages of life are characterized by the gradual return to the state of helpless oblivion associated with infancy. Old age sees progression give way to regression, as is evidenced by the physical deterioration of voice and body. The clothing—and indeed the very values and concerns—that fit so well in earlier years no longer seem suited to the elder's deteriorating condition. A striking example of such deterioration may be found in the character of King Lear. As both the physical and psychological condition of the king declines, he slides again into obsolescence, unable to comprehend or control his own life.

The behaviors and roles of the infant, child, adolescent, soldier, justice, old man, and obsolescent "second infant" represent those typical at each of the various stages of life. The descent into oblivion that characterizes the final stage of life may raise questions as to the ultimate significance of the preceding six stages. Such meta-questions are inherently value-laden; as such, they must remain quite beyond the scope of this essay. Instead, it must content itself with having clearly identified and analyzed these seven discrete stages.

—Rachel Hoffman
Malibu, CA

Reader's evaluation: Ms. Hoffman's essay has not only excellent topic and concluding sentences, but also introductory and concluding paragraphs. She also uses appropriate examples from the works of a well-known writer to support her points throughout the piece. Grade: 6 out of 6.

t least since that infamous interlocution between Oedipus and the Sphinx, humankind has been pondering the stages of life through which each person passes. But while the Sphinx was content with three stages and Mr. Linkletter, in his quotation, comes to the conclusion that there are four, it seems clear that if we wish to arrive at a true definition of the roles that humans play, we can stop no short of seven. And "role" is the paramount word here, for on the stage of the world we all have our roles to play, as if we were, each of us, acting our way through the parts that life requires, nay, demands of us. It is not simply a question of how many legs we walk upon or how well we walk upon them, but, rather, our lives are determined by how we make our entrances and exits in the seven roles we are called upon to play.

The first two roles can be relegated to infancy and childhood. Every person, regardless of the happenstances of birth, passes time as the bawling baby, unaware of life's true ravages and most content when feeding or evacuating the remnants of our supper upon our mother's breast. Then come the early days of youth. Still naïve to the ways of the world, we begin to have a clearer understanding of what we like and do not like. Rather than go to school we would spend our time adventuring into the wilds of our imagination, often, like Dickens's Pip, not quite aware of what awaits us around any corner or in the opacity and dankness of a foggy, moory night. These times of innocence and wistfulness that all of us look back upon so fondly soon give way to more pressing realities.

Two roles follow that strike each person differently, but strike, when they do, with ferocity and vigor. Young adulthood calls forth our many passions, the first of which is youthful love, that species of amour that so many adults like to laugh at, but the one that burns most deeply in the furnace of our hearts. The young lover's world is recast in different shades and hues. It is at this point that the frivolity of childhood begins to slip away and we begin to walk surely on two legs. This is the heart of Mr. Linkletter's adolescence and as we exit the stage from this part for good, we take on next the role of young adulthood. The soldier, the student, the social protester, the traveler, the fool, it does not matter the mantle; to this part we dedicate ourselves with a passion that is rarely surpassed. Here we are the young Keats, writing his odes. We are George Patton leading a tank brigade in the France of WWI, not yet aware of the heights to which our courage will carry us. We are my young mother, a single parent with two children putting herself through nursing school so that she can set her offspring on sound footing as they pass through their own individual roles in life.

The passion of youth gives way over time to the soberness of middle age. Still on two legs but still far from becoming the relic that Mr. Linkletter implies, we can now begin to see our place in the world. We can look around and observe the course we have taken and like a jurist examine objectively the forthrightness or fortuitousness with which we have plotted our course. Perhaps we have children of our own to whom we can begin to pass along some of the wisdom (or lack of it) we have acquired through our portrayal of previous roles. We might even surprise ourselves sometimes to find that we are repeating old saws and maxims learned from our parents that we swore to ourselves would never pass the thresholds of our own lips. We begin to enjoy the fruits of our long and hard laboring: the house, nearly paid off; the car or two in the garage; perhaps, even, the full and rounded tummy, indicative of a life well lived. And then we begin the transition into the sixth role: contentedness. Now we want to store up hours as we used to spend them wooing or working. We want to take the time to know our children as adults and dote upon our young grandchildren. We want to sit by the fire in winter with our book, or merely to lose ourselves in reverie as we contemplate the many roles we have played in life and assess to ourselves with what fortitude we have made our entrances and exits.

In is only in the last role that we come close to anything like Mr. Linkletter's obsolescence. Perhaps, however, a better term would be a second childhood. It is in this role, old and ailing, that we begin to make that last of our offstage exits, the only one that really counts in life, the one that, as the Sphinx knew, we must amble towards on three legs. And so it goes for everyone.

To conclude, it seems necessary to point out that there is no exact science to determining the phases that each of us must inhabit and transcend if we are to live a full life. The Sphinx was happy with three phases that could be delineated by the number of legs upon which the individual would walk. Art Linkletter, with wit, sagacity, and a touch of humor, expanded the phases to four. But if we want an understanding closer to the core of what it is that makes us human, I suggest we turn, like we so often do, to the man Harold Bloom has described as the fount of Western consciousness, Shakespeare, who once wrote that "All the world's a stage, / And all the men and women merely players." It is the manner in which we play each of our assigned roles that our lives will be judged as having been fully lived, or merely full of sound and fury.

—Aaron Hunter
Winterport, ME

Reader's comments: Mr. Hunter includes in his essay examples from literature, history and his own experience to support his argument. The organization is tip-top, as are his topic sentences. Grade: 6 out of 6.

he astute statement made by Art Linkletter regarding man's progression through life is undeniably true on any account, provided, of course, one makes it to the final stage. However, the stages, as Mr. Linkletter describes them, do not nearly segregate the phases in life to the fullest specificity and accuracy possible. There are, in all actuality, seven stages to man's life, each of which brings more responsibility, maturity, and freedom. Each stage is a new act in life, and each one requires the player to portray a more complex and exigent role. There are certain ways these characters must be portrayed and certain actions they must take. Truly, these seven phases are that of the infant, the schoolchild, the lover, the soldier, the justice, the pantaloon, and the second childhood of the elderly.

The first role that the world's players must successfully portray is that of the infant. Truly a rather simplistic role, this phase is based more on learning about the world and observing surroundings than it is about portraying specific characteristics and making certain accomplishments. This time is spent mostly crying in the arms of a caregiver (whether it be a nurse, mother, father, sibling, or other family member), and having little control over one's actions. Every small infant first appears held in the arms of comfort and protection, such as Pearl in The Scarlet Letter, who is first introduced as a small infant, cradled in her mother's arms.

The second role that must be fulfilled is the part of a schoolchild. This role is always full of whining about school and homework, and generally filled by charmingly unadulterated, sweet-faced little children. Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are both brilliant examples of schoolchildren who whine incessantly, and, while they do not appear to be so immaculate, they are not corrupted and can be as bright-faced as any child. This particular phase is never appreciated until after it passes, it seems, and actors realize the new portrayals they must accomplish. These innocent little actors move like lightning bolts, or vivacious dragonflies who dart to and fro, and are only unnerving to those who have forgotten their own stage of childhood, unless, of course, the schoolchildren do not wish to take part in an endeavor, and then they move with a lethargic, creeping pace.

The third role that each player must assume is that of the lover. The truly defining moment for any teenager is first love. It is almost the initiation into the next stage of life and cannot be bypassed under any circumstances. Many great romance novels like to catch people at this stage because first love is always the purest, most undoubtedly due to the fact that it is the defining event that removes a player from wide-eyed childhood forever. Romeo and Juliet, who were in their early teens, fell in love and entered this stage, and offer a brilliant example of such pure first love. What is quite interesting about this stage is that it is one that, while the player may move on to the subsequent stages, goes on with her forever.

The fourth scene in this script of life is that of the soldier, another interesting character. This title does not necessarily have anything to do with the military, but rather the actions and attitudes portrayed in this particular role. This is the time when honor, or, better put, reputation is everything, and superiority must constantly be reaffirmed to all others in this stage. It is almost barbaric, in a way, because the competition is fierce and violent, although more often verbally than physically. Today's fraternity members could easily be considered in this category because they are not lovers (teenagers), nor yet adults, and thus these people play a fiery intermediary, a phase between phases so different that it becomes its own stage.

When the curtain goes down on the soldier, it rises again for the justice. Here, the classic working adult comes into play. The very word "justice" commands respect, and this actor has earned that respect not only because of the challenging roles he or she has starred in, but also because of the lessons learned along the way. This judicious adjudicator takes it upon himself to now judge the world and his surroundings as an omniscient actor, above all else and watching the other players with an air of pretense and the critiques of a verbose prima donna. Judge Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter is a brilliant example of this stage because he truly is guilty of extreme pride, the characteristic attribute for all who promenade on stage nonchalantly in this particular role. Wise, yes, but it is after this role that this progression of roles actually diverges into a regression of roles.

The stage is next graced by the pantaloon, who is slightly foolish but still knows a great deal. It is in this stage that veteran players begin to wish for their old roles, in which things were new and exciting. It is probable that this stage is parenthood, when that breath of youth makes parents wish to relive their own childhoods. By attempting to recreate some of those childhood memories, certain actions are repeated, such as the wearing of modern clothing, perhaps. It is truly a regression from the last phase because, after finally reaching complete maturity and understanding, that intellect is lost in an attempt to regain what cannot be recaptured. Many parents can be used as an example, as well as grandparents. On The OC, a popular television program, one mother not only dresses as a teenager, but actually manages to date a teenager during her midlife crisis, offering a clearly brilliant example of this stage.

In the final stage, the curtain call and encore occurs, and the actor gets that wish to relive childhood. It is the last part of life, when the teeth, the eyes, the ears, and seemingly everything else fails, thus effectively re-creating that complete and utter dependence on others for all aspects of care. Such was the fate that befell George Washington, who became very old and relied on other people for the first time since his childhood during that last short stretch of his life. After one final, thundering applause, the dark curtain is dropped, golden robes swinging forlornly, and the audience leaves to follow a new life, where the entire process is repeated in a circular pattern, generation after generation.

Clearly, these seven stages thoroughly encompass the life that all men must pass through during their lives, just like actors do on that stage while the curtain is open. During infancy and childhood the players are novices and gain little respect, as lovers and soldiers they are idolized and watched, as justices and pantaloons they are mocked lovingly, and during that second childhood the audience feels love for them and bids a tearful farewell. Truly Linkletter's quotation, "The four stages of life are infancy, childhood, adolescence, and obsolescence," is accurate to some degree, but it misses out on several important scenes that greatly effect the last few scenes of a brilliant play.

—Kristin Reinhard
Annandale, NJ

Reader's evaluation: Ms. Reinhard's essay is clear, well-organized and filled with examples from literature, history, and even popular culture to support her claims. (Kudos to her for working The OC into an SAT essay.) Classic introductory and concluding paragraphs bookend the piece, and her vocabulary is pretty good, too. Grade: 6 out of 6.

r. Linkletter's observation of what he identifies as the four stages of a person's life is amusing, and though not inaccurate, conspicuously incomplete. Thorough reflection will reveal not four, but seven stages of life, and will further show these seven stages to be universal to the human condition, i.e., found worldwide, and analogous to the sequence of scenes in a drama, just as though it were performed around the globe for the entertainment of the rest of society.

Disregarding the contentions of abortion opponents (purely for the sake of illustration, mind you), it is apparent that life begins with infancy. Infancy is a stage in which a person exhibits a number of traits that prove to be rare, if not entirely absent, in subsequent stages. For example, it is only among infants that one finds the phenomenon of "spitting up." To be sure, projectile regurgitation can and does occur in more mature phases, sometimes with disturbing force and frequency. But the expulsion of infantile vomit is unique in a number of ways. First, it is usually unprovoked. Second, it consists almost entirely of milk or infant formula. Third, it is usually expelled onto the arm, shoulder, or lap of a care-giver. An unintelligible attempt at speech, or babbling, was once thought to be a definitive characteristic of infants. Nathaniel Hawthorne writes of "...the poor baby...with a half pleased, half plaintive murmur." But this behavior has since been observed and recorded in individuals of more advanced stages.

Excepting an untimely demise, childhood invariably follows infancy, and therefore represents the second stage. Like the previous stage, childhood possesses certain characteristics. It is in this stage, at least in most industrialized societies, that formal education begins. Consequently, the child typically bears the marks of one in the pursuit of learning: book bags so heavy as to strain the posture, the tidy gleam of wet, forcibly combed hair, the languid saunter of one who hopes to miss the school bus. It is also at this stage that truancy commences, if only for the impossibility of it preceding formalized education. With these signs present, the child is easily identified.

Again assuming adequate health, a person advances to adolescence, which is by necessity the third stage. This stage is defined principally by voluminous hormonal secretion resulting in intense romantic interest and pursuit. In a person at this stage, a fixation on the object of his affection will typically arise. So intense a passion inflames his fixation that he may be heard to bellow a song dedicated to some part of his love-interest's anatomy, a part which, to the casual spectator, would seem unremarkable—an eyebrow, say, or perhaps a toenail. Shakespeare provides us with some glowing examples of this kind of idolatry in Love's Labour's Lost. So it is that the adolescent takes his place in the course of human progression.

Either of two stages may follow adolescence. One is the role of military man (or woman). Once requisite, this stage is optional in modern society. The traits that mark the military man are as follows: unusual vows of allegiance; a countenance resembling a large, spotted, African feline; a suspicious and contentious temperament; and valor, less the discretion. As the exception, rather than the norm, the fourth stage merits no further description.

The fifth (or fourth, if the previous one was skipped) stage is that of middle age. The middle-aged person is distinguished by his judicious demeanor, portly physique (due to a diet rich in fatty meat and poultry), stern and well-groomed countenance, and wisdom. England's King Henry VIII, for example, was a middle-aged man well known for savoring roasted lamb, for his rotund abdomen, and for his decisiveness. So it is with middle age.

Yet middle age yields in succession to old age for all those fortunate enough to attain it. It is in this, the sixth stage, that failing vision besets a person, as indicated by the need for eyeglasses. The elderly person has a frail build, necessitating a wardrobe tailored to the peculiarly thin frame of a senior. His vocal quality becomes hoarse and high-pitched, and might remind one of a child's. It is in this stage that the erosion of time on a person becomes most evident. For example, consider Ernest Hemingway's description of his most famous character: "The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck.... The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords." Only in the elderly are all these distinctions noted.

Having survived old age, a person enters the seventh stage, or if you will, the stretch run. This is the stage characterized by nothing so much as senility and a complete loss of sensory faculties—the "obsolescence" to which Mr. Linkletter refers. Sadly, this stage is more prevalent today than ever. Ironically, as noted by nearly every major periodical, the prevalence is due to the superior health care and medical technology available today, which allows more people to live longer. The only mercy in this pitiful seventh stage is that it is the final one.

And so concludes the odd but eventful saga known as life. It would be appropriate here to add a bit of advice to Mr. Linkletter's observation, and to conclude with another famous quotation: enjoy life as best you can because "no one ever got out of this world alive."

—Tom Schiller
Glendale, MO

Reader's evaluation: Mr. Schiller starts his essay with a clear statement of his disagreement with Mr. Linkletter's quotation and through the subsequent paragraphs provides his reasons in a consistent manner, utilizing supporting examples from the literature of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, and William Shakespeare where appropriate. The essay is organized into several paragraphs, each of which begins with a tidy topic sentence. His facility with vocabulary and various sentence structures is apparent. Grade: 6 out of 6.

ehaviorists generally agree that an individual lifetime consists of no fewer than seven phases, and that the history of humankind can be defined as the "aggregate sum of the seven life phases experienced by every human member of the planet's population, taking into account, of course, the ways in which Homo sapiens affect each other through their interrelationships and interdependencies." The seven stages of life, which will be discussed in more detail, below, are: infancy, childhood, romance, professional development, adulthood, old age, and death.

Infancy is characterized by a dependency upon others. For example, the infant needs nourishment, but lacking mammary glands as well as the fine and large motor skills necessary to take public transportation to a dairy farm or grocery store, he cannot reasonably obtain his own milk, and thus depends upon his mother or a wet nurse for the same. Moreover, should he regurgitate a portion of that breast milk, he cannot be expected to clean himself up, for he has not yet learned that it is socially unacceptable to have caked-up vomit on his face. Kindergarten marks the official end of infancy and the beginning of the next stage, childhood. Here, the child is trapped in a paradox, for he sometimes yearns to be autonomous and at other times simply wants his Mommy, so to speak. Thus, he is reluctantly taken to the curb to wait for the school bus, but once there he enjoys socializing with his peers. During childhood generally, the umbilical cord begins to loosen its grip on the child, and it is totally severed by the age of majority.

Unlike infancy and childhood, which officially end at ages five and eighteen, respectively, romance, the third stage of life, is not restricted to a certain number of years. Indeed, anywhere between pubescence and death romance can occur, and the duration of a particular romantic episode is as unpredictable as genetic mutation. Because the desire to love and be loved is so primeval, the individual in this phase is most vulnerable and is likely to experience the vast range of emotions between joy on the one hand and bitter agony on the other. Formerly, male-female relationships, consummated within the bonds of holy matrimony, were the social norm, but recent decades have given way to other socially tolerable structures, including premarital cohabitation and same sex relationships.

Graduation from high school marks the commencement of the fourth stage of life, professional development. In ancient times, military service or the priesthood were structured methods of career advancement, but the present day sees most young adults entering the university or getting what vocational experts refer to as "hands-on" training in an industry. There are no guarantees in this cutthroat dollar-driven world, but the individual gains confidence even in the face of uncertainty, and his reputation increases with each endeavor. With effort and experience comes wisdom, and it is this wisdom that marks the transition into full-blown adulthood, the fifth life stage. The wise man still earns his living, but he is well compensated for his labors and grows fat materially (and sometimes corporally as well).

Alas, the hands of time push on, and adulthood declines into old age, and with it the decline of the body. The aching foot, for instance, is now more comfortable in a slipper than a boot, as are the legs more comfortable in a wide-cut pant of something softer than denim; the eyes too, now dim, require an external aid, as do the ears. Likely the individual is enrolled in Medicare and receives prescription drugs through the mail—blood thinners, immunosuppressants, mineral supplements, and the like—and it is not uncommon to visit with a physician on a weekly basis. The body apparently must exit the world in the same state in which it entered the world, and it thus now begins its preparation for the same as the bowels return to their flaccid state and the voice is silenced and the brain returns to mush. Eventually and certainly, the final stage of death visits the individual. It is debated in ethical circles whether death occurs when lower brain stem activity ceases or whether the death of the heart is more synonymous with the escape of the soul; suffice it to say that death does come and with it the ending of all else that is known.

—Scott Smith,
Bountiful, UT

Reader's evaluation: With commendable use of topic sentences and examples and written in a perfectly pedantic style, Mr. Smith's essay receives a high score. Grade: 6 out of 6.

Honorable Mention: Frank McCourt as Jacques

y mother says that her troubles started the first day she set foot in America, but I think she must be lying. Life was hard in New York, but it is harder here, in the lanes of Limerick, from which my mother came. Moving back to Ireland after my baby sister Margaret died was probably the worst decision my family ever made. But how were we supposed to know that everyone in Ireland dreams of going to America?

Babies here in Limerick are the same as babies in New York and the same as babies everywhere, for all I can tell. They cry. If the baby's father is poor, the mother gives the baby a bottle full of sugar water to drink. The baby cries when the bottle is empty again, because he is still hungry. Here in Limerick, many of the babies die. They are killed by hunger, the deathly dampness of the River Shannon, the consumption, or by one of the million other diseases that crawl around the lanes. I am alive, but my sister Margaret and my brothers Oliver and Eugene all died.

Those babies that do not die go to school. At school, the master slaps the boys' hands, and the boys that have shoes make fun of the boys that have no shoes. My brother Malachy and I had shoes, but we were made fun of anyway because our shoes were patched with leftover bits of rubber to keep the wetness out. Malachy is still a schoolboy, and he and the other boys in his class are memorizing the Catechism for Confirmation. Malachy feels big and important because he is going to be confirmed soon, but he forgets that I am fourteen. I had my Confirmation two years ago, and I am a man now.

I work as a telegram boy for the postal service. This means that I ride my bike around all the streets and lanes of Limerick, delivering messages and money to families. I am proud to bring home the money to my mother, as my father never did. But I will get to him later.

When I save up enough money from my job at the Post Office, I will go to America and get a job there. All of my teachers have told me I have "half a brain in my head,"—a compliment coming from them—and that I should do something useful with it. I am not interested in being a soldier and "dying for Ireland," as Dad always made Malachy and I promise to do. What good am I to Ireland if I die? I would rather move to America and marry a girl like the ones in the swimsuit magazines and bring home money to put American food on the table.

I used to think I wanted to be like my father. That was when he held me on his lap and told me stories of Cuchulain, and let me drink some of his bitter tea. But now Dad has not had a job in months. Whenever he gets a job, he holds it for two weeks at most before he comes in late and hung-over and gets fired. Mam is just about fed up, because she has been buying from Kathleen O'Connell's shop on credit for six weeks now. She wants to know when she will have more than half a slice of fried bread to feed to her starving sons. Dad says, "Och, aye," and takes a long walk into the country. But he never does bring home the little money he makes. Instead he comes home at two in the morning, stumbling drunk and singing Kevin Barry and Roddy McCorley. And I don't think I want to be like Dad anymore.

Instead, I will work at a factory in America. Then, when I get older than Dad is now, I can be promoted to a desk job. Desk jobs are nice, because they are easy on the old bones. On Friday nights, I can stop by the pub on the way home from work, and have a pint for myself—but only one, probably. At home, I can sit by the fire, drink my tea and eat a bun, and tell of the old days in Limerick, before I came back to America.

I would prefer not to think about what happens after that. Eventually, everyone gets old. Those that smoke die of the cough, and those that do not smoke die anyway. They use chamber pots and stay in bed the whole day. But sooner or later, every man falls asleep in his bed, and he forgets the fleas and the lice that bite and itch. The priest comes and says a prayer, and then the man's spirit is in Heaven, where there are no fleas or lice, no coughing, and no River Shannon that kills.

—Erica Fousler
Melrose, MA

Reader's comments: While very well-written and a pleasure to read, Ms. Fousler's piece does not address the writing assignment. In such a case, the reader would give the essay a score of 0. Grade: 0 out of 6.

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