Posts Tagged ‘retirement’

For Shakespeare the seven ages of man moved from the fifth, the established man of “Justice,” to the sixth, “the lean and slippered Pantaloon / With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,” essentially a wealthy fool, to the seventh, “second childishness and mere oblivion / Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” Modern Americans might ask: But where is Retiree with golf club and RV?

This stage of life, which most Americans not only recognize but strive to enjoy (“having fun spending the kids’ inheritance,” reads one bumper sticker), typically commences with a distinct move, formally leaving the workforce and beginning to collect a pension. Giving up work at an advanced age is not new, but this official stage is a twentieth-century invention. Indeed, the phrase “retirement age” hardly ever appeared in American writing until the 1920s and then it became commonplace.[1]

The story of how twentieth-century economic and political change altered what Shakespeare described as an eternal cycle of life from “the infant / Mewling and puking” to the “second childishness” underlines the social malleability of what seems “natural.”


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