“Sweet are the uses of adversity”


A modern view of the Forest of Arden,
in Warwickshire, England


One of the most famous lines from the works of Shakespeare is Duke Senior’s affirmation “Sweet are the uses of adversity.”


The duke has effectively been forced to adopt this attitude, because, having been deposed and exiled by his treacherous brother, he’s now living a very rough and uncourtly life, out under the open sky and exposed to the elements, in the Forest of Arden.  Here’s the line in more complete context:


Sweet are the uses of adversity,

Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,

Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.

(As You Like It, II.i.12-17)


By “uses,” Duke Senior is referring to what we might call “profits” or “benefits.”  And his reference to an ugly toad relies upon the folk belief (a) that toads are venomous and (b) that they have a jewel with magical healing properties embedded in their temples.


In his allusion to “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, [and] sermons in stones,” he’s probably also contrasting the straightforward wholesomeness of simple nature to the intrigues of courts and to the insincerity, scheming, feigned friendship, and cunning duplicity of courtiers — to what we, today, might label “office politics.”  (This is a common theme of literature worldwide; among the finest examples is the wonderful eighth-century Arabic animal fable Kalila wa Dimna, by Ibn al-Muqaffa‘, which is, in turn, based upon the much earlier Sanskrit Panchatantra.)


Posted from Salt Lake City, Utah


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  • DanielPeterson

    That’s a wonderful area. My wife and I spent some time there just this past July.