Analysis, Central Idea and Theme of Sweet are the Uses of Adversity


Critical Analysis of Sweet are the Uses of Adversity:

It is absolutely essential to understand the character of the speaker of this poem in order to understand the poem itself. Duke Senior has spent his whole life in court. It is where he belongs. So when he is banished from court into the Forest of Arden, it is natural that he should be upset. That is what readers expect. However, Shakespeare is a great dramatist specifically because he gives his readers more than they expect. That is why Duke Senior makes his mind up to make the best of the situation. Of course, it would have been ideal had he not been banished at all. But since that unavoidable circumstance has cropped up in his life, he decides to look on the bright side. Every cloud has a silver lining, and he compares the silver lining of his banishment with a toad bearing a gem on its head. This is a very unusual comparison. It is, in fact, similar to the conceits of metaphysical poets such as Donne and Herbert, who were part of the literary scene at the same time as Shakespeare. That is another reason that Shakespeare is a literary genius. He was able to capture the spirit of his age.

Returning to the poem, this unusual metaphor tells us more about the character of Duke Senior than anything else. Finding the smallest positive point about a difficult situation shows how resilient he is. He does not give up on life. Instead, he embraces the changes that have happened since his banishment. He finds that he, in fact, prefers country life to city life. He appreciates the peace and quiet of the Forest of Arden for sure, but what he appreciates the most is the naturalness of people in the country. People in court are artificial and pretend to be what they are not. For example, Duke Frederick had pretended to be a good brother when in fact he was plotting to remove Duke Senior from his position. Moreover, Duke Senior finds substitutes for everything he has left behind. In place of the conversation of nobles and courtiers, he finds the rustling of the leaves in trees. In place of books, he finds the running waters of small streams within the forest. In place of sermons, he finds the smooth stones of the forest floor. This is how Duke Senior adjusts to his life in banishment. He starts to love the Forest of Arden, and it transforms him from a man of the court to a man of the country.

Annotation of Sweet are the Uses of Adversity:

Please note: N= noun, V=verb, Adj=Adjective, Adv=Adverb, P=Preposition

Adversity (N): A difficult or unpleasant situation

Toad (N): A tailless amphibian with a short stout body and short legs, typically having dry warty skin that can exude poison

Venomous (Adj): (Of an animal, especially a snake) secreting venom; capable of injecting venom by means of a bite or sting

Yet (Adv): Still; even (used to emphasize increase or repetition)

Jewel (N): A precious stone, typically a single crystal or piece of a hard lustrous or translucent mineral cut into shape with flat facets or smoothed and polished for use as an ornament

Exempt (Adj): Free from an obligation or liability imposed on others

Haunt (N): A place frequented by a specified person

Tongues (N): Plural form of the word “tongue”, that is, a word used in reference to a person’s style or manner of speaking

Running (Adj): (Of water) flowing naturally or supplied to a building through pipes and taps

Brooks (N): Plural form of the word “brook”, that is, a small stream

Sermons (N): Plural form of the word “sermon”, that is, a talk on a religious or moral subject, especially one given during a church service and based on a passage from the Bible

Poetic Devices in Sweet are the Uses of Adversity:

Rhyme scheme:

The poet does not follow any identifiable rhyme scheme in the lines that make up the poem “Sweet are the Uses of Adversity”.

Rhetorical devices:

Simile:

This rhetorical device is used when an overt comparison is made between two different things. In this poem, the poet uses the device of simile in lines 1, 2 and 3 when he compares adversity with a toad having a jewel attaché to its head, and also uses the word “like” while making this comparison.

Metaphor:

This rhetorical device is used when a covert comparison is made between two different things or ideas. In this poem, the poet uses the device of metaphor in lines 5 and 6 when he compares first the rustling of the leaves of the trees in the Forest of Arden with the sound of people talking in different mannerisms, then the continuous running of the water in the brooks of the Forest of Arden with the wisdom that books continuously supply us with, and finally the ancient stones in the Forest of Arden with the sermons that have come down to all the sermons that are passed down from one generation of Christians to another.

Central Idea of Sweet are the Uses of Adversity:

Duke Senior says that adversity can be put to good use, and can even turn out to teach us a valuable lesson. It is like a disgusting and poisonous toad, but one that bears a precious gem on its head. He is thankful that he has been released from courtly life, and has also found substitutes for everything he has had to leave behind. In place of the conversation of nobles and courtiers, he has found the rustling of the leaves in trees. In place of books, he has found the running waters of small streams within the forest. In place of sermons, he has found the smooth stones of the forest floor.

The Themes of Sweet are the Uses of Adversity:

Resignification of adversity:

Generally, we all regard adversity in a negative fashion. We neither look forward to adversity nor do we react well to it. However, Duke Senior does react well to it. He accepts the adversity of being banished from court, and of losing his title. In fact, he believes that adversity can teach him an important lesson. It teaches him to adjust to any circumstance he may face in life and also prepares him from the same.

The significance of Forest of Arden:

Within the play As You Like It, the Forest of Arden acts as a site of transformation. It transforms Duke Senior from a man of the court to a man of the country. This very transformation finds a voice in this poem. Later on in the play, it also transforms his brother Duke Frederick from a bad man to a good man. Where Duke Frederick had taken away Duke Senior’s title and banished him from the court, he returns him his title and installs him in the court again after spending some time in the Forest of Arden.

Country life VS. court life:

In lines 5 – 6 of this poem, Duke Senior talks about what aspects of court life he has left behind, and what aspects of country life he has embraced. He has left behind the conversation of courtiers and nobles, the great knowledge to be found in books, and the sermons of the church. In their place, he has found the trees, the Brooks, and the stones of the Forest of Arden. In place of a culture of artificiality, he has found the beauty and tranquillity of the natural world. He has found a simpler life, free from the conspiracies and complications of the life in court. All the lessons he had learned in court have not proved to be as valuable as the lessons he has learned in his brief time in the forest.

The Tone of Sweet are the Uses of Adversity:

The tone of this poem is didactic at first, but not preachy. Duke Senior wants to tell his courtiers to face any situation in life with courage and resilience, but he does not give them such advice directly. He merely speaks from his personal experience. Towards the end of the poem, his tone becomes more philosophical as he finds beauty in nature and away from the life he has so far lived in a court.

Conclusion:

“Sweet are the Uses of Adversity” is a crucial part of As You Like It. It shows us two of the main themes of the play as a whole – rivalry between brothers, and the opposition between court life and country life. It also introduces us to one of the great characters of Shakespeare, that is, Duke Senior whom all readers love for his resilience and courage. His philosophy is a good one, and one that inspires readers.

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