The Sweet Milk of Adversity

by Peter Saint-Andre


As I work my way through all the plays of Shakespeare, I've had an idea for another book, entitled The Sweet Milk of Adversity: On Shakespeare and Philosophy. It turns out that philosophical insights figure significantly throughout the plays. The title comes from Romeo and Juliet, in which Romeo and Friar Laurence have the following exchange:

O, thou wilt speak again of banishment.

I'll give thee armour to keep off that word:
Adversity's sweet milk, philosophy,
To comfort thee, though thou art banished.

The image of the milk (and armor) of philosophy comes from The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, in which the character of "Philosophy" herself says:

'But the time,' said she, 'calls rather for healing than for lamentation.' Then, with her eyes bent full upon me, 'Art thou that man,' she cries, 'who, erstwhile fed with the milk and reared upon the nourishment which is mine to give, had grown up to the full vigour of a manly spirit? And yet I had bestowed such armour on thee as would have proved an invincible defence, hadst thou not first cast it away.'

So far I've identified philosophical themes in every play I've read, from comedies like Measure for Measure to histories like Richard II to tragedies like Julius Caesar. This could be a fun project! But I need to finish my Aristotle book first...

(Cross-posted at

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