Fortune, Nature, and Naturals

Early in Act One, Scene Two of As You Like It, Rosalind and Celia discuss the difference between Fortune and Nature. And while this seems to be a simple, witty discussion, as almost always, it runs deeper than that.

Throughout the play, “fortune” is used 25 times (ten of which are capitalized “Fortune” mythological references); meanwhile, “nature” and “natural” are used 25 times (with ten of those being the personified capitalized “Nature” reference).

Nifty balance, no?

So let’s take a deeper dive, shall we?

Fortune, first…

The first use of “fortune” (non-capitalized) comes in the opening scene, as the two brothers struggle, and Orlando asks for his inheritance so that he can “buy (his) fortunes” (I.i.69-70). Here, the meaning of “fortune” used is most likely
“One’s condition or standing in life; often … a prosperous condition” (“fortune, n; 5”; OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 21 July 2014). His use of the word is obviously different than the cousins’ use of “Fortune” in the next scene, beginning with “good housewife Fortune (and) her wheel” (I.ii.30-1). These mythological references definitely mean

Chance, hap, or luck, regarded as a cause of events and changes in men’s affairs. Often (after Latin) personified as a goddess … her emblem is a wheel, betokening vicissitude.
  • “fortune, n; 1a”
    OED Online.

And it is this meaning exclusively that they use until after the entrance of the messenger le Beau, whom Rosalind tells to answer her “as wit and fortune will” (I.ii.97). Here, she could be using the same “standing in life” meaning as Orlando earlier (she would be telling le Beau to speak to her as her lesser), though it may be that she’s using a slightly different meaning “Good luck; success, prosperity” (“fortune, n; 4”; OED Online.). With this meaning, she would be asking him to deliver good news; it’s a possibility, though my hunch is the more “aristocratic” reading.

When Rosalind gives Orlando the chain following the wrestling match, she uses the word twice with slightly different meanings:
she describes herself as “out of suits with fortune” (I.ii.233), and here she could be using the “success, prosperity” meaning, though she could also be using Orlando’s meaning from earlier in the play.
She also says that her “pride fell with (her) fortunes” (I.ii.239); while she could be using the Orlando meaning, it might read better if she was using “Position as determined by wealth; amount of wealth” (“fortune, n; 6”; OED Online.).

When we hear the word again, we’re in the Forest of Arden, and Amiens says to the banished duke,

                         Happy is your grace,
That can translate the stubbornness of fortune
Into so quiet and so sweet a style.
  • II.i.18-20

None of the meanings we’ve discussed up to this point fits this usage, but if we look into the OED again, we find: “A chance, hap, accident; an event or incident befalling any one, an adventure” (“fortune, n; 2a”; OED Online.). This fits the context of the usage: Duke Senior has just described their situation in the woods as a positive one, and it would make sense for Amiens to see this as an event of chance, an adventure.

Over the course of the next few scenes, we get a couple of uses by Adam (with “success” or “prosperous condition” and “chance or luck [good or bad] which falls to any one as his lot in life” [“fortune, n; 2b”; OED Online.] meanings, respectively [II.iii.73,75]), and one by Corin (using “prosperous condition” [II.iv.75]).

In Act Two, Scene Seven, Jaques invokes the goddess Fortune and the “success” meaning (II.vii.16,19, respectively), then we get three uses of the word by Duke Senior:

  • “question you about your fortunes” (II.vii.171)
  • “the residue of your fortune // Go to my cave and tell me” (II.vii.195)
  • “let me all your fortunes understand” (II.vii.199)

These all use the “hap, chance, adventure” connotation.

When Ganymede chides Orlando for tardiness, she uses the “standing in life” meaning (IV.i.57), but when s/he tells Orlando of her magical powers–“I know into what straits of fortune (Rosalind) is driven” (V.ii.62)–she uses the “chance, accident” meaning.

The final use of the word is by Duke Senior after he has learned that he has restored: “the good of our returned fortune” (V.iv.172), and here we are back to either “standing in life” or “position determined by wealth.”

What, if anything, is of note here?

Beyond the use of the Fortune invocation, in the world of the court (or in a moment of hurt that cuts through her disguise [IV.i]), the meaning is almost always that of “standing in life,” reflecting a more aristocratic view (a view to which Senior returns in his final usage).

On the other hand, the “adventure” meaning is employed only in the Forest of Arden and only by Duke Senior and his followers; the one other usage of this type is by Ganymede describing Rosalind, who has also entered the Forest of Arden. In the woods, “standing in life” is unimportant, and life has become an adventure.

Compared to the use of “nature,” “Nature,” and “natural,” Fortune was easy.

Let’s begin with the most used meanings of our natural words… and because of this complexity, let’s try to organize the elements of this discussion:

nature, n
OED meaning
2 a. Excrement. Chiefly in to do one’s nature and the burden of nature
b. Semen. Occas. also: the sexual fluid of a woman
c. Menstrual discharge
4 a. The power or force which is fundamental to the physical and mental functioning of a human being
5 a. The inherent dominating power or impulse in a person by which character or action is determined, directed, or controlled
7 a. The basic character or disposition of mankind; humanity, humanness. Also: this character or disposition thought of as fallible or flawed
10 a. The creative and regulative power which is conceived of as operating in the material world and as the immediate cause of its phenomena.
b. Usu. with capital initial. This power personified as a female being.
11 b. In wider sense: the whole natural world, including human beings; the cosmos.
natural, n
OED meaning
1 The inborn mental or physical endowments of a person; natural gifts or powers of mind (or body).
3 a. in one’s (pure) naturals: in a purely natural condition, not altered or improved in any way; completely naked
b. Natural form or condition
5 Normal bodily features or characteristics, as opposed to those which are subject to illness or disease
7 A person having a low learning ability or intellectual capacity; a person born with impaired intelligence
natural, adj
OED meaning
1 Existing or present by nature; inherent in the very constitution of a person or thing; innate
2 a. Ordinary; conforming to a usual or normal character (or constitution)
3 a. Belonging to, operating, or taking place in, the physical (as opposed to the spiritual or intellectual) world
5 Based on nature or the intrinsic properties of a thing.
7 Formed by nature; not subject to human intervention, not artificial.
10 a. Of thought, behavior or expression: having the ease or simplicity of nature… simple, unaffected, easy.
14 a. Of a person: having a status (esp. of allegiance or authority) by birth; naturalborn
b. Of the transfer of a privilege, property, etc.: according to right of heredity.


usage speaker/ref OED comments
Besides this nothing that he so plentifully gives me, the something that nature gave me his countenance seems to take from me: Orlando
10a or 11b Orlando believes that the natural world or the power operating the material world, has given him, in a sense, his nature.
a secret and villanous contriver against me his natural (adj) brother Oliver
5, 7, or 14 Oliver, the slippery character he is, gives a descriptor that can mean many things (what makes me me, what I have by nature, familial)… whatever his listener needs to hear.
Nay, now thou goest from Fortune’s office to Nature‘s: Fortune reigns in gifts of the world, not in the lineaments of Nature. Rosalind
I.ii.40, 41
10b (both) The power operating the material world, personified.
No? when Nature hath made a fair creature, may she not by Fortune fall into the fire? Though Nature hath given us wit to flout at Fortune, hath not Fortune sent in this fool to cut off the argument? Celia
I.ii.42, 44
10b (both) The power operating the material world, personified.
Indeed, there is Fortune too hard for Nature, when Fortune makes Nature‘s natural (n) the cutter-off of Nature‘s wit. Rosalind
I.ii.46, 47, 47, 48
10b (for first, second and fourth); natural (n) 7 The power operating the material world, personified, is referenced, and an idiot or fool cropping Nature’s wit.
Peradventure this is not Fortune’s work neither, but Nature‘s; who perceiveth our natural (adj) wits too dull to reason of such goddesses and hath sent this natural (n) for our whetstone; for always the dullness of the fool is the whetstone of the wits. Celia
I.ii.50, 50, 51
10b, first natural (adj) 1 or 2, second natural (n) 7 Again, the power operating the material world, personified is referenced. Celia then talks of their innate or ordinary wits, and Touchstone, the clown or fool, being their whetstone for their wits.
                          whose loves
Are dearer than the natural (adj) bond of sisters
le Beau
7 or 14 le Beau talks of Rosalind and Celia’s bond as being more than what is formed by nature or familial.
We that are true lovers run into strange capers; but as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly. Touchstone
II.iv.51, 52
11 and 5a, respectively Touchstone says that everything in the natural world or the cosmos is mortal; also,
     let my officers of such a nature
Make an extent upon his house and land
5a Frederick talks of those officers who have a particular impulse
that he that hath learned no wit by nature nor art may complain of good breeding or comes of a very dull kindred. Corin
10a or 11b Corin talks of those who have learned nothing from the natural world or the power operating the material world.
Such a one is a natural (adj) philosopher. Touchstone
3a or 10 In response, Touchstone calls Corin either a philosopher belonging to the physical (rather than the spiritual) world, or a foolish/simple one.
Therefore Heaven Nature charged
That one body should be fill’d
With all graces wide-enlarged:
Nature presently distill’d
Helen’s cheek, but not her heart,
Cleopatra’s majesty,
Atalanta’s better part,
Sad Lucretia’s modesty.
III.ii.138, 141
10b (both) Celia reads Orlando’s poetry that references the power operating the material world, personified.
I see no more in you than in the ordinary
Of nature‘s sale-work.
10a (2 for a bawdy insult) Rosalind references Phebe as having nothing more than what is in the material world (or, if truly insulting, bodily functions).
O, I have heard him speak of that same brother;
And he did render him the most unnatural
That lived amongst men.
2a or 14 Orlando had described Oliver has being not ordinary or familial.
And well he might so do,
For well I know he was unnatural.
2a or 14 Oliver admits as much.
But kindness, nobler ever than revenge,
And nature, stronger than his just occasion,
Made him give battle to the lioness
5a Oliver says that Orlando had a particular impulse that made him save Oliver.


Here, the takeaway is not as simple as for Fortune.

Nature. Complexity personified.

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