Closely allied with the opposition of court life and the Forest of Arden is the dichotomy between fortune and nature. Here, ‘‘fortune’’ represents both material gain—achieved through power, birthright, or possessions—and a force that unpredictably determines events. ‘‘Nature,’’ on the other hand, is both the purifying force of Arden and humanity’s fundamental condition stripped of the trappings of wealth, power, and material possessions.
The opposition between fortune and nature is highlighted most in the first act, where the audience finds that fortune has benefited the villainous (Frederick and Oliver) over the virtuous (Duke Senior, Orlando, and Rosalind). Celia suggests that she and Rosalind ‘‘mock the good housewife Fortune from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally’’ (1.2.30–2), referring to the fact that the goddess Fortune was historically depicted as blind, sitting on a spherical throne, with one foot on a ball and one hand upon her wheel that determined the fates of everyone. The goddess Nature, meanwhile, was considered to be in control of people’s innate virtues, such as their nobility and wisdom. In this scene, Rosalind and Celia discuss Fortune and Nature at length, musing on the two goddesses’ effects on the world.
Duke Senior is presented as a man who has successfully thwarted Fortune; after his speech praising the rustic over the courtly life, Amiens notes, ‘‘Happy is your Grace / That can translate the stubbornness of fortune / Into so quiet and so sweet a style’’ (18–20). Fortune is mentioned again later by Adam, who, upon fleeing with Orlando, notes, in a rhyming couplet closing a scene, ‘‘Yet fortune cannot recompense me better / Than to die well and not my master’s debtor’’ (2.4.75–6). Nature, meanwhile, is invoked most pointedly when Oliver describes his brother’s rescue of him: ‘‘But kindness, nobler ever than revenge / And nature, stronger than his just occasion, / Made him give battle to the lioness, / Who quickly fell before him’’ (4.3.129–32). Thus, the play’s protagonists by and large manage to overcome the caprices of Fortune by drawing on the assets of Nature.
Shakespeare for Students:Critical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays & Poetry, Second Edition, Volume 1, authored by Anne Marie Hacht & Cynthia Burnstein, published by Thomson-Gale, 2007