The Plays of Shakespeare: A Thematic Guide

By Victor L. Cahn | Go to book overview

Nature

In Shakespeare’s time, as well as in our own, “nature” has several implications. We may invoke the phrase “human nature” when we speak of the physical and psychological properties that belong to our species, as opposed to those of the lower orders of animals. We may speak of one man or one woman’s “nature,” and mean qualities that mark that individual’s character. Or we may speak generally of “nature” itself to suggest the environment that surrounds humanity: the animals, plants, and inanimate objects that comprise the world in which we function.

This chapter will focus on the last of these meanings. For Shakespeare, “nature” is not a passive entity, lying in repose as human beings struggle through their daily lives; rather, it responds to our actions, and in some ways even influences them.

For instance, Shakespeare often dramatizes nature as a pastoral haven. In the final act of The Merchant of Venice, Lorenzo entices his wife, Jessica (daughter of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender), to escape into the magic of the night.


How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music

Creep in our ears. Soft stillness and the night

Become the touches of sweet harmony.

(V, i, 54–57)

Here nature is a refuge from the realities of life. The same theme is reiterated in As You Like It, when the Duke, leader of a band that has sought refuge in the Forest of Arden, reflects on his home:


Sweet are the uses of adversity,

Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,

Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;

-255-

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The Plays of Shakespeare: A Thematic Guide
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction xi
  • Acting 1
  • Appearance versus Reality 9
  • Clerics 23
  • Commoners 35
  • Cynicism 45
  • Divine Right 53
  • Fate 63
  • Fathers and Daughters 71
  • Fidelity 81
  • Fools 89
  • Forgiveness 99
  • Gender 107
  • Generations 117
  • Honor 127
  • Innocence 135
  • Intoxication 143
  • Justice 151
  • Language 161
  • Love and Romance 171
  • Machiavels 187
  • Madness 199
  • Male Friendship 211
  • Marriage 219
  • Money 229
  • Mortality 237
  • Nationalistic Pride and Prejudice 245
  • Nature 255
  • Order 263
  • Politics 273
  • Power 285
  • Reason versus Passion 295
  • Revenge 305
  • Supernatural Phenomena 315
  • The Tragic Flaw 325
  • War 335
  • Conclusion 345
  • Further Reading 347
  • Index 349
  • About the Author 362
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