Comparing Fortune and Nature in Canterbury Tales and As You Like It
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Fortune and Nature in Canterbury Tales and As You Like It
The medieval world was a complicated place, full of the "chain of being," astrological influences, elements and humors. A man's life was supposedly influenced by all manner of externals acting by destiny or chance. "Fortune" and "Nature" are two terms that include many of these factors, representing chance and inborn qualities. Shakespeare mentions the two frequently, most notably in an extended dialogue between Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It. Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales also provide many examples of Fortune and Nature's combinations in human affairs. His Pardoner's Tale, Miller's Tale, and Wife of Bath's Tale all depend on the effects of these two metaphysical forces.
The Host wails that "The yiftes of Fortune and of Nature / Been cause of deeth to many a creature." (Pardoner's Tale, ll. 9-10). And so it proves, literally, in the Pardoner's Tale. The three young men, upon finding the treasure-trove of gold florins, explain that "This tresor hath Fortune unto us yiven / In mirthe and jolitee oure lif to liven." (ll. 491-2). Fortune has guided them on their quest, whether in the tavern as the funeral happens to pass by or on the road as they encounter the immortal old man who knows of Death's trove; and Fortune, too, causes their downfall, as "it happed him par cas / To take the botel ther the poison was, / And drank, and yaf his felawe drinke also, / For which anoon they storven bothe two." (ll. 597-600). Yet Nature assists in their demise: all "riotoures three" have already been established as drunkards, so it seems only "natural" for them to celebrate with the wine carried by their erstwhile comrade. The free-wheeling, physical, life-lovin...
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...and characteristic behavior, or creates a hero by letting his Nature triumph over the Fortune that has determined his previous actions. These interactions could, perhaps, be viewed merely as clever use of what we moderns would call "character" and "plot." Yet viewing them in terms of Fortune and Nature puts us more firmly in the medieval mind-view that characterizes so much of the Tales and lends them so much of their charm.
You may want to begin your paper with the quotes below.
"The Yiftes of Fortune And of Nature"
"Fortune reigns in gifts of the world,
not in the lineaments of Nature....
When Nature hath made a fair creature,
may she not by Fortune fall into the fire?"
-- As You Like It, I.ii.41-4.
"The yiftes of Fortune and of Nature
been cause of deeth to many a creature."
-- Pardoner's Tale, ll. 9-10.