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When I first saw this quote on p. 139 in National Geographic's photo book Sublime Nature: Photographs That Awe and Inspire, I interpreted "nature" to mean flora and fauna. I interpreted this quote to mean something like ecotherapy that "can have regenerative powers, improving mood and easing anxiety, stress, and depression." B.C., UK doctors are prescribing it. Was I wrong?

On Brainly.in, khushipar writes,

In the famous speech of Ulysses in the third act of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida occurs this line, "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."

"Nature" is taken as meaning fellow-feeling, one touch of which makes us all brothers.

On the same page, Serinus writes:

"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin"

This line has been spoken by Ulysses in the third act of Troilus and Cressida written by William Shakespeare. Through these lines, he wants to state that the bond of brotherhood or bond of relations are because everyone possesses the same nature. Similar feelings make the people of the world as a community as a whole.

Copying and pasting One Touch of Nature — K. H. will make this post too long, and I quote just the footnote.

  1. Shakespeare wrote: "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." We read instead: "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." (return to text)

What does "nature" mean in "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin"?

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    Please don't drop quotations in your question and expect the reader to understand what you're getting at. Can you please provide an explanation of why you're using those quotations? Also, with regard to your question itself, the KH link seems to explain the speech very fully. What is your confusion?
    – verbose
    Jan 1, 2021 at 6:22
  • @verbose sorry! i'm using these quotations to prove that I appear to be wrong? That KH link is so difficult to read. I see 1889 on it. If it was written in 1889, the long sentences are why I can't understand it.
    – user11647
    Jan 1, 2021 at 6:24
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    Then put some context around the quotes. Say: This quote from here provides a different explanation; here is another different explanation; finally, here's an explanation I can't understand. In each case, please say where the link is from. Web pages don't stay up forever. Please make sure the question is self-contained so that even if the link doesn't work any more, the reader (maybe 5 or 10 years from now) understands the context. Please edit your question! Thanks.
    – verbose
    Jan 1, 2021 at 6:27

3 Answers 3

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Shakespeare explains the meaning of this line in the subsequent four lines:

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin:
That all with one consent praise new-born gauds
Though they are made and moulded of things past,
And give to dust that is a little gilt
More laud than gilt o’er-dusted.

William Shakespeare. Troilus and Cressida, act III, scene 3.

In this passage:

  • “touch” means “a small quantity of any substance deposited as if by a light touch” (OED).
  • “nature” means “innate disposition or character”.
  • “makes the whole world kin” means “demonstrates that everyone is alike”.
  • “gauds” are toys or shiny ornaments.
  • “laud” means “praise”.
  • “dust that is a little gilt” is a gloss on “gauds”: that is, something worthless (“dust”) that has been made showy or ornamental (“gilt” = gilded).
  • “gilt o’er-dusted” is a gloss on “things past”: that is, something valuable (“gilt” = gold) that has become dusty with age. Compare “Wipe off the dust that hides our sceptre’s gilt” (Richard II, act II, scene 1).
  • The juxtaposition of “dust that is a little gilt” with “gilt o’er-dusted” is an antimetabole.

So the meaning of “one touch of nature makes the whole world kin” is that one small characteristic is common to everyone in the world: they like flashy novelties and disdain worthy antiquities, although the former are often merely reworkings of the latter.

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Kenneth Muir's edition of Troilus and Cressia (The Oxford Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 1982) does not comment on this line. Kenneth Palmer's edition of the play (The Arden Shakespeare, second series, Routledge, 1982), glosses touch of nature as

natural trait or characteristic.

The lines spoken by Ulysses mean the following:

One natural trait shows humanity's kinship:,
that all unanimously praise new trivialities,
even though they are (merely) old wine in new bottles, (...)

The noun nature does not mean "the natural world" but an "innate characteristic".

Kenneth Palmer points out,

This line is always misrepresented when quoted out of context (as if it meant that any 'natural' human act emphasized the kinship of mankind). Significantly, Ulysses means that mankind shows its kinship in acting discreditably.

(The context of the entire speech is a scene in which the Greeks ignore Achilles in spite of his past heroic actions. By ignoring him and pretending they now admire Ajax, they hope to make Achilles envious and thereby lure him back into the war against the Trojans. Hence Palmer's comment that they are acting discreditably. The trick is Ulysses's idea.)

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The intent of the line ‘one touch of nature makes the whole world kin’ is given by its context: Ulysses is explaining to Achilles that one is soon forgot if you rely on your reputation for past actions rather than continue to act and achieve. You are only as good as your last performance, as singers and actors sometime note ruefully. People are attracted by the latest thing (‘new born gawds’), even if its substance (‘dust that has a little gilt’) does not match older, better things (‘gilt overdusted’). In other words, people are superficial and simple minded, notes the cynic Ulysses. ‘One touch of nature makes the whole world kin’ therefore means: in one respect, everyone is simple minded (that they are misled by the gawdy new and ignore the better substance of things past). ‘Nature’ is used in the Elizabethan sense of a ‘natural’, ie, a simpleton. Further comment as suggested below: The general context can be explained simply: Ulysses’s much quoted and famous speech (‘Time hath my Lord a wallet at his back’, T&C, 111 iii) reminds Achilles that men lose their reputations if they cease activity, no matter how substantial their previous achievements. People focus on the here and now (‘the present eye praises the present object’). This presentism is regrettable (‘all with consent praise newborn gawds’), but Achilles’s hard won reputation will be eclipsed by the newly active Ajax, if Achilles refuses to leave his tent and join the action against the Trojans (‘Then marvel not, thou great and complete man,/That all the Greeks begin to worship Ajax;/Since things in motion sooner catch the eye/Than what not stirs’). Achilles risks being as simple minded as the crowd, for whom ‘one touch of nature makes the whole world kin.’ Achilles later in the play resumes action, to avenge the death of his compatriot & lover Patroclus, and murders the Trojan hero Hector, using subterfuge rather than fighting man to man. This cynical betrayal of the warrior code reinforces the play’s general cynicism about war, and underscores the contempt for people’s trivial dismissal of reputation in the line we are discussing, viz., ‘one touch of nature makes the whole world kin,’, ie, people generally are glib and simple minded, fascinated by new trivia, and ignorantly dismissive of the substance of the past.

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  • You are likely right, but see how the other answers actually expanded on the context and quoted nearby lines? It would be useful if you could add some details and explain how the context explains the lines meaning.
    – CDR
    Oct 8, 2023 at 23:39
  • Thanks for your comment. The context is simple: Ulysses’s much quoted speech (‘Time hath my Lord a wallet at his back’, T&C, 111 iii) reminds Achilles that men lose their reputations if they cease activity, no matter how substantial their previous achievements. Achilles later in the play avenges the death of his compatriot Patroclus, and murders the Trojan hero Hector, using subterfuge rather than fighting man to man. This cynical betrayal reinforces the play’s general cynicism about war, and underscores the contempt for people’s trivial dismissal of reputation in the line we are discussing. Oct 9, 2023 at 8:07

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