Let not virtue seek
Remuneration for the thing it was;
For beauty, wit,
High birth, vigor of bone, desert in service,
Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all
To envious and calumnating Time.
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,
That all with one consent praise new-born gawds,
Though they are made and moulded of things past,
And give to dust that is a little gilt
More laud than gilt o'erdusted.

Troilus And Cressida Act 3, scene 3, 169–179

Everyone agrees that "touch of nature" means "natural trait"—an essential characteristic that makes us all kin. Ulysses—author of the phrase—addresses it to his fellow Greek, the great warrior Achilles, who has recently been sitting out the Trojan War on account of wounded pride and a Trojan lover. Achilles wonders why prominent Greeks have been giving him the cold shoulder; Ulysses, hoping to goad his compatriot back into action, delivers an unflattering lecture on human nature. Our "touch of nature" isn't warmth or generosity or any other romantic ideal such as is the object of the phrase nowadays. Ulysses finds unanimity only in our prizing gaudy novelties ("new-born gawds"), anything with an unfamiliar, if superficial, sparkle. Achilles' past deeds, like beauty, wit, love, and so on, are subject to the ravages of time; it is our nature to forget faded glories. Our "touch of nature" is a short memory.

Speakers: Ulysses