Will's word

6th February 2004 at 00:00
Artificial (adjective) "not natural, resulting from art or artifice"

The modern sense has been in the language since the 14th century, and it can be heard in Shakespeare when Richard talks about wetting his cheeks "with artificial tears" (Henry VI Part 3, III.ii.184). But around the beginning of the 16th century a positive sense emerged, "displaying artistry"', and this is the sense required when Helena says to Hermia "We ... like two artificial gods Have with our needles created both one flower" (A Midsummer Night's Dream, III.ii.203) or when someone in Timon of Athens describes a painting as displaying "artificial strife" (I.i.38). The sense of "skilful" is also present when Lysimachus suggests to Marina that she use her "prosperous and artificial feat" to revive Pericles (Pericles, V.i.71). The skill is turned to darker purposes when Hecat tells her witches of a potion which will raise "artificial sprites" (Macbeth, III.v.27). Here it means "produced by the black arts".

David Crystal David Crystal is author, with Ben Crystal, of Shakespeare's Words, published by Penguin

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