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“ The Life of Tymon of Athens” appeared first in the folio of 1623. At what period it was written we have no evidence, though Malone assigns it to the year 1610. The story, originally derived from Lucian, was a popular one in Shakespeare's time, and must have been known to him from its forming the subject of a novel in Paynter's “ Palace of Pleasure," and from the account of Timon given in North's translation of Plutarch. The immediate archetype of the play, however, was probably some old and now lost drama, remodelled and partially re-written by our author, but of which he permitted much of the rude material to remain, with scarcely any alteration.
It is upon this theory alone we find it possible to reconcile the discordance between the defective plan, and the faultless execution of particular parts,-between the poverty and negligence observable in some scenes, and the grandeur and consummate finish displayed in others. The basis of Shakespeare's “ Timon” was long supposed to be an anonymous piece, the manuscript of which was in the possession of Mr. Strutt, and is now the property of Mr. Dyce. But this manuscript was printed, in 1842, for the Shakespeare Society; and although it is found to have one character, Laches, who is a coarse counterpart to the faithful steward, Flavius, and two or three incidents, particularly that of the mock banquet, where the misanthrope regales his parasites with stones, painted to look like artichokes, which correspond in some measure with transactions in the piece before us, there is not the slightest reason for believing Shakespeare ever saw it. These resemblances are no doubt merely owing to both plays being founded on a common origin ; for the subject was evidently familiar to the stage long before we can suppose Shakespeare to have produced his version. In Guilpin's Collection of Epigrams and Satires, called “ Skialetheia," 1598, we have in Epigram 52:
“Like hate-man Timon in his cell he sits,"
which, as Mr. Collier says, apparently points to some scene wherein Timon had been represented ; and he is again mentioned, in a way to show that his peculiarities were well understood, in the play of “Jack Drum's Entertainment," printed in 1601 :—“But if all the brewers' jades in the town can drag me from the love of myself, they shall do more than e'er the seven wise men of Greece could. Come, come ; now I'll be as sociable as Timon of Athens.”
Timox, a noble Athenian.
Servants to Timon's Creditors.
breath'd, as it were, To an untirable and continuate goodness,
He passes.) In the accepted reading of this passage, a colon is placed after "goodness," and the phrase "He passes," interpreted to mean,
he surpasses or exceeds, is made a separate member of the sentence. From the expressions “breath'd ” and “untirable," it may well be questioned, however, whether “He passes" should not be immediately connected with what goes before, and be understood in the same sense, of runs, which it bears in “Henry V.” Act II. Sc. 1 :—" He passes some humours and careers."