« PreviousContinue »
Timon of Athens.
PRELIMINARY REMARKS. The story of the Misanthrope is told in almost every collection of the time, and particularly in two books, with which Shakspeare was intimately acquainted— The Palace of Pleasure, and the Translation of Plutarch, by Sir Thomas North. The latter furnished the poet with the following hint to work upon :- Antonius forsook the city and companie of his friendes, saying that he would lead Timon's life, because he had the like wrong offered him that was offered unto Timon; and for the unthankfulness of those he had done good unto, and whom he tooke to be his friends, he was angry with all men, and would trust no man.'
Mr. Strutt, the engraver, was in possession of a MS. play on this subject, apparently written, or transcribed, about the year 1600. There is a scene in it resembling Sbakspeare's banquet, given by Timon to his flatterers. Instead of warm water he sets before them stones painted like artichokes, and afterwards beats them out of the room. He then retires to the woods, attended by his faithful steward, who (like Kent in King Lear) has disguised himself to continue his services to his master. Timon, in the last act, is followed by his fickle mistress, &c. after he was reported to have discovered a bidden treasure by digging. The piece itself (though it appears to be the work of an academic) is a wretched one. The persona dramatis are as follows:-Timon; Laches, his faithful servant. Eutrapelus, a dissolute young man. Gelasimus, a cittie heyre. Pseudocheus, a lying traveller. Demeas, an orator. Philargurus, a covetous churlish old man. Hermogenes, a fiddler. Abyssus, a usurer. Lollio, a country clowne, Philargurus' sonne. Stilpo, and Speusippus, two lying pbilosophers. Grunnio, a lean servant of Philargurus. Obba, Tymon's butler. Pædio, Gelasimus' page. Two serjeants. A sailor. Callimela, Philargurus' daughter. Blatte, her prattling nurse.--Scene, Athens.
To this manuscript play Shakspeare was probably indebted for some parts of his plot. Here he found the faithful steward, the banquet scene, and the story of Timon's being possessed of great sums of gold, which he had dug up in the wood; a circumstance which it is not likely he had from Lucian, there
being then no translation of the dialogue that relates to that subject.
Malone imagines that Shakspeare wrote his Timon of Athens in the year 1610.
• Of all the works of Shakspeare, Timon of Athens possesses most the character of a satire:-a laughing satire in the picture of the parasites and flatterers, and a Juvenalian in the bitterness and the imprecations of Timon against the ingratitude of a false world. The story is treated in a very simple manner, and is definitely divided into large masses :—in the first act, the joyous life of Timon, his noble and hospitable extravagance, and the throng of every description of suitors to him; in the second and third acts, bis embarrassment, and the trial which he is thereby reduced to make of his supposed friends, who all desert him in the hour of need;—in the fourth and fifth acts, Timon's flight to the woods, his misanthropical melancholy, and his death. The only thing which may be called an episode is the banishment of Alcibiades, and his return by force of arms. However, they are both examples of ingratitude,- the one of a state towards its defender, and the other of private friends to their benefactor*.
* It appears to me that Schlegel and Professor Richardson have taken a more unfavourable view of the character of Timon than our great poet intended to convey. Timon bad not only been a benefactor to his private unworthy friends, but he had rendered the state service, which ought not to have been forgotten. He himself expresses his consciousness of this when he sends one of his servants to request a thousand talents at the hands of the senators :
• Of whom, even to the state's best health, I have
Deserv'd this bearing.'
I have heard, and griev'd
But for thy sword and fortune, trod upon them.' Surely then he suffered as much mentally from the ingratitude of the state as from that of his faithless friends. Shakspeare seems to have entered entirely into the feelings of bitterness which such conduct was likely to awaken in a good and susceptible nature, and has expressed it with vehemence and force. The virtues of Timon too may be inferred from the absence of any thing which could imply dissoluteness or intemperance in his conduct: as Richardson observes, “He is convivial, but his enjoyment of the banquet is in the pleasure of his guests ; Phrynia