Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances

By Victor L. Cahn | Go to book overview

TIMON OF ATHENS

This play's date of composition is uncertain, as is the text itself, which may not be complete, and which may not be entirely Shakespeare's work. Yet the available script poses an intriguing variety of challenges.

The figure of Timon must have been known to Shakespeare for some time, for in Love's Labor's Lost Berowne mentions him as one of several great men reduced to absurdity (IV, iii, 165-168). Shakespeare probably read of Timon in a section of Plutarch's Life of Marcus Antonius in the North translation of The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, the book that also provided the "Life of Alcibiades," another source of this play. Finally, Shakespeare possibly knew of an anonymous academic play, Timon, written in the 1580s.

The first question we must consider is whether the play is indeed a tragedy. The story is of a man who falls from great heights to profound depths, largely through his own fault. Yet what has become traditional Shakespearean character development is missing. Instead, the play is more like an extended fable or allegory in which figures personifying specific traits interact to teach about human nature. Nonetheless, the play shares several characteristics with other tragedies, notably King Lear, and reaffirms themes from Shakespeare's other works in this form.

The opening scene establishes important motifs, as characters designated by callings such as the Poet and the Painter debate the nature of art and reality. That these men are given no names adds to the sense of allegory. More significant is that their discussion anticipates how Timon and others are forced to evaluate human nature; what it seems and what it is, what humanity offers as image, and what the reality is behind that image. The artists have come to solicit financial support from Timon, and their reflections include extended comments on "Fortune," meaning both "money" and "chance." The crux of their argument is that man is a victim of fate, good or bad, and the Poet imagines that one day, by chance, Timon might lose his great wealth (I, i, 84-88). However, in no other play of Shakespeare's is man only a pawn of fate, and thus this section must be taken ironically. For in this work, too, the mishaps that befall humanity, specifically

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Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • The Tragedies 1
  • Titus Andronicus 5
  • Romeo and Juliet 23
  • Julius Caesar 47
  • Hamlet 69
  • Othello 105
  • King Lear 137
  • Macbeth 179
  • Antony and Cleopatra 209
  • Coriolanus 241
  • Timon of Athens 267
  • The Histories 283
  • The First Tetralogy 287
  • King John 381
  • The Second Tetralogy 399
  • The Comedies 525
  • The Comedy of Errors 529
  • The Taming of the Shrew 541
  • Two - Gentlemen of Verona 555
  • Love''s Labor''s Lost 569
  • A Midsummer Night''s Dream 583
  • The Merchant of Venice 599
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor 619
  • Much Ado about Nothing 629
  • As You like It 647
  • Twelfth Night, or What You Will 665
  • Troilus and Cressida 683
  • All''s Well That Ends Well 703
  • Measure for Measure 721
  • The Romances 743
  • Pericles 745
  • Cymbeline 757
  • The Winter''s Tale 779
  • The Tempest 803
  • Appendix 1 - The Two Noble Kinsmen 823
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 826
  • Appendix 2 - The Royal Figures from the History Tetralogies 827
  • Select Bibliography 831
  • Character Index 833
  • Index 847
  • About the Author *
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