Imatges de pÓgina

Timon of Athens.


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 Shakspeare'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 hidden treasure by digging. The piece itself (though it appears to be the work of an academic) is a wretched one. The personæ 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 philosophers. Grunnio, a lean servant of Philargurus. Obba, Tymon's butler. Podio, 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 VOL. VIII.


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, his 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 had 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 hearing.'

And Alcibiades afterwards confirms this:

I have heard, and griev'd

How cursed Athens, mindless of thy worth,
Forgetting thy great deeds, when neighbour states,
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

As the merits of the general towards his fellow-citizens suppose more strength of character than those of the generous prodigal, their respective behaviours are no less different: Timon frets himself to death; Alcibiades regains his lost dignity by violence. If the poet very properly sides with Timon against the common practice of the world, he is, on the other hand, by no means disposed to spare Timon. Timon was a fool in his generosity; he is a madman in his discontent; he is every where wanting in the wisdom which enables man in all things to observe the due measure. Although the truth of his extravagant feelings is proved by his death, and though when he digs up a treasure he spurns at the wealth which seems to solicit him, we yet see distinctly enough that the vanity of wishing to be singular, in both parts of the plays, had some share in his liberal self-forgetfulness, as well as his anchoretical seclusion. This is particularly evident in the incomparable scene where the cynic Apemantus visits Timon in the wilderness. They have a sort of competition with each other in their trade of misanthropy: the cynic reproaches the impoverished Timon with having been merely driven by necessity to take to the way of living which he had been long following of his free choice, and Timon cannot bear the thought of being merely an imitator of the cynic. As in this subject the effect could only be produced by an accumulation of similar features, in the variety of the shades an amazing degree of understanding has been displayed by Shakspeare. What a powerfully diversified concert of flatteries and empty testimonies of devotedness! It is highly amusing to see the suitors, whom the ruined circumstances of their patron had dispersed, immediately flock to him again when they learn that he had been revisited by fortune. In the speeches of Timon, after he is undeceived, all the hostile figures of language are exhausted,—it is a dictionary of eloquent imprecations *."

and Timandra are not in the train of Timon, but of Alcibiades. He is not so desirous of being distinguished for magnificence, as of being eminent for courteous and beneficent actions: he solicits distinction, but it is by doing good.' Johnson has remarked that the attachment of his servants in his declining fortunes could be produced by nothing but real virtue and disinterested kindness. I cannot therefore think that Shakspeare meant to stigmatize the generosity of Timon as that of a fool, or that he meant his misanthropy to convey to us any notion of the vanity of wishing to be singular.'

* Schlegel.

[blocks in formation]

VENTIDIUS, one of Timon's false Friends.

APEMANTUS, a churlish Philosopher.

ALCIBIADES, an Athenian General.

FLAVIUS, Steward to Timon.

[blocks in formation]


Two Servants of Varro, and the Servant of Isidore; two of Timon's Creditors.

CUPID and Maskers. Three Strangers.

Poet, Painter, Jeweller, and Merchant.
An old Athenian. A Page. A Fool.


Mistresses to Alcibiades.

Other Lords, Senators, Officers, Soldiers, Thieves, and


SCENE-Athens; and the Woods adjoining.



SCENE I. Athens. A Hall in Timon's House.

Enter Poet, Painter, Jeweller, Merchant, and Others, at several Doors.


GOOD day, sir.


I am glad you are well1.

Poet. I have not seen you long; How goes


Pain. It wears, sir, as it grows.


Poet. Ay, that's well known: But what particular rarity? what strange, Which manifold record not matches2? See, Magick of bounty! all these spirits thy power Hath conjur❜d to attend. I know the merchant. Pain. I know them both; t'other's a jeweller. Mer. O, 'tis a worthy lord!

1 It would be less abrupt and more metrical to begin the play thus:

'Poet. Good day, sir.

Pain. Good sir, I'm glad you're well.'

2 The Poet merely means to ask if any thing extraordinary or out of the common course of things has lately happened; and is prevented from waiting for an answer by observing so many conjured by Timon's bounty to attend.

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinua »