Timon of Athens (Vol. 52)
Timon of Athens
Victorian and early twentieth-century scholars focused primarily on the authorship of Timon of Athens, questioning if the atypical drama was truly the work of Shakespeare. Although debate still rages over whether the play represents an unfinished, unorganized, and poorly written work or a powerful, if unorthodox, example of Shakespeare's skill, attention has turned increasingly in the last half of the twentieth century to the meaning of the play. At the center of this scholarship is the topic of morality, which many scholars believe is implicit to the play's meaning. Some critics argue that Shakespeare was attacking immoral Renaissance financial practices, namely the problems with usury. Minerva Neiditz (1979) states that Timon's problem is that he gives with the expectation of receiving, which contradicts the tenants of virtue. Many scholars such as William O. Scott (1984) note that Timon's practices never allow anyone to make a reciprocal gift or pay back a loan. Timon requires that all are “morally bound, so that Timon can remain free.” When no one will return his gifts later, Timon curses society, decrying man as amoral. Essayists such as Max H. James (1995) argue that the play is incomprehensible without taking into account the important role of friendship, which was so dominant and powerful that it resembled a form of love in Renaissance society. James maintains that the classical code of friendship in which nothing can be denied to one another is at the root of Timon's behavior and Shakespeare's thesis. Leo Paul S. de Alvarez (1981) develops this idea further, arguing that Timon's bounty is a gift from the good Fortuna with the intention that it be shared with one another. He asserts that Shakespeare is arguing that benevolence is the highest human good. Michael Tinker (1974), however, states that Timon does not understand the true nature of friendship. When he fails to accept the good in Flavius, Timon “has not missed, but rejected, his chance to rise above himself.” Many critics agree that Flavius represents the one true and honest man, incorruptable to the vices of material possessions and flattery. Again, there is concensus that Apemantus represents the worst of human nature, as one critic calls him a “beast.” Nevertheless, there is no agreement about the nature of Alcibiades, who some critics see as evil while others note his decision to spare the city of Athens and conclude that he has been reformed.
While Timon of Athens has been classified traditionally as a tragedy, albeit an atypical one, critics increasingly argue that the play draws upon the medieval moral play tradition. Lewis Walker (1979) asserts that Timon represents a form of the Mankind figure featured in morality plays through the first quarter of the sixteenth century. In these dramas, man faces many temptations and is corrupted as he passes through life, although he ultimately repents. Thus, Shakespeare's inclusion of banquet halls, music, food, drink, prostitutes, and doors that represent choices, is characteristic of the classic temptations of man found in morality plays. Even so, Walker adds that Shakespeare used this literary tradition merely as a base while developing the play in new, innovative ways. “The references of Apemantus to Timon's indulgence of the sense show how well Shakespeare has assimilated the morality tradition and at the same time the extent to which he has transcended it.” Ruth Levitsky (1978) contends that the true character of the generic man figure in morality plays is judged by the way he reacts to both adversity and prosperity. In her comparison of the title characters Timon and King Lear, Levitsky argues that although both cope badly as they are tested, in the end Timon fails to learn humility nor benefits from his struggles.
SOURCE: “‘I Am Misanthropos”—A Psychoanalytic Reading of Shakespeare's Timon of Athens,” in The Psychoanalytic Review, Vol. 56, No. 3, 1969, pp. 442-52.
[In the essay below, Reid considers the psychology of Timon's behavior to define the meaning of misanthropes in the play.]
Timon of Athens has received little attention from the psychoanalytic critics, and what comment exists cannot be said to be satisfactory.† The play is generally considered1 to be incomplete or unrevised. But this does not account for its neglect, for the play in its present form is generally considered2 to represent Shakespeare's intentions. It is unquestionably the singular nature of the subject that accounts for its neglect.
The plot is the simplest Shakespeare utilized for the tragedies. It falls into two abruptly different parts. In the first part, Timon is presented as the most beneficent of men. He gives—feasts and gifts—continually, and he is deliriously happy in doing so. Throughout this part, he is warned by his steward that he is bankrupting himself, and by a friend, Apemantus, that his beneficence is misguided—that he is scorned, not loved, by those he feeds. Timon ignores both warnings. Finally, he is bankrupt, but confident that those whom he benefited will now help him. They do not, and the creditors come forth. Moved to rage, he gives one final...
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SOURCE: “A Dramatic History of Misanthropes,”Comparative Drama, Vol. 17, No. 2, Summer, 1983, pp. 97-123.
[In the following essay, Konstan explores concepts of misanthropy by comparing Timon of Athens to Menander's Dyscolus and Moliére's Le Misanthrope.]
The misanthrope is not merely different from other men; he judges them, and does so on what he takes to be their own terms. He perceives himself as the representative of a social ideal which others have betrayed, and condemns his fellows for their perversity and hypocrisy. And yet society abides, and it is the misanthrope who cannot fit. He is rigid and surly, a natural target for comic deflation. Were he asocial, like the cyclops or the anchorite, the codes of communal life would not be an issue for him. But he is antisocial, and bears within him the image of the thing he opposes. This tension demands dialogue, as Cicero perhaps divined when he said of Timon, the renowned misanthrope of Athens, that even he “could not endure to be excluded from one associate, at least, before whom he might discharge the whole rancour and virulence of his heart.”1 The misanthrope comes on as a satirist, and is kin to the stern Umbricius in Juvenal, who delivers his tirade against the corruption of Rome as he lingers by its gates, before abandoning the city forever. Juvenal had vision when he named his spokesman after shadows...
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Criticism: Rhetoric And Philosophy
SOURCE: “The Paradox of Timon's Self-Cursing,” in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 3, Autumn, 1984, pp. 290-304.
[In the essay below, Scott considers liar paradox constructions in Timon's curses on mankind and himself.]
In his essay “how to do things with Austin and Searle”—reprinted with a qualifying comment in Is There a Text in This Class?—Stanley Fish employs speech-act theory to describe the behavior of Coriolanus. Seeking the people's votes for the consulship, Coriolanus refuses to conform to accepted codes of speech and therefore of social conduct, and retorts to his banishers, “I banish you!”1 Fish says that Coriolanus both evokes expectations of conventional behavior and frustrates them here, undoing what purport to be his own verbal gestures. To Fish, Coriolanus is a special case among Shakespeare's plays. He thinks, therefore, that the opportunities for speech-act analysis of Shakespeare are limited. Coriolanus is “about speech acts, the rules of their performance, the price one pays for obeying those rules, the impossibility of ignoring or refusing them and still remaining a member of the community” (p. 244), he first said, but he has since concluded that it “is a speech-act play for me because it is with speech-act theory in mind that I approached the play in the first place …” (p. 200).
Yet these limits may be...
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SOURCE: “Shakespeare and the Paragone: A Reading of Timon of Athens,” in Images of Shakespeare, edited by Werner Habicht, D. J. Palmer, and Roger Pringle, Associated University Presses, 1988, pp. 47-63.
[In the following essay, Hunt discusses the role of the paragone, a historic comparison between and art and poetry, in Timon of Athens.]
It is almost fifty years since in the Journal of the Warburg Institute Anthony Blunt noted that the opening of Timon of Athens signaled Shakespeare's acknowledgment of a Renaissance commonplace, the paragone or comparison between the arts.1 But we have been surprisingly slow to do anything much with his observation.2 It is not simply a question of why Shakespeare would alert his audiences to the paragone at the beginning of that particular play, but why the paragone would concern a dramatist at all. This essay will address itself to answering the question about Timon and will suggest some constituents of an answer to the question of Shakespeare's larger interest in the rivalry between poetry and painting by glancing briefly at other plays, a fuller discussion of which must be reserved for other occasions.3
The title paragone, signifying comparison, was given by one of its nineteenth-century editors to Leonardo da Vinci's...
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Criticism: Money And Wealth
SOURCE: “Biological Finance in Shakespeare's Timon of Athens,” in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 21, No. 3, Autumn, 1991, pp. 349-70.
[In the essay below, Chorost discusses Timon's attempt to secure devotion through gift giving, exploring the economic and biological dimensions of the plot.]
Timon of Athens is a critique of money and money-oriented economies. Timon runs a lavish court which seems rich in friendship, but is rich only in money.1 Most of Timon's “friends” are usurers who mouth platitudes of loyalty while draining his treasury with high-interest loans. When he runs out of his own money and turns to them for more, they withhold credit, reducing him to destitution.
In his disillusioned rage Timon indicts, among other things, money itself and economies predicated upon the use of money. This indictment is the central theme of the play. Money is shown to destroy not only human relationships but also the reproductive power of nature itself. Hence to analyze the play's treatment of money, one must examine both its economic and biological aspects.
But analysis is complicated by the fact that economics and biology are inseparable in Timon of Athens. For example, in 5.1.68-70 the Painter tells Timon, “He and myself / Have travail’d in the great show’r of your gifts, / And sweetly felt it.” This is a comment about...
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SOURCE: “Notes Toward a More Finished Timon,” in Essays in Arts and Sciences, Vol. VII, May, 1978, pp. 21-35.
[In the following essay, Rockas examines the inconsistencies in the play and suggests possible revisions that Shakespeare may have intended to make.]
There is a controversy over whether and to what extent Timon is an “unfinished” play. The case was suggested by such critics as Ulrici, E. K. Chambers, and Una Ellis-Fermor, and has been challenged by others, notably by A. S. Collins and E. A. J. Honigman.1 It is certainly impossible to dispute Honigman's claim that the “inconsistencies and loose ends” in the play “confirm its authenticity,”2 because Shakespeare is often guilty of these; the question is really how many and what kind of loose ends appear in other plays as against those in Timon. In the light of Honigman's excellent challenge, I will entertain the proposition that Timon is more largely “unfinished” than other plays, and try to relate some of its “inconsistencies and loose ends” in such a way as to discover its own conception and coherence. I am not attempting an adaptation of the play, though some may find that my remarks suggest an adaptation, just as the creative adaptations of Shadwell and Cumberland suggest a critical commentary on the play. By their additions and changes they suggest where the play falls...
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SOURCE: “Primary Process Mentation and the Structure of Timon of Athens,” in University of Hartford Studies in Literature, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1979, pp. 24-35.
[In the essay below, Neiditz suggests reinterpreting Timon of Athens, noting the dream-like state of the play and its symbolism.]
Interpretations of Timon of Athens have led us astray by forcing the play into a logical, sequential mold with conclusions that Shakespeare was exhausted, suffering from a nervous breakdown or portraying a “syphlitic” character.1 Only Miss Ellis-Fermor, speaking of the Alcibiades-Senate scene, grasped the fact that it tumbles “suddenly into the action with the bewildering inconsequence of a dream.”2
If we approach the play like a dream, we recognize Shakespeare's suggestion of the simultaneity of time, the fulfillment of erotic and aggressive wishes through diction and plot, the predominance of cannibalistic and persecutory imagery, the splitting of four major figures to represent different aspects of the divided self, and the unity which depends upon the dramatization of an unconscious mental state. What we can conclude is that the structure of Timon is strongly influenced by primary process mentation which ignores consideration of time, space, and logical consistency, fulfilling wishes magically; and employs symbolism in a crudely associative...
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SOURCE: “Wormwood in the Wood Outside Athens: Timon and the Problem for the Audience,” in “Bad” Shakespeare: Revaluation of the Shakespeare Canon, edited by Maurice Charney, Associated University Press, 1988, pp. 166-75.
[In the following essay, Mellamphy identifies the inherent problems in Timon of Athens by analyzing the Grand Theatre Company of London Ontartio's performance of the play in 1983.]
In the 1960s and throughout the greater part of the 1970s one of the problems that faced the instructor who wished to discuss Measure for Measure before or with an undergraduate audience was how to elicit from that audience some sympathetic appreciation of Isabella's response to Angelo's “most pernicious”1 proposition. Product of the new morality, champion of sexual permissiveness, that fabulous being, The Typical Undergraduate of the Time, found it difficult to understand Isabella's dilemma: the choice between head and maidenhead, between life and virginity, was not really so difficult. Isabella's scrupulous concern about her hymen was, after all, much ado about next to nothing. Like the Hamlet who is unnecessarily dilatory when all he has to do is kill a king, Isabella was unnecessarily finicky, when all she had to do was come across. Indeed, it was perhaps easier to win from the student an imaginative realization of the awfulness of regicide than of the...
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SOURCE: “The Shadow of Levelling in Timon of Athens,” in Criticism, Vol. XXXV, No. 4, Fall, 1993, pp. 559-88.
[In the essay below, Baldo argues that Shakespeare develops the rhetorical practice of generalizing to a new height in Timons of Athens, unprecedented in renaissance literature.]
How little connection there is between money, the most general form of property, and personal peculiarity, how much they are directly opposed to each other was already known to Shakespeare better than to our theorising petty bourgeois.
You schal … confound the nobyllys and the commynys togeddur … that ther schal be no differens betwyx the one and the other.
The very shadow of levelling, sword-levelling, man-levelling, frightened you, (and who, like your selves, can blame you, because it shook your Kingdome?) but now the substantiality of levelling is coming.
The Eternall God, the mighty Leveller is comming, yea come, even at the door; and what will you do in that day. …
Timon of Athens is sometimes regarded as Shakespeare at his most...
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Bergeron, David M. “Alchemy and Timon of Athens.” CLA Journal XIII, No. 4 (June 1970): 364-73.
Applies the philosophical tenets of alchemy allegorically to interpret the play.
Bizley, W. H. “Language and Currency in Timon of Athens.” Theoria XLIV (May 1975): 21-42.
Examines the language Shakespeare employs to discuss cultural beliefs about money.
Cohen, Derek.“The Politics of Wealth: Timon of Athens.” Neophilologus LXXVII, No. 1, (January 1993): 149-60.
Explores the multifaced role of wealth and poverty in Timon of Athens, arguing that not only is it at the center of the drama but that Shakespeare proposes revolutionary ideas.
De Alvariz, Leo Paul S. “Timon of Athens.” In Shakespeare as Political Thinker, edited by John Alvis and Thomas G. West, pp. 157-179. Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 1981.
Provides an in-depth overview and analysis.
Dillon, Janette. “‘Solitariness’: Shakespeare and Plutarch.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology LXXVIII, No. 3 (July 1979): 325-44.
Explores the shared origins of Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and Timon of Athens in Plutarch's The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans.
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