Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Timon of Athens - Shakespeare

Timon is a wealthy man of Athens.  He is generous with his wealth, perhaps to a fault.  Near the opening of the play, he casually assists a friend of his with money so that he can be married.  The word 'casual' is perhaps the best way to describe his finances.  He gives gifts and feasts to all of his friends. 
This drives his steward, Flavius, mad.  Timon's wealth is all draining away and, try as he might, he cannot get his master to take the problem seriously.  This is true, right up until several creditors appear at the same time and demand their money immediately.  Flavius can't pay them and Timon at last understands his problems. 
The word quickly goes out to Timon's friends that he is in difficulty and they are asked to give a little to help him out.  All of them find reasons to beg off from helping him.  Timon's generosity has destroyed him and the ingratitude of his former friends has rubbed salt in his wounds.  Timon invites them over for one last feast and serves them nothing but warm water.
Timon then retreats to the woods to become something of a cynical hermit and misanthrope.  He hates all humanity and if anyone comes across him in the woods, he isn't afraid to let them have it.  After several such encounters, we finally learn that he has died and left not one, but two different epitaphs cursing everyone that dares come near his grave.

This wasn't my favorite of Shakespeare's tragedies, by a long shot.  Timon's generosity is overdone and the reaction of his suitors is too.  Both seem more like cartoons than real people.  The final acts are unrelentingly bitter and angry.  Timon doesn't appear flawed so much as stupid.
There are a couple of sub-plots that I skated over.  There is a philosopher named Apemantus who is something of the cynical bent.  The script describes him as 'churlish' and that might be.  Frankly the man is an ass and no one wants to be near him.  Near the end, Timon competes with him to see who can be more unbearable.  They both lose.
There is also a subplot regarding Alcibiades, an Athenian captain who is exiled from Athens.  He returns with soldiers to wreak havoc on his former city in much the same way that Coriolanus does.  Athens is weak and fat and the message is that they deserve such treatment. 
Probably they do.  If a theme of King Lear is disaster brought down upon the undeserved, then a theme of Timon is that the deserved will get their disaster good and hard.  It's not the most cheerful of plays. 
Frankly, I didn't care for it. 

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