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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Reader's Diary #476- William Shakespeare: Timon of Athens

This is the first Shakespearean play I've read since coming back from seeing his birthplace, the Globe reproduction and his grave. I was wondering how those experiences would affect my reading and while it did provide a little more perspective, I don't think it affected my enjoyment one way or the other.

During the tour of his birthplace, our tour guide briefly mentioned how William's father John had gone bankrupt. In the play, Timon also goes bankrupt. I wondered if Timon shared any personality traits with the bard's father.

Timon basically doesn't know how to hang onto his cash. Surrounded by flatterers and false friends, he ends up giving away everything he has. When his creditors come calling, Timon sends out requests to all those he's helped in the past but, to his bitter surprise, none return the favour. He goes from being a wealthy philanthropic lord to a bankrupt misanthropist, running away from his debts and reviled society to live in a cave. However, at the cave Timon discovers gold. Will he hold onto his wealth this time?

Not at all. Timon gives it all away once again. However, this time it's out of hatred, not love. He hands it out to whores to spread disease, to a banished military captain who plans vengeance on Athens, and the rest to an artist, a poet, and a little left over to some senators who come to visit.
Apparently he's as disillusioned with money as he is humanity.

My first feeling toward Timon was that he was an idiot. One of my faults with the play was the lack of explanation of how a man this stupid and careless with money would have had any to begin with. He has extraordinary luck to happen upon the stash of gold, then blows his one chance to get back on his feet. Unforgivable?

Maybe. Maybe not. The cynical side of me thinks that his disillusionment, especially with money, might have led to the wisest decision of all: getting rid of it. Wishing venereal disease on his fellow countrymen? Well, I don't condone that.

It's a more obscure play but I quite enjoyed it.

(Cross-referenced at the Shakespeare Reading Challenge and The Obscure Challenge.)

2 comments:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I had no idea of the existence of this play. It does seem to contain quite a bit of bitterness. Do you know if it has ever been staged?

John Mutford said...

Barbara: If the Wikipedia article is to be trusted, and we all know that's a big if, it is not believed to have been performed (at least not at the Globe) in Shakespeare's time. Furthermore, some people thing this was really the work of two playwrights. It has definitely been staged since then though. IMDB also mentions a2009 film version set in San Francisco ,adapted and directed by by Micael Shaw Fisher. I don't know if it hasbeen released or will be later this year. There's a YouTube clip on his MySpace here. The BBC also made a TV version in 1981.