9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Like "Coriolanus," "Timon of Athens" is one of Shakespeare's most underrated plays. Many scholars see this play as a poor effort that Shakespeare left unfinished, but I don't think this is the case at all. There was a legend of Timon the man hater, and Shakespeare decided to go further back in time and show how he got there. So, Timon is first portrayed as a man lover. He is overly generous with his friends and can not do enough for them. He gives money to help his 'so called friends' even more wrecklessly than the reformed Scrooge! (Even though this soon leads to him exhausting his financial resources.) Flavius (who remains loyal to Timon throughout the story) tries to warn him to be careful, but the warning goes unheeded, and reality sets in. Timon is in trouble with the collectors unless he can come up with some quick money. Timon feels that the people he was so generous to in their time of need may be willing to help him in his time of need. (Why not? It's reasonable to believe so.) Well, we soon see just how false Timon's friends were. To make a long act short, they brush Timon's servants off and want to hear no more of Timon. Here we come to divided opinions. Some people see Timon as a naive person who just wants to do good to others. Other people see Timon as someone who wants to be thought of as a god who can give and give without receiving. But whether he is a naive good person who wanted to help others or someone who wanted to be a god, the results of this 3rd act are not altered. It is detestable how the people who willingly received so much generosity from Timon have basically left him to the wolves. (And even if Timon was trying to play God, these people may have at least offered him SOME help!) My view is proved further when word gets out that Timon has reestablished himself and is throwing another feast. Well, these people (who recently declined to help Timon) attend as if nothing happened. In a comical scene, the feast turns out to be water and stones. And the stones play an important part in chasing the false friends out. By the 4th act, Timon has moved from universal love to universal hate. The loyalty Flavius retains to his fallen master is actually quite touching. The cynical Apemantus remains the voice of reason throughout. Some people feel that Apemantus was too unlikable to side with, but this was really the whole point. More often than not, we don't want to hear the truth, and undoubtedly, Shakespeare knew this when he created the comically factious Apemantus. And who can deny that he has right on his side when he tells Timon: "The middle of humanity, thou never knewest, / but the extremity of both ends." (4.3.342-343)? Some people complained that Timon only being able to see things from one extreme or the other doesn't work. But in my opinion, this is quite true to life. How often can we only see things from one extreme or the other? Shakespeare gambles with the improbable and has Timon accidentally find a new fortune. But this is one case where the gamble DOES work. (1) It shows that even replenishing Timon's fortune will not make him a man lover again. The harm is done. (2) As he used money to help Athens before, now he will use his new fortune to destroy Athens. Before the tragic ending, Shakespeare offers us one last touching scene where even in the midst of hatred, Timon has to admit the loyalty and benevolence of the virtuous and honorable Flavius. From here, the elements of a Shakespeare tragedy kick in. There are some who feel that Timon should have been able to find the middle of humanity, but in my opinion, that would have defeated the purpose of this excellent play.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Thomas Middleton, a great Jacobean playwright junior to William Shakespeare, (see one collection of his plays at A Mad World, My Masters and Other Plays: A Mad World, My Masters; Michaelmas Term; A trick to Catch the Old One; No Wit, No Help Like a Woman's (Oxford World's Classics) as well as Women Beware Women (Oxford Worlds Classics) and Three Jacobean Tragedies: The White Devil; The Revenger's Tragedy; The Changeling (Penguin English Library) with Revengers Tragedy) frequently collaborated with Will in his later years.
This work, The Life of Timon of Athens, is one such of heavy, nearly equal, collaboration, and often appears a discussion and amplification of certain points raised in The History of King Lear (The Oxford Shakespeare). Lear's Fool becomes Athen's Apemantus as Lear becomes Timon.
We might then entitle this A Monk's Tale, as Timon turns to the poverty and solitude of the forest after the disillusionment of society's reciprocal generosity. Some might consider it a Parable for the Paranoid; I find it a meditation on Lear by two great masters.
It is like hearing Dizzy Gillepsie and Charlie Parker discuss Salt Peanuts. It is brilliant, for me one of the best of Shakespeare all the better for being an open collaboration with the wonderful Middleton.
It also provides implicitly a model for the dialogue of Didi and Gogo in Waiting for Godot: A Bilingual Edition: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts (French Edition). Timon's Life as presented here is a true tragicomedy, although his grave is seen at the end. This play is the epitome of the tragicomedy, although the editors of the First Folio placed it at the last moment among the tragedies. There was no section of tragicomedies at the time. As the excellent 150 page introduction by the always sublime and trustworthy John Jowett suggests, perhaps it best finds companionship in the canon with The Oxford Shakespeare: The Winter's Tale.
After an initial presentation of philosophical themes by a proverbial painter and poet (who return later in the play near the end, no more wise) the laughs don't stop, mainly provided by the cynic philosopher Apemantus. Timon goes from exceedingly generous into deepest poverty, a direct result of his prodigious self-sacrifice. He finds no relief from those he has aided in their own distress, despairs of human society in Athens, and flees for the wilderness to be alone and far from humanity. Apemantus, the poet, the painter and others discover him there, and so he passes, with three epitaphs recorded, two from Plutarch's account of his tale.
The test of a true edition of Timon in fact lies in these three epitaphs. Modern editors and directors cannot abide such a thing, in the main, and cut them to one. They do not trust their Shakespeare, let alone their Middleton, yet anything less than the three is not Timon. Jowett gives it all to us, and that is all that we seek.
For this reason I recommend above all, and always, the Oxford edition. We can trust Jowett for the finest scholarship, and the most faithful text well and fully annotated. I appreciate very much, even as my eyes grow dim, his following the traditional format of including his footnotes at the bottom half of the page, the variorum of the several editions in a band in the middle, and the text of the play itself squeezed into whatever remains at the top. I highly recommend you read the play straight through at first, pausing for the footnotes at particularly troublesome points, simply for the sheer joy and beauty and heart of the language. Then read the introduction as well as possible alone, and then read the text along with all of the footnotes and variations of other editions. But above all read the play straight through without interruption. This play is the greatest philosophical joy of them all.
Be sure to get two copies, one to mark as you write, the other to keep for your shelf. You will appreciate such forethought and mark to your fullest pleasure.
Do not overlook this great play, this wonderful collaboration of two of our finest playwrights in this brutal English tongue.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Thomas C. Heagy
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
I read this play on Kindle, and although I love Kindle , I would recommend against reading this or any other play by Shakespeare on Kindle. The reason is the footnotes. it is easy on Kindle to navigate to a footnote and then back to the text, and this works fine if there are a modest number of footnotes per page. In Shakespeare's plays there are typically 20 or so footnotes per page, and to get the most out of reading the play you need to read all of them. I found it tiring to go back and forth so much and ended up not reading most of the footnotes , to my detriment.
The Oxford edition is fine, but it would not be my first choice. It has a very long( 196 pages) introduction which was more scholarly than I wanted. If you are writing a term paper , buy the Oxford edition. but if you are just reading for pleasure and would like some background information to increase your appreciation, I would recommend the Fogel edition.