Timon of Athens  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Life of Timon of Athens is a play by William Shakespeare about an Athenian misanthrope named Timon (and probably influenced by the philosopher of the same name, as well), generally regarded as one of his most obscure and difficult works. Originally grouped with the tragedies, it is generally considered such, but some scholars group it with the problem plays.

The line "The moon's an arrant thief, and her pale fire she snatches from the sun" is often quoted.

Contents

Adaptations and cultural references

Literary versions

Peter Brook directed a French language production in the sixties in which Timon was portrayed as an innocent idealist in a white tuxedo, ripped and dishevelled in the second part. His cast was primarily young, and Apemantus was Algerian. Commentators who admire the play typically see Timon as intended to have been a young man behaving in a naïve way. The play's detractors usually cite an oblique reference to armour in Act IV as evidence that Timon is a long-retired soldier.

Literary allusions

Vladimir Nabokov borrowed the title for his novel Pale Fire from this quotation of Timon's in Act IV, Scene III:

The sun's a thief, and with his great attraction
Robs the vast sea: the moon's an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun...

A copy of Timon of Athens features variously in the plot of Pale Fire and, at one point, the quotation above is amusingly mistranslated from the fictional language of Zemblan, a trademark prank of the polyglot Nabokov. The theme of thievery to which Timon is alluding is also a principal theme of Pale Fire, referring to Charles Kinbote's misappropriation of the poem by the deceased John Shade that forms part of the novel's structure.

Charles Dickens alludes to Timon in Great Expectations when Wopsle moves to London to pursue a life in the theatre.

Herman Melville references Timon repeatedly in his novel The Confidence-Man, when referring to confidence as a preferable trait in all circumstances to misanthropy.

Karl Marx discusses Timon in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. Marx's analysis focuses on how passages from Timon of Athens shed light on the nature of money.

Charlotte Brontë includes an allusion to Timon in Villette. Ginevra Fanshawe affectionately nicknames Lucy "Timon," which highlights Ginevra's role as a foil for Lucy.

Thomas Hardy alludes to Timon in his short story, "The Three Strangers."

Australian novelist Robert Gott takes the title for his third William Power mystery, Amongst the Dead, from Act I of Timon of Athens:

". . . Alcibiades
Thou art a soldier, therefore seldom rich
It comes a charity to thee, for all thy living
Is 'mongst the dead, and all the land thou hast
Lies in a pitched field."

Ralph Waldo Emerson alludes to Timon in Essays: Second Series (1844) in an essay entitled "Gifts." Emerson says, "This giving is flat usurpation, and therefore when the beneficiary is ungrateful, as all beneficiaries hate all Timons...I rather sympathize with the beneficiary, than with the anger of my lord Timon."

Danish author Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) has a story within the tale titled "The Deluge of Norderney" in her Seven Gothic Tales. It tells about a Hamlet-like figure, called Timon of Assens Template:Sic who comes from the Danish town of Assens.

In Art

The English artist and writer Wyndham Lewis produced one work of art, a portfolio of drawings titled "Timon of Athens" (1913), a preliminary example of the style of art that would come to be called Vorticist. Like Timon, Lewis's own life was shaped by a war, a reputation for misanthropy, and alienation from his peer group. In this respect the work may be seen as a self-portrait of sorts, albeit one that utilises the fractured aesthetic of early-20th century avant-garde painting.

Musical versions

Shadwell's adaptation of the play was first performed with music by Louis Grabu in 1678. More famously, the 1695 revival had new music by Henry Purcell, most of it appearing in the masque that ended Act Two. Duke Ellington was commissioned to compose original music for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's first production of Timon of Athens in 1963. Stephen Oliver, who wrote the incidental music for the BBC television version, composed a two-act opera, Timon of Athens, which was first performed at the Coliseum, London, on 17 May 1991. Singer/songwriter Ben Patton wrote and recorded a song named "Timon of Athens" in 2006 which is included on his album Because the Heart.

Play Adaptations

British playwright Glyn Cannon wrote a short adaptation of the play called Timon's Daughter. It premiered in May, 2008 at the Old Fitzroy Theatre in Sydney. Cannon's play revisits the major themes of charity and giving in the original work, with a story that follows the adventures of Timon's daughter (named "Alice" in Cannon's play) when she is taken in by Flavius (renamed "Alan").

Television versions

Rarely performed, Timon was produced for TV as part of the BBC Television Shakespeare series in 1981 with Jonathan Pryce as Timon, Norman Rodway as Apemantus, John Welsh as Flavius, and John Shrapnel as Alcibiades, with Diana Dors as Timandra, Tony Jay as the Merchant, Sebastian Shaw as the Old Athenian, and John Fortune and John Bird as Poet and Painter. The production, directed by Jonathan Miller is done in Jacobean dress rather than in Greek costuming, but Shakespeare's Greece in this play is as fictional as his Illyria.

Books

In the Gary Blackwood book Shakespeare's Spy, the main character Widge writes the play trying to impress Shakespeare's daughter Judith. He is given the play by Shakespeare and Widge rewrites the play using Athenians rather than Catholics, which is what the play is originally about in the book.





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