Timon of Athens (1592-1601)

The literary sources for Timon of Athens are largely derived from Plutarch‘s The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans translated by Sir Thomas North (1579) or the Greek satirist Lucian‘s; Timon Misanthropus, which was translated into French by Amyot and later into English by Sir Thomas North (published in 1579, 2nd ed; 1595, 3rd ed; 1603). Some scholars suggest that Thomas Middleton may have collaborated with Shakespeare in this play and that it was included in the Folio of 1623 because the publisher was having difficulty obtaining the copyright for Troillus & Cressida. The current view is that the play was probably first performed in 1604 or alternatively abandoned and never performed and supposedly written a year earlier since Middleton began writing for the stage from 1602 onwards. The conventional date for the composition of Timon of Athens is closer to 1608-09 but computer analysis of the text carried out in the 70’s and 80’s now suggests a much earlier date, possibly any time after 1592 and no later than 1604. It must be borne in mind that Amyot’s French translation of Plutarch was available as early as 1559. The subject matter and style coincides with Edward de Vere’s long-term involvement in the dramatic and literary arts, and his generous patronage of poets, playwrights and artists in London. The play parallels the benevolence doled out in the beginning and becomes more cynical towards the notion of friendship echoing the words of the poem attributed to William Shakespeare: “Every man will be thy friend whilst thou has wherewith to spend….these are certain signs to know, faithful friend from flattering foe”. The austerities of Elizabeth’s reign were certainly replaced by the extravagant lifestyles lived among aristocrats in King James’s reign and the play may reflect that James Ist was well-known to have described himself as “the Greatest Fool in Christendom” and to have drawn a coterie of sycophants and dependents from literary circles such as Ben Jonson. He was fond of bestowing expensive gifts to his court favourites in the hope of future admiration and support. Foreign merchants and money-lenders were rife during his reign as he had inherited a surplus from Elizabeth and his reckless extravagance brought the kingdom into ever deeper debt. However, the earliest evidence of its performance is in 1674 by Thomas Shadwell who used the working title “The Manhater” and published his own adaption in 1678. Other scholars and commentators have argued that the play alludes to the rise and fall of the Earl of Essex or even King James Ist.

The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Pathenogenesis” are as follows:


Website: www.qudosacademy.org

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