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• The Life of Tymon of Athens' was first published in the folio collection of 1623. The text, in this first edition, has no division into acts and scenes. We have reason to believe that, with a few exceptions, it is accurately printed from the copy which was in the possession of Heminge and Condell ; and we have judged it important to follow that copy with very slight variations. In our fuller editions we have entered into a minute examination of this play, for the purpose of expressing our belief that it was founded by Shakspere upon some older play, of wbich much has been retained; and that our poet's hand can only be traced with certainty in those scenes in which Timon appears.
The Timon of Shakspere is not the Timon of the popular stories of Shakspere's day. The 28th novel of "The Palace of Pleasure' has for its title “ Of the strange and beastly nature of Timon of Athens, enemy to mankind.” According to this authority, “ he was a man but by shape only ”-he lived “ a beastly and churlish life." Neither was the Timon of Plutarch the Timon of Shakspere. The Greek biographer, indeed, tells us, that he was angry with all men, and would trust no man, “ for the unthankfulness of those he had done good unto, and whom he took to be his friends ;" but that he was represented as “a viper and malicious
man unto mankind, to shun all other men's companies but the company of young Alcibiades, a bold and insolent youth.” The Timon of Plutarch, and of the popular stories of Shakspere's time, was little different from the ordinary cynic. The Timon of Shakspere is in many respects essentially different from any model with which we are acquainted, but it approaches nearer, as Mr. Skottowe first observed, to the Timon of Lucian than the commentators have pointed out. The character of Shakspere's misanthrope presents one of the most striking creations of his originality.
The vices of Shakspere's Timon are not the vices of a sensualist. It is true that his offices have been oppressed with riotous feeders,—that his vaults have wept with drunken spilth of wine,—that every room
“ Hath blazd with lights, and bray'd with minstrelsy;" But he has nothing selfish in the enjoyment of his prodigality and his magnificence. He himself truly expresses the weakness as well as the beauty of his own character : “ Why, I have often wished myself poorer, that I might come nearer to you. We are born to do benefits, and what better or properer can we call our own, than the riches of our friends ? O, what a precious comfort 't is, to have so many, like brothers, commanding one another's fortunes !" Charles Lamb, in his contrast between 'Timon of Athens' and Hogarth's • Rake's Progress,' has scarcely done justice to Timon : “ The wild course of riot and extravagance, ending in the one with driving the Prodigal from the society of men into the solitude of the deserts; and, in the other, with conducting Hogarth's Rake through his several
stages of dissipation into the still more complete desolations of the mad-house, in the play and in the picture are described with almost equal force and nature." Hogarth's Rake is all sensuality and selfishness ; Timon is essentially high-minded and generous : he truly says, in the first chill of his fortunes
“ No villainous bounty yet hath pass'd my heart.
Unwisely, not ignobly, have I given." In his splendid speech to Apemantus in the fourth act, he distinctly proclaims, that in the weakness with which he had lavished his fortunes upon the unworthy, he had not pampered his own passions :“ Hadst thou, like us, from our first swath, proceeded
The sweet degrees that this brief world affords
For every storm that blows." The all-absorbing defect of Timon—the root of those generous vices which wear the garb of virtue-is the entire want of discrimination (by which he is also characterized in Lucian's dialogue). Shakspere has seized upon this point, and held firmly to it. He releases Ventidius from prison,-he bestows an estate upon his servant,-he lavishes jewels upon all the dependants who crowd his board. That universal philanthropy, of which the most selfish men sometimes talk, is in Timon an active principle; but let it be observed that he has no preferences—a most remarkable example of the profound sagacity of Shakspere. Had be loved a single human being with that intensity which constitutes affection in the relation of the sexes, and friendship in the relation of man to man, he would have been exempt from that unjudging lavishness which was necessary to satisfy his morbid craving for human sympathy.
With this key to Timon's character, it appears to us that we may properly understand the “ general and exceptless rashness ” of his misanthropy. The only relations in which he stood to mankind are utterly destroyed. In lavishing his wealth as if it were a common property, he had believed that the same common property would flow back to him in his hour of adversity. “ O, you gods, think I, what weed we have any friends, if we should never have need of them ? they were the most needless creatures living, should we ne'er have use for them : and would most resemble sweet instruments hung up in cases, that keep their sounds to themselves." His false confidence is at once, and irreparably, destroyed. If Timon had possessed one friend with whom he could have interchanged confidence upon equal terms, he would have been saved from his fall, and certainly from his misanthropy.
Timon, a noble Athenian.
Act IV. sc. l; sc. 3. Act V. sc. 1; sc. 2.
Appeurs, Act I. sc. 2. Act III. sc. 2.
Appears, Act I. sc. 2. Act III. sc. 1. SEMPRONIUS, a Lord, and a flatterer of Timon.
Appears, Act I. sc. 2. Act III. sc. 3.
Appears, Act I. sc. 2.
ALCIBIADES, an Athenian general. Appears, Act I. sc. 1; sc. 2. Act II. sc. 2. Act III. sc. 5.
Act IV. sc. 3. Act V. sc. 5.
Flavius, steward to Timon.
sc. 2; sc. 3. Act V. sc. 2.
Appears, Act I. sc. l.
Appears, Act II. sc. l; sc. 2.
Appears, Act III. sc. 4.
Appears, Act III. sc. 4.