Midpoint: A midpoint without Timon

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at Timon of Athens.

There are 2308 lines in in the play, which means the midpoint is at line 1154, or at Act Three, Scene Five, line 45. According to Dr. Rodes’ theory, you could find at this midpoint–or within twenty lines either way–a speech that perfectly sums up a major theme of the play (the 20-line leeway was to help remove the differences in prose line lengths between individual editions).

Of course, with this play and all its questions of authorship, you’d think that the theory may not apply to this play. But I’m going to argue against this. Timon…is it to be Shakespeare or not to be Shakespeare (as playwright, and Middleton instead)? Well, that ain’t the question, kiddies. Remember, the play‘s the thing.

[I know, I know. Wrong play.]

Interestingly, Act Three, Scene Five, is one of the scenes in the play that doesn’t include Timon (it’s kind of like the midpoint of our last play, Antony and Cleopatra).

This is the scene where the general Alcibiades pleads with the senators to show mercy to his soldier who has been slated to die for an off-the-battlefield homicide. He has just been refused for the first time, and he tries a different tack: “Pardon me / If I speak like a captain” (III.v.40-1). And while he does start off with diction of battle, threats, foes and cut throats, he then moves back to pleas of mercy.

It doesn’t work. They tell him that he “breathe[s] in vain” (III.v.59). It is here, as we’ve discussed before, that he begins using wealth-words, terms of economics to make his point, beginning with “briber” (III.v.61). For this alone, I’d say this is significant. This is the point that even the military (through Alcibiades) and the politicians (through the senate) are linked to the concept of wealth in the play.

And I do think the play is about wealth, so as I said, for this alone, I’d say this is a pretty “pivotal” speech.

But there’s more in that 20-line leeway. In the sentence that includes the bribery reference, the general says of his nameless, faceless soldier, “His service done / At Lacedaemon and Byzantium / Were a sufficient briber for his life” (III.v.59-61).

So? You ask…

Well, here’s the deal. I think in that seemingly throwaway line, we get a huge clue to the answer of one of the outstanding questions of the play: Where did Timon get his money?

Earlier in the play, as Timon is learning the depths of his debt, he bemoans to his steward Flavius, “To Lacedaemon did my land extend” (II.ii.153).

I’d argue that Timon’s wealth comes from military conquest, one that captured Sparta (Lacedaemon), with an army that included the general Alcibiades and this unfortunate soldier. It would answer why the two men salute each other when they meet (I.i.249 stage direction), and why the general says to Timon, both “My heart is ever at your service, my lord” (I.ii.72), and that “but for [Timon’s] sword and fortune” (IV.iii.96) Athens would have fallen.

This is all within 20 lines of the midpoint. Rodes wins again.