Timon of Athens: a not-quite misanthropic wrap-up

OK, so. Timon of Athens. Kinda ambivalent about this bad boy.

I mean, there are things I like about it: the character of Apemantus and his wonderful cynicism; Alcibiades and his revolt against Athens; the darkly comic take on artists and artisans; the role (if not character) of Timon.

But it’s so awkwardly written. The stuff by Middleton feels bizarrely modern; the stuff by Shakespeare well-written but somehow not quite right. That really loooong Act Four, Scene Three. The two epitaphs. The weird misogyny.

I think this is a play about money, wealth, and their corrupting powers. And I do think the play has a kind of muscularity about those subjects. But I’m not sure it’s enough to fill a complete play. There might be a reason why Timon’s story in Plutarch is relegated to a sidebar allusion in Antony’s history.

The play asks a great many questions, but answers almost none. And yet, as negative as that sounds, I didn’t hate it. If I found our last play, Antony and Cleopatra, to be more frustrating than fascinating, I actually find this one to be more fascinating than frustrating. How do you stage this? I think it’s one of those plays that can certainly be brought into a modern setting. I mean, all of Athens seems to have suffered an economic downturn…housing default crisis, anyone? A war hero, maybe even a profiteer, coming home from a middle-eastern war. A sense of entitlement that pervades not only the artist class, but their benefactors, too.

That all being said, where do I put this one?

Of the so-called problem plays (and this is the last one…yay?), I’d put it fourth, just a hair’s-breadth behind Troilus and Cressida (and yes, that puts it ahead of The Merchant of Venice…look, I’m not trying to be difficult; just stating how well I ENJOYED the reading…not necessarily how good I think the play is). But still, that’s pretty low on the overall scale…just a bit out of the bottom quarter of the plays.

I didn’t love this play, but I certainly did hate it…

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