Act Four, Scene One of Timon of Athens is one of those strange scenes, one where there is but one character on stage, delivering but a single speech.
Timon has just booted his guests from his home in Act Three, Scene Six, and then fled Athens himself. And just fourteen lines later, we find Timon now outside the walls of his city. And he releases a forty-one line torrent of rage, a prayer of misanthropy:
That girdles in those wolves, dive in the earth
And fence not Athens! Matrons, turn incontinent!
Obedience fail in children! Slaves and fools,
Pluck the grave wrinkled Senate from the bench
And minister in their steads! To general filths
Convert o’ th’ instant, green virginity!
Do ’t in your parents’ eyes! Bankrupts, hold fast!
Rather than render back, out with your knives
And cut your trusters’ throats! Bound servants, steal!
Large-handed robbers your grave masters are,
And pill by law. Maid, to thy master’s bed!
Thy mistress is o’ th’ brothel. Son of sixteen,
Pluck the lined crutch from thy old limping sire;
With it beat out his brains! Piety and fear,
Religion to the gods, peace, justice, truth,
Domestic awe, night rest, and neighborhood,
Instruction, manners, mysteries, and trades,
Degrees, observances, customs, and laws,
Decline to your confounding contraries,
And yet confusion live! Plagues incident to men,
Your potent and infectious fevers heap
On Athens, ripe for stroke! Thou cold sciatica,
Cripple our senators, that their limbs may halt
As lamely as their manners! Lust and liberty,
Creep in the minds and marrows of our youth,
That ’gainst the stream of virtue they may strive
And drown themselves in riot! Itches, blains,
Sow all th’ Athenian bosoms, and their crop
Be general leprosy! Breath infect breath,
That their society, as their friendship, may
Be merely poison! Nothing I’ll bear from thee
But nakedness, thou detestable town!
Take thou that too, with multiplying bans!
Timon will to the woods, where he shall find
Th’ unkindest beast more kinder than mankind.
The gods confound—hear me, you good gods all!—
Th’ Athenians both within and out that wall,
And grant, as Timon grows, his hate may grow
To the whole race of mankind, high and low!
That’s pretty intense… in other words:
And that’s just what is being said. How it’s being said is interesting as well. There are 23 sentences before his single word ending of “Amen.” Of them, a whopping 19 end in exclamation points, only four with periods. And the sentences are an interesting bunch:
- “Let me look back upon thee.” (about you; you’re in my rear-view mirror; I’m leaving)
- “Large-handed robbers your grave masters are, // And pill by law.” (about your father, whose thieving ways are sanctioned by law)
- “Thy mistress is o’ th’ brothel.” (about your mother, who is a whore)
- “Timon will to the woods, where he shall find // Th’ unkindest beast more kinder than mankind.” (about me, leaving all this behind)
Of the forty-one lines of the speech (forty, really, since the “Amen” can barely be considered a poetic line), only seventeen are purely iambic; the rest are peppered with trochees (18) and spondees (15); of the 24 irregular lines, ten had more than one irregularities.
Exclamations. Irregular meter. This is a man who can barely get his words and ideas out. And can’t get out of town fast enough.