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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: August 2015

Chapter 7 - Timon of Athens

Summary

Timon of Athens is a play rarely performed and rarely treated with the same seriousness as Shakespeare's other tragedies, for a number of reasons. First, it is widely accepted as having been co-written with Thomas Middleton, and may also be unfinished. (These possibilities are not mutually exclusive, as some scholars seem to suggest.) Its status is further called into question by the fact that it seems to be slotted into the place in the First Folio originally intended for Troilus and Cressida. Together with Antony and Cleopatra, it is also one of two plays in the First Folio not divided into acts or scenes. Its date too is substantially in doubt, with suggestions ranging anywhere from 1603 to 1609. There is no evidence of any early performance of the play, and dating is based entirely on stylistic evidence, which in turn partly depends on the question of authorship. Given its similarities with King Lear and the parallels between Middleton's conjectured share of the play and Middleton's other works, a date between 1604 and 1606 seems most likely (though there is no agreement as to which of Timon or Lear came first). Shakespeare here returns to Plutarch, though the play is not based, as the Roman plays are, on any one or more of Plutarch's full-length ‘Lives’, but worked up from short passages in the Lives of Antony and Alcibiades together with Lucian's Dialogue of Timon.

Allegory and pageant

Despite its many parallels with King Lear, however, The Life of Timon of Athens is more striking for its difference than for its resemblances to other Shake-spearean tragedies. In particular it seems to owe much more to the medieval and early Tudor tradition of allegorical drama than do any of Shakespeare's other tragedies.