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"The Life of Tymon of Athens" first appeared in the folio of 1623, where it occupies, in the division of "Tragedies," twentyone pages, numbered from p. 80 to p. 98 inclusive; pp. 81 and 82, by an error, being repeated. Page 98 is followed by a leaf, headed, "The Actors Names," and the list of characters fills the whole page: the back of it is left blank. The drama bears the same title in the later folios, and "The Actors Names" occupies the reverse of the last page.
SHAKESPEARE is supposed to have written "Timon of Athens" late in his theatrical career, and Malone fixed upon 1610, as the probable date when it came from his pen. We know of no extrinsic evidence to confirm or contradict this opinion. The tragedy was printed in 1623, in the folio edited by Heminge and Condell; and having been inserted in the Registers of the Stationers' Company as a play "not formerly entered to other men," we may infer that it had not previously come from the press. The versification is remarkably loose and irregular, but it is made to appear more so by the manner in which it was originally printed. The object, especially near the close, seems to have been to make the drama occupy as much space as could be conveniently filled consequently, many regular lines are arbitrarily divided: the drama extends to p. 98 in the folio, in the division of "Tragedies;" what would have been p. 99, if it had been figured, contains a list of the characters, and what would have been p. 100 is entirely blank the next leaf, being the first page of "Julius Cæsar," is numbered 109. It is possible that another printer began with "Julius Cæsar," and that a miscalculation was made as to the space which would be required for " Coriolanus," "Titus Andronicus," "Romeo and Juliet," and "Timon of Athens." The interval between what would have been p. 100 of the folio of 1623, and p. 109, which immediately follows it, may, at all events, be in this way accounted for.
There is an apparent want of finish about some portions of "Timon of Athens," while others are elaborately wrought. In his Lectures in 1811-12, Coleridge dwelt upon this discordance of style at considerable length, but we find no trace of it in the published fragments of his Lectures in 1818. Coleridge said, in 1811-12, that he saw the same vigorous hand at work throughout, and gave no countenance to the notion, that any parts of a previously existing play had been retained in "Timon of Athens," as it has come down to us. It was Shakespeare's throughout; and, as originally written, he apprehended that it was one of the author's most complete performances: the players, however, he felt convinced, had done the poet much injustice; and he especially instanced (as indeed he did in 1818) the clumsy "clap-trap" blow at the Puritans in Act iii. sc. 3, as an interpolation by the actor of the part of Timon's servant. Coleridge accounted for the ruggedness and inequality of the versification upon the same principle,
and he was persuaded that only a corrupt and imperfect copy had come to the hands of the player-editors of the folio of 1623. Why the manuscript of "Timon of Athens" should have been more mutilated, than that from which other dramas were printed for the first time in the same volume, was a question into which he did not enter. His admiration of some parts of the tragedy was unbounded; but he maintained that it was, on the whole, a painful and disagreeable production, because it gave only a disadvantageous picture of human nature, very inconsistent with what, he firmly believed, was our great poet's real view of the characters of his fellow-creatures. He said that the whole piece was a bitter dramatic satire, a species of writing in which Shakespeare had shown, as in all other kinds, that he could reach the very highest point of excellence. Coleridge could not help suspecting that the subject might have been taken up under some temporary feeling of vexation and disappointment.
How far this notion is well founded can of course be matter of speculation only; but a whole play could hardly be composed under a transient fit of irritation, and to us it seems more likely that, in this instance as in others, Shakespeare adopted the story because he thought he could make it acceptable as a dramatic representation. We agree with Farmer in thinking that there probably existed some earlier popular play of which Timon was the hero. The novels in Paynter's "Palace of Pleasure" were the common property of the poets of the day; and "the strange and beastly nature of Timon of Athens" is inserted in the first volume of that collection, which came out in or before 1567. Paynter professes to have derived his brief materials from the life of Mark Antony, in Plutarch; but Sir Thomas North's translation having made its appearance in 1579, all the circumstances may have been familiar to many readers. True it is, that Shakespeare does not appear to have followed these authorities at all closely, and there may have been some version of Lucian then current, with which we are not now acquainted. To these sources dramatists preceding Shakespeare may have resorted; and we find Timon so often mentioned by writers of the period, that his habits and disposition, perhaps, had also been made popular through the medium of the stage. Shakespeare himself introduces Timon into "Love's Labour's Lost," (Vol. ii. p. 140,) which, in its original shape, must certainly have been one of our great dramatist's early plays. In Edward Guilpin's collection of Epigrams and Satires, published under the title of "Skialetheia" in 1598, we meet with the following line, (Epigr. 52,) which seems to refer to some scene in which Timon had been represented:
"Like bate-man Timon in his cell he sits:"
And in the anonymous play of "Jack Drum's Entertainment," printed in 1601, one of the characters uses these expressions :
"But if all the brewers' jades in the town can drag me from the love of myself, they shall do more than e'er the seven wise men of Greece could. Come, come; now I'll be as sociable as Timon of Athens."
We know also that there existed, about that date, a play upon the subject of Timon of Athens. The original manuscript of it is in the library of the Rev. Alexander Dyce, who superintended an impression of it for the Shakespeare Society in 1812. He gives it as his opinion, that it was "intended for the amusement of an academic audience," and although the epilogue may be considered rather of a contrary complexion, the learned editor is probably right it is, however, nearly certain that it was acted; and although it will not bear a moment's comparison with Shakespeare's "Timon of Athens," similar incidents and persons are contained in both. Thus, Timon is in the commencement rich, bountiful, and devoured by flatterers: he becomes poor, and is at once deserted by all but his faithful steward;-but before he abandons Athens in disgust, he invites his parasites to a last banquet, where he gives them stones, painted to resemble artichokes, which he flings at them as he drives them out of his hall. Shakespeare represents Timon as regaling his guests with hot water; but it is very remarkable, that at the end of his mock-banquet scene, after the hero has quitted the stage, leaving certain lords behind him, upon whom he had thrown the water, the following dialogue occurs :
"1 Lord. Let's make no stay.
2 Lord. Lord Timon's mad.
I feel 't upon my bones.
4 Lord. One day he gives us diamonds, next day stones." Shakespeare's Timon had cast no "stones at his guests, and the above extract reads exactly as if it had formed part of some play in which stones (as in the "Timon" edited by the Rev. A. Dyce) had been employed instead of hot water. Unless stones had been thrown, there could be no propriety in the mention of them by the fourth Lord; and though Shakespeare may not have seen the academic play to which we have alluded, a fragment may by accident have found its way into his "Timon of Athens," which belonged to some other drama where the banquet-scene was differently conducted. It is just possible that our great dramatist, at some subsequent date, altered his original draught, and by oversight left in the rhyming couplet with which the third Act concludes. We need not advert to other resemblances between the academic play and "Timon of Athens," because the manuscript may be now said to have become public property through the press.