TIMON OF ATHENS

 

 

By EDWARD D. JOHNSON
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The "Shakespeare" Play, Timon of Athens, was never printed in quarto and, so far as is known, never produced on any stage, previously to its appearance in the First Folio of 1623. Contemporary literature gives no hint of its existence prior to 1623. The question may therefore be asked ''If this play was written by Will Shaksper, where was the manuscript during the period between Shaksper's death in 1616 and its appearance seven years afterwards in the Folio?"

If it was sent by Shaksper to Heminge and Condell, then it is remarkably strange that they did not inform the literary coterie in London that they had in their possession a brand-new play by Shaksper which had never been heard of before! If for some unknown reason they wished to keep this fact secret, then surely when they were gathering together the plays for publication in the Folio they would have been only too delighted to have informed the Reader that they were printing for the first time a Shakespeare play which had never been performed on any stage.

On the other hand, they give the reader the impression that all the plays printed in the Folio were known to the public, because in their preface

"To the Great Variety of Readers'' they state that ''these Plaies have had their triall alreadie and stood out all applause" and "before you were abused with diverse stolne and surreptitious copies."

They also say 'What he thought, he uttered with that easinesse, that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers,'' which implies that they had received the manuscripts of the plays direct from the author's hands.

Will Shaksper having died seven years before the publication of the Folio, this must mean that Shaksper had handed over this play of Timon of Athens to Heminge and Condell in his lifetime, and if this was so it is certainly extraordinary that Heminge and Condell never mentioned this fact to anybody.

Ulrici referring to this play, writes that ''no one could have painted misanthropy with such truth and force without having experienced its bitter agony." Yet Sir Sidney Lee writes that "Shakspere's career shows an unbroken progress of prosperity and there is no support for the suggestion of a prolonged personal experience of tragic suffering."

On the other hand, the experiences of Francis Bacon after his fall from power are precisely similar to those of Timon in this play, because he suffered from the ingratitude of a great number of his so-called friends who deserted him, as witness his letters to Buckingham and King James. It must be remembered that Bacon fell from power in 1621, and the play of Timon is first heard of two years afterwards, in 1623.