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TIMON OF ATHENS.
TIMON OF ATHENS always appeared to us to be written with as intense a feeling of his subject as any one play of Shakspeare. It is one of the few in which he seems to be in earnest throughout, never to trifle or go out of his way. He does not relax in his efforts, nor lose sight of the unity of his design. It is the only play of our author in which spleen is the predominant feeling of the mind. It is as much a satire as a play: and con. tains some of the finest pieces of invective possible to be conceived, both in the snarling, captious answers of the cynic Apemantus, and in the impassioned and more terrible imprecations of Timon. The latter remind the elassical reader of the force and swelling impetuosity of the moral declamations in Juvenal, while the former have all the keenness and caustic severity of the old Stoic Philosophers. The soul of Diogenes appears to have been seated on the lips of Apemantus. The churlish profession of misanthropy in the cynic is contrasted with the profound feeling of it in Timon, and also with the soldier-like and determined resentment of Alcibiades against his country, men, who have banished him, though this forms only an incidenal episode in the tragedy.
The fable consists of a single event;—of the transition from the highest pomp and profusion of artificial refinement to the most abject state of savage life, and privation of all social intercourse. The change is as rapid as it is complete; nor is the description of the rich and generous Timon, banquetting in pided palaces, pampered by every luxury, prodigal of his hositality, courted by crowds of flatterers, poets, painters, lords, indies, whom
" Follow his strides, his lobbies fill with tendance,
more striking than that of the sudden falling off of his friends and fortune, and his naked exposure in a wild forest digging roots from the earth for his sustenance, with a lofty spirit of selfdenial, and bitter scorn of the world, which raise him higher in our esteem than the dazzling gloss of prosperity could do. He grudges himself the means of life, and is only busy in preparing his grave. How forcibly is the difference between what he was, and what he is described in Apemantus's taunting questions, when he comes to reproach him with the change in his way of life!
* What, think'st thou
The manners are everywhere preserved with distinct truth. The poet and painter are very skilfully played off against one another, both affecting great attention to the other, and cach taken up with his own vanity, and the superiority of his own art. Shakspeare has put into the mouth of the former a very lively description of the genius of poetry and of his own in par. ticular.
A thing slipt odly from me
The hollow friendship and shuffling evasions of the Athenian lords, their smooth professions and pitiful ingratitude, are very satisfactorily exposed, as well as the different disguises to which the meanness of self-love resorts in such cases to hide a want of generosity and good faith. The lurking selfishness of Apeman. tus does not pass undetected amidst the grossness of his sarcasms and his contempt for the pretensions of others. Even the two courtezans who accompany Alcibiades to the cave of Timon are very characteristically sketched; and the thieves who come to visit him are also “true men” in their way.--An exception to this general picture of selfish depravity is found in the old and honest steward Flavius, to whom Timon pays a full tribute of tenderness. Shakspeare was unwilling to draw a picture "all over ugly with hypocrisy.” He owed this character to the goodnatured solicitations of his Muse. His mind was well said by Ben Jonson to be the “ sphere of humanity.”
The moral sententiousness of this play equals that of Lord Bacon's Treatise on the Wisdom of the Ancients, and is indeed seasoned with greater variety. Every topic of contempt or indignation is here exhausted; but, while the sordid licentiousness of Apemantus, which turns everything to gall and bitterness, shows only the natural virulence of his temper and antipathy to good or evil alike, Timon does not utter an imprecation without betraying the extravagant workings of disappointed passion, of love altered to hate. A pemantus sees nothing good in any object, and exaggerates whatever is disgusting : Timon is tormented with the perpetual contrast between things and appearances ; between the fresh, tempting outside and the rottenness within, and invokes mischiefs on the heads of mankind proportioned to the sense of his wrongs and of their treacheries. He impatiently cries out, when he finds the gold,
“ This yellow slave
Would cast the gorge at, this embalms and spiced
To th' April day again." One of his most dreadful imprecations is that which occur inmediately on his leaving Athens.
* Let me look back upon thee, O thon wall,
Be merely pouson !" Timon here is just as ideal in his passion for ill as he had before been in his belief of good. A pemantus was satisfied with the mischief existing in the world, and with his own ull-nature. One of the most decisive intimations of Timon's morbid jealousy of appearances is in his answer to Apemantus, who asks him,
"What things in the world canst thou nearest compare with thy flatterers.?" Timox. Women nearest : but men, men are the things themselves.”
Apemantus, it is said, "loved few things better than to abhor himself.” This is not the case with Timon, who neither loves to abhor himself nor others. All his vehement misanthropy is forced, up-hill work. From the slippery turns of fortune, from the turmoils of passion and adversity, he wishes to sink into the quiet of the grave. On that subject his thoughts are intent, on that he finds time and place to grow romantic. He digs his own grave by the sea-shore ; contrives his funeral ceremonies amidst the pomp of desolation, and builds his mausoleum of the ele. ments.
“Come not to me again : but say to Athens,
And let my grave-stone be your oracle."
“ These well express in thee thy latter spirits :
On thy low grave:”— thus making the winds his funeral dirge, his mourner the murmuring ocean; and seeking in the everlasting solemnities of nature oblivion of the transitory splendor of his life-time.