Shakespeare Plays Available in Video Format
Scholars Online Educational Resources

Home

All’s Well That Ends Well
Antony and Cleopatra
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Coriolanus
Cymbeline
Hamlet
Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
Julius Caesar
King John
King Lear
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Macbeth
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Othello
Pericles
Richard II
Richard III
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Winter’s Tale
Shakespeareana

Available versions

1981: Jonathan Miller


Timon of Athens

T. S. Eliot identified Titus Andronicus as Shakespeare’s worst play. I can only assume that he had never read Timon of Athens. It is quite legitimately among the least frequently produced of his plays; one wonders only why it is produced as frequently as it is. Next to Timon of Athens, Titus Andronicus seems to me to be a scintillating and entertaining dramatic piece. Titus is built around a morbidly fascinating exchange and escalation of revenges: Timon is just dreary.

This is a tragedy that largely seems to go nowhere. It’s based on a well-known ancient story that appears in Lucian’s Dialogues (where it is much more amusing), but ultimately the character of Timon is developed in one direction and then more or less dropped. Many have thought it incomplete, and that seems a plausible suggestion. It details Timon’s extensive and pitiable suffering, but ultimately he becomes something worse than what he has been made, and he winds up being so bitter and malignant that the only thing we can do is despise him.

For all that, however, there are some good things in the play, some fine speeches that can be detached and examined, and some interesting thought about undiscriminating largesse and the like. How much of Timon’s fall is his own fault? Why or how can he not be rehabilitated when he recovers his wealth? The problem of the play, in some respects, is poised between the practical reality that has defeated Timon (his spendthrift ways and subsequent penury) and the psychological realities that dwarf and ultimately outlast his bad condition.

Parents and teachers should also be advised: it is also fairly crude in spots. Timon’s ultimate revenge on Athens involves (among other things) loosing a horde of pestilential prostitutes on the city to infect everyone. The play concludes before any of this is explicitly carried out, but that’s more or less where it ends.