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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Timon of Athens : its relationship to other plays of the Shakespeare canon. A study of the play with special reference to themes related to Judaic-Christian thought and expressed through the plot, characterization and imagery of the drama Webber, Jean P.


Timon of Athens has been the subject of conflicting interpretations and evaluations. Those who have found it somewhat unsatisfactory have outnumbered those who have approved it. To explain its more troubling features critics have advanced two theories: first, that the play is written by Shakespeare in collaboration with another author; and second, that the play is all Shakespeare's but lacks final revision. This thesis reviews the critical history of the play, supporting the current general tendency to reject the theory of dual authorship and seeing design in the form of the play and consistency in the development of character and plot. The writer investigates the themes presented in the play, noting relationships to themes in other plays of the canon. The marked similarities in ideas, imagery, and diction between Timon of Athens and other Shakespearian dramas supports the view of those who regard the play as entirely Shakespeare's. In particular, the treatment given the themes of justice, mercy, grace, and regeneration and the manner in which death is shown to affect character demonstrates that the play is a link between the tragedies and the final tragi-comedies. The writer believes that the play is satisfactory and understandable if it is regarded as depicting the movement of the soul from the finite to the infinite conception of being. Timon is accordingly viewed as a type of Everyman. Biblical imagery and echoes are noted, particularly those lines recalling passages (in both the Old and New Testaments) dealing with atonement. The principal characters of the play, other than the soldier Alcibiades and the faithful steward, exemplify various phases of worldliness and material-mindedness. Alcibiades stands in a special relationship to Timon in that he remains loyal to him, punishes Timon’s enemies, purges the state, and finally restores order. However, Alcibiades is not above criticism for his actions involve the evils of civil war and disease. The steward, also, remains loyal to Timon. Through his pure love he is able to touch Timon and thus penetrate his misanthropy. As Timon grows towards death there are hints of his moving into a state in which sin is absolved and all faults forgiven. Some attention has been given to the stage history of Timon of Athens, in particular to the 1965 Royal Shakespeare Company production which proved theatrically successful. The treatment of themes similar to those of Timon in other plays is discussed from a theatrical point of view in an attempt to explain the greater popularity with theatre audiences of plays such as King Lear.

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