Timon of Athens

  • Nicholas Grene


Timon of Athens could not be more unlike Othello.1 Where Othello gave its audience an all but contemporary Mediterranean world, oriented initially at least around the grand conflict of Christian and Turk, the Athens of Timon is an indeterminate place with the vaguest of classical associations. The characters, situation and atmosphere of Othello were rendered with an almost unnecessary specificity: the age of Iago, Cassio’s Florentine origin, the strawberry-spotted handkerchief and its history, Desdemona’s maid Barbary, all filled the play with the thickening detail of human identities. In Timon there is no such individuation. We start with a conversation between the Poet and the Painter (only so named), as it might be an exposition between First and Second Gentleman, and then discover disconcertingly that the play is made up of nothing but (more or less nameless) first and second gentlemen. We do not so much as know whether Timon is old or young, much less whether he has brothers or sisters, living parents, a wife or lover.2 What plot details we are given are evidently exemplary, the imprisonment for debt from which Timon rescues one friend, the advantageous marriage which he enables one of his servants to make. Everything in the play seems subordinated to the abstractness of its parable-like design.


Sexual Imagery Covered Dish Transcendent Order Distort Mirror Image Rough Work 
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  1. 2.
    See A.D. Nuttall, Timon of Athens (New York, London, etc., 1989), pp. xi, xviii-xix.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Emrys Jones, The Origins of Shakespeare (Oxford, 1977), p. 73.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    As Lesley W. Brill does in ‘Truth and Timon of Athens’, Modern Language Quarterly 40 (1979), 28–9.Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Tamburlaine, Part I, Il.vii.18–20, The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, ed. Fredson Bowers ( Cambridge, 1973 ), I.Google Scholar
  5. 16.
    See David Grene, Reality and the Heroic Pattern (Chicago, 1967), pp. 154–66.Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    John Dover Wilson, The Essential Shakespeare (Cambridge, 1932), p. 131.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Nicholas Grene 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas Grene
    • 1
  1. 1.Trinity CollegeDublinIreland

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