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Timon Of Athens
Biography of Shakespeare
Since William Shakespeare lived more than 400 years ago, and many records from that time are lost or never existed in the first place, we don't know everything about his life. For example, we know that he was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, 100 miles northwest of London, on April 26, 1564. But we don't know his exact birthdate, which must have been a few days earlier.
We do know that Shakespeare's life revolved around two locations: Stratford and London. He grew up, had a family, and bought property in Stratford, but he worked in London, the center of English theater. As an actor, a playwright, and a partner in a leading acting company, he became both prosperous and well-known. Even without knowing everything about his life, fans of Shakespeare have imagined and reimagined him according to their own tastes, just as we see with the 19th-century portrait of Shakespeare wooing his wife at the top of this page.
William Shakespeare was probably born on about April 23, 1564, the date that is traditionally given for his birth. He was John and Mary Shakespeare's oldest surviving child; their first two children, both girls, did not live beyond infancy. Growing up as the big brother of the family, William had three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund, and two younger sisters: Anne, who died at seven, and Joan.
Their father, John Shakespeare, was a leatherworker who specialized in the soft white leather used for gloves and similar items. A prosperous businessman, he married Mary Arden, of the prominent Arden family. John rose through local offices in Stratford, becoming an alderman and eventually, when William was five, the town bailiff—much like a mayor. Not long after that, however, John Shakespeare stepped back from public life; we don't know why.
Shakespeare, as the son of a leading Stratford citizen, almost certainly attended Stratford's grammar school. Like all such schools, its curriculum consisted of an intense emphasis on the Latin classics, including memorization, writing, and acting classic Latin plays. Shakespeare most likely attended until about age 15.
For several years after Judith and Hamnet's arrival in 1585, nothing is known for certain of Shakespeare's activities: how he earned a living, when he moved from Stratford, or how he got his start in the theater.
Following this gap in the record, the first definite mention of Shakespeare is in 1592 as an established London actor and playwright, mocked by a contemporary as a "Shake-scene." The same writer alludes to one of Shakespeare's earliest history plays, Henry VI, Part 3, which must already have been performed. The next year, in 1593, Shakespeare published a long poem, Venus and Adonis. The first quarto editions of his early plays appeared in 1594. For more than two decades, Shakespeare had multiple roles in the London theater as an actor, playwright, and, in time, a business partner in a major acting company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men (renamed the King's Men in 1603). Over the years, he became steadily more famous in the London theater world; his name, which was not even listed on the first quartos of his plays, became a regular feature—clearly a selling point—on later title pages.
Shakespeare prospered financially from his partnership in the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later the King's Men), as well as from his writing and acting. He invested much of his wealth in real-estate purchases in Stratford and bought the second-largest house in town, New Place, in 1597.
Among the last plays that Shakespeare worked on was The Two Noble Kinsmen, which he wrote with a frequent collaborator, John Fletcher, most likely in 1613. He died on April 23, 1616—the traditional date of his birthday, though his precise birthdate is unknown. We also do not know the cause of his death. His brother-in-law had died a week earlier, which could imply infectious disease, but Shakespeare's health may have had a longer decline.
The memorial bust of Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford is considered one of two authentic likenesses, because it was approved by people who knew him. (The bust in the Folger's Paster Reading Room, shown at left, is a copy of this statue.) The other such likeness is the engraving by Martin Droeshout in the 1623 First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, produced seven years after his death by his friends and colleagues from the King's Men.
TIMON, a noble Athenian LUCIUS LUCULLUS flattering Lords. SEMPRONIUS
VENTIDIUS, one of Timon's false Friends. APEMANTUS, a churlish Philosopher. ALCIBIADES, an Athenian Captain. FLAVIUS, Steward to Timon. FLAMINIUS LUCILIUS Servants to Timon. SERVILIUS
CAPHIS PHILOTUS Servants to Timon's Creditors. TITUS HORTENSIUS
Servants of Ventidius, and of Varro and Isidore (two of Timon's Creditor's).
THREE STRANGERS. AN OLD ATHENIAN. A PAGE. A FOOL. Poet, Painter, Jeweller, and Merchant.
PHRYNIA Mistresses to Alcibiades. TIMANDRA
Lords, Senators, Officers, Soldiers, Servants, Thieves, and Attendants
CUPID and Amazons in the Masque.
Scene.--Athens, and the neighbouring Woods.
Act I. Scene I.--Athens. A Hall in TIMON'S House
[Enter Poet, Painter, Jeweller, Merchant, and Others, at several doors.]
POET. Good day, sir.
PAINTER. I am glad you're well.
POET. I have not seen you long. How goes the world?
PAINTER. It wears, sir, as it grows.
POET. Ay, that's well known; But what particular rarity? what strange, Which manifold record not matches? See, Magic of bounty! all these spirits thy power Hath conjur'd to attend! I know the merchant.
PAINTER. I know them both; th' other's a jeweller.
MERCHANT. O, 'tis a worthy lord!
JEWELLER. Nay, that's most fix'd.
MERCHANT. A most incomparable man; breath'd, as it were, To an untirable and continuate goodness. He passes.
JEWELLER. I have a jewel here--
MERCHANT. O, pray let's see't: for the Lord Timon, sir?
JEWELLER. If he will touch the estimate: but for that--
POET. When we for recompense have prais'd the vile, It stains the glory in that happy verse Which aptly sings the good.
MERCHANT. [Looking at the jewel.] 'Tis a good form.
JEWELLER. And rich: here is a water, look ye.
PAINTER. You are rapt, sir, in some work, some dedication To the great lord.
POET. A thing slipp'd idly from me. Our poesy is as a gum, which oozes From whence 'tis nourish'd: the fire i' the flint Shows not till it be struck; our gentle flame Provokes itself, and like the current flies Each bound it chafes. What have you there?
PAINTER. A picture, sir. When comes your book forth?
POET. Upon the heels of my presentment, sir. Let's see your piece.
PAINTER. 'Tis a good piece.
POET. So 'tis: this comes off well and excellent.
POET. Admirable! How this grace Speaks his own standing! what a mental power This eye shoots forth! how big imagination Moves in this lip! to the dumbness of the gesture One might interpret.
PAINTER. It is a pretty mocking of the life. Here is a touch; is't good?
POET. I'll say of it, It tutors nature: artificial strife Lives in these touches, livelier than life.
[Enter certain SENATORS, who pass over the stage.]
PAINTER. How this lord is followed!
POET. The senators of Athens: happy man!
PAINTER. Look, more!
POET. You see this confluence, this great flood of visitors. I have, in this rough work, shap'd out a man Whom this beneath world doth embrace and hug With amplest entertainment: my free drift Halts not particularly, but moves itself In a wide sea of wax: no levell'd malice Infects one comma in the course I hold: But flies an eagle flight, bold and forth on, Leaving no tract behind.
PAINTER. How shall I understand you?
POET. I will unbolt to you. You see how all conditions, how all minds-- As well of glib and slipp'ry creatures as Of grave and austere quality--tender down Their services to Lord Timon: his large fortune, Upon his good and gracious nature hanging, Subdues and properties to his love and tendance All sorts of hearts; yea, from the glass-fac'd flatterer To Apemantus, that few things loves better Than to abhor himself: even he drops down The knee before him, and returns in peace Most rich in Timon's nod.
PAINTER. I saw them speak together.
POET. Sir, I have upon a high and pleasant hill Feign'd Fortune to be thron'd: the base o' the mount Is rank'd with all deserts, all kind of natures That labour on the bosom of this sphere To propagate their states: amongst them all, Whose eyes are on this sovereign lady fix'd One do I personate of Lord Timon's frame, Whom Fortune with her ivory hand wafts to her; Whose present grace to present slaves and servants Translates his rivals.
PAINTER. 'Tis conceiv'd to scope. This throne, this Fortune, and this hill, methinks, With one man beckon'd from the rest below, Bowing his head against the steepy mount To climb his happiness, would be well express'd In our condition.
POET. Nay, sir, but hear me on. All those which were his fellows but of late, Some better than his value, on the moment Follow his strides, his lobbies fill with tendance, Rain sacrificial whisperings in his ear, Make sacred even his stirrup, and through him Drink the free air.
PAINTER. Ay, marry, what of these?
POET. When Fortune in her shift and change of mood Spurns down her late beloved, all his dependants, Which labour'd after him to the mountain's top Even on their knees and hands, let him slip down, Not one accompanying his declining foot.
PAINTER. 'Tis common: A thousand moral paintings I can show That shall demonstrate these quick blows of Fortune's More pregnantly than words. Yet you do well To show Lord Timon that mean eyes have seen The foot above the head.
[Trumpets sound. Enter LORD TIMON, addressing himself courteously to every suitor: a MESSENGER from VENTIDIUS talking with him; LUCILIUS and other servants following.]
TIMON. Imprison'd is he, say you?
MESSENGER. Ay, my good lord. Five talents is his debt, His means most short, his creditors most strait: Your honourable letter he desires To those have shut him up; which, failing, Periods his comfort.
TIMON. Noble Ventidius! Well: I am not of that feather to shake off My friend when he must need me. I do know him A gentleman that well deserves a help, Which he shall have: I'll pay the debt and free him.
MESSENGER. Your lordship ever binds him.
TIMON. Commend me to him; I will send his ransom; And being enfranchis'd, bid him come to me. 'Tis not enough to help the feeble up, But to support him after. Fare you well.
MESSENGER. All happiness to your honour.
[Enter an OLD ATHENIAN.]
OLD ATHENIAN. Lord Timon, hear me speak.
TIMON. Freely, good father.
OLD ATHENIAN. Thou hast a servant nam'd Lucilius.
TIMON. I have so: what of him?
OLD ATHENIAN. Most noble Timon, call the man before thee.
TIMON. Attends he here or no? Lucilius!
LUCILIUS. Here, at your lordship's service.
OLD ATHENIAN. This fellow here, Lord Timon, this thy creature, By night frequents my house. I am a man That from my first have been inclin'd to thrift, And my estate deserves an heir more rais'd Than one which holds a trencher.
TIMON. Well; what further?
OLD ATHENIAN. One only daughter have I, no kin else, On whom I may confer what I have got: The maid is fair, o' the youngest for a bride, And I have bred her at my dearest cost In qualities of the best. This man of thine Attempts her love: I prithee, noble lord, Join with me to forbid him her resort; Myself have spoke in vain.
TIMON. The man is honest.
OLD ATHENIAN. Therefore he will be, Timon: His honesty rewards him in itself; It must not bear my daughter.
TIMON. Does she love him?
OLD ATHENIAN. She is young and apt: Our own precedent passions do instruct us What levity's in youth.
TIMON. [To Lucilius.] Love you the maid?
LUCILIUS. Ay, my good lord, and she accepts of it.
OLD ATHENIAN. If in her marriage my consent be missing, I call the gods to witness, I will choose Mine heir from forth the beggars of the world, And dispossess her all.
TIMON. How shall she be endow'd, If she be mated with an equal husband?
OLD ATHENIAN. Three talents on the present; in future, all.
TIMON. This gentleman of mine hath serv'd me long: To build his fortune I will strain a little, For 'tis a bond in men. Give him thy daughter: What you bestow, in him I'll counterpoise, And make him weigh with her.
OLD ATHENIAN. Most noble lord, Pawn me to this your honour, she is his.