Thursday, 30 June 2011

The amazing power of Shakespeare's "Timon of Athens"

I have just read, for the first time, Shakespeare's very rarely performed play "Timon of Athens". It displays the recognisable psychological and poetic power of the dramatist.

The play is about poisoned ancient Athens, greed and self-interest destroying friendship and one's man's revulsion at Man, after a "reality shock" and the loss of all his considerable wealth.  It is increasingly relevant in these present times, particularly in the light of the current agonising convulsions in Athens itself. I cannot find words to describe its initial impact on me.  I was both profoundly shocked and deeply shaken by it.  It is "disturbing" but then I saw its true power.  It affected my dreams, my sub-conscious.

My view is that this is a closet script which Shakespeare kept locked in his desk drawer at Stratford-on-Avon and which, after he died, his wife, Ann, may have brought to light. As a result, it was first published in the First Folio in 1623.  It was probably never played since it is so searing.

Timon's last speeches are the talk of the inner soul about things half-mentioned in the Sonnets: justified anger at mankind's hardness and corruption, bitterness about lack of love, fatigue and general disillusion with ingrained ingratitude and the widespread abuse of loving relationships. Relationships, those "holy bonds"  are central to Shakespeare's vision of what a noble life must focus on.

At the same time, it is a very therapeutic play for anyone who knows someone who has suddenly turned from nobility and benevolence to raging misanthropy (not unknown) or who has suppressed deep pain at the rejection of "flinty friends", in return for previous love, service and good deeds. I will blog later more about this play, with perceptive and appreciative quotes from Herman Melville.

This play shows usually self-effacing Shakespeare at his most revealing and personal, and at his most therapeutic. It is profoundly healing because the "Poet-Psychologist" sets up, in Timon, a mirror for things too shocking to utter, buried deep in the human psyche, with the purpose of bringing them into the light of consciousness.These things are close to evil and any indulgence of them leads to madness. In his balance and wisdom, Shakespeare knows that they must made conscious, to be disarmed.

- A good description of the force of Timon of Athens is attached here (a You Tube film on a recent production of the play in the USA, to coincide with the recession).
- An extract from "Timon of Athens" spoken in Italian, on You Tube is here

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