I have decided to institute an exciting new serial on this webpage wherein I take readers scene-by-scene through Shakespeare's gripping and largely unknown play Timon of Athens, which hip literary scholars know as Timon of Motherfucking Athens. It is the story of Timon, who hails from Athens, and if that premise doesn't get you going, you need to check your head. It's all right there. One of Shakespeare's major problems, of course, is his poor titles; when encountering Hamlet, for example, readers have a pretty good idea who the play is about, but they have no idea where the fuck he is from. He could be from Zanzibar, for all they know. This problem is endemic in Shakespeare's canon, tarnishing otherwise fine works like Macbeth and Julius Caesar. (The best you can say for King Lear is that at least you know what the guy does for a living.) In Timon of Motherfucking Athens, though, we encounter the playwright at the height of his powers, at least as far as titles go. The man is Timon; he is of Athens. We can proceed.
In his introduction, the editor of the fine Arden edition suggests that Timon of Motherfucking Athens may be an unfinished play. Indeed, there is no record of its performance history during Shakespeare's lifetime. The structure is, at points, unsettled, and an unusually large number of the characters go un-named, with anonymous Lords and Servants throughout; also, several plot threads and potentially unifying images are left incomplete, without the typical surety of Shakespeare's touch. Nevertheless, the text and themes are unmistakably Shakespearean. It was included in the First Folio, and its source appears to be North's Plutarch, known to hip literary scholars as Pliznutarch, from which many of his other plays (like Julius Caesar) were drawn.
A note about the text, before we begin: Timon of Motherfucking Athens is the only play in the entirety of Shakespeare's canon to feature the cry, "Hold up, you sluts", and it is therefore tremendously important.
Today, we will tackle Act One. The play opens in Athens, where Timon lives. A poet, a painter, and some other characters stand around and discuss what a splendid guy Timon is. They all agree: Timon is the best. Timon enters. His pal, Ventidius, has been imprisoned. Timon does not stand for that shit; Timon bails him right out. No sooner is Ventidius sprung, though, than controversy erupts over whether Lucillius, one of Timon's servants, should be allowed to marry a posh chick he met on duty. Her father says no, but Timon, noting that the two are in love, cuts right through the class conflict by offering to supply a fat wedding purse. The dad caves. Timon, clearly, is a splendid guy. People try to thank him, but he brushes them off. He is not in it for the gratitude. Apemantus, the mouthy philosopher, shows up and harasses everybody. Timon invites him to dinner. In fact, he invites everyone to dinner. What a guy! The various lords and soldiers arrive to discover that not only is there a ton of food at this dinner...but there are women! Hot, single women! No Shakespearean sausage-fest here. A grand time is had by all, except the mouthy Apemantus, who speaks cynically of human nature and the long-term effects of gratitude.
Questions to Consider for Act One:
1. Where is Timon's house? (Hint: Think Greece.) 2. Does anyone like Timon? If so, who? 3. What the fuck is Apemantus's problem? 4. Are those who are loudest in their thanks necessarily the most thankful? 5. Given that everyone likes him so much, things are probably going to work out well for Timon, right? 6. Why is it fun when there are chicks at a party, as opposed to just a bunch of Lords and Soldiers? Discuss.
Tomorrow: Act Two of Timon of Motherfucking Athens.