December 18, 2002
I tried to take a day off on Monday. I had still been planning to go in to work when I awoke, but then I couldn't find my wallet, and though I had some ideas as to where it might be, it wasn't in any of the usual places, so that was too much for my delicate constitution and I called in sick. I had settled in with my cat on the couch to watch a documentary about Darryl Strawberry, and I was just starting to figure out what was up with that guy when the rabbi called. He begged and pleaded and wheezed and begged some more until, finally, I agreed to come in. Ostensibly, I was quite sick, and therefore I was rather annoyed at this brazen disrespect for my ostensible health. He is going on a string of vacations over the next month and a half, and over the weekend, he came up with a bunch of projects that he found splendidly exciting, so he wanted to get two months' worth of work done in four days this week. And the days have been just packed. I want nothing to do with it. My quiet revenge was to spend my few free moments on Monday and Tuesday updating my resume and undergoing the gut-wrenching process of writing a cover letter for a new job. Cover letters are brutal. I cannot write them. Write one I did, though, and when it emerged from the blood and fury of circumstance, it was terrifyingly brilliant and utterly mercenary. I used my lunch hour to walk it over to the library, which is where I was applying.
Today, there was a fuck-ton of cookies in the kitchen. As usual, I was the first to arrive on the scene. It was some kind of a thank-you for hard work. I thought about how hard people had been working, and I decided that they really hadn't been working very hard at all; really, only four people, tops, could be said to have worked hard, in my opinion. So I subtracted four from a fuck-ton and stashed the remainder of the cookies at my desk. I have eaten too many of them.
Timon of Motherfucking Athens, Acts Four and Five:
We open..."without the walls of Athens". That's right. Timon of Motherfucking Athens is outside of motherfucking Athens. This violent, disorienting shift provides for the reader a visceral parallel to the wrenching dislocation and betrayal experienced by Timon. If Timon of Motherfucking Athens can stop being of Athens, then what other of our most basic assumptions are counterfeit? The accursed usurers have even robbed the man of his residency. They have robbed the title of its truth. Timon, never without a strategy, comes up with the brilliant idea of taking his revenge by spending entire scenes sitting around and hurling invective at the city walls. Sun Tzu never taught his generals how to deal with such a unique plan of attack, so it's fortunate for the generals of Athens that it really isn't something they have to deal with. Timon reels off some memorable curses:
Lust and liberty
Creep in the minds and marrows of our youth,
That 'gainst the stream of virtue they may strive,
And drown themselves in riot!
Meanwhile, though, the senators of Athens, colossal boobs if ever there were, have managed to offend the charismatic Alcibades, a man with military connections and a faint acquaintance with Timon. Alcibades begins to assemble a popular revolt against the greed of the senators. Word beings to spread about the mistreatment of Timon, who capitalizes on his newfound momentum by eating dirt and continuing to curse the city. This, then, is where the play gets quite good. Apemantus, renowned for showing up at random and harassing people, comes by to visit and gets out-harassed by Timon, who then makes explicit his desire for everyone everywhere to get fucked when a pair of whores arrive with Alcibades. He offers them vast sums of gold if they will agree to give everyone in Athens venereal disease. They consider it. Alcibades tries to get a word in edgewise and mostly fails. He is on his way to sack the city and wants Timon to come along as a figurehead, but when Alcibades admits that the violent murder of everyone in the world is not part of his platform, Timon loses interest. The Poet and the Painter from Act One come by looking to make sport of Timon and pick up any gold he may have. Shakespeare uses them to grind various axes about art, writing and critics. The specific axes are lost to history, but you can tell Shakespeare is getting some pretty good digs in there.
The senators of Athens, now on the verge of being overthrown, send the First and Second Senators out to coax Timon back into the city. (You can tell they are serious because they sent the First and Second Senators, not losers like the Seventh or Twelfth Senators.) Athens, they claim, isn't the same without Timon of. Also, Alcibades is about to beat their asses, and they are hoping that Timon will be their figurehead and help them sway popular opinion on major issues like greed, nobility and being from Athens. In a typically cunning manuever, Timon viciously gets their hopes up and then lets them down, using their presence as a forum to announce his upcoming workshop on hanging oneself from a tree. As instructed, the senators leave. There is a brief scene of the senate taking the news of Timon's refusal poorly, and another brief scene of a soldier discovering the grave of the presumably deceased Timon. In the final scene, Alcibades threatens Athens with utter destruction unless everyone agrees to be nice to each other, and, faced with perhaps the shittiest ultimatum ever issued, the senators cave. Timon is missed by all.
Questions to Consider for Acts Four and Five:
1. How much did it fuck you up to have Timon not being of Athens all of a sudden? Because it fucked me up, that's for sure.
2. Timon's plan of sitting around and talking shit about Athens actually worked. What does that say about the senators?
3. Why does Alcibades bring whores with him on diplomatic visits? Do you think this suggests he will be a better or worse leader than the senators?
4. Do you think the Seventh or the Twelfth Senators would have fared any better with Timon?
5. What kind of careers could Apemantus consider now that his harassment days are done? What kind of industries have a need for his skills? Do you think he would have to systematize the randomness of his harassment in order to meet the changing demands of a competitive e-business marketplace?
6. If comic books have taught us anything, it's that nobody is dead unless you see the body, and even then it's somewhere between 40-50% that the death will stick. With that in mind, which character in this play would you most like to have on your bowling team? Why?
I hope you enjoyed this epic series on William Shakespeare's Timon of Motherfucking Athens. Let it serve as your guide for the play itself; or, better, let it serve as your guide for one of his other thirty-seven plays. Find yourself some Cymbeline, some Coriolanus, some King John. To know is to love. (Actually, Shakespeare wrote thirty-eight other plays if you're feeling Cardenio. But where's that guy from, anyway?)