chapter  10
38 Pages

THE PILGRIMAGE OF HATE:

An essay on TIMON OF ATHENS

The first acts convey the impression of riches, ease, sensuous appeal, and brilliant display. The curtain rises on a blaze of magnificence and the first persons are the Poet, Painter, Jeweller, and Merchant. In no play of Shakespeare is the opening more significant. Art, wealth, trade are represented, things which stand for human intercourse, progress, civilization, worldly success and happiness. Here poet and painter enjoy leisure to hold forth on their art, and jeweller and merchant await high payment for their wares. In the early acts we are continually reminded of wealth. Ventidius is left ‘rich’ by his father (i. ii. 4); Lucullus dreams of ‘a silver basin and ewer’ (iii. i. 6); talents are thrown about like pence. Many other coins and fine articles are mentioned: we hear of solidares, crowns, ‘money, plate, jewels and such like trifles’ (iii. ii. 23); of ‘jewels’ and ‘rich jewels’; a ‘casket’, diamonds, and silver goblets. Timon appears boundlessly rich:

We hear that

Metaphors from metal occur:

and

Silver dishes are hurled by Timon at his flatterers:

These acts scintillate with the flash of gold coins and rich metals and stones. They delight the imagination’s eye and touch, as the glittering proper names delight the ear. These, however, are but elements in a single effect of wealth, ease, refined luxury, and, in the earliest scenes especially, sensuous joy. Feasting is continual and elaborate:

Visitors are announced by the sound of trumpets. Besides feasting and music, we have images of visual delight meticulously described. The poet looks at the painting:

Timon later praises the same picture. We have a vivid and lengthy description of the poet’s symbolical work (i. i. 43-94), and the painter outlines its visual possibilities in his ‘condition’ of plastic art. Beautiful animals are mentioned, such as ‘greyhounds’ (i. ii. 198), a ‘bay courser’ (i. ii. 220), and ‘four milk-white horses trapped in silver’ (i. ii. 192). All these things, gifts of Fortune to those she wafts to her with her ‘ivory hand’ (i. i. 71), build up an atmosphere of visual delight. All the senses are catered for: hence, after the feasting and music, there is a mask introduced by a boy-Cupid:

The emphasis on the ‘senses’ is apparent. Timon bids his ‘music’ welcome the maskers. Then (i. ii):

And,

Timon thanks the maskers and invites them to an ‘idle banquet’. We are lost in a riot of display, a gold-mist of romance and pleasures of the senses. The setting is brilliant, the wealth apparently inexhaustible, the pleasures free; We can imagine the rich food and wine, the blare and clash of music, embraces, laughter, and passages of glancing love; the coursing of blood, the flushed cheek, the mask of fair dancers and Cupid.