‘Timon Of Athens’ At The Folger Shakespeare Library

To get one thing out of the way: by Shakespearean standards, Timon of Athens is not a particularly good play. That isn’t to say that it isn’t still better than almost everything else, but the narrative veers too swiftly and character traits which appear can feel underdeveloped (unearned might be a better way to put it; characters don’t earn their actions through earlier characterization).

One ‘solution’ taken by the director, artists, and casts was to create a stark, high tech set with some video screens and LED lights in the floor and ceiling and cyberpunk feel, with characters always carrying smartphones and money transferred via biometrics. The characters were very much dressed in a ‘cool’ fashion. The artist wore black and a beret; the philosopher wore a scarf and a tweed jacket.

Timon was played as a germaphobe, no doubt to sharpen the impact of his feral breakdown and feces smearing (I’ll explain later; wait, no I won’t), though I don’t think they succeeded, because I only realized what was being attempted in retrospect.

Having been reading a lot of Greek philosophy lately, and also the historical circumstances around ancient Greek philosophers, I was struck most by two characters: the philosopher Apemantus and the soldier Alcibiades.

Apemantus was a sort of Socratic gadfly, though his philosophy less resembled the Socrates of Plato and Xeonophon than a milder version of the Cynic philosophers (not cynic, as in the modern definition of ‘cynical,’ but something else; you’re on the internet, so look it up – or better yet, read a book!). In fact, Apemantus’ final appearance has him pointing out that Timon has taken on his role – and Timon has very clearly taken on the role of a true, impoverished Cynic, while Apemantus appears less afflicted (again, more like a Socrates inflected with Cynic philosophy than a true Cynic).

As for Alcibiades… there was an Alcibiades who appears in the Socratic dialogues of Plato and who was a favorite of Socrates in life. That Alcibiades was also a sort of collaborator with the Spartans after Athens lost the Peleponnesian War. This Alcibiades marches an army on Athens, partly because he was disgusted with the disrespect with which Timon had been treated.

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