You must eat men. Yet thanks I must you con
That you are thieves profess'd, that you work not
In holier shapes: for there is boundless theft
In limited professions. Rascal thieves,
Here's gold. Go, suck the subtle blood o' the grape,
Till the high fever seethe your blood to froth,
And so 'scape hanging: trust not the physician;
His antidotes are poison, and he slays
Moe than you rob: take wealth and lives together;
Do villany, do, since you protest to do't,
Like workmen. I'll example you with thievery.
The sun's a thief, and with his great attraction
Robs the vast sea: the moon's an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun:
The sea's a thief, whose liquid surge resolves
The moon into salt tears: the earth's a thief,
That feeds and breeds by a composture stolen
From general excrement: each thing's a thief:
The laws, your curb and whip, in their rough power
Have uncheque'd theft. Love not yourselves: away,
Rob one another. There's more gold. Cut throats:
All that you meet are thieves: to Athens go,
Break open shops; nothing can you steal,
But thieves do lose it: steal no less for this
I give you; and gold confound you howsoe'er!
Name: The Hermit - Timon of Athens.
Dramatis Personae: Timon of Athens.
Astrology: Virgo, Aquarius, Capricorn
Hebrew Letter: TET
Text & Context: The Hebrew letter Tet looks like a coiled snake in a basket. It consists of the dichotomy of both light and dark, good and evil - what orthodoxy deems a paradox. As Apemantus says to Timon: "The middle of humanity thou never knewest, but the extremity of both ends." Tet is itself a hermit among letters, being the least frequently occurring in the Scriptures. Figuratively, tet sees man either in rebellion to God or in surrender to Him. It may suggest free will, and a God who created both good and evil: "I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil." (Isaiah 45:7). Tet shares its value with the Hebrew word Emet, meaning "truth".
Timon of Athens, the play, is the hermit of Shakespeare's works. It is generally unliked and unknown - and, indeed, it isn't concerned with being liked. Possibly added to by the playwright Middleton, probably unfinished and quite likely unrevised, Timon is rarely seen. With elaborate stage directions such as "Then comes dropping after all Apemantus discontentedly like himself", it may even have been written to be read, solely, rather than performed. Its place in the First Folio, and so its very existence, was a makeshift stop-gap when permission to print another play couldn't be secured.
The play opens with a paragone - the Poet and the Painter discussing an Impresa Portrait of Timon and their respective mediums. The play itself is a kind of ekphrasis - a rhetorical exorcise reifying an inanimate object or idea. Timon's exorbitant benevolence in the first half of the play is neither subconsciously cynical nor pure folly; rather it's the radical execution of altruism and philanthropy, the embodiment of grace. His unselfish giving belies a faith in non-material recompense, that is: generosity of soul and fraternity, even as patronage, precious stones, station, and money are the outward articles of this faith. When his faith is shown to be a delusion, the inherent goodness of humanity a fallacy, Timon is swallowed whole by a merciless sea of unbridled spleen.
Like The Merchant of Venice's Antonio, with a gracious and altruistic motive rather than a concupiscent one, Timon has his heart actually cut out, by senators and poets and painters with hearts of stone. Before he retreats from civilization to the wilderness, Timon hosts one last supper. In open mockery of the Eucharist and the transcendental value of communion, Timon says grace:
Each man to his stool, with that spur as he would to
the lip of his mistress: your diet shall be in all
places alike. Make not a city feast of it, to let
the meat cool ere we can agree upon the first place:
sit, sit. The gods require our thanks.
You great benefactors, sprinkle our society with
thankfulness. For your own gifts, make yourselves
praised: but reserve still to give, lest your
deities be despised. Lend to each man enough, that
one need not lend to another; for, were your
godheads to borrow of men, men would forsake the
gods. Make the meat be beloved more than the man
that gives it. Let no assembly of twenty be without
a score of villains: if there sit twelve women at
the table, let a dozen of them be—as they are. The
rest of your fees, O gods—the senators of Athens,
together with the common lag of people—what is
amiss in them, you gods, make suitable for
destruction. For these my present friends, as they
are to me nothing, so in nothing bless them, and to
nothing are they welcome.
Uncover, dogs, and lap.
Uncovered on each plate is a stone and a bowl of lukewarm water. Timon has returned the wine to water. The stones he cast recall the Gospel: "If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone?" (Luke 11:11). The dogs which the play repeatedly incurs signify the dog-eat-dog reality of man and nature, the literal inverse of god, and even the cynical [Greek: doggish] reproof of professional cynics such as Apemantus (who never fails to show up at a public gathering). Underlying life is a simple truth of heartless brutality, exemplified in the mercenary act of eating. Revealed in the very dogma of saying grace - petitioning God's grace to make us "truly thankful" - is each individual's covetousness, his gracelessness, and his ingratitude. There is no human communion, and if there is a God He is either as predatory as his creation or would be wise to eschew his creation lest it prey on Him.
Seeking solitude from humanity, Timon is beset by a procession of people, seen almost in profile. Sterile, expository, and lacking any relevant female influence, Timon of Athens the play is as two-dimensional as a Grecian frieze. Like the letter tet, it is black and white, and literally bifurcated down the middle. Paraded before us is something like a morality play, displaying the dangers of moral absolutism. With no respite from the rapacity of man, nature, and finally himself, Timon must evanesce into the nothingness of death - a death itself evanescent, with multiple and contradictory epitaphs worn away by an inexorable sea. Timon immemorial.
The cards in the Major Arcana up to this point have been lapidary in their building up of an individual's world, and through these outward tangible means, his very individuality. That which has been given, gratis as it were, is property in the material sense; concomitantly, what has been accruing, is properties of character. The seam between what civil society props up as proper and its actual impropriety becomes a tear right down the middle of Timon. To eschew such a society, and become not only a prophet of its downfall but the agent of its demise, is the only thing left a man of faith - a faith in man's faithlessness - to do. Like the Angel Lucifer, the "light bearer", the hermit Timon is an outcast. When we expect a meal, Shakespeare - like the hermit Timon - gives us a stone.
Subtext : Shake-speare was a man plagued by debt. Considered an "infinite Maecenas" by Thomas Nashe, he was the patron of at least three acting troupes, bands of musicians, backed the translation and printing of a number of books, plays, and poems, and leased the premises of Blackfriars to give to his secretary, John Lyly. As ward first to Queen Elizabeth and then Lord Burghley, as much of half of his inheritance was assumed by Burghley (Master of the Court Wards) and the Crown (of the latter, most of that went directly to Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester). Recall Timon's words: "Large-handed robbers your grave masters are, and pill[age] by law"; magistrates are guiltier than criminals, authority is violence, property is theft. Appropriately then, he was promised £4000 as dowry by his father-in-law, The Lord High Treasurer Baron Burghley, which was never paid. In 1574, having debts amounting to £6000, ER admonished Shake-speare's "unthriftyness". He fled England for the continent without permission, and some feared his collusion with Catholics, Spain, and Mary Queen of Scots.
On his 15-month tour of Italy, he incurred debts totaling thousands of pounds. In private letters to Lord Burghley, he instructed his father-in-law to "Sell any portion of my land". Timon instructs his Steward: "Let all my land be sold." In another such letter, the author tells Burghley: "I have no help but of mine own, and mine is made to serve me." Timon: "I musts serve my turn out of mine own." Financial debts, by and to the author, are far too numerous to elaborate here, but one example sees the widow of a tailor suing Shakespeare for failure of payment two decades earlier - the author counter-claimed the tailor never made the clothes, but rather absconded with the expensive fabric.
Careful evaluation of the author's finances shows that, while at times an irresponsible spendthrift, the bulk of responsibility for his rocky financial straights lies in the unfulfilled promises and mismanagement of Queen Elizabeth I. In 1579, the Queen's New Year's gift to the author was "a bason and ewer of our store." Hence, Lucullus: "One of Lord Timon's men! a gift, I warrant. Why, this hits right; I dreamt of a silver basin and ewer tonight." As The Lord Great Chamberlain, one of the author's official duties was serving the monarch water before and after the coronation banquet. Shake-speare performed this duty at James I's coronation, whereupon the Stuart king renewed his stewardship of a £1000 annuity.
Intertext: Cups 8 Alcibiades
The Hermit IX Timon of Athens