David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TIMON OF ATHENS: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scenes 1-2

— 2.1 —

Examining some financial papers in his house, a Senator said to himself about Timon, “… and lately, five thousand. To Varro and to Isidore he owes nine thousand; besides my former sum, which makes it five and twenty. Still in motion of raging waste? His wastefulness with money is like a raging flood. It cannot hold; it will not hold. He cannot continue like this and be solvent. If I want gold, all I need to do is to steal a beggar’s dog, and give it to Timon — why, the dog coins gold for me when Timon rewards me with a gift.”

Dogs were sometimes trained to lead blind beggars.

The Senator continued, “If I want to sell my horse, and buy twenty more horses better than it, why, all I need to do is to give my horse to Timon — ask nothing for it, but just give it to him — and it immediately foals for me strong, healthy horses. No porter is at his gate to keep away unwelcome visitors; instead, he has a porter who smiles and always invites inside all who pass by. This state of affairs cannot hold, it cannot continue, no rational person can examine Timon’s financial affairs and think that Timon’s estate is safe. If we were to sound the depth of his wealth, we would find it growing shallower and shallower — no ship could safely sail on it. The only thing growing deeper is his debts.”

The Senator called a servant, “Caphis, ho! Caphis, I say!”

Caphis entered the room and said, “Here I am, sir; what is your pleasure? What do you want me to do?”

“Put on your cloak, and hasten to Lord Timon. Importune him for my money that he owes me; don’t be put off with an offhand denial, and don’t then be silenced when he says, ‘Commend me to your master,’ and takes off his cap and plays with it in his right hand, like this.”

The Senator demonstrated what he meant, and then he continued, “Instead, tell him that my financial needs cry to me, and I must meet my need with my own money; the days and times that he ought to have repaid his debt to me are past and my reliance on his broken promises to repay me has hurt my credit. I love and honor him, but I must not break my back to heal his finger; immediate and pressing are my needs, and my relief must not be tossed and returned to me in words like a ball in tennis, but it must find a supply of money immediately.

“Get you gone. Put a very pressing, insistent look on your face, a visage of demand, because I am afraid that when every borrowed feather is returned and is stuck in the wing of the bird to whom the feather belongs, Lord Timon will be left a naked gull, although now he flashes like the remarkable mythological bird we call the phoenix. Get you gone.”

“I go, sir,” Caphis said.

“Take the bonds along with you, and clearly mark the due dates of the loans.”

“I will, sir.”


— 2.2 —

Just outside Timon’s house, Flavius, holding many past-due bills in his hands, talked to himself.

“No care, no stop! Timon is so senseless of expense that he will neither learn how to maintain the income to pay his expenses, nor cease his flow of riotous extravagance. He takes no account of how valuable things go away from him, nor does he assume any care about what is needed for him to continue his extravagant spending and giving of gifts. Never has a mind been so foolish as to be so kind. What shall be done? He will not listen to me until he feels the result of his extravagance. I must be blunt with him once he returns from hunting.”

He saw Caphis and the servants of Isidore and of Varro coming and said, “Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!”

Caphis said, “Good afternoon, Varro’s servant. Have you come for money?”

Varro’s servant replied, “Isn’t that your business here, too?”

“Yes, it is,” Caphis said, “and is it yours, too, Isidore’s servant?”

Isidore’s servant replied, “It is.”

“I wish that we were all paid!” Caphis said.

“I am afraid that that won’t happen,” Varro’s servant said.

“Here comes lord Timon,” Caphis said.

Returning from their hunt, Timon, Alcibiades, some lords, and others arrived.

Timon said, “As soon as we’ve eaten dinner, we’ll go out again, my Alcibiades.”

Seeing the people waiting for him, he said, “Do you have business with me? What do you want?”

Caphis said, “My lord, here is a note of certain dues. You owe my master money.”

“Dues! From where are you?” Timon asked. His land holdings were vast and stretched all the way to Lacedaemon, where the city of Sparta was located, and he did not recognize Caphis.

“I am from Athens, my lord,” Caphis replied.

“Go and see Flavius, my steward,” Timon said.

“Please, your lordship, he has put me off from day to day all this month. My master is forced by important business to call for repayment of his own money, and he humbly requests that you, in accordance with your other noble qualities, will give to him what is rightfully his.”

Timon said, “My honest friend, please return to me tomorrow morning.”

“No, my good lord —” Caphis said forcefully.

“Be calm, good friend,” Timon said. “Restrain yourself.”

Varro’s servant said, “I am one of Varro’s servants, my good lord —”

Isidore’s servant said, “I come from Isidore; he humbly asks for your speedy payment.”

Caphis said, “If you knew, my lord, my master’s need for money —”

Varro’s servant said, “The note was due on forfeiture, my lord, six weeks ago — and more.”

Timon had borrowed money by pledging security for it. All of his land was mortgaged, and the land would be forfeited if he could not repay his debts.

Isidore’s servant said, “Your steward puts me off, my lord, and so I am sent expressly to your lordship to ask for repayment of the loan.”

“Give me room to breathe,” Timon said to the three servants who were crowding around him.

He then said to Alcibiades and the other lords with whom he had been hunting, “Please, my good lords, go inside. I’ll follow and be with you quickly.”

Alcibiades and the other lords went inside.

Seeing Flavius, Timon said, “Come here. Please tell me what is wrong with the world that I thus encounter clamorous demands about broken bonds and I hear about the failure to pay long-since-due debts, which are things that are contrary to and hurt my reputation?”

Flavius said to the three servants asking Timon for money, “If you please, gentlemen, the time is unsuitable for this business. Stop importuning Timon for money until after dinner so that I may make his lordship understand why you are not paid.”

“Do that, my friends,” Timon said to the three servants.

He then said to Flavius, “See that they are well entertained.”

He went inside.

Flavius said to the three servants, “Please, come with me.”

He went inside.

Apemantus and a Fool, whose job was to entertain his boss — in this case, a woman — and make her laugh, walked nearby. Seeing Apemantus and the Fool, the three servants stayed outside rather than immediately go inside Timon’s house.

Caphis said, “Wait, wait. Here comes the Fool with Apemantus. Let’s have some fun with them.”

Varro’s servant said, “Hang Apemantus — he’ll abuse us with words.”

Isidore’s servant said, “A plague upon him, the dog!”

Varro’s servant asked, “How are you doing, Fool?”

Apemantus asked, “Are you talking to your shadow?”

“I am not speaking to you.”

“No, you are speaking to yourself,” Apemantus said.

He then said to the Fool, “Let’s go.”

Isidore’s servant said to Varro’s servant, “There’s the fool hanging on your back already.”

He meant that the name of fool had been affixed to the back of Varro’s servant. It was like Varro’s servant was wearing the distinctive clothing of a professional Fool. He also meant that Varro’s servant was being ridden — criticized — by a fool.

Apemantus said to Isidore’s servant, “No, you are standing alone and by yourself — you are not on him yet.”

Apemantus meant by this kind of riding homosexual riding.

“Where’s the fool now?” Caphis asked Isidore’s servant. “Who is really the fool?”

Sparing none of the three servants, Apemantus said to Caphis, “The fool is he who last asked the question ‘Who is the fool?’”

He then said about the three servants, “Poor rogues, and usurers’ men! You are bawds between gold and want!”

A want can be a need; people can need or want money and people can need or want sex.

Usurers were people who lent money at interest, something that many people in this society felt that the god of Christians prohibited. Usurers were often compared to bawds, aka pimps, because both trafficked in money when money ought not to be involved. Money ought not to be lent at interest, and money ought not to be exchanged for sex.

“What are we, Apemantus?” the three servants asked.

“You are asses.”


“Because you ask me what you are, and you do not know yourselves,” Apemantus said.

He then said, “Speak to them, Fool.”

“How are you, gentlemen?” the Fool asked.

“Thank you for asking, good Fool,” the servants said. “How is your mistress?”

“Mistress” simply meant “female boss.”

“She’s just now setting water on a fire to heat up and scald such chickens as you are,” the Fool said.

Chickens were scalded in boiling water to remove their feathers. Another kind of chicken — young fools — sat in hot water as a treatment for venereal disease.

The Fool added, “I wish that we could see you at Corinth!”

Corinth was a Greek port city famous for its brothels. The red-light district of Athens was referred to in slang as Corinth.

“Good!” Apemantus said to the Fool. “Many thanks!”

He was thanking the Fool for speaking to and insulting the servants.

“Look,” the Fool said. “Here comes my mistress’ page.”

The page, a young servant, walked over and said to the Fool, “Why, what’s going on, Captain? What are you doing in this wise company?”

The page then asked, “How are you, Apemantus?”

“I wish that I had a rod in my mouth, so that I could answer you profitably.”

Apemantus was referring to these 1599 Geneva Bible verses:

Proverbs 22:15

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child: but the rod of correction shall drive it away from him.

Proverbs 23:13-14:

13 Withhold not correction from the child: if thou smite him with the rod, he shall not die.

14 Thou shalt smite him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

Proverbs 26:3:

Unto the horse belongeth a whip, to the ass a bridle, and a rod to the fool’s back.

The page said, “Please, Apemantus, read me the addresses on these letters. I don’t know which is which.”

Apemantus asked, “Can’t you read?”


“Little learning will die then on the day you are hanged,” Apemantus said.

He looked at the letters and said, “This letter is addressed to Lord Timon; this one is addressed to Alcibiades. Go; you were born a bastard, and you’ll die a bawd.”

The page replied, “You were whelped as a dog, and you shall famish and die of starvation and so die a dog’s death. Don’t answer me, for I am gone.”

The page exited.

Taking the word “gone” to mean “damned,” Apemantus said to the page’s back, “Even so you are outrunning grace.”

He meant that his words of criticism could keep the page out of Hell if the page were to learn from the criticism.

Apemantus then said, “Fool, I will go with you to Lord Timon’s.”

“Will you leave me there?” the Fool asked.

“If Timon stays at home,” Apemantus said, meaning that as long as Timon was at home, a fool was in his home.

Apemantus asked the three servants, “Do you three serve three usurers?”

“Yes; we wish that they served us!”

“So do I — I wish that they served you as good a trick as ever a hangman served a thief,” Apemantus said.

“Are you three usurers’ men?” the Fool asked.

“Yes, Fool.”

“I think no usurer lacks a fool to serve as his servant,” the Fool said. “My mistress is a usurer, in her own way, which is that of a bawd, and I am her Fool. When men come to borrow from your masters, they approach sadly, and go away merrily; but they enter my mistress’ house merrily, and go away sadly. Why is this?”

Men with light pockets went to the usurer; leaving the usurer, they had heavy pockets. Men with heavy pockets went to the bawd; leaving the bawd, they had light pockets.

Varro’s servant said, “I can give you a reason.”

“Do it then,” Apemantus said, “so that we may know that you are a whoremaster and a knave, which notwithstanding, you shall be no less esteemed than you are now.”

Being the servant of a usurer had the same status as being the servant of a bawd.

“What is a whoremaster, Fool?” Varro’s servant asked. He knew what a whoremaster was — a person who used the services of whores — but he wanted to hear the Fool make a joke.

“A whoremaster is a fool who wears good clothes, and he is something like you,” the Fool said. “The whoremaster is a spirit. Sometime he looks like a lord; sometimes he looks like a lawyer; sometimes he looks like a philosopher, with two stones more than his artificial one.”

The artificial stone was the philosopher’s stone, which alchemists believed could turn base metal into gold. The philosopher’s two natural stones were his testicles.

The Fool continued, “The whoremaster very often looks like a knight; and, generally, the whoremaster takes on the appearance of all shapes that man goes up and down in from fourscore to thirteen.”

“Up and down” is a motion made in sex; it is also what happens to a penis when its owner is between eighty and thirteen years old.

Varro’s servant said, “You are not altogether a fool.”

Many Fools are wise.

The Fool replied, “Nor are you altogether a wise man. As much foolery as I have, just as much wit you lack.”

Apemantus, who much appreciated the joke, said, “That answer might have come from me: Apemantus.”

The three servants said, “Step aside, step aside. Here comes Lord Timon.”

Timon and Flavius approached the group of men.

Apemantus said, “Come with me, Fool, come.”

The Fool replied, “I do not always follow lover, elder brother, and woman; sometimes I follow the philosopher.”

According to various proverbs, lovers, elder brothers, and women were all thought to be foolish:

It is impossible to love and be wise.

The younger brother has the more wit.

“Because” is a woman’s reason.

Apemantus and the Fool exited.

Flavius said to the three servants, “Please, walk a little distance away so that I can talk with Timon privately. I’ll speak with you soon.”

The servants exited.

“You make me marvel,” Timon said. “Why before this time did you not fully lay the state of my financial affairs before me, so that I might have estimated my expenses and my means of paying them? I could have lessened my expenses to fit my income.”

“You would not hear me out,” Flavius replied. “Many times when you were at leisure I proposed to explain to you the state of your financial affairs.”

“Bah!” Timon said. “Perhaps you proposed to do that at a few opportune times, but my indisposition put you off, and my indisposition at those times served as your excuse not to bring up the matter again.”

“Oh, my good lord, many times I brought in my accounts to you and laid them before you; you would throw them off the table, and say that you found me to be honest and so you had no need to examine the accounts. When, for some trifling present, you have ordered me to give the giver a much larger gift, I have shaken my head and wept. Yes, in opposition to the good manners a servant owes a master, I have requested that you hold your hand more closed — you were too open-handed with your wealth and possessions. Not seldom have I endured not-slight rebukes, when I have informed you of the ebb of your estate and your great flow of debts. My loved lord, although you hear me now, too late — yet now’s a time, for late is better than never — your possessions even rated at their greatest possible value won’t pay even half of your present debts.”

“Let all of my land be sold,” Timon said.

“All of your land is mortgaged,” Flavius replied. “Some of it has been forfeited because of nonpayment of debts and is gone, and what remains will hardly stop the mouths of creditors calling for present dues. The future comes apace. What shall we do in the meantime? And what can we do in the future?”

“To Lacedaemon did my land extend,” Timon said.

“Oh, my good lord, the world is but a word. Were the world all yours to give away in a breath, how quickly would it be gone!”

“You are telling me the truth,” Timon said.

“If you suspect my husbandry of falsehood, call me before the most exacting auditors and put me on trial. So the gods bless me, I swear that when all our kitchens, butteries, and serving rooms have been oppressed with riotous feeders, when our wine cellars have wept with drunken spills of wine, when every room has blazed with lights and drunken asses have brayed with minstrel songs, I have retired to a wine cellar by a wasteful, running spigot, and my eyes have flown with tears to add to the spillage.”

“Please, no more.” Timon was referring both to Flavius’ flow of words and current flow of tears.

“Heavens, I have said, the bounty and generosity of this lord! How many prodigal bites of food have slaves and peasants this night swallowed! Who is not Timon’s friend? What heart, head, sword, force, fellowship, but is Lord Timon’s? Great Timon, noble, worthy, royal Timon!

“Ah, when the means are gone that buy this praise, the breath is gone whereof this praise is made. Feast-won, fast-lost. The ‘friends’ who are won by feasts are quickly lost when the ‘friends’ are forced to fast. When one cloud of winter showers appears, these flies — parasites — seek shelter elsewhere.”

“Come, sermon me no further,” Timon said. “No villainous act of bounty and generosity yet has passed my heart. I have given unwisely, but not ignobly. Why do you weep? Can you lack knowledge? Can you actually think I shall lack friends? Set your heart free from worry. If I would broach the vessels of my love, and test the contents of my friends’ hearts by borrowing from them, I would be able to borrow from men — my friends — and use their fortunes as frankly as I can bid you to speak. They would help me the way that you serve me.”

“Broach the vessels of my love” meant to tap his friends the way that a barrel of wine is tapped. Timon expected that his friends would be full of generosity, and not just full of his wine.

“May assurance bless your thoughts!” Flavius said. “May what you say be true!”

“And, in a way, these needs of mine can be regarded as blessings; for by these I will test my friends. You shall perceive how you are mistaken about my fortunes; I am wealthy in my friends.”

He called, “Inside there! Flaminius! Servilius!”

Flaminius, Servilius, and other servants appeared.

“My lord?” they said.

“I will dispatch you separately to some of my friends,” Timon said.

Pointing to various servants, he said, “Servilius, you go to Lord Lucius. Flaminius, you go to Lord Lucullus; I hunted with his honor today.”

He ordered a third servant, “You go to Sempronius.”

He then said to the servants, “Commend me to their friendships, and say that I am proud that my situation has made this an opportune time to ask them to supply me with money. Let the request be for fifty talents.”

Flaminius said, “We will do what you have said, my lord.”

Flavius was skeptical that Timon would get money. He thought, Lord Lucius and Lord Lucullus? Hmm!

Timon said to Flavius, “Go you, sir, to the Senators — because of what I have done to ensure the state’s best health, I deserve for them to hear this request — ask them to send immediately a thousand talents to me.”

Flavius replied, “I have been bold — because I knew that it was the best way to get money to pay the most creditors — to go to them and use the seal of your signet ring and your name to ask them for money, but they shook their heads, and I returned here no richer.”

“Is it true?” Timon asked. “Can it be true?”

“They answered, in a joint and corporate and united voice, that now they are at a low ebb, lack treasure, cannot do what they want to do, are sorry … you are honorable … but yet they could have wished … they know not … something has been amiss … a noble nature may suffer a mishap … wish that all were well … it is a pity — and so, turning to other serious matters, after looks of distaste at this subject matter and after uttering these hard fragments of sentences, with certain half-courteous and cold nods they froze me into silence.”

“You gods, reward them!” Timon said. “Please, man, look cheerful. These old fellows have their ingratitude in them through heredity and original sin. Because of their old age, their blood is caked, it is cold, it seldom flows. Because of a lack of kindly warmth, they are not kind. Human nature, as it grows again toward earth — old people become stooped — is made ready for the journey to the grave, for it becomes dull and heavy.”

He ordered a servant, “Go to Ventidius.”

He said to Flavius, “Please, don’t be sad. You are true and honest; I am speaking ingenuously. No blame belongs to you.”

He said to the servant, “Ventidius recently buried his father, by whose death he’s stepped into a great estate. When he was poor, was imprisoned, and lacked friends, I cleared his debt by paying five talents. Greet him from me. Tell him to suppose some good necessity touches his friend, who craves to be remembered with those five talents. Ask him to return to me those five talents I paid to clear his debt and get him out of prison.”

The servant exited.

He then said to Flavius, “Once you have those five talents, give it to these fellows to whom it is now due. Never say, or think, that Timon’s fortunes among his friends can sink.”

Flavius replied, “I wish I could not think it. That thought is bounty’s foe.”

If one thinks that one’s friends are parasites, then one will not be generous to them.

Flavius continued, “Being free and generous himself, a generous person thinks all others so.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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