David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TIMON OF ATHENS: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scenes 4-5

— 3.4 —

Two of Varro’s servants and one of Lucius’ servants arrived outside Timon’s house, where they met Titus, Hortensius, and other servants of Timon’s creditors. All of them waited for Timon to come out of his house.

Varro’s first servant said, “We are well met; good morning, Titus and Hortensius.”

Titus replied, “The same to you, Varro’s kind first servant.”

“Lucius’ servant!” Hortensius said. “Do we meet together?”

“Yes, and I think that one and the same business is why all of us are here,” Lucius’ servant replied. “The reason I am here is money.”

Titus said, “So is theirs and ours.”

Philotus walked up to the others.

Lucius’ servant said, “And Sir Philotus, too!”

The “Sir” was a joke, not a real title.

“Good day to all of you,” Philotus said.

Lucius’ servant said, “Welcome, good brother. What do you think the time is?”

“The hour hand of the clock is laboring to reach nine,” Philotus replied.

“Is it that late?” Lucius’ servant said.

“Hasn’t Timon, the lord I am waiting to see, been seen yet?” Philotus asked.

“Not yet,” Lucius’ servant replied.

“I wonder about this,” Philotus said. “Timon was accustomed to rise and shine at seven.”

“Yes, but the days are grown shorter with him,” Lucius’ servant replied. “You must consider that a prodigal course is like the course of the Sun — days that are long in the summer grow short in the winter in the northern hemisphere — but it is not, like the Sun’s, recoverable. The Sun’s appearance during winter is less long than its appearance during summer. However, summer will return and the Sun will return to its old course across the sky and shine longer on the Earth. I fear that it is deepest winter in Lord Timon’s moneybag; that is, one may reach deep into it, and yet find little. It is like an animal digging in the winter snow for food; the animal may dig deep but find little food.”

“I share your fear that Timon’s moneybag lacks anything to fill it,” Philotus said.

“I’ll teach you how to observe and interpret a strange event,” Titus said. “Your lord sends now for money from Timon.”

Hortensius replied, “That is very true, he does.”

“And your lord is wearing jewels now that Timon gave to him, and that is the reason that I am waiting for Timon to give me money. Timon borrowed money from my lord to give jewels to your lord, and because of that Timon is in debt and I am waiting for him to pay the debt.”

“It is against my heart,” Hortensius replied. “I don’t like it, and I wish that it were not true.”

Lucius’ servant said, “Note how strange this is — it shows that Timon because of this must pay more than he owes. It is as if your lord should wear rich jewels and send for the money that was needed to pay for the jewels.”

“I’m tired of this task, as the gods can witness,” Hortensius said. “I know my lord has spent part of Timon’s wealth, and now my lord’s ingratitude makes his trying to get money from Timon worse than stealthy stealing.”

Varro’s first servant said, “You are right. The debt my lord is trying to collect is three thousand crowns. What is the debt that your lord is trying to collect?”

Lucius’ servant replied, “Five thousand crowns.”

Varro’s first servant said, “It is a very large amount, and it seems by the sum that your master’s confidence in Timon was above my master’s confidence that Timon would repay the loan, or else, surely, the amount of money that my master lent Timon would have equaled what your master lent him.”

Flaminius came outside Timon’s house.

Titus said, “He is one of Lord Timon’s servants.”

Lucius’ servant said, “Flaminius! Sir, may I have a word with you? Please, is your lord ready to come outside?”

“No, indeed, he is not,” Flaminius replied.

“We are waiting for him,” Titus said. “Please, tell him that.”

“I need not tell him that,” Flaminius said. “He knows you are very diligent in seeking him.”

Flaminius exited.

Flavius came onto the scene. Seeing the creditors’ servants, he attempted to leave without being seen. He held up his cloak to partially hide his face.

Lucius’ servant said, “Look! Isn’t that man holding his cloak up to muffle his face Timon’s steward? He is going away in a cloud.”

The cloud was a cloud of despair, and going away in a cloud also meant disappearing; in this case, Flavius was trying to hide his face so that he could leave without his master’s creditors recognizing him.

Lucius’ servant continued, “Call to him! Call to him!”

Titus said to Flavius, “Do you hear us, sir?”

Varro’s second servant said, “By your leave, sir —”

Letting his cloak fall away from his face, Flavius asked, “What do you ask of me, my friend?”

“We are waiting here for certain amounts of money, sir,” Titus said.

“Yes, you are,” Flavius said. “If money were as certain as your waiting, it would be sure enough. Why didn’t you bring your sums and bills when your false masters were eating my lord’s food? Then they could smile and fawn upon his debts and take the interest — the food — into their gluttonous mouths. You are doing yourselves wrong by making me angry. Let me pass quietly. Believe it, my lord and I have made an end; I have no more sums to reckon in his accounts, and he has no more money to spend.”

Lucius’ servant said, “Yes, but this answer will not serve. This answer is not good enough.”

Flavius muttered, “If it will not serve, it is not as base as any of you because you serve knaves.”

Flavius went inside Timon’s house.

Varro’s first servant said, “What did his cashiered — fired — ‘worship’ mutter?”

He used the word “worship,” which was used to refer to a man worthy of respect, sarcastically; he was angry at Flavius.

“It doesn’t matter,” Varro’s second servant said. “He’s poor, and that’s revenge enough. Who can speak more critically than a man who has no house to put his head in? Such a man may rail against and criticize great buildings.”

Servilius came out of Titus’ house.

Titus said, “Oh, here’s Servilius; now we shall know some answers to our questions.”

“If I might persuade you, gentlemen, to return at some other hour, I would derive much benefit from it,” Servilius said, “for I swear that my lord leans wondrously to discontent and unhappiness. His cheerful temper has forsaken him; he is not healthy, and he stays in his room.”

Lucius’ servant said, “Many who stay in their homes are not sick, and if his health is that far gone, I think that he should all the sooner pay his debts so that when he dies he will have a clear path to the gods.”

“Good gods!” Servilius said.

“We cannot take this for an answer to our demand for money, sir,” Titus said.

From inside Timon’s house, Flaminius shouted, “Servilius, help!”

He then shouted to Timon, “My lord! My lord!”

Enraged, Timon came out of his house. Flaminius followed him.

“Are my doors opposed against my passage through them to go outside?” Timon said. “Have I been always free, and must my house now be my confining enemy, my jail? This place where I have given feasts, does it now, like all Mankind, show me an iron heart?”

Lucius’ servant said, “Present your bill now, Titus.”

“My lord, here is my bill,” Titus said to Timon.

“Here’s mine,” Lucius’ servant said.

“And mine, my lord,” Hortensius said.

Both of Varro’s servants said, “And ours, my lord.”

Philotus said, “Here are all our bills.”

One meaning of “bill” was a long-handled weapon with an axe-head at one end.

Timon said, “Knock me down with your bills. Cleave me in half all the way to my belt.”

Lucius’ servant said, “It’s a pity, my lord.”

“Cut my heart into sums of money,” Timon replied.

Titus’ servant said, “The sum of money I need is fifty talents.”

“I will pay it with my blood,” Timon replied. “Count out each drop of my blood.”

Lucius’ servant said, “The sum of money I need is five thousand crowns, my lord.”

“Five thousand drops of my blood will pay that,” Timon said.

He then asked Varro’s two servants, “How much do you need? And you?”

Varro’s two servants said, “My lord —”

Timon interrupted, “— tear me to pieces, take all of me, and may the gods fall upon you!”

Timon went back inside his house.

Hortensius said, “Truly, I see that our masters may throw their caps at their money: They will never get their money back. These debts may well be called desperate ones because a madman owes them.”

All of the people trying to get money from Titus exited.

Inside his house, Timon said to himself, “They have even made me be out of breath because of my anger, the slaves. Creditors? They are Devils!”

Flavius said, “My dear lord —”

Not hearing him, Timon said to himself, “I have an idea. I wonder if it will work.”

“My lord —” Flavius said.

“I’ll do it,” Timon said.

He called, “My steward!”

Flavius replied, “Here I am, my lord.”

“So opportunely?” Timon asked. “Go and invite all of my friends again, Lucius, Lucullus, and Sempronius, all, sirrah, all. I’ll once more feast the rascals.”

“Sirrah” was a word used to address a man of lower status than the speaker.

“Oh, my lord,” Flavius said. “You say that only because your soul is confused and distracted. Not enough food is left to furnish even a moderate table.”

“Don’t you worry about that,” Timon said. “Go. I order you to invite them all to a feast here. I will let in the tide of knaves once more; my cook and I will provide the feast.”

— 3.5 —

Senators were meeting in the Senate House of Athens. They were discussing the punishment of a soldier who served under Alcibiades. The soldier had gotten drunk, quarreled with another man, and killed him.

The first Senator said to the second Senator, “My lord, you have my vote for it; the crime is bloodthirsty; it is necessary he should die. Nothing emboldens sin as much as mercy.”

“That is very true,” the second Senator said. “The law shall crush him.”

Alcibiades and some attendants entered.

Alcibiades greeted the Senators, “May honor, health, and compassion be characteristics of the Senate!”

The first Senator asked, “What do you want, Captain?”

“I am a humble suitor to your virtuous selves,” Alcibiades said. “Pity is the virtue of the law, and none except tyrants use the law cruelly. It pleases time and fortune to lie heavy upon a friend of mine, who, in hot blood, has stepped into the jurisdiction of the law, which is past depth to those who, without heed, plunge into it.

“He is a man, setting his fate aside — the fate that made him do what he did — of comely virtues. Nor did he blemish his deed with cowardice — an honor in him that makes up for his fault — for with a noble fury and fair spirit, seeing his reputation stained to death, he opposed his foe, and with such sober and hardly noticeable passion he controlled his anger before it was spent that it was as if he had simply made a point in an argument.”

The deed committed was serious enough that the Senators had considered it a capital crime — one that would be punished with death. Alcibiades was trying to make it seem much less serious than that.

The first Senator replied, “You are making too forced a paradox as you strive to make an ugly deed look fair. Your words have taken such pains as if they labored to make manslaughter a lawful procedure and make fighting duels one of the acts of valor. That indeed is a bastard form of valor that came into the world when sects and factions were newly born. But the truly valiant man is one who can wisely suffer the worst that another man can say, and who can make his wrongs something external to him and wear them like his clothing, in a carefree way, and who can never take his injuries to heart. If he were to take his injuries to heart, he would put his heart in danger. If wrongs are evils that force us to kill, what folly it is to hazard life for ill! We would be risking our lives for the sake of evil.”

“My lord —” Alcibiades began.

The first Senator interrupted, “— you cannot make gross sins look innocent and clear; to get revenge is not valorous, but to bear and endure wrongs is valorous.”

“My lords, then, if you will, pardon me if I speak like a military Captain. Why do ‘foolish’ men expose themselves in battle, and not endure all threats? Should they go to sleep after being threatened, and let their foes quietly cut their throats, without opposition? If such valor is found in bearing wrongs, why do we go to wars abroad? Why then, if there is such valor in bearing, women who stay at home and bear the weight of men in the act of sex and then bear children are more valiant than soldiers who fight abroad. If bearing is valorous, then the ass who bears burdens is more of a Captain than the lion; if there is wisdom is suffering, then the felon who is weighed down with irons is wiser than the judge.

“Oh, my lords, as you are great, be good and show compassion. Who cannot condemn rashness in cold blood? To kill, I grant, is sin’s most extreme outburst. But to kill in self-defense, if we take a merciful view of it, is very just.

“To be angry is impious; but what man has never been angry? Weigh this man’s crime with mercy.”

“You speak in vain,” the second Senator said.

“In vain!” Alcibiades said. “This soldier’s military service done at Lacedaemon and Byzantium is a sufficient bribe for his life.”

He meant that the soldier’s military service in far places ought to excuse his crime in Athens.

Hearing the word “bribe,” and not liking it, the first Senator said, “What’s that?”

Alcibiades replied, “I say, my lords, this soldier has done fair service, and slain in battle many of your enemies. How full of valor did he bear himself in the last conflict, and made plenteous wounds!”

The second Senator said, “He has made too much plenty with them. He’s a sworn rioter — he carouses as if he had made an oath to carouse. He has a sin — drunkenness — that often drowns him and takes his valor prisoner. If there were no foes, his crime of constant drunken carousing would be enough to overcome him.”

By “If there were no foes,” the second Senator meant, “If there were no civilian or military foes [whom he had killed],” but Alcibiades could easily understand it as saying, “If there were no foes of Athens.” Athens was currently fighting no wars; otherwise, Alcibiades would be elsewhere, fighting in the war, and the soldier would be needed to fight in the war.

The second Senator continued, “In that beastly fury caused by drunkenness, he has been known to commit outrages and support dissension. It has been reported to us that his days are foul and his drink is dangerous.”

“He dies,” the first Senator said.

“That is a hard fate!” Alcibiades said. “He might have died in war, which would have been a better fate. My lords, if not for any good qualities in him — though his right arm might purchase his own time of natural life and be in debt to no one — yet, the more to move you, take my merits and join them to his, and because I know your reverend ages love security — safety and collateral — I’ll pawn my victories and all my honors to you because I know that he will make good returns. If by this crime he owes the law his life, why, let the war receive it in valiant gore — let him die in battle. Law is strict, and war is no less.”

“We are for law,” the first Senator said. “He dies. Argue about it no more, or our displeasure will heighten. No matter whether a man is your friend or your brother, that man forfeits his own blood when he spills the blood of another.”

“Must it be so?” Alcibiades said. “It must not be. My lords, I beg you, know me for who I am.”

“What!” the second Senator said, outraged.

“Remember me and my deeds,” Alcibiades said.

“What!” the third Senator said, outraged.

“I cannot but think that because of your old age you have forgotten me and what I have done for Athens — it could not be otherwise. That is the only reason that I should be so treated so badly — I beg you for a favor and I am denied what should be quickly granted to me. The wounds I have received in battle ache when I look at you.”

“Do you dare to face our anger?” the first Senator said. “It is in few words, but it is spacious in effect. We banish you from Athens forever.”

“Banish me!” Alcibiades said. “You ought to banish your dotage; you ought to banish your usury that makes the Senate ugly.”

“If, after two days, you are still in Athens,” the first Senator said, “you will face a more serious judgment than banishment. And, so that you will lack your reason to swell our anger, the man you want to be pardoned shall be executed immediately.”

The Senators exited.

Alcibiades said to himself, “Now I pray that the gods will preserve you so that you may live to be old enough that you are nothing but bones, so that no one will want to look at you! I’m worse than mad: I have kept back their foes, while they have counted their money and lent out their coins for much interest, while I myself am rich only in large wounds. All those wounds for treatment such as this? Is this the healing ointment that the usuring Senate pours onto military Captains’ wounds? Banishment! Banishment isn’t so bad; I don’t hate being banished. It is a worthy reason for my anger and fury and an excuse to attack Athens. I’ll cheer up my discontented troops, and play for hearts to be loyal to me. It is an honor to be at odds with most lands; soldiers should tolerate as few wrongs as do the gods.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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