David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TIMON OF ATHENS: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 6

— 3.6 —

The banqueting room in Timon’s house was filled with tables and busy servants as several lords, Senators, and other people entered. Musicians played.

The first lord said, “Good day to you, sir.”

“I also wish a good day to you,” the second lord said. “I think this honorable lord — Timon — was only testing us the other day when he wanted to borrow money.”

“Upon that were my thoughts being exercised, when we met just now,” the first lord said. “I hope it is not so low with him as he made it seem in the test of his various friends.”

“It should not be, by the evidence of this new feast that he is hosting,” the second lord said.

“I should think so. Timon sent me an earnest invitation, which my many personal needs urged me to decline, but he has conjured me beyond them, and I must necessarily appear at his feast. His powers of persuasion are like those of a magician.”

“In like manner was I under obligation to my pressing business, but he would not hear my excuse. I am sorry that when he sent a servant to borrow money from me, my supply of money was out.”

“I am sick from that grief, too, since I now understand how all things go,” the first lord said, meaning that he understood now that Timon was simply testing his friends to see if they would lend him money when Timon was suffering a financial emergency.

“Every man here’s in the same situation and feeling the same grief,” the second lord said. “What would he have borrowed from you?”

“A thousand coins.”

“A thousand coins!”

“What did he want to borrow from you?” the first lord said.

“He sent to me, sir —” the second lord began, but seeing Timon, he said, “Here he comes.”

Timon and some attendants walked toward the two lords.

“From all my heart to both of you gentlemen,” Timon said, “and how are you doing?”

“Always I am doing the best, when I hear good things about your lordship,” the first lord said.

“The swallow does not follow summer more willingly than we follow your lordship,” the second lord said.

Timon thought, Nor more willingly leaves winter; such summer-birds are men.

He was thinking of this proverb: Swallows, like false friends, fly away upon the approach of winter.

He said out loud, “Gentlemen, our dinner will not recompense you for this long wait. Feast your ears with the music for a while, if they will metaphysically dine on the harsh sound of the trumpet; we shall get to the feast soon.”

“I hope that your lordship takes it not unkindly that when you asked me for a loan I returned to you an empty-handed messenger,” the first lord said.

“Oh, sir, don’t let that trouble you,” Timon replied.

“My noble lord —” the second lord said.

“Ah, my good friend, what is wrong?” Timon asked.

“My most honorable lord, I am even sick from shame, that, when your lordship this other day sent to me to borrow money, I was so unfortunate a beggar that I lacked money to lend to you.”

“Don’t worry about it, sir,” Timon said.

“If you had sent your messenger to me just two hours earlier —” the second lord said.

“Don’t let it distress your brain, which ought to entertain better memories,” Timon said.

He ordered his servants, “Come, bring in everything all together.”

The servants brought in the feast.

The second lord said, “All covered dishes!”

The best food was served under covered dishes.

“Royal cheer, I warrant you,” the first lord said. “This is food fit for a King, I bet.”

A third lord who had just arrived said, “There is no reason to doubt that; if money can buy it and it is in season, it is here.”

“How are you?” the first lord asked. “What’s the news?”

“Alcibiades has been banished. Have you heard about it?”

“Alcibiades banished!” the other lords said.

“It is so,” the third lord said. “You can be sure of it.”

“What? What?” the first lord exclaimed.

“Please, tell us why he was banished,” the second lord requested.

“My worthy friends, will you come closer?” Timon asked.

“I’ll tell you more soon,” the third lord promised. “Here’s a noble feast ready.”

“Timon is still the man we knew of old,” the second lord said.

“Will he continue to be?” the third lord said. “Will he continue to be?”

“He has so far,” the second lord said, “but time will tell truth — and so —”

“I understand,” the third lord said.

They were a little cautious; Timon had recently asked to borrow money from them. Would he do so again?

Timon said, “Each man go to his stool with that same eagerness as he would go to the lips of his mistress. Your diet of food shall be in all places alike. Let’s not make a City feast of it and let the food cool before we can agree upon who shall sit in the first place, the place of honor. Sit, sit.”

In this society, people sat on stools. Only a very high-ranking person would be offered a chair. A City feast was a formal feast in London with the higher-ranking people sitting at the head of the table and people of lower status sitting lower. At a City feast the best food would be placed at the head of the table, but at Timon’s feast everyone was to be served the same diet of food.

Timon said, “The gods require our thanks.”

He prayed, “You great benefactors, sprinkle our society with thankfulness. As for your own gifts, make yourselves praised, but always reserve some gifts to give later, lest you deities be despised because you have no more gifts to give. And keep something back for yourself so that you are not despised because you have nothing. Lend to each man enough, so that one man need not lend to another; as you know, if your godheads asked to borrow money from men, men would forsake the gods. Make the food be loved more than the man who gives it. Let no assembly of twenty men be without a score — twenty — of villains. If twelve women sit at the table, let a dozen of them be — what women are. Gods, concerning the rest of your foes — the Senators of Athens, together with the common rabble of people — be aware that what is amiss in them makes them suitable for destruction. For these my present — and present-loving — friends, as they are to me nothing, so in nothing bless them, and to nothing are they welcome.”

Timon then ordered, “Uncover the dishes, dogs, and lap.”

The dishes were uncovered and found to be full of warm water.

“What does Timon mean by this?” someone said.

“I don’t know,” others answered.

“May you a better feast never behold, you knot of mouth-friends — you ‘friends’ who say that I am your friend only as long as I feed you,” Timon said. “Smoke — steam that dissipates and vanishes — and lukewarm water are the perfect feast for you and the perfect representation of your friendship for me. This is Timon’s last supper; I, Timon, who is adorned and spangled with your flatteries, washes your reeking villainy off, and sprinkles it in your faces.”

He dipped his hands in the lukewarm water and then flung the water in the faces of his “friends.”

He shouted, “Live loathed and long, you most smiling, smooth, detested parasites, you courteous destroyers, you affable wolves, you meek bears, you fools who follow fortune, you plate-friends who are friends only when given plates full of food, you flies who appear only during the good times of summer, you cap-and-knee slaves who doff your caps and bend your knees in flattery, you vapors as insubstantial as air, and you minute-jacks!”

A jack is a figure that strikes the chime on a clock. Metaphorically, a minute-jack is a time-server, an opportunist who adjusts his behavior minute by minute according to what will bring the most profit to him.

Timon continued, “May the infinite number of maladies affecting men and beasts infect you and make your skin be completely scab covered!”

A lord stood up to leave and Timon said, “What, are you going? Wait a minute! Take your medicine first — you, too — and you —”

He threw stones at his fleeing guests.

Mockingly, he said, “Stay. I will lend you money. I won’t borrow any.”

He threw the stones and dishes at them, scattered their hats and cloaks, and drove them out.

He shouted, “What, all in motion? All running away! Henceforth let there be no feast where a villain’s not a welcome guest. Burn, house! Sink, Athens! From now on, let all men and all humanity be hated by Timon!”

He ran out of his house.

The lords re-entered Timon’s house, accompanied by some late-arriving Senators.

The first lord asked, “How are you now, my lords?”

“Do you know the reason for Lord Timon’s fury?” the second lord asked.

“Bah!” the third lord said. “Did you see my cap?”

A fourth lord said, “I have lost my cloak.”

The first lord said, “Timon is nothing but a mad lord, and nothing but his whims sway him. He gave me a jewel the other day, and now he has beaten it out of my hat in which I was wearing it. Have you seen my jewel?”

The third lord asked, “Did you see my cap?”

“Here it is,” the second lord said.

“Here lies my cloak,” the fourth lord said.

“Let’s stay here no longer,” the first lord said.

“Lord Timon’s mad,” the second lord said.

“I literally feel it upon my bones,” the third lord said.

“One day he gives us diamonds, the next day stones,” the fourth lord said.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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