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There is much reason to conclude that, in the long interval between the death of Queen Elizabeth, and the year 1613, our author's Henry the Eighth had never been performed; and it is further probable that, on this account, and in consequence of its receiving a new name, a new prologue and epilogue, and new decorations of unprecedented splendour, the players might, as Mr. Malone has suggested, have called it in the bills of that time a new play * ; an epithet which we find Sir Henry Wotton has adopted, when describing the accident at the Globe Theatre, and which, if writing in haste, or with less attention to the history of the stage than occurs in the letter of Mr. Lorkin, he might, from similar causes, naturally be expected to repeat. +
In adjusting the chronology of this play Mr. Malone has remarked, that Shakspeare, having produced so many plays in the preceding years, “ it is not likely that King Henry the Eighth was written before 1601. It might, perhaps, with equal propriety, be ascribed to 1602.”: We have fixed upon the latter date, for this obvious reason, that our enquiries, having led us to supply the preceding year with two plays, it has been thought more consonant to probability to assign it to the less occupied period of 1602. It appears to us, therefore, to have been composed about a twelvemonth previous to the death of the Queen, an event which occurred in March, 1603.
It need scarcely be added, that, from Mr. Gifford's complete refutation of the slander which has been so long indulged in against the character of Ben Jonson, we utterly disbelieve that this calumniated poet had any concern in the revival of Henry the Eighth.
The entire interest of this tragedy turns upon the characters of Queen Katharine and Cardinal Wolsey ; the former being the finest picture of suffering and defenceless virtue, and the latter of disappointed ambition, that poet ever drew. The close of the second
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 317. # Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ji. p. 312.
+ Reliq. Wotton. p. 425.
scene of the third act, which describes the fall of Wolsey, and the whole of the second scene of the fourth, which paints the dying sorrows and devout resignation of the persecuted Queen, have, as lessons of moral worth, a never-dying value; and of the latter, especially, it may without extravagance be said, that, in its power of exciting sympathy and compassion, it stands perfectly unrivalled by any
dramatic effort of ancient or of modern time. 24. Timon OF ATHENS: 1602. The existence of a manuscript play on this subject, to which our author has been evidently indebted, ought, in the absence of all other direct testimony, to be considered as our guiding star. Here, says Mr. Malone, our poet “found the faithful steward, the banquet scene, and the story of Timon's being possessed of great sums of gold which he had dug up in the woods : a circumstance which he could not have had from Lucian, there being then no translation of the dialogue that relates to this subject *;" and, in another place he remarks, that this manuscript comedy
appears to have been written after Ben Jonson's Every Man out of his Humour, (1599,) to which it contains a reference; but I have not discovered the precise time when it was composed. If it were ascertained, it might be some guide to us in fixing the date of our author's Timon of Athens, which I suppose to have been posterior to this anonymous play.” +
Now Mr. Steevens, who accurately inspected the manuscript play, tells us that it appears to have been written about the
} whilst Mr. Chalmers has brought forward several intimations which, he thinks, prove, that Shakspeare's drama was written during the reign of Elizabeth. $
These statements, it is obvious, bring the subject into a small compass; for as the anonymous comedy must have been composed after 1599, referring, as it does, to a drama of that date, and as some
year 1600 ,
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xix. p. 3. # Ibid. vol. xix. p. 2.
+ Ibid. vol. ii. pp. 355, 356.
incidents in Shakspeare's Timon are evidently founded upon it, whilst the death of Elizabeth took place in March, 1603, the play of our poet must necessarily, if Mr. Chalmers's intimations be relied upon, have been completed in the interim.
Indeed the only argument on the other side for fixing the date of this play in 1609, is built upon the supposition that Shakspeare commenced the study of Plutarch in 1605, and that having once availed himself of this historian for one of his plays, he was induced to proceed, until Julius Cæsar, Anthony and Cleopatra, Timon, and Coriolanus, had been written in succession. * But, as it has been clearly ascertained by Mr. Chalmers, that Shakspeare was perfectly well acquainted with Plutarch when he wrote his Hamlet †, this supposition can no longer be tenable.
We have fixed on the year 1602 rather than 1601, for the era of the composition of our author's play, as it is equally susceptible of the illustration adduced by Mr. Chalmers, allows more scope for the production of the elder drama, and, at the same time, more opportunity to our poet to have become familiar with a comedy which, there is reason to think, from its pedantic style, was never popular, and certainly never was printed.
Timon of Athens is an admirable satire on the folly and ingratitude of mankind; the former exemplified in the thoughtless profusion of Timon, the latter in the conduct of his pretended friends; it is, as Dr. Johnson observes, “ a very powerful warning against that ostentatious liberality, which scatters bounty, but confers no benefits, and buys flattery, but not friendship.” I
But the mighty reach of Shakspeare's mind is in this play more particularly distinguishable in his delineation of the species and causes of misanthropy, and in the management of the delicate shades which diversify its effects on the heart of man. Timon and Apemantus
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 354.
+ Supplemental Apology, p. 394.
are both misanthropes; but from very different causes, and with very different consequences, and
yet they mutually illustrate each other. The misanthropy of Timon arises from the perversion of what would otherwise have been the foundation of his happiness. He
possesses great goodness and benevolence of heart, an ardent love of mankind, a spirit noble, enthusiastic, and confiding, but these are unfortunately directed into wrong channels by the influence of vanity, and the thirst of distinction. Rich in the amplest means of dispensing bounty, he receives, in return, such abundant praise, especially from the least deserving and the most designing, that he becomes intoxicated with adulation, craving it, at length, with the avidity of an appetite, and preferring the applause of the world to the silent approval of his own conscience.
The immediate consequence of this delusion is, that he seeks to bestow only where celebrity is to follow ; he does not fly to succour poverty, misfortune, and disease, in their sequestered haunts, but he showers his gifts on poets, painters, warriors, and statesmen, on men of talents or of rank, whose flattery, either from genius or from station, will find an echo in the world. The next result of beneficence thus abused, is that Timon possesses numerous nominal but no real friends, and, when the hour of trial comes, he is, to a man, deserted in his utmost need. It is then, that having no estimate of friendship but what reposed on the characters who have left him bare to the storm, and concluding that the rest of mankind, compared with those whom he had selected, are rather worse than better, he gives loose to all the invective which deceived affection and wounded vanity can suggest ; feeling, as it were, an abhorrence of, and an aversion to, his species, in proportion to the keenness of his original sensibility, and the agony of his present disappointment.
The inherent goodness of Timon on the one hand, and his avarice of praise and flattery on the other, are vividly brought out through the medium of his servants, and of the Cynic Apemantus. The true criterion, indeed, of the worth of any individual, is best found in the estimation of his household, and we entertain a high sense of the
value of Timon's character, from the attachment and fidelity of his dependants. They, in their humble intercourse with their master, have intimately felt the native benevolence of his disposition, and, to the disgrace of those who have revelled in his bounty, are the only sympathizers in his fate. They call to mind his generous virtues :
6 Poor honest lord, brought low by his own heart;
Undone by goodness!”
is the exclamation of his faithful steward; nor are the inferior domestics less sensible of his worth :
When Flavius visits his master in his seclusion, and with the most disinterested views and the most heart-felt commiseration, offers him his wealth and his attendance, Timon starts back with amazement bordering on distraction, afflicted and aghast at the recognition, when too late, of genuine friendship, and self-convicted of injustice towards his fellow-creatures :
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xix. pp. 125-127.
+ I conceive that by “ dangerous nature” in this passage, is meant a nature, from acute sensibility and sudden misfortune, liable to be overpowered, to be thrown off its poize, and to suffer from mental derangement. [ Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xix. pp. 182, 183.