Timon of Athens (1605–1606)
Thomas Middleton, who probably worked on Timon in some capacity.
- First official record: mentioned in the Stationers' Register entry for the First Folio, on 8 November 1623.
- First published: First Folio (1623), as The Life of Tymon of Athens.
- First recorded performance: there is no known evidence of a performance in Shakespeare's lifetime. The earliest known production of the play was in 1674, when Thomas Shadwell wrote an adaptation under the title The History of Timon of Athens, The Man-hater. Multiple other adaptations followed over the next century, by writers such as Thomas Hull, James Love and Richard Cumberland. Although the earliest known performance of the straight Shakespearean text was at Smock Alley in Dublin in 1761, adaptations continued to dominate the stage until well into the twentieth century. The earliest known production of a predominantly Shakespearean version of the play in the United Kingdom was at Sadler's Wells in 1851. Adapted by Samuel Phelps, the production cut all scenes involving the Fool, the return of the Poet and the Painter and much of the sexual material. He also changed the ending, having a solemn Alcibiades marching to Timon's grave and reading the epitaph himself, a far less ambiguous ending than the original.
- Additional information (attribution): dating Timon of Athens is rendered more difficult because of the probable involvement of Thomas Middleton. The play contains several narrative inconsistencies uncharacteristic of Shakespeare, an unusually unsatisfying dénouement, drastically different styles in different places and an unusually large number of long lines which don't scan. One theory is that the play as it appears in the First Folio is unfinished. E.K. Chambers believes Shakespeare began the play, but abandoned it due to a mental breakdown, never returning to finish it. F.W. Brownlow believes the play to have been Shakespeare's last, and remained uncompleted at his death. A more predominant theory, however, is one proposed by Charles Knight in 1838; the play was a collaboration between Shakespeare and at least one other dramatist. Today, many scholars believe that other dramatist was Thomas Middleton. However, the exact nature of the collaboration is disputed. Did Middleton revise a piece begun by Shakespeare, did Shakespeare revise Middleton's work, or did they work together? John Jowett, editor of the play for both the Oxford Shakespeare: Complete Works and the individual Oxford Shakespeare edition, believes Middleton worked with Shakespeare in an understudy capacity and wrote scenes 2 (1.2 in editions which divide the play into acts), 5 (3.1), 6 (3.2), 7 (3.3), 8 (3.4), 9 (3.5), 10 (3.6) and the last eighty lines of 14 (4.3).
- Evidence: because there is no reference to Timon until 1623, attempts to date the play must rely on topical allusions and stylistic analysis. A possible terminus ante quem is 1608. In his 2004 edition for the Oxford Shakespeare, John Jowett argues the lack of act divisions in the Folio text is an important factor in determining a date. The King's Men only began to use act divisions in their scripts when they occupied the indoor Blackfriars Theatre in August 1608 as their winter playhouse. Timon is notoriously difficult to divide into acts, suggesting to Jowett that it was written at a time when act divisions were of no concern to the writer, hence it must have been written prior to August 1608. A terminus post quem may come from a possible topical allusion to the Gunpowder Plot of November 1605; "those that under hot ardent zeal would set whole realms on fire" (Sc.7.32-33). In the context of the play, the line is referring to religious zeal, but some scholars feel it is a subtle reference to the events of November. The play may also have been influenced by a pamphlet published in June 1605, Two Unnatural and Bloody Murders, which served as the primary source for Thomas Middleton's A Yorkshire Tragedy. This would narrow the possible range of dates to sometime between November 1605 and August 1608. Narrowing the date further, however, must come wholly from stylistic analysis. A metrical test links the play most closely with Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida and King Lear, whilst a colloquialism-in-verse test places it after All's Well but before Macbeth. Furthermore, MacDonald P. Jackson's rare word test found the conjectured Shakespearean parts of the text date to 1605–1606. However, if one were to analyse the conjectured non-Shakespearean sections as if they were by Shakespeare, the rare word test produces a date of 1594–1595, an obvious impossibility. Going further, Jackson found that if one examines the non-Shakespearean sections in the context of Middleton's career, a date of 1605–1606 also results.