Then I Love Thee, Because Thou Art A Woman
I have my own ideas, needless to say, of how to stage Timon, though of late (given my other ambitions), I’ve been rethinking them as possible ways to adapt Timon for the screen. I’m going to indulge myself by sketching out one of my ideas here.
The Steward should be a woman. I’ve gotten a lot of pushback on this, but that resistance has only made me more convinced that it’s a good idea. Timon’s asexuality needs a contrast other than the lasciviousness of Alcibiades and his whores. The Steward’s selfless love for Timon would play more powerfully, I think, the character were female; it would become obvious why Timon takes it for granted, and that fact would have more pathos to it.
And then there’s this moment, the last interaction between Timon and the Steward in the play:
Enter FLAVIUS and two Senators
At all times alike
Men are not still the same: ‘twas time and griefs
That framed him thus: time, with his fairer hand,
Offering the fortunes of his former days,
The former man may make him. Bring us to him,
And chance it as it may.
TIMON comes from his cave
Toward thee forgetfulness too general, gross:
Which now the public body, which doth seldom
Play the recanter, feeling in itself
A lack of Timon’s aid, hath sense withal
Of its own fail, restraining aid to Timon;
And send forth us, to make their sorrow’d render,
Together with a recompense more fruitful
Than their offence can weigh down by the dram;
Ay, even such heaps and sums of love and wealth
As shall to thee blot out what wrongs were theirs
And write in thee the figures of their love,
Ever to read them thine.
Therefore, so please thee to return with us
And of our Athens, thine and ours, to take
The captainship, thou shalt be met with thanks,
Allow’d with absolute power and thy good name
Live with authority: so soon we shall drive back
Of Alcibiades the approaches wild,
Who, like a boar too savage, doth root up
His country’s peace.
Well, sir, I will; therefore, I will, sir; thus:
If Alcibiades kill my countrymen,
Let Alcibiades know this of Timon,
That Timon cares not. But if be sack fair Athens,
And take our goodly aged men by the beards,
Giving our holy virgins to the stain
Of contumelious, beastly, mad-brain’d war,
Then let him know, and tell him Timon speaks it,
In pity of our aged and our youth,
I cannot choose but tell him, that I care not,
And let him take’t at worst; for their knives care not,
While you have throats to answer: for myself,
There’s not a whittle in the unruly camp
But I do prize it at my love before
The reverend’st throat in Athens. So I leave you
To the protection of the prosperous gods,
As thieves to keepers.
Why, I was writing of my epitaph;
it will be seen to-morrow: my long sickness
Of health and living now begins to mend,
And nothing brings me all things. Go, live still;
Be Alcibiades your plague, you his,
And last so long enough!
Commend me to them,
And tell them that, to ease them of their griefs,
Their fears of hostile strokes, their aches, losses,
Their pangs of love, with other incident throes
That nature’s fragile vessel doth sustain
In life’s uncertain voyage, I will some kindness do them:
I’ll teach them to prevent wild Alcibiades’ wrath.
I have a tree, which grows here in my close,
That mine own use invites me to cut down,
And shortly must I fell it: tell my friends,
Tell Athens, in the sequence of degree
From high to low throughout, that whoso please
To stop affliction, let him take his haste,
Come hither, ere my tree hath felt the axe,
And hang himself. I pray you, do my greeting.
Come not to me again: but say to Athens,
Timon hath made his everlasting mansion
Upon the beached verge of the salt flood;
Who once a day with his embossed froth
The turbulent surge shall cover: thither come,
And let my grave-stone be your oracle.
Lips, let sour words go by and language end:
What is amiss plague and infection mend!
Graves only be men’s works and death their gain!
Sun, hide thy beams! Timon hath done his reign.
Retires to his cave
(Apologies for the length of the quote.)
Flavius (the Steward) brings the Senators to Timon expressly against his command, that the Steward leave him alone and no longer seek the company of men. Why does he (she, in my mind) do this? Perhaps because of a lingering loyalty to Athens; more likely, I think, because of a love of Timon, the desire to save him against his own wishes.
And Timon surely understands this. Which is why the “I care not” speech that is the heart of this dialogue should be delivered, not to the Senators to whom Timon ostensibly speaks, but to the Steward. He (she) is the one for whom, at this point, Timon cares not. He does not care enough for his (her) love not to kill himself. That’s what this scene is about. And all this business about hanging – it’s not the Senators of Athens who will be hanged, but Timon himself, by his own hand, as soon as the Steward and the Senators leave.