Shakspere Society of Philadelphia
Maybe not the first, but the oldest Shakespeare club in America or possibly even the world, has kept minutes for over a hundred fifty years.
xxxxxxxxxxxx MEETING OF THE SHAKSPERE SOCIETY OF PHILADELPHIA AT THE FRANKLIN INN CLUB, DECEMBER 10, 2003
Dean Wagner in the chair. Other members in attendance: Bartlett, Dunn, Fallon, Fisher, Hopkinson, Madeira, Peck, and Pickering. We welcomed Mr. Madeira's guest David Stearns, the Philadelphia Inquirer's articulate and incisive classical music critic.
Attendance, the Dean remarked, was the lowest in the memory of any member present. The Secretary observed that the Society's nineteenth-century minutes show that not till the late 1890's did it become common for as many as nine or ten to attend a reading meeting. The relative intimacy of the occasion gave those present a taste of what the Society's life was like a century ago (although without the cigars commonly smoked by members then after a light supper at the end of readings).
We turned to our reading, Timon of Athens: the first time that the Society's members had read this play in half a century. (In our first half-century, 1852-1901, Timon was read only once). The play is contemporary with Lear and Macbeth, scholars tell us, but it was evidently never acted until the Restoration, and then heavily edited. Lear and Timon are alike in their initial bounty, and their later fury at others' callous ingratitude when they are in need.
Timon changes from benevolence to bitter misanthropy with a most inartistic abruptness, most readers feel. The Vice Dean suggested that Shakspere may have written a draft but abandoned the project before fleshing it out with a fuller portrait of Timon's inner life and a more convincing account of his emotional transformation. Some passages of the text are partly in prose, partly in verse, suggesting a unique glimpse into the Bard's creative process: did he write a prose summary of scenes and then transmute prose into blank verse? The almost complete absence of women in the play is striking, although women play very minor roles in some other Shakspere plays, including 1 and 2 Henry IV, the Vice Dean observed. Nor is there a strongly characterized villainous schemer--no Iago-- in Timon: "just shallow, stupid men," as a member summed up his reactions.
Act One, Scene One'A long scene and many characters introduced, but, members felt, no one who seizes our attention. Timon himself is a mere "stick figure," a member tartly exclaimed. There is no rich language to draw us into the action, in contrast to the first scene of Lear, for instance, which also teams with characters.
1.2'This scene includes examples of the speeches of mixed prose and blank verse mentioned earlier by the Vice Dean. Members were struck by the lack of a credible psychological portrait of Timon here: his servant Flavius tells us at length that his master has spent all of his vast fortune but has ignored Flavius' repeated warnings. Timon then offers more lavish presents to fawners and flatterers; he seems mechanical, a member observed, simply a repetitive gift giver. Does he arrogantly enjoy playing Lord Bountiful? Is he a naive but idealistic lover of deeds of Christian charity? We cannot tell.
The one character in Act One who has some force of language is the cynic Apemantus. He expresses himself vividly but crudely. ( a tradition of the Elizabethan theater for such harsh judges of the powerful, and echoed in the language of Thersites in Troilus, for instance. Enobarbus in Antony is equally cynical'usually'but his wonderful language occupies "a world elsewhere" from the callow insults of Apemantus. And these two characters were created, probably, only a year or so apart!'RGP). Members commented on the difference between the antipathy Apemantus feels towards Timon and the animosities expressed toward Shylock and Othello. Timon seems a sketch compared to the rich expression in those plays of hatred intertwined with envy.
2.2'Timon must ask those who have taken gifts from him to help him meet his enormous debts. Members found this scene much more interesting in the expression of feeling than earlier scenes. But Timon's excessive naivety' is unconvincing. Othello, too, a member observed, was often na've when enmeshed in complicated emotional relationships away from the battlefield; but we understand his feelings and sympathize even as we shake our heads. None of us was drawn to Timon so strongly that we could feel such sympathy. 3.1'More vigorous and intriguing language in parts of this scene, too. 3.2'Again we noted mixtures of prose and blank verse in a speech or two, and again, we found more interesting language than in the first few scenes.
WE WILL MEET NEXT ON JANUARY 7, 2003, AND WILL CONTINUE OUR READING OF TIMON OF ATHENS FROM ACT THREE, SCENE THREE. MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL THE "APOSTLES" (AS THE ORIGINAL MEMBERS OF THE SHAKSPERE SOCIETY GREETED EACH OTHER IN OUR EARLIEST DAYS!)
Respectfully submitted Robert G. Peck Secretary
Originally published: Thursday, March 06, 2008; most-recently modified: Friday, May 31, 2019
|Posted by: Kert | Nov 24, 2011 4:49 AM|