Timon of Athens
This tragedy was likely written around 1605-1606 but it was not published until the First Folio (1623). (See Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor in The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works (2nd edition, 2005).) It does not appear to have been performed much and its authorship is contested, with Thomas Middleton the current leading candidate for co-author.
The play is set in ancient Athens. It tells the story of Timon, a wealthy man famed for his generosity. He gives expensive gifts to all his acquaintances, lends money whenever asked, offers his patronage to artists and poets, and entertains frequently and lavishly. However, when his money runs out, his generosity is not returned, turning him into a bitter misanthrope. Even when his fortunes again turn, remains embittered and estranged, giving the gold he finds to those he believes will harm Athens and its ungrateful citizens.
Video Gallery Clips
Staged Dances and Textual References to Dance
Text excerpts and their act, scene, and line numbers follow Folger Digital Texts unless otherwise noted.
In-text dance references are highlighted in red, and stage directions indicating dancing are blue.
Act II, scene 1, lines 117-161
TIMON: What means that trump?
SERVANT: Please you, my lord, there are certain ladies
most desirous of admittance.
TIMON: Ladies? What are their wills?
SERVANT: There comes with them a forerunner, my lord,
which bears that office to signify their pleasures.
TIMON: I pray, let them be admitted. [Servant exits.]
CUPID: Hail to thee, worthy Timon, and to all
That of his bounties taste! The five best senses
Acknowledge thee their patron, and come freely
To gratulate thy plenteous bosom. There
Taste, touch, all, pleased from thy table rise;
They only now come but to feast thine eyes.
TIMON: They’re welcome all. Let ’em have kind admittance.
Music, make their welcome!
LUCIUS: You see, my lord, how ample you’re beloved.
[Music.] Enter the masque of Ladies [as] Amazons,
with lutes in their hands, dancing and playing.
APEMANTUS: [apart] Hoy-day!
What a sweep of vanity comes this way.
They dance? They are madwomen.
Like madness is the glory of this life
As this pomp shows to a little oil and root.
We make ourselves fools to disport ourselves
And spend our flatteries to drink those men
Upon whose age we void it up again
With poisonous spite and envy.
Who lives that’s not depravèd or depraves?
Who dies that bears not one spurn to their graves
Of their friends’ gift?
I should fear those that dance before me now
Would one day stamp upon me. ’T ’as been done.
Men shut their doors against a setting sun.
The Lords rise from table, with much adoring of Timon,
and to show their loves each single out an Amazon, and
all dance, men with women, a lofty strain or two to the
hautboys, and cease.
TIMON: You have done our pleasures much grace, fair ladies,
Set a fair fashion on our entertainment,
Which was not half so beautiful and kind.
You have added worth unto ’t and luster,
And entertained me with mine own device.
I am to thank you for ’t.
FIRST [LADY]: My lord, you take us even at the best.
APEMANTUS: [apart] Faith, for the worst is filthy and
would not hold taking, I doubt me.
TIMON: Ladies, there is an idle banquet attends you.
Please you to dispose yourselves.
ALL LADIES: Most thankfully, my lord.
[Cupid and Ladies] exit.
Dance References in Timon of Athens
There are two dance sequences in Timon of Athens, both in the banquet scene of Act I, scene 2. A group of women, masked and dressed as Amazons, arrive unexpectedly, not unlike the unexpected arrival of masked dancers in Henry VIII. The ladies come with Cupid as their announcer, who presents their request for entrance and compliments the host. Timon invites them in, they enter, and dance, accompanying themselves on lutes. This “masque of Ladies” is likely in the style of a court masque entry of noblewomen, highlighting geometric patterns rather than fancy footwork. After a ranting aside by the play’s initial misanthrope, Apemantus, that touches on the foolish vanity and madness of dancing, the Lords at the banquet dance “a lofty strain or two” with the masked visitors, perhaps a courtly processional dance of couples such as a pavane, almain, or measure. Timon praises the dancing of the ladies and thanks them for providing such “beautiful and kind” entertainment. They return the thanks, and Timon invites them to dine at the banquet, an invitation that they accept before exiting.
Interestingly, after Timon loses his money but before he quits Athens, he throws a mock banquet. (He spreads the rumor that he has recovered his wealth and is throwing one of his usual, lavish banquets.) All the same guests come as in the prior banquet scene, but then Timon uncovers the dishes and there is nothing but stones and smoke. However, the masked ladies do not return for the second banquet. It appears that Timon does not consider them such ungrateful parasites as to ensure their presence at the second banquet. Perhaps the recompense of dinner in exchange for their dancing was more appropriate than the other exchanges depicted in the play, or perhaps their disguises protected them from Timon’s retribution. Regardless, while Timon does make some generally anti-female comments in his bitterness, women do not receive as much invective as men do, and dancing is never attacked by Timon directly nor does he use dance metaphorically in other scenes. Rather, the related movement that is referenced negatively throughout the play is bowing. In addition to actual bowing, which likely occurred frequently, bowing references include “even on their knees and [hands,] let him [slip] down” (I.1.102), “cap-and-knee slaves” (III.6.101), and “Hinge thy knee,/ And let his very breath whom thou ’lt observe/ Blow off thy cap” (IV.3.237-239).
– Emily Winerock (Mar. 6, 2019)
Winerock, Emily. “Dance References in Timon of Athens.” The Shakespeare and Dance Project, edited by Linda McJannet, Amy Rodgers, and Emily Winerock, 6 Mar. 2019, shakespeareandance.com/plays/timon-of-athens. Accessed [date].
Brissenden, Alan. “The Tragedies.” In Shakespeare and the Dance, pp. 63-75. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1981, 2001.
Daye, Anne. “‘The heaven’s true figure’ or an ‘introit to all kind of lewdness’? Competing Conceptions of Dancing in Shakespeare’s England.” In The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Dance, edited by Lynsey McCulloch and Brandon Shaw, pp. 107-131. Oxford University Press, 2019.
Updated March 25, 2020.