Boethian influences in Shakespeare's Timon of Athens
Collins, Andrea Norine
Master of Arts
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While John L. Tison Jr. recognizes Shakespeare as writing in the consolatory fashion, he highlights Henry VI, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Coriolanus, and Romeo and Juliet as examples while failing to include Timon of Athens. The evidence presented in my thesis indicates that Timon should be added to Tison’s lists. Boethius changed the genre of consolatio in antiquity; likewise, Shakespeare adapts consolatory literature to the Renaissance stage. This thesis undertakes an examination of Philosophy’s discourse in conjunction with the characters in Timon of Athens, thereby revealing that Shakespeare’s Timon is informed by Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy. I show the characters of Timon and Alcibiades to be the embodiment of Philosophy’s - and therefore Boethius’ - imparted wisdom in the areas of the right cure for the right ailment. Fortune, sin, good and evil, the bestial man and the virtuous man. Furthermore, this analysis serves to clarify the purpose of the contentious fifth scene in the third act. I begin by discussing the extent of Boethian influence in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. I show existing critical and scholarly connections between Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and the work of such Medieval and Renaissance writers as Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Wyatt, and William Shakespeare. I examine the sources of Shakespeare’s Timon to facilitate a complete understanding of how Alcibiades’ scene with the Senate shows a direct Boethian influence which is not found in other sources. Then, I move toward drawing parallels between Philosophy’s discussion with the persona Boethius to the discussions and actions in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. Most specifically, I tackle the unique discussion found only in Boethius’ consolation of applying the right cure to the ailment, and show how it is relevant to Timon, as well as revealing the true Boethian purpose behind the Alcibiades and Senate scene. I examine the overwhelming similarities between Philosophy’s imparted wisdom about Fortune, revealing how this wisdom is echoed in Timon. I show how Boethius further informs Shakespeare in the areas of sin, the virtuous and bestial man, and the hazards of attaching oneself to the wrong ‘good’. This thesis concludes by summarizing and structuring the evidence to enable the reader to understand the extent to which Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy informs Shakespeare’s The Life of Timon of Athens.