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Timon of Athens /

Authorship of Timon of Athens

Since Timon of Athens was published in the 1623 collection of Shakespeare’s plays that we now call the First Folio, it has as good a claim to being Shakespeare’s as most of the plays now attributed to him and a better claim than some currently being put forward (e.g., Edward III). Nonetheless, there has long been dissatisfaction with passages and scenes in Timon, and this has led to the opinion that Shakespeare must have worked with one or more collaborators in writing the play. The tradition that Timon is not all Shakespeare’s can be traced as far back as the great Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who claimed to be able to distinguish on stylistic grounds Shakespeare’s work from others’ line by line as he read the plays. Coleridge did not work out in detail his conviction that parts of Timon (and of other plays) were written by other dramatists, but he inspired a host of Shakespeare scholars and enthusiasts throughout much of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth in their attempts to identify Shakespeare’s alleged collaborator and to assign to him those parts of Timon judged to be not Shakespearean (which usually meant that the parts were deemed somehow “unworthy” of the Bard). So many different candidates for the role of collaborator were proposed during those years that the whole enterprise became easy for its scholarly opponents to discredit.

By the middle of the twentieth century, the whole practice of reattributing parts of Timon (and other plays) to other dramatists became stigmatized by the name disintegrationism and fell from scholarly favor. Recently, however, some attribution scholars have returned to the issue, adopting a disinterested, quasi-scientific position that the individual styles of dramatists, Shakespeare among them, are neither inferior nor superior to each other but are simply different. What’s more, they argue, these stylistic differences can be quantified and subjected to statistical analysis. Recent investigations of Timon’s authorship by such methods have not, however, produced conclusive results. Some attribution scholars have identified Thomas Middleton as Shakespeare’s collaborator on the play, but others, equally expert in this narrow field of study, have rejected this claim. Whether Timon is Shakespeare’s alone or not is still being rather hotly debated. Among the evidence being advanced for dual authorship are differences in the value of the talent that, some scholars allege, occur between different parts of the play. On this issue, see “Talents.”