Charles Lamb.

Tales of Shakespeare online

. (page 18 of 23)
Online LibraryCharles LambTales of Shakespeare → online text (page 18 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

they expected, that Timon's epicurean table in past times had so
liberally presented, now appeared under the covers of these dishes a
preparation more suitable to Timon's poverty, nothing but a little
smoke and lukewarm water, fit feast for this knot of mouth-friends,
whose professions were indeed smoke, and their hearts lukewarm and
slippery as the water with which Timon welcomed his astonished guests,
bidding them, 'Uncover, dogs, and lap'; and before they could recover
their surprise, sprinkling it in their faces, that they might have
enough, and throwing dishes and all after them, who now ran huddling
out, lords, ladies, with their caps snatched up in haste, a splendid
confusion, Timon pursuing them, still calling them what they were,
'smooth smiling parasites, destroyers under the mask of courtesy,
affable wolves, meek bears, fools of fortune, feast-friends,
time-flies.' They, crowding out to avoid him, left the house more
willingly than they had entered it; some losing their gowns and caps,
and some their jewels in the hurry, all glad to escape out of the
presence of such a mad lord, and from the ridicule of his mock banquet.

This was the last feast which ever Timon made, and in it he took
farewell of Athens and the society of men; for, after that, he betook
himself to the woods, turning his back upon the hated city and upon all
mankind, wishing the walls of that detestable city might sink, and the
houses fall upon their owners, wishing all plagues which infest
humanity, war, outrage, poverty, diseases, might fasten upon its
inhabitants, praying the just gods to confound all Athenians, both
young and old, high and low; so wishing, he went to the woods, where he
said he should find the unkindest beast much kinder than mankind. He
stripped himself naked, that he might retain no fashion of a man, and
dug a cave to live in, and lived solitary in the manner of a beast,
eating the wild roots, and drinking water, flying from the face of his
kind, and choosing rather to herd with wild beasts, as more harmless
and friendly than man.

What a change from lord Timon the rich, lord Timon the delight of
mankind, to Timon the naked, Timon the man-hater! Where were his
flatterers now? Where were his attendants and retinue? Would the bleak
air, that boisterous servitor, be his chamberlain, to put his shirt on
warm? Would those stiff trees that had outlived the eagle, turn young
and airy pages to him, to skip on his errands when he bade them? Would
the cool brook, when it was iced with winter, administer to him his
warm broths and caudles when sick of an overnight's surfeit? Or would
the creatures that lived in those wild woods come and lick his hand and
flatter him?

Here on a day, when he was digging for roots, his poor sustenance, his
spade struck against something heavy, which proved to be gold, a great
heap which some miser had probably buried in a time of alarm, thinking
to have come again, and taken it from its prison, but died before the
opportunity had arrived, without making any man privy to the
concealment; so it lay, doing neither good nor harm, in the bowels of
the earth, its mother, as if it had never come from thence, till the
accidental striking of Timon's spade against it once more brought it to

Here was a mass of treasure which, if Timon had retained his old mind,
was enough to have purchased him friends and flatterers again; but
Timon was sick of the false world, and the sight of gold was poisonous
to his eyes; and he would have restored it to the earth, but that,
thinking of the infinite calamities which by means of gold happen to
mankind, how the lucre of it causes robberies, oppression, injustice,
briberies, violence, and murder, among men, he had a pleasure in
imagining (such a rooted hatred did he bear to his species) that out of
this heap, which in digging he had discovered, might arise some
mischief to plague mankind. And some soldiers passing through the woods
near to his cave at that instant, which proved to be a part of the
troops of the Athenian captain Alcibiades, who upon some disgust taken
against the senators of Athens (the Athenians were ever noted to be a
thankless and ungrateful people, giving disgust to their generals and
best friends), was marching at the head of the same triumphant army
which he had formerly headed in their defence, to war against them;
Timon, who liked their business well, bestowed upon their captain the
gold to pay his soldiers, requiring no other service from him, than
that he should with his conquering army lay Athens level with the
ground, and burn, slay, kill all her inhabitants; not sparing the old
men for their white beards, for (he said) they were usurers, nor the
young children for their seeming innocent smiles, for those (he said)
would live, if they grew up, to be traitors; but to steel his eyes and
ears against any sights or sounds that might awaken compassion; and not
to let the cries of virgins, babes, or mothers, hinder him from making
one universal massacre of the city, but to confound them all in his
conquest; and when he had conquered, he prayed that the gods would
confound him also, the conqueror: so thoroughly did Timon hate Athens,
Athenians, and all mankind.

While he lived in this forlorn state, leading a life more brutal than
human, he was suddenly surprised one day with the appearance of a man
standing in an admiring posture at the door of his cave. It was
Flavius, the honest steward, whom love and zealous affection to his
master had led to seek him out at his wretched dwelling, and to offer
his services; and the first sight of his master, the once noble Timon,
in that abject condition, naked as he was born, living in the manner of
a beast among beasts, looking like his own sad ruins and a monument of
decay, so affected this good servant, that he stood speechless, wrapped
up in horror, and confounded. And when he found utterance at last to
his words, they were so choked with tears, that Timon had much ado to
know him again, or to make out who it was that had come (so contrary to
the experience he had had of mankind) to offer him service in
extremity. And being in the form and shape of a man, he suspected him
for a traitor, and his tears for false; but the good servant by so many
tokens confirmed the truth of his fidelity, and made it clear that
nothing but love and zealous duty to his once dear master had brought
him there, that Timon was forced to confess that the world contained
one honest man; yet, being in the shape and form of a man, he could not
look upon his man's face without abhorrence, or hear words uttered from
his man's lips without loathing; and this singly honest man was forced
to depart, because he was a man, and because, with a heart more gentle
and compassionate than is usual to man, he bore man's detested form and
outward feature.

But greater visitants than a poor steward were about to interrupt the
savage quiet of Timon's solitude. For now the day was come when the
ungrateful lords of Athens sorely repented the injustice which they had
done to the noble Timon. For Alcibiades, like an incensed wild boar,
was raging at the walls of their city, and with his hot siege
threatened to lay fair Athens in the dust. And now the memory of lord
Timon's former prowess and military conduct came fresh into their
forgetful minds, for Timon had been their general in past times, and a
valiant and expert soldier, who alone of all the Athenians was deemed
able to cope with a besieging army such as then threatened them, or to
drive back the furious approaches of Alcibiades.

A deputation of the senators was chosen in this emergency to wait upon
Timon. To him they come in their extremity, to whom, when he was in
extremity they had shown but small regard; as if they presumed upon his
gratitude whom they had disobliged, and had derived a claim to his
courtesy from their own most discourteous and unpiteous treatment.

Now they earnestly beseech him, implore him with tears, to return and
save that city, from which their ingratitude had so lately driven him;
now they offer him riches, power, dignities, satisfaction for past
injuries, and public honours, and the public love; their persons,
lives, and fortunes, to be at his disposal, if he will but come back
and save them. But Timon the naked, Timon the man-hater, was no longer
lord Timon, the lord of bounty, the flower of velour, their defence in
war, their ornament in peace. If Alcibiades killed his countrymen,
Timon cared not. If he sacked fair Athens, and slew her old men and her
infants, Timon would rejoice. So he told them; and that there was not a
knife in the unruly camp which he did not prize above the reverendest
throat in Athens.

This was all the answer he vouchsafed to the weeping disappointed
senators; only at parting he bade them commend him to his countrymen,
and tell them, that to ease them of their griefs and anxieties, and to
prevent the consequences of fierce Alcibiades' wrath, there was yet a
way left, which he would teach them, for he had yet so much affection
left for his dear countrymen as to be willing to do them a kindness
before his death. These words a little revived the senators, who hoped
that his kindness for their city was returning. Then Timon told them
that he had a tree, which grew near his cave, which he should shortly
have occasion to cut down, and he invited all his friends in Athens,
high or low, of what degree soever, who wished to shun affliction, to
come and take a taste of his tree before he cut it down; meaning, that
they might come and hang themselves on it, and escape affliction that

And this was the last courtesy of all his noble bounties, which Timon
showed to mankind, and this the last sight of him which his countrymen
had: for not many days after, a poor soldier, passing by the sea-beach,
which was at a little distance from the woods which Timon frequented,
found a tomb on the verge of the sea, with an inscription upon it,
purporting that it was the grave of Timon the man-hater, who 'While he
lived, did hate all living men, and dying wished a plague might consume
all caitiffs left!'

Whether he finished his life by violence, or whether mere distaste of
life and the loathing he had for mankind brought Timon to his
conclusion, was not clear, yet all men admired the fitness of his
epitaph, and the consistency of his end; dying, as he had lived, a
hater of mankind: and some there were who fancied a conceit in the very
choice which he had made of the sea-beach for his place of burial,
where the vast sea might weep for ever upon his grave, as in contempt
of the transient and shallow tears of hypocritical and deceitful


The two chief families in Verona were the rich Capulets and the
Montagues. There had been an old quarrel between these families, which
was grown to such a height, and so deadly was the enmity between them,
that it extended to the remotest kindred, to the followers and
retainers of both sides, insomuch that a servant of the house of
Montague could not meet a servant of the house of Capulet, nor a
Capulet encounter with a Montague by chance, but fierce words and
sometimes bloodshed ensued; and frequent were the brawls from such
accidental meetings, which disturbed the happy quiet of Verona's

Old lord Capulet made a great supper, to which many fair ladies and
many noble guests were invited. All the admired beauties of Verona were
present, and all comers were made welcome if they were not of the house
of Montague. At this feast of Capulets, Rosaline, beloved of Romeo, son
to the old lord Montague, was present; and though it was dangerous for
a Montague to be seen in this assembly, yet Benvolio, a friend of
Romeo, persuaded the young lord to go to this assembly in the disguise
of a mask, that he might see his Rosaline, and seeing her, compare her
with some choice beauties of Verona, who (he said) would make him think
his swan a crow. Romeo had small faith in Benvolio's words;
nevertheless, for the love of Rosaline, he was persuaded to go. For
Romeo was a sincere and passionate lover, and one that lost his sleep
for love, and fled society to be alone, thinking on Rosaline, who
disdained him, and never requited his love, with the least show of
courtesy or affection; and Benvolio wished to cure his friend of this
love by showing him diversity of ladies and company. To this feast of
Capulets then young Romeo with Benvolio and their friend Mercutio went
masked. Old Capulet bid them welcome, and told them that ladies who had
their toes unplagued with corns would dance with them. And the old man
was light hearted and merry, and said that he had worn a mask when he
was young, and could have told a whispering tale in a fair lady's ear.
And they fell to dancing, and Romeo was suddenly struck with the
exceeding beauty of a lady who danced there, who seemed to him to teach
the torches to burn bright, and her beauty to show by night like a rich
jewel worn by a blackamoor; beauty too rich for use, too dear for
earth! like a snowy dove trooping with crows (he said), so richly did
her beauty and perfections shine above the ladies her companions. While
he uttered these praises, he was overheard by Tybalt, a nephew of lord
Capulet, who knew him by his voice to be Romeo. And this Tybalt, being
of a fiery and passionate temper, could not endure that a Montague
should come under cover of a mask, to fleer and scorn (as he said) at
their solemnities. And he stormed and raged exceedingly, and would have
struck young Romeo dead. But his uncle, the old lord Capulet, would not
suffer him to do any injury at that time, both out of respect to his
guests, and because Romeo had borne himself like a gentleman, and all
tongues in Verona bragged of him to be a virtuous and well-governed
youth. Tybalt, forced to be patient against his will, restrained
himself, but swore that this vile Montague should at another time
dearly pay for his intrusion.

The dancing being done, Romeo watched the place where the lady stood;
and under favour of his masking habit, which might seem to excuse in
part the liberty, he presumed in the gentlest manner to take her by the
hand, calling it a shrine, which if he profaned by touching it, he was
a blushing pilgrim, and would kiss it for atonement. 'Good pilgrim,'
answered the lady, 'your devotion shows by far too mannerly and too
courtly: saints have hands, which pilgrims may touch, but kiss not.'
'Have not saints lips, and pilgrims too?' said Romeo. 'Ay,' said the
lady, 'lips which they must use in prayer.' 'O then, my dear saint,'
said Romeo, 'hear my prayer, and grant it, lest I despair.' In such
like allusions and loving conceits they were engaged, when the lady was
called away to her mother. And Romeo inquiring who her mother was,
discovered that the lady whose peerless beauty he was so much struck
with, was young Juliet, daughter and heir to the lord Capulet, the
great enemy of the Montagues; and that he had unknowingly engaged his
heart to his foe. This troubled him, but it could not dissuade him from
loving. As little rest had Juliet, when she found that the gentleman
that she had been talking with was Romeo and a Montague, for she had
been suddenly smit with the same hasty and inconsiderate passion for
Romeo, which he had conceived for her; and a prodigious birth of love
it seemed to her, that she must love her enemy, and that her
afflictions should settle there, where family considerations should
induce her chiefly to hate.

It being midnight, Romeo with his companions departed; but they soon
missed him, for, unable to stay away from the house where he had left
his heart, he leaped the wall of an orchard which was at the back of
Juliet's house. Here he had not been long, ruminating on his new love,
when Juliet appeared above at a window, through which her exceeding
beauty seemed to break like the light of the sun in the east; and the
moon, which shone in the orchard with a faint light, appeared to Romeo
as if sick and pale with grief at the superior lustre of this new sun.
And she, leaning her cheek upon her hand, he passionately wished
himself a glove upon that hand, that he might touch her cheek. She all
this while thinking herself alone, fetched a deep sigh, and exclaimed:
'Ah me!' Romeo, enraptured to hear her speak, said softly, and unheard
by her: 'O speak again, bright angel, for such you appear, being over
my head, like a winged messenger from heaven whom mortals fall back to
gaze upon.' She, unconscious of being overheard, and full of the new
passion which that night's adventure had given birth to, called upon
her lover by name (whom she supposed absent): 'O Romeo, Romeo!' said
she, 'wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father, and refuse thy name,
for my sake; or if thou wilt not, be but my sworn love, and I no longer
will be a Capulet.'

Romeo, having this encouragement, would fain have spoken, but he was
desirous of hearing more; and the lady continued her passionate
discourse with herself (as she thought), still chiding Romeo for being
Romeo and a Montague, and wishing him some other name, or that he would
put away that hated name, and for that name which was no part of
himself, he should take all herself. At this loving word Romeo could no
longer refrain, but taking up the dialogue as if her words had been
addressed to him personally, and not merely in fancy, he bade her call
him Love, or by whatever other name she pleased, for he was no longer
Romeo, if that name was displeasing to her. Juliet, alarmed to hear a
man's voice in the garden, did not at first know who it was, that by
favour of the night and darkness had thus stumbled upon the discovery
of her secret; but when he spoke again, though her ears had not yet
drunk a hundred words of that tongue's uttering, yet so nice is a
lover's hearing, that she immediately knew him to be young Romeo, and
she expostulated with him on the danger to which he had exposed himself
by climbing the orchard walls, for if any of her kinsmen should find
him there, it would be death to him, being a Montague. 'Alack,' said
Romeo, 'there is more peril in your eye, than in twenty of their
swords. Do you but look kind upon me, lady, and I am proof against
their enmity. Better my life should be ended by their hate, than that
hated life should be prolonged, to live without your love.' 'How came
you into this place,' said Juliet, 'and by whose direction?' 'Love
directed me,' answered Romeo: 'I am no pilot, yet wert thou as far
apart from me, as that vast shore which is washed with the farthest
sea, I should venture for such merchandise.' A crimson blush came over
Juliet's face, yet unseen by Romeo by reason of the night, when she
reflected upon the discovery which she had made, yet not meaning to
make it, of her love to Romeo. She would fain have recalled her words,
but that was impossible: fain would she have stood upon form, and have
kept her lover at a distance, as the custom of discreet ladies is, to
frown and be perverse, and give their suitors harsh denials at first;
to stand off, and affect a coyness or indifference, where they most
love, that their lovers may not think them too lightly or too easily
won; for the difficulty of attainment increases the value of the
object. But there was no room in her case for denials, or puttings off,
or any of the customary arts of delay and protracted courtship. Romeo
had heard from her own tongue, when she did not dream that he was near
her, a confession of her love. So with an honest frankness, which the
novelty of her situation excused, she confirmed the truth of what he
had before heard, and addressing him by the name of fair Montague (love
can sweeten a sour name), she begged him not to impute her easy
yielding to levity or an unworthy mind, but that he must lay the fault
of it (if it were a fault) upon the accident of the night which had so
strangely discovered her thoughts. And she added, that though her
behaviour to him might not be sufficiently prudent, measured by the
custom of her sex, yet that she would prove more true than many whose
prudence was dissembling, and their modesty artificial cunning.

Romeo was beginning to call the heavens to witness, that nothing was
farther from his thoughts than to impute a shadow of dishonour to such
an honoured lady, when she stopped him, begging him not to swear; for
although she joyed in him, yet she had no joy of that night's contract:
it was too rash, too unadvised, too sudden. But he being urgent with
her to exchange a vow of love with him that night, she said that she
already had given him hers before he requested it; meaning, when he
overheard her confession; but she would retract what she then bestowed,
for the pleasure of giving it again, for her bounty was as infinite as
the sea, and her love as deep. From this loving conference she was
called away by her nurse, who slept with her, and thought it time for
her to be in bed, for it was near to daybreak; but hastily returning,
she said three or four words more to Romeo, the purport of which was,
that if his love was indeed honourable, and his purpose marriage, she
would send a messenger to him to-morrow, to appoint a time for their
marriage, when she would lay all her fortunes at his feet, and follow
him as her lord through the world. While they were settling this point,
Juliet was repeatedly called for by her nurse, and went in and
returned, and went and returned again, for she seemed as jealous of
Romeo going from her, as a young girl of her bird, which she will let
hop a little from her hand, and pluck it back with a silken thread; and
Romeo was as loath to part as she; for the sweetest music to lovers is
the sound of each other's tongues at night. But at last they parted,
wishing mutually sweet sleep and rest for that night.

The day was breaking when they parted, and Romeo, who was too full of
thoughts of his mistress and that blessed meeting to allow him to
sleep, instead of going home, bent his course to a monastery hard by,
to find friar Lawrence. The good friar was already up at his devotions,
but seeing young Romeo abroad so early, he conjectured rightly that he
had not been abed that night, but that some distemper of youthful
affection had kept him waking. He was right in imputing the cause of
Romeo's wakefulness to love, but he made a wrong guess at the object,
for he thought that his love for Rosaline had kept him waking. But when
Romeo revealed his new passion for Juliet, and requested the assistance
of the friar to marry them that day, the holy man lifted up his eyes
and hands in a sort of wonder at the sudden change in Romeo's
affections, for he had been privy to all Romeo's love for Rosaline, and
his many complaints of her disdain: and he said, that young men's love
lay not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes. But Romeo replying,
that he himself had often chidden him for doting on Rosaline, who could
not love him again, whereas Juliet both loved and was beloved by him,
the friar assented in some measure to his reasons; and thinking that a
matrimonial alliance between young Juliet and Romeo might happily be
the means of making up the long breach between the Capulets and the
Montagues; which no one more lamented than this good friar, who was a
friend to both the families and had often interposed his mediation to
make up the quarrel without effect; partly moved by policy, and partly
by his fondness for young Romeo, to whom he could deny nothing, the old
man consented to join their hands in marriage.

Now was Romeo blessed indeed, and Juliet, who knew his intent from a
messenger which she had despatched according to promise, did not fail
to be early at the cell of friar Lawrence, where their hands were
joined in holy marriage; the good friar praying the heavens to smile
upon that act, and in the union of this young Montague and young
Capulet to bury the old strife and long dissensions of their families.

The ceremony being over, Juliet hastened home, where she stayed
impatient for the coming of night, at which time Romeo promised to come
and meet her in the orchard, where they had met the night before; and
the time between seemed as tedious to her, as the night before some
great festival seems to an impatient child, that has got new finery
which it may not put on till the morning.

That same day, about noon, Romeo's friends, Benvolio and Mercutio,
walking through the streets of Verona, were met by a party of the
Capulets with the impetuous Tybalt at their head. This was the same
angry Tybalt who would have fought with Romeo at old lord Capulet's

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryCharles LambTales of Shakespeare → online text (page 18 of 23)