Timon of Ashes

Joanna Grossman


In his Religio Medici, Sir Thomas Browne writes, "to call our selves a Microcosme, or little world, I thought it onely a pleasant trope of Rhetorick, till my neare judgment...told me there was a reall truth therein. For first we are a rude mass...next we live the life of plants, the life of animals, the life of men, and at last the life of spirits." This blurring of the boundaries between life forms, coupled with a disavowal of the notion that humans exist apart from other life forms, is what I wish to explore in Shakespeare's oft-overlooked tragedy, Timon of Athens. More specifically, this paper argues that, in terms of how Timon describes himself (or is described by others), we see a clear progression from man to beast to plant to dirt. As such, the play essentially reverses the sequence proposed by Sir Thomas Browne. The reason behind the reversal is straightforward enough: Timon wants to position himself as "Misanthropos" (IV.iii.52). But hating mankind proves insufficient for Timon and his anger eventually leads to a rejection of the mammalian system as a whole.


Shakespeare; ecocriticism; Timon of Athens

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549