It is a popular but tactfully suppressed grievance that Shakespeare did not love dogs as he should, and I think the topic is really a long one, when you call a man a dog with obscure praise, or treat a dog as half – human you do not much believe in the fall of man, you assume a rationalist view of man as the most triumphant of the animals.
William Empson, ‘Timon’s Dog’, from ‘The Structure of Complex Words’.
i disagree with the William Empson quite strongly (here).
His very short chapter on ‘timon of athens’ is beautifully written and very precise; in it’s dissection of language, but seems to make the slightly foolish assumption that shakespeare can only be either (or a mixed bag of) renaissance rationalist or medieval christian. shakespeare was clearly well versed in neo-platonism and various hermetic philosophies – ‘king lear’ or the ‘merchant of venice’ in particular show a profound understanding of esoteric philosophy.
the dog is a symbol of the corrupting influence of materialism; and a slave.
the twisting of the form and nature of the dog has left a creature dependant yet unpredictable. it is civilised but may still ‘turn’. unfulfilled nature.