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Theatre / Timon of Athens

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"Here lies a wretched corse, of wretched soul bereft:
Seek not my name: a plague consume you wicked caitiffs left!
Here lie I, Timon; who, alive, all living men did hate:
Pass by and curse thy fill, but pass and stay not here thy gait."
Epitaph of Timon of Athens, V.iv

One of William Shakespeare's more obscure and difficult plays, Timon of Athens is about an overly generous man who becomes a misanthropic hermit after going bankrupt and being cast off by his friends. It is believed to be a collaborative work, with most critics pointing to Thomas Middleton as the co-writer. It has been called Shakespeare's "least loved play." The play is inspired by an episode mentioned in Plutarch's Parallel Lives (precisely Life of Antony) as well as the satire Timon the Misanthrope by Lucian of Samosata.

Timon is an extremely, almost overly, generous Athenian lord. He surrounds himself with flattering cronies, rewarding their flattery with lavish gifts. He holds a massive feast and invites all his friends, many of whom he helped with personal problems by throwing money at them. The only one in attendance who doesn't suck up to Timon is Apemantus, who's only there to snark at him and his flatterers.


Timon's steward Flavius tells Timon he's deep in debt, and can't even sell his lands to recover. Timon sends servants to three of his closest friends, but one by one they shoot him down. Timon is heartbroken, but decides to throw them another feast. At the feast, Timon gives his former friends an elaborate "fuck you", serves them a "soup" which is really just warm water, and chases them all out of his house with stones.

Timon is exiled from Athens and goes to live in a cave outside its walls, where he spends most of his time wishing plagues and disaster onto the city. While digging for roots, he finds gold coins. Alcibiades, another exiled lord, runs into Timon and confides he's going to sack and ruin Athens. Timon encourages him to ravish the entire city, and gives him gold to fuel the campaign; Alcibiades is reluctant to be so vicious, but says he'll avenge both of them.


Timon's old friends hear that he's suddenly wealthy again, and go to him, hoping to enjoy his generosity, but they then met with disdain and vicious insults. Apemantus shows up as well, to deliver an "I told you so," and the two have a comical battle of wits before Timon chases him away with stones. The only person Timon doesn't hate, it seems, is his old servant Flavius, who visits him but doesn't ask for any money; Timon gives him the rest of his gold, and instructs him never to be generous to anyone.

Alcibiades attacks Athens, but the senators convince him not to attack. Alcibiades agrees, and receives word that Timon is dead. He reads the epitaph Timon had composed for himself, and muses on how great Timon was and how far he fell.

Not to be confused with that Timon.

Timon of Athens contains examples of:

  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Arguably a heroic example, when the senators beg Timon to consider what will happen to the citizens of Athens if the rebels take the city. He seems to soften, promises them to "do some kindness" to them.
    Timon: I have a tree, which grows here in my close,
    That mine own use invites me to cut down,
    And shortly must I fell it: tell my friends,
    Tell Athens, in the sequence of degree
    From high to low throughout, that whoso please
    To stop affliction, let him take his haste,
    Come hither, ere my tree hath felt the axe
    ...And hang himself.
  • The Snark Knight: Apemantus
  • Talking the Monster to Death: At one point, Timon encourages two thieves to continue being thieves and stealing from whoever they can, citing how all of nature, society, mankind and religion are thieves. The "problem" is he's so convincing in laying open how terrible violence and thievery are that he basically shames them into not wanting to steal anymore.
  • Tempting Fate: At one point during a banquet Timon boasts that he wishes he were poorer so that he could be "nearer" to his friends.
    Timon: Why, I have often wished myself poorer, that I might come nearer to you.
    • Apemantus later on notes that part of Timon's past blindness and present misanthropy were born from only knowing the top and bottom of Athenian society, and tries to reason with him that the citizenry is really a "forrest full of beasts" in the sense that the middle clases are not as obsessed with money as the poorest or the richest.
  • Used to Be More Social: Timon starts out as the friendliest, most loved man in Athens, but that was until his creditors take all his stuff and his "friends" won't help him out. He is now misanthropic hermit who just wants to be left alone.
  • Villainous Glutton: A non-villainous example, Timon loved to throw feasts. And in a sense, Timon was a "glutton" not for food but for generosity, he genuinely enjoyed giving to the point of self-harm.
  • Volleying Insults: An impressively lengthy back-and-forth between Timon and Apemantus occurs near the end of Act 4.
  • Your Mom:
    Painter: You're a dog.
    Apemantus: Thy mother's of my generation: what's she, if I be a dog?


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