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Theatre / Timon of Athens

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As the play is Older Than Steam and most twists in Shakespeare's plots are now widely known, all spoilers on this page are unmarked.

"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:

  • Became Their Own Antithesis: Timon's journey from generous lover of humanity to raging misanthrope makes up the main arc of the play.
  • Buried Treasure: Timon digs for roots, discovers gold. Instead of making him happy that he can pay off his debts and return to his old life, it drives him deeper into misanthropy and depression since he considers it as salt on the wounds rather than balm. He later uses it to finance his former friend Alcibiades' army marching on Athens and two prostitutes to spread sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Dying Alone: Timon's fate — he even composes his own epitaph!
  • Entitled Bastard: The Athenian Senators come across as this. First they let Timon fall into poverty by not helping him, then they exile Alcibiades when he speaks out for Timon, and then when Alcibiades comes marching with an army to conquer Athens, they plead with Timon to talk down Alcibiades.
  • A Friend in Need: Timon starts the play as this kind of guy, but when he falls on hard times and he expects his friends to come and help him — they don't.
  • The Hermit: If this play were more famous, Timon would be the poster child.
  • Impoverished Patrician
  • Madden Into Misanthropy: When his three closest friends not only refuse, but seem insulted to be asked for help, coupled with his creditors having not an ounce of generosity to wait for their dues despite his honorable nature, Timon is driven to misanthropy.
  • Meaningful Name: Apemantus is a crude, boorish fellow. Timon is "timorous" because he relies on his friends... and, well, see A Friend in Need above.
  • No Name Given: A truly astonishing number of characters, given that Shakespeare usually liked to name everybody.
  • Overly Generous Fool: Timon starts out like this before circumstances forcibly open his eyes.
  • Pride: Timon is quite proud of his reputation as a generous patrician. This excessive generosity becomes his Fatal Flaw as he lavishes gifts while paying too little attention to his own finances.
  • Pride Before a Fall: Timon
  • Protagonist Title
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Everyone. To everyone. But especially Apemantus. And Timon, in the second half.
  • 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 "forest full of beasts" in the sense that the middle classes 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?