Timon of Athens: by Shakespeare - Summary

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      Timon of Athens is a tragedy by William Shakespeare published in the First Folio of 1623. Shakespeare probably found the story during his reading of Plutarch’s life of Mark Antony, though he may also have known Lucian’s satiric dialogue, Timon Misanthropus.

      Timon is a rich and noble Athenian whose generosity leaves him penniless. When he asks his rich friends for help he is denied, and he finds that those who formerly sought his company now avoid him. He invites them all to a banquet, where he serves them with dishes of water, which he throws in their feces. He curses the city of Athens, and leaves it, followed only by his faithful servant Flavius.

      Now a committed misanthrope, Timon lives in a cave, where, digging for roots, he uncovers a hoard of gold. He is visited by the exiled Athenian general, Alcibiades, who is on the way to Athens with an avenging army. Timon gives him gold to pay his soldiers. He also rewards the loyalty of Flavius, whom he swears to silence as he gives him all that remains of his treasure. It is the bitter philosopher Apemantus who spreads news of Timon’s sudden riches, but the Athenian senators who come to seek his help against Alcibiades are spurned. The victorious Alcibiades promises to destroy only those who are his own or Timon’s enemies, but a soldier brings him news that Timon is dead, and Alcibiades decides to offer peace with mercy.

      Timon of Athens is the least loved of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, perhaps because the bitter pride which Timon shares with Coriolanus is too readily justified by his experience. Recent criticism has sought to establish for the play a quality which it has still to prove in the theatre.

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