January 30 – April 4, 2014

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Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens in the play
  • Four craftsmen from Athens (a poet, a paint, a jeweler, and a merchant) observe the hangers-on attending the wealthy and generous Timon. The Poet observes that fickle Fortune may abandon Timon and that his “friends” may follow suit.
  • A messenger informs Timon that his friend Venditius is in debtors’ prison. Timon agrees to pay Venditius’s debt so that he can be released.
  • Timon pays off an Athenian so that his servant, Lucilius, may marry the man’s daughter.
  • Apemantus tells Timon that his “friends” are liars, flatterers, and knaves and that he deserves their false friendship because he pays them for it.
  • At a banquet in Timon’s home, the newly released Venditius says that he will repay Timon, but Timon tells him “you mistake my love: I gave it freely.”
  • Apemantus attends the banquet, but refuses any food, instead commenting on the behavior of Timon’s other guests.
  • As the party ends, Timon bestows even more gifts on his friends, but his servant Flavius notes that Timon’s coffers are now empty.
  • Several Athenians send servants to collect debts owed to them by Timon. Flavius explains to Timon that he is bankrupt. Timon is confident that his friends will treat him with the same generosity he gave them, and he sends servants to ask for loans.
  • Timon’s friends all refuse to give him money to pay off his debts.
  • A group of servants sent from Timon’s creditors gather at his house, and Timon rages at them when they present their bills.
  • Timon concocts a plan and tells his servant Flavius to invite his friends to a feast.
  • At the Senate, the soldier Alcibiades pleads on behalf of a friend on trial for manslaughter, arguing that their service on the battlefield should more than pay their civic debt. The Senators banish Alcibiades and sentence the man to death.
  • Timon’s friends gather at his feast, all professing sorrow that they hadn’t been able to help him. Timon rejects them all and leaves Athens.
  • Cursing, raging, hermitage, and civil strife ensue.
Dr. Ralph's Brief

1. When was the play first peformed?
Timon of Athens didn’t appear in the Stationers’ Register until 7 years after Shakespeare’s death. Scholars generally believe that the play was written circa 1605. 

2. Where was the play first performed?
If the play was performed at all during Shakespeare’s life and if it was performed near its date of composition, then that performance would have been at the Globe.

3. How does the play fit into Shakespeare’s career?
Timon has some elite chronological neighbors among Shakespeare’s tragedies: it comes after Othello and just before King Lear and Macbeth. These plays (from 1603 to 1607) are among Shakespeare’s “dark” works, plays of pain and loss inhabited by flawed heroes, and Timon certainly fits that description.

4. How is this play like Shakespeare’s other plays?
Timon of Athens features themes that appear in many of Shakespeare’s other plays – the limits of friendship, generosity, mercy, and civic responsibility. Timon’s big speeches, in their intensity and in the psychological progression of thoughts, match any of Shakespeare’s best.

5. How is this play unlike other Shakespeare plays?
The world of Timon is narrower than most of Shakespeare’s plays, not in its geography but in its single-minded attention to its main character and the ideas he represents. That narrowness appears in the exclusion of matters of gender (no female characters of prime importance to the plot) or love.

6. What do scholars think about this play?
Most scholars view Timon of Athens as a poor relation to Shakespeare’s other tragedies. To the scholar, the play is reminiscent of the schematic structure of one of Ben Jonson’s comedies in which a character (like Morose in this season’s Epicene) with a peculiar “humor” – in this case, Timon’s reckless generosity – endures a reversal. Historically the play has not been a favorite of the stage, but recently, doubtless because of the West’s economic issues, it has seen upsurge in productions. Nicholas Hynter’s National Theatre production with Simon Russell Beale in the title role was a deserved success.

7. Are there any controversies surrounding the work?
Plenty. Some scholars believe that the play was a collaboration between Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton, and there is speculation that the play itself is an unfinished work that was inserted in the First Folio when the publishers couldn’t get approval for Troilus and Cressida. 

8. What characters should I especially look out for?
Timon, of course, with his 180-degree turn from generous, smiling man of the world to misanthropic, raging hermit. But also Apemantus, who appears as the scowling voice of reason throughout the play, and Flavius, whose version of the faithful servant is particularly touching for its lack of sentiment.

9. What scene should I especially look for?
The two banquet scenes. The first banquet shows us Timon as he has lived, his celebration of friendship and society, and the company and flattery that his money has purchased. The second banquet shows the reverse, with Timon parodying his previous dinner and turning the tables to call out his fake friends in a spectacular way.

10. What is the language like?
Smooth and coiled as flattery sometimes, rough and jagged as cursing others.