TIMON OF ATHENS

By William Shakespeare
Probably written about 1605 TO 1610

General Note: In January 2009 I decided that Iíd like to go back and read all the plays of William Shakespeare, perhaps one a month if that works out. I hadnít read a Shakespeare play since 1959, 50 years ago! But I had read nearly all of them in college. I wanted to go back, start with something not too serious or challenging, and work my way through the whole corpus. Thus I began with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. At this time I have no idea how the project will go, nor if it will actually lead me through the entire corpus of Shakespeareís plays. However, I will keep a separate page listing each play Iíve read with links to any comments I would make of that particular play. See: List of Shakespeareís playís Iíve read and commented on

COMMENTS ON
TIMON OF ATHENS

Comments by Bob Corbett
August 2010

This play was better than a summary of the economic news of the world since 2008! And seemingly quite related. Timon is the leader of Athens, and he is extremely generous, giving lavishly to friends and followers, having great banquets and festivals and creating an atmosphere of endless bounty. Unfortunately it is all being done with borrowed money, and before too long the borrowers begin to press for their money. Timon and Athens are broke, completely, and the Senate threatens to put Timon in jail, but he flees into the countryside and completely changes his life.

He becomes a bitter and cynical man, a true misanthrope, hating and mistrusting all. Eventually Athens falls on very hard times and the people actually want a return of the ruling skills of Timon, but by the time they turn back to him he is already dead, a death that we have to believe he truly wished.

The play was so much like our modern times that has spent money it didnít at all have, borrowed to the hilt, and then eventually causing the entire house of cards to come crashing down.

What I found rather bizarre was Timonís bitter anger, and blaming everyone but himself for the problems, as also, is the bizarreness of today, when it seems it was everyoneís else fault except the individual in question who got him or herself into trouble. Timon had many many warnings from perhaps the only decent person in the whole play, his steward. The man had constantly brought the books to Timon, warned him of the disaster coming, but Timon, in the flush of his seeming wealth and his GENUINE generosity, paid not the slightest attention.

In the desperation of the last days he turns to his ďfriendsĒ to be bailed out, but there is no one to do the bailing and it all falls apart. This changes the affable Timon into a bitter misanthrope who parts forever from human society. The similarities of today were just overwhelming.

Early on in the play we know, though Timon does not, that the fawning and seeming generosity of the noble class is quite insincere.

Servant to Timon: Please you, my lord, that honorable gentleman, Lord Lucullus, entreats your company tomorrow to hunt with him and has sent your honor two brace of greyhounds. Timon: Iíll hunt with him; and let them be received,
Now without fair reward.
Flavius (aside) What will this come to?
He commands us to provide and give great gifts,
And all out of an empty coffer;
Nor will he know his purse, or yield me this,
To show him what a beggar his heart is,
Being of no power to make his wishes good,
His promises fly so far beyond his state.
That what he speak is all in debt; he owes
For every word. He is so kind that he now
Pays interest forít; his landís put to their books.
Well, would I were gently put out of office
Before I were forced out!

When once it all hits the fan and the debts are called in, everyone backs off and away from Timon and canít or wonít help. One says:

I love and honor him, but must not break my back to heal his finger.
The steward could see it coming and had pleaded with him:
Great Timon; noble, royal Timon! Ah when the means are gone that buy this praise, the breath is gone whereof their praise is made, feast-won, fast-lost. One cloud of winter showírs the flies are couched.

I very much enjoyed the play but remain simply astonished at Timonís inability to see that it was his own doing that brought about all his troubles.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu