Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Timon’s house. Large, richly appointed abode in Athens in which Timon’s wealth and good nature win him many false friends and hangers-on, as his vast hall becomes the site of a procession of characters who prey upon his generosity. Loud music, masques, great banquets, and Timon’s bestowal of lavish gifts on guests are customary. William Shakespeare’s purpose here is to reveal through the setting and ceremonious or formal modes of conduct how the prodigal and ostentatious Timon is exploited. The hall itself is important for the play’s second banquet scene, in which Timon somberly parodies religion in his bitter misanthropy by serving lukewarm water and stones to his fellow senators.
Cave. Place near the seashore where Timon lives after rejecting Athens. The senate (a pure fiction on the part of Shakespeare who clearly was thinking of Rome), Lucullus’s home, and Sempronius’s house are minor settings in short and relatively minor scenes; they take a secondary position to the cave where Timon is alone. Timon’s first great soliloquy comes as he looks back at the walls of Athens and ferociously condemns the city and its inhabitants to total ruin.
The surrounding woods are within an otherwise barren coast that is filled with strange noises, wild beasts, and birds of prey. The extreme harshness of this setting accords with the mental and emotional state of Timon, whose...
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The historical characters in Timon of Athens lived nearly 2,500 years ago. Almost four hundred years have passed since the play was written. Yet the issues it raises are timeless—applicable to every period in history when materialism and corruption overwhelm humane social values. In 1973, at a small theater in Paris, a production of Timon crossed cultural, historical, and racial boundaries. Timon was played as a golden-haired, northern European youth; at the first banquet, entertainers performed a Middle Eastern-inspired dance to Arabian music; Apemantus was played by a black actor, costumed in a way to suggest that he was a native of northern Africa. This production, directed by Peter Brook, underscored the universality of the play.
Timon of Athens depicts a society corrupted by greed. Many of its citizens are in debt to moneylenders. Conspicuous consumption—to use a twentieth-century term—leads Timon to bankruptcy. His natural inclination to entertain lavishly and dispense freely what he thinks is a limitless fortune leaves him at the mercy of his creditors. In the late twentieth century, personal indebtedness is at an all-time high. Persuaded by advertisers that happiness means new cars, new technologies, fashionable clothes, etcetera, many people charge purchases on credit cards and trust that they'll be able to pay for these things sometime in the future. As a result, an increasing number of people find themselves in...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Charney, Maurice. "Timon of Athens." In All of Shakespeare, 309-18. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. From a book written specifically for students, this chapter on Timon covers several aspects of the play and emphasizes its satiric elements. In addition to an extended evaluation of Timon as a less than tragic figure, Charney comments on the character of the steward and discusses at length the dramatic function of the poet and the painter, whom he regards as satirical figures.
Farley-Hills, David. "Anger's Privilege: Timon of Athens and King Lear." In Shakespeare and the Rival Playwrights, 1600-1606, 166-206. London: Routledge, 1990. Farley-Hills views Timon of Athens as a satire on mankind's obsession with wealth and materialism. In this kind of drama, he asserts, each character has a symbolic role rather than an individual personality. It is Farley-Hills's opinion that "Of all Shakespeare's tragic heroes, Timon is the least open to psychological interpretation."
Handelman, Susan. "Timon of Athens: The Rage of Disillusion." American Imago 36, no. 1 (Spring 1979): 45-68. Handelman considers various implications of the limited role of women in Timon of Athens. "There is no feminine representative of goodness and constancy" as in other Shakespearean tragedies, she points out; the only women in the play are the prostitutes who accompany Alcibiades and the performers in...
(The entire section is 740 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Ellis-Fermor, Una. “Timon of Athens: An Unfinished Play.” The Review of English Studies 18, no. 71 (July, 1942): 270-283. Discusses the controversy over the authorship of the play. Concludes that it is likely Shakespeare’s work alone and that it is an unfinished play.
Knight, G. Wilson. “The Pilgrimage of Hate: An Essay on Timon of Athens.” In The Wheel of Fire: Interpretations of Shakespearian Tragedy. Rev. ed. New York: Methuen, 1949. Interprets Timon as a noble figure, abused by a harsh world. Sees the play as a great tragedy.
Nowottny, Winifred M. T. “Acts IV and V of Timon of Athens.” Shakespeare Quarterly 10, no. 4 (Autumn, 1959): 493-497. Interprets the play in a religious context. Sees the substitution of secular myths for Christian ones in the play.
Nuttall, A. D. Timon of Athens. Hemel Hempstead, England: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989. Provides a stage history, an account of the critical reception to the play, and a sustained analysis.
Soellner, Rolf. Timon of Athens. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1979. Critical analysis with reference to dramatic and cultural contexts. Discusses the merits of the play.
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