Timon of Athens Summary
by William Shakespeare

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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Athens house of Timon, a wealthy lord of the city, is the scene of much coming and going. Poets, artists, artisans, merchants, politicians, and well-wishers in general seek the friendship and favors of a man whose generosity knows no bounds. While waiting to speak to Timon, a poet discloses his vision to an artist: Timon is depicted as the darling of Dame Fortune, and his friends and acquaintances spare no effort in admiring his favored position. The vision continues; Fortune turns and Timon tumbles into penury, his friends doing nothing to comfort him.

Timon joins the crowd of suitors in his reception chamber. When a messenger reports that Ventidius, his friend, was jailed for a debt, Timon promises to pay the debt and to support Ventidius until he becomes solvent again. An old man complains that one of Timon’s servants stole the heart of his only daughter. Timon promises to match the girl’s dowry with an equal sum. Then he receives the poet and the painter and the jeweler graciously, accepting their shameless flattery. Apemantus, a crudely candid friend, declares broadly that these flatterers and seekers of bounty are a pack of knaves. Alcibiades, a great military leader, comes with a troop of followers to dine with Timon. As all prepare to feast at Timon’s bounteous table, Apemantus curses them roundly.

A great feast is served to the accompaniment of music. Ventidius, freed from jail, offers to repay the money spent on his behalf, but Timon declares that friendship will not allow him to accept Ventidius’s money. When Apemantus warns Timon that men will readily slay the man whose food and drink they consume, Timon expresses his gratitude at having so many friends with which to share his generosity. He wishes, however, that he might be poorer so that these good friends might know the joy of sharing their largess with him. Timon’s eyes fill with tears, so overcome is he by the sentiments of friendship, as a group of costumed Athenian ladies present lavish gifts to him from men of wealth. Timon then presents rich gifts to his departing friends. Flavius, his steward, observes that his master’s infinite generosity almost emptied his coffers. Timon tells Apemantus that he will give him gifts, too, if he will cease railing at these felicities of friendship.

Before long Timon is reduced to insolvency and to near beggary. A senator to whom he owes a great sum of money sends his servant to collect. Other servants of Timon’s creditors also gather in front of his house. Timon, who never gave Flavius a chance to explain that he, Timon, has no more money, asks the steward the reason for the crowd outside. When Flavius tells him the truth, Timon orders the sale of all of his lands. Flavius discloses that his lands are already sold or mortgaged. Refusing to share Flavius’s alarm, Timon declares that he now has a chance to test his friends. He directs his servants to borrow money from Lucius, Lucullus, and Sempronius; the servants are then to go to the senators and borrow more. Flavius discloses that he already tried without success to borrow from these sources. Timon makes excuses for them, however, and suggests that the servants try Ventidius, who recently came into a large fortune.

The servant who goes to Lucullus is told that times are difficult and that Timon’s friendship alone is not sufficient security for a loan. When Lucullus offers the servant a bribe to say that he was unable to see Lucullus, the horrified servant throws down the bribe money and departs in disgust. Lucius claims that he, needing money, hoped to borrow from Timon. A third servant goes to Sempronius. Upon learning that Lucullus, Lucius, and even Ventidius deny Timon loans, Sempronius pretends to be hurt that Timon did not send to him first, and he also refuses.

As Timon continues to be importuned by his creditors’ servants, he goes out in a rage and bids them cut out of his heart what he owes their masters. Still enraged, he directs Flavius to...

(The entire section is 2,299 words.)