Timon of Athens

Monday, October 13, 2014

Timon of Athens
by William Shakespeare
Timon is a wealthy man who is happy to help his friends whenever they need him. He loans money without a second thought, helping one man marry the woman he loves and another pay off an outstanding debt. Soon the tables turn on Timon and he finds himself out of funds and in need of help. He soon discovers that fickle friends disappear when the coffers runs dry. He ends up exiled in the woods, disillusioned and angry.
As is the case with many of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, this one shares themes and plot points with some of his more successful work. There are so many similarities with King Lear, the popular character becoming a friendless outcast, betrayal by those who are meant to be his truest supporters. Both plays also have one supporter who remains loyal to the title character: Cordelia (the daughter) in King Lear and Flavius (the steward) in Timon. Lear makes many of the same basic points in a more powerful way. There were also a few spots that reminded me of Coriolanus, including the banished character aiding an enemy force in attacking his former home.
Timon of Athens feels a bit disjointed. The first half is cheerful and optimistic, but once he is deserted by his friends and living in the woods it takes on a much darker tone. Scholars have apparently attributed this to a joint authorship. I have no idea if that’s true, but with the flow of the story it certainly makes sense.
BOTTOM LINE: Not one of my favorites, but another insight into Shakespeare’s development as a playwright. I love seeing him hone his skills in different works and seeing the many factors that affect whether that play will fail or succeed. I would love to see this one performed live.
“The moon's an arrant thief, And her pale fire she snatches from the sun.”
“Lips, let sour words go by and language end:
What is amiss plague and infection mend!
Graves only be men's works and death their gain!
Sun, hide thy beams! Timon hath done his reign.”

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