Timon of Athens | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Timon of Athens | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary



At his home in Athens, a senator is anxiously piecing together the true extent of Timon's debts. He realizes Timon owes 25,000 talents—a colossal sum—to various creditors in the city. This, he recognizes, is an unsustainable situation. He therefore summons his servant, Caphis, and sends him to demand payment of his personal debts from Timon. "I love and honor him," the senator tells Caphis, "but must not break my back to heal [Timon's] finger." He hands the servant a sheaf of "bonds"—records of the amount owed—and urges him to be quick and insistent on the debt's repayment.


Now the fault lines begin to appear. Apemantus has warned Timon against "giving himself away," and Flavius has tried to engage him in a heart-to-heart about responsible spending. No matter; Timon would rather not know how bad things really are. His creditors, however, depend for their livelihoods on Timon's ability to repay, so a lack of faith in Timon's creditworthiness is a real crisis for them. They might be faulted for being bad friends, but they shouldn't be too harshly judged for keeping tabs on Timon's spending since he clearly isn't doing so.

Again this is part of what makes the play tragic: Timon is neither wholly innocent nor wholly guilty. He has had numerous opportunities (mostly before the start of the play) to rein in his debts. Instead he has chosen to throw his metaphorical credit card statement directly into the metaphorical shredder without even opening the envelope. By willfully ignoring the truth for weeks—perhaps months—he has allowed a serious problem to become a pending catastrophe.

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