Timon of Athens | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Timon of Athens | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Meanwhile, at Timon's house, Flavius the steward is panicking about his lord's reckless spending. Caphis arrives with the servants of Timon's "friends" Isidore and Varro to seek repayment of various debts. When Timon comes in from hunting with Alcibiades, he is thus immediately confronted by three men handing him bills. Startled, Timon asks Alcibiades to go along without him for a moment and then demands to know why he is "thus encountered / with clamorous demands of debt." Flavius asks the creditors' men to leave him and Timon alone for a moment to straighten matters out. He and Timon exit.

While Caphis and the other servants are still onstage, Apemantus and the Fool appear. The promise of entertainment soon devolves into a string of insults from Apemantus, who calls the men "poor rogues ... bawds between gold and want." A page approaches with two letters, whose addressees Apemantus angrily helps him identify. Then, with the page gone, Apemantus and the Fool continue to mock the other servants, likening them to "whoremasters" because they serve bankers. All five exit as Timon and Flavius return.

Why, Timon now wants to know, did Flavius not mention these financial problems before? Flavius says he tried "many times" to warn Timon of his precarious finances but was always ignored or put off. "Let all my land be sold," announces Timon, going a big step further, but Flavius says this will not help matters: some of Timon's land is already "forfeited," and the income from the rest is needed to meet expenses. Then, seeing how desperate his situation really is, Timon protests he overspent "unwisely, not ignobly"—out of generosity, not vanity. He attempts to reassure Flavius that as a solution his friends will help him regain his footing. Calling for three of his servants—Flaminius, Servilius, and one unnamed—he sends them to request money from various Athenian lords. Timon then asks Flavius to ask the senate for help, but Flavius says he has already done so—and been refused. Startled, Timon sends him to Ventidius—who, he hopes, will remember how Timon recently bailed him out of jail. Flavius leaves on his errand, full of apprehension.

Analysis

This is the first of two scenes in which Timon is mobbed by his creditors. This time he is caught completely off guard, revealing how poorly he has been keeping tabs on his own finances. Timon is astonished anyone would question his ability—let alone his willingness—to pay back debts. Naturally he reacts to the news with disbelief and even, somewhat unfairly, accuses Flavius of keeping him in the dark. This last gesture, coming from the otherwise mild-mannered and trusting Timon, shows how acutely distressed he must be. Under normal circumstances, as in Act 1, Timon would no more accuse Flavius of malfeasance than he would accuse his friends of being parasites and spongers. These, clearly, are not normal circumstances.

It would be a mistake, however, to see this as the real turning point for Timon. Although he is embarrassed to learn of his deep indebtedness, he has not yet "unlearned" his general trust of humanity. In particular he still believes his friends will come through for him—and will even be happy to have a chance to do him a favor for once. Oddly enough he's happy himself, since he finally has the opportunity to rely on his friends and experience the bond of gratitude. Timon's ability to reinterpret his suffering as a "blessing" is a testament to the strength of his delusion. In his universe gift giving is a sign of friendship, something to be celebrated by both giver and receiver.

Flavius, however, knows the real score, just as he has known it all along. "Feast-won, fast-lost," he quips, meaning the loyalty Timon has accrued by giving feasts will be lost the moment the table is cleared and the wine stops flowing. Timon—again showcasing his naïveté—refuses to believe this appraisal, which he finds cynical but which in fact is realistic. "You shall perceive how you mistake my fortunes," he scoffs at Flavius, insisting "I am wealthy in my friends." Yet as Flavius knows and Timon is about to discover, Timon is "wealthy" in friends the same way he is "wealthy" in land and money. Outwardly he seems to have plenty when in fact he has next to nothing.

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