Timon of Athens | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Timon of Athens | Act 3, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Back at Timon's house the servants of his various creditors are converging. Named members of the group include Philotus, Titus, and Hortensius; unnamed members include two servants of Varro and one servant of Lucius. As they wait for Timon, they express pity at his situation and disapproval at their employers for troubling him in his time of need when he has treated them so lavishly in the past.

Timon's servant Flaminius enters and is practically mobbed by the men, who want to know when Timon will be appearing. Flavius rushes across the stage, bundled up in a cloak as if to avoid being recognized. When the creditors' men stop to question him, he tosses out a few sharp words about the hypocrisy of their masters. He concludes by saying he has been dismissed from Timon's household, which shuts them up for a moment. Finally Servilius appears and attempts to get the creditors' men to disperse, but they refuse to leave.

Timon himself now bursts out of the door "in a rage" and is instantly surrounded by the creditors' men. When they press him for repayment of his debts, he offers to do so in blood: "Tear me, take me, and the gods fall upon you!" He then exits, leaving the others to speculate he is now a "madman." After they leave, Timon returns with Flavius, whom he continues from force of habit to treat as his employee-manager. He instructs Flavius to summon all his old friends—Lucius, Lucullus, Sempronius, and the rest—to one final banquet. "Invite them all," he insists, and "Let in the tide / Of knaves once more."

Analysis

This scene is worth rereading alongside Act 2, Scene 2 in which Timon's creditors first dare to visit his home and demand payment in person. Although their actions are basically the same as they were in Act 2, Timon's response shows he has had some time to consider his plight. Gone is the naive reassurance his friends will come to the rescue. Gone is the belief poverty is a "blessing" because it allows one to savor the benefits of true friendship. Instead Timon is desperate and enraged at the moneylenders' demands. Being hounded by the ancient equivalent of collection agencies, not surprisingly, has taken a toll on his equilibrium.

Timon's desperation is evident in the violent terms he uses to describe repayment. Like a sort of mirror version of Shylock from The Merchant of Venice, he offers to satisfy his creditors with his own flesh and blood. As he well knows, they don't actually want to kill him: all they want is their money back, likely with interest. Nonetheless, their patience is wearing thin—another detail that sets this scene apart from Act 2, Scene 2. Back in Act 2 the creditors' servants were fairly cheerful considering the errand they had to run. Now, however, they are surly and snappish, grumbling at Timon's servants for putting them off. They even seem to resent their employers for sending them back to Timon's house—after all, he squandered all his money on feasts and gifts for those same wealthy men. All around, this scene is one in which the bond of good feelings among Timon, his friends, and their servants begins to erode. The polite social and personal veneer of hospitality is scratched away, as ugliness and bluntness now shine through.

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