Timon of Athens | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Timon of Athens | Plot Summary

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Summary

Act 1

The Athenian aristocrat Timon has built a reputation for lavish generosity. In a single scene he bails an acquaintance out of debtors' prison, gives a servant enough wealth to set up his own household, and buys a costly jewel simply to give it away. Most Athenians, including some who have given him money in the past, are pleased with Timon's extravagant gift giving and cheer him on as he doles out presents to them as signs of friendship. A few, however, see his generosity as unsustainable. The surly philosopher Apemantus chides Timon for using his wealth to attract flatterers who are not loyal but parasitic. An unnamed poet predicts that when Timon eventually falls from power none of his "friends" will stick around.

In the next scene Timon throws a huge banquet, complete with musicians and costumed dancers. The guest of honor is Timon's old friend Alcibiades, an Athenian general recently returned from war. As the festivities continue, Timon gives away jewels and horses, and the Athenian lords continue to toast his generosity. Meanwhile Apemantus scoffs at Timon's foolishness, and Timon's steward Flavius frets about the great debts his employer is incurring. At the height of the feasting, Timon gives a misty-eyed speech about how lucky he is to have so many loyal friends.

Act 2

Elsewhere in Athens Timon's creditors are growing skittish about his huge debts and carefree spending. They send their servants to demand repayment, but Flavius puts them off. Taking Timon aside, he explains the true gravity of the financial situation. Timon is shocked to discover he is deep in debt and unable to extricate himself, even if he sells off all his land. He resolves to call upon his friends to help him pay off his loans, sending Flavius and three other servants to the homes of wealthy Athenians.

Act 3

Now Timon's supposed "friends" show their true colors. When his servants approach them for help, each one finds an excuse to deny Timon the requested money. Acting on Flavius's advice, Timon shuts himself in his house and stops entertaining guests, but the creditors continue to send their servants and agents to him. At last he decides to invite all his former friends to one last banquet. There he serves them stones and water and smoke and berates them for their disloyalty. Alcibiades, meanwhile, is banished from Athens for challenging the senate's decision to execute one of his soldiers. He vows to rally his army and get revenge against the city's corrupt politicians.

Act 4

Turning his back on Athens, Timon curses his former home and goes to live in the woods near the sea. With no one to pay them, his servants disperse, but Flavius remains loyal and seeks out his former master.

In the forest while digging for roots to eat, Timon finds gold, which he proceeds to give to Alcibiades, who visits him, to fund his invasion of Athens. Timon next has a long conversation with Apemantus about the miserable ingratitude of humankind. Ultimately, however, he drives the philosopher away so he can nurse his anger in private. When bandits visit Timon's camp, he gives them some gold too, hoping to spur them on in committing crimes against Athens and its citizens. Finally Flavius arrives and offers Timon both his money and his service. Timon is touched by Flavius's loyalty but insists on being left alone.

Act 5

Having heard about Timon's gold, Athenians come to offer their services to him, but he chases them away. Then, with Alcibiades's army nearing the city, the Athenian senate sends a delegation to Timon to ask for his help in resisting the invasion. He dismisses their attempts as too little, too late, and the panicked senators return to inform their colleagues.

Not long afterward, one of Alcibiades's soldiers seeks out Timon and finds only a crude gravesite where his camp used to be. The rest of Alcibiades's troops, meanwhile, have arrived at Athens, where the senators agree to admit them if Alcibiades will execute only those who personally "offended" him. Learning of Timon's death, Alcibiades promises to restore order and justice in the city. The play thus ends with the weak hope that life in Athens will soon return to a better normal.

Timon of Athens Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 Spendthrift Timon invites his friends to a lavish banquet.

Rising Action

2 Timon's spending and gift giving run him into serious debt.

3 Timon's creditors mob him at his home.

4 Timon's supposed friends refuse his requests for a loan.

5 Alcibiades is banished from Athens, swearing revenge.

6 Timon offers a second "banquet" of water and stones.

7 Timon runs off to the coastal woods outside Athens.

8 Digging for roots to eat, Timon finds gold.

9 Timon's friend Alcibiades attempts to console him.

10 Timon spitefully spends his gold on soldiers and thieves.

Climax

11 Timon reunites with loyal Flavius, the only honest Athenian.

Falling Action

12 Timon begins preparing his own grave.

13 The Athenian senate seeks Timon's help preparing for war.

14 Timon dies offstage, leaving a grim epitaph behind.

Resolution

15 With his army at Athens's gates, Alcibiades compromises.

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