“Timon of Athens,” from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by W. Shakespeare

This one was a tricky one to read, and took me a couple tries to really get, if only because there was so much dialogue and so many contrary moments. I’d also never heard of this play, so I didn’t have a basis to fall back on and get a gist. I think this is one play most don’t know about, either. I didn’t get any info on where it’d been produced since its initial writings.

Essentially, Timon of Athens is about a wealthy man, Timon, who is overly generous with his wealth. He buys things as they’re presented to him, and gives lavish gifts to his friends. However, after one lavish feast for the higher citizens of Athens, servants are at the door with bills of credit, demanding payment for their masters (though those same masters were just given great gifts by Timon mere hours before). His trusted servant Flavius tells him that he’s officially broke and can’t pay these bills. Timon’s servants go about trying to get assistance from his friends and people he’d helped out in their time of need, and no one helps him. Enraged, Timon curses the city and leaves for the wilderness to live a life without money or the need for it, which works until he finds a hidden stash of gold in the woods.

That’s about as far as I’ll go with the setup. The main contrary characters or elements include the Poet (who ends up more of a prophet of Timon’s downfall than anything, saying how great Timon is and how praised, but those same praisers would desert him when he needed them) and Apemantus, who tends to snipe and be negative about everyone and everything around him, especially Timon and his flatterers/friends. Timon always had Apemantus over in hopes of improving his disposition, but Apemantus still insulted everyone, often to their faces.

I think the play is a study in contrasts, which is why it took a while to really get. And I had to slow down because the back and forth between Timon and Apemantus in the wilderness is pretty vicious but fun to read, too. It’s like two begrudging friends have come out of Timon’s downfall. Apemantus, curiously, incites the action in the rest of the play, when someone he tries to help is to be executed, he ends up cursing the senators for their greed and corruption, of hurting good citizens like Timon and the man he’d come to help. He ends up banished and raises an army to attack Athens and kill the offenders.

I think it’s an interesting character study of a play, chock full of irony, and I wonder why I haven’t heard of it before. I definitely want to read it again and get more out of it, because the contrasts between how characters begin and end up is drastic, and yet believable. Only Flavius is constant, Timon’s servant, and I love what happens with him toward the end.

I think this play deserves some more notice. I’ll definitely bookmark this one as a good read (and try to find a place where it’s playing in the future and go to see it). Frankly, this is one of the few plays where I think you can visualize it very well and don’t really need to see it.

But I’d still like to.

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