William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens has never been a favorite of mine. Even seeing it performed quite well recently at the Stratford Festival did little to enhance its appeal.
Timon is the story of a man who puts on lavish parties and is overly generous in his gift-giving (receiving a gift he will automatically reciprocate and give a gift to the gift-giver) until one day he discovers he’s broke and in debt.
Timon sends his servants out to his so-called friends who have benefited from his generosity to appeal to them for financial assistance. One by one the friends deny him, each one giving an excuse why they cannot lend him money.
Eventually Timon goes somewhat depressed and mad. Much of the second half of the play he rails against mankind to anyone who comes across him at his cave in the woods.
Timon’s problem was his over-generosity. His friends were only friends as long as he gave them things. He did not give to the poor but rather to those who did not truly need his generosity. There is no talk of Christian charity since Shakespeare placed the play in ancient Athens.
Timon of Athens seems to be a weak combination of Titus Andronicus (both have a dinner scene of revenge) and Coriolanus (both have a banished general who turns on his banishers). There do not seem to be very many memorable lines from Timon, but it does generate thoughtful contemplation on the subjects of money, friendship and mental illness.
The Stratford Festival theatre production of Timon was very good. The pomp dinner scene was splendid followed by a lascivious dance. It is practically decadent.
Joseph Ziegler was good as Timon, a very demanding role for a man of 64.
Ben Carlson as the insulting philosopher Apemantus reminded me of his role as the Fool in Twelfth Night a few years ago.
Timon of Athens is a timeless tale and a sad story with a tragic end.