Timon of Athens

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Timon of Athens is a play by William Shakespeare written around 1607. There is some stylistic evidence to indicate that Thomas Middleton was involved in the writing, either as collaborator or reviser. Most scholars, however, believe the play is unfinished, and it is difficult to perceive how two writers (one of whom, in most cases, would have been brought in to polish, complete, or re-work the other's manuscript) could have cooperated to leave Timon of Athens in its present state.

Timon is a wealthy lord of Athens who overextends his munificence by showering patronage on parasitic writers and artists, and delivering his dubious friends from their financial straits. Shadowing Timon is his opposite number, the cynic philosopher Apemantus, who terrorizes Timon's shallow companions with his caustic railery. When Timon's creditors make their demands for immediate payment, Timon finds himself abandoned by his former friends. He betakes himself to the wilderness beyond the city gates, and makes his rude home in a cave, sustaining himself on roots. Here he discovers an underground trove of gold, and offers it to the rebel Alcibiades as a subsidy for his assault on the city. Accompanying Alcibiades on his ingrateful adventure are two prostitutes, who trade barbs with the bitter Timon on the subject of venereal disease. When Apemantus appears and accuses Timon of copying his pessimistic style, the audience is treated to the spectacle of a mutually misanthropic exchange of invective. Soon enough, Timon dies in his wilderness, leaving behind two distinct epitaphs.

Scholars find much unfinished about this play including unexplained plot developments, characters who appear unexplained and say little, prose sections that a polished version would have in verse, and the two epitaphs, one of which doubtless would have been cancelled in the final version. The author appears to have abandoned his play, perhaps tired of antique subjects drawn from Plutarch. Accepting the 1607 date of creation, Timon is the third successive play which Shakespeare based upon the second-century biographer.

Comparatively rarely performed, Timon has only recently been brought to the screen in a grunge version by Peter Bruce.

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