Timon of Athens is grimmer than Richard III (murders a guy and seduces his widow), Titus Andronicus (murders a guy and serves him for dinner), maybe even Macbeth (murders a guy and then murders everyone else). There’s no gore to speak of; not even that many important characters die. It’s just that there’s no redemption. Zero. People suck. That’s the moral.
But if you like grimness in your grimness, and I do, Timon will haunt you.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company tweeted: “A fool & his money are soon parted. (WS did it better in a little rewrite called King Lear.)”
What happens in Timon of Athens
Timon is rich. Jeff Bezos-rich. He lends money to his friends, no questions asked. He throws ostentatious parties, he bails people he hardly knows out of jail, he hands out bling like it’s candy. He likes being popular.
Then one day: Oh noes! Insufficient funds! No problem, he thinks, I’ll trot along to my friends and ask for a little loan. They have the money. I should know.
Not so fast. One friend after another claims to be bankrupt, cash-poor, or in one memorable example, so offended by not being asked for a loan first that he refuses on principal.
This is the moment where Timon loses his innocence. The “people suck” theme starts to play loud. Call it schadenfreude or just appreciation for good drama, but I love the innocence-is-lost moment in a story.
Timon boils over with fury. He calls all his so-called friends over for one of his famous parties, but he only serves them water. Then he throws the water on them.
He stomps off into the wilderness, where he discovers that potatoes are good. Never mind that poor people have known about potatoes since God was a child. While digging potatoes he discovers some hidden gold. He gives it to a soldier buddy and tells him to kill everyone in Athens.
He drives off his faithful servant. That’s when you know he is truly beyond reach. Nobody in Shakespeare ever drives off their faithful servant.
He insults the only two women in the play, a pair of prostitutes who free him from all worldly concerns by taking his last loose change.
And then he dies. Alone, in his cave, hating everybody.
His headstone makes it clear that he is still, today, cursing humanity from the grave.
Nor are Timon’s problems limited to half the human race. Treat yourself to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s minisite on their current production, where Timon is a woman and so are all her terrible friends.