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Timon of Athens

William Shakespeare

Act V, Scenes iii-iv

Act V, Scenes i-ii

Analysis

Summary

Two more Senators discuss the fate of Athens and Timon. A messenger has heard that another messenger was sent from Alcibiades to Timon, to urge working together against Athens. They senators agree that it is more important than ever to lure Timon back to Athens. But the senators who spoke to Timon in the last scene enter, and declare he is a lost cause.

A soldier in the woods seeks Timon. He comes upon a gravestone, but is unable to read the writing on the stone. He takes a rubbing of the words to his superiors, but leaves believing Timon to be dead.

Alcibiades and his forces approach Athens. Several senators enter, and Alcibiades tells them that the time when he would crouch under the shadow of their power is past. The senators say they have tried to soothe Alcibiades's wrongs, with gestures greater than his grievances. Plus they have tried to woo Timon back to Athens. They were not all unkind, not enough to deserve war, they say.

The senators go on to say that the people who raised the walls of Athens are not the same ones who slighted Alcibiades, and those who caused Alcibiades's banishment are no longer living. They welcome him to march into the city, but ask him not to kill everyone. Rather, they say, choose by lot and kill some, but not all, since the entire population has not offended Alcibiades. Crimes, they say, are not inherited. Enter the city with friendliness, they ask, and make some gesture of kindness.

Alcibiades makes such a gesture, and asks that the senators send out his and Timon's enemies for punishment, and he will harm no one else. And he determines to make no other disturbance in the city. Then the soldier enters with the rubbing from Timon's grave. Alcibiades reads the epitaph, which says that Timon lies dead, a man whom everyone hated. Alcibiades says that Timon expressed well how he felt toward the end of his life. Though he scorned humanity, Timon nevertheless was well respected, he says, and he hopes his faults may be forgiven. Then he enters the city, with hopes for peace.

Commentary

Alcibiades has now become Timon's champion, mysteriously. Presumably Timon's gift of gold and his urging to wreak havoc on Athens was enough to convince Alcibiades that his goal in attacking Athens should be to punish those who slighted him and Timon. Timon's real advice, of course, was to cause as much damage in Athens as possible, not to just punish a few pompous lords. Yet Alcibiades is restrained in his assault on Athens.

At the end of the play, Timon is honored as an honorable man. Yet is it again because he made a gift of gold to Alcibiades, and not because he had any real friends? When Timon's fortunes turned and he fled Athens, no one thought much of his honor. Yet later his servants and apparently everyone else in Athens thought he was worthy enough to try to lure back to Athens. Perhaps Timon's friends made up only a small part of the population of Athens; thus the actions of a small group convinced Timon to curse the entire city and humanity in general. Why, then, could such an equally small group who favored him be unable to change his mind back?

The play ends with many questions about everyone's various intents. Did the citizens of Athens want Timon back in Athens because of his newly found gold? If so, they too were merely flattering him. Did Alcibiades really want to defend Timon or was he only doing it for the gold? Did Timon leave Athens in a rage because a few lords, who were later punished by Alcibiades, were cruel to him, when the rest of the city liked him? Or did everyone always like him best for his money?

All these intentions are impossible to know, which is precisely the reason that Timon presumably disappeared into the wilderness. He couldn't figure out what anyone wanted out of him, but it certainly wasn't uncomplicated friendship. Once money was involved, everything became complex, and no one's intentions remained honest and clear. So Timon was an extremist; he began believing the best about everyone, believing generosity paid off, and enjoying giving things to his friends. And he died believing that he had no friends, everyone hated him, generosity was a waste, and there were (almost) no honest men. The real truth was probably somewhere in between. But Timon was not an astute enough student of human nature to see the truth in the middle path.

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Shakespeare does Satire

by ReadingShakespeareby450th, August 19, 2013

Or at least that's what I think he was doing in Timon of Athens. Just finished a blog on my take.

http://ow.ly/o4xXz

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1 out of 1 people found this helpful

Not Satire, But Irony

by BardForKidsdotcom, July 12, 2014

Timon of Athens is an attack on the aristocracy of Elizabethan England, and their hypocritical society. It a play which most "scholars" describe as one of the Bard's "problem plays," but it is easily understood when compared to the real life financial issues suffered by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - who is a perfect double for Timon of Athens when it comes to his spending, gifting, partying, and bankruptcy.....

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