Timon of Athens
Act III, Scene vii
Many of Timon's friends come to his house, including Lucullus, Lucius, Sempronius and others. The lords discuss Timon's alleged fate, agreeing that he must have been merely testing him when he asked for a loan in days previous. They comment on all having been unable to give Timon a loan when he asked, and say they are all sad that they couldn't help him.
Timon enters, and several lords apologize for not having been able to give him a loan when he asked. He brushes off their apologies, and urges them all to be seated while the feast is served. Meanwhile the lords chatter about the banishment of Alcibiades.
Timon urges the lords to prepare for the feast, and speaks some words over the covered dishes. Thanking the gods, he says the gods should give of themselves only enough to be praised but always hold something back. He urges the gods to give to men only so much so they need not borrow from one another, for if later the gods needed to borrow from men, then men would forsake them. Timon asks that the meat that is served be more beloved than the man who serves it, that any gathering have its fair share of villains, and that the people of Athens be ready for destruction. And as for his present friends, he does not bless them, as they are nothing to him, and he welcomes them to nothing.
Then the dishes are uncovered and revealed to be full of steaming water and stones. Timon shouts at the surprised lords that this is his last feast, and he will wash off their flattery and villainy with the feast's water. He curses all the lords, and when one lord tries to leave, he beats them all. Timon declares that he henceforth hates all men and all humanity, and leaves.
The lords are astonished, and convinced that Timon has gone mad. One day he gives them jewels, says one lord, and the next day stones.
Timon finally confronts his friends at his feast, and tells him what he really thinks of them. His words over the feast, allegedly spoken in thanks to the gods, clarify his case and demonstrate his understanding of how much the lords have taken advantage of his generosity. Timon criticizes his guests for having praised him only for giving gifts, not for his friendship. He accuses them of abandoning their fond attitude toward him only when he needs them to pay back some small portion of his favors. He tells them that they have loved the things he provided them more than they loved him. And he curses them all.
Timon departs from Athens, leaving the lords wondering if he has gone mad, the only explanation they can come up with to explain how he served stones for dinner. Clearly none of the lords have learned anything from Timon's fate; they have not seen that Timon was generous to them though they didn't pay him back in kind, they are blind to their unjust treatment of him, and they cannot see beyond their obsessive need to hold onto their cash.
Timon, however, has undergone a transformation. It was foolish for him to have been so generous with his bounty without considering if or when it would run out, but he did so out of a genuine feeling of kindness to his perceived friends, a desire to share his wealth, and a belief that others would do the same for him. If he took pleasure in giving to his friends who were in need, then surely his own friends would do the same for him. But he learned, in a lightning-fast lesson, that his friends were not so noble-minded as he. But there is no middle ground for Timon; from being a generous kind man, he metamorphoses into a rage-filled misanthrope, and departs for the woods to live as a hermit.
Shakespeare's heroes usually most go through a journey of self-discovery, from a state without self- awareness to one of understanding. Timon foolishly misconceived the power of his wealth, thinking he could freely share it with his friends, but that no one was likely to take advantage of him or pretend to be his friend merely to gain wealth. When he learns that he mismanaged his bounty, and his friends will not help him, he is forced to learn things about greed and ingratitude that he never imagined. Yet his extreme reaction, turning from kindness to hatred, from friendliness to exile, is an unusual learning process, more severe than merely coming to self-knowledge. Timon may learn too much too fast to be able to truly process it and to grow, as all Shakespeare's heroes must. He becomes the opposite of what he was--but is that the same as growing? In this way Timon is an unusual hero, coming to hatred and anger rather than to understanding.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!