Timon of Athens
Act IV, Scenes i-ii
Timon stands outside the wall of Athens and curses the city enthusiastically. He wishes death and destruction, plague and misfortune, upon the city's dwellers, and turns to the hills, where he expects to "find / Th'unkindest beast more kinder than mankind" (IV.i.35-6). His hatred for mankind will grow enormous, he predicts.
Back at Timon's house, Flavius and several servants discuss what has happened. They're amazed that such a great house has fallen, and that none of them have yet gone into the wilderness with Timon to serve him. The servants must depart, and are sad. Flavius shares his last cash out among them, and they all swear to greet each other kindly should they meet again in future.
They all depart, and Flavius considers how anyone would wish to be free from wealth, if riches inevitably lead to misery and to false friendship. He mourns his lord's fall, brought down through his own kindness. When Timon has fallen so far for the sin of being good, it makes one not want to try so hard to be kind in the future! Flavius notes that his lord's former riches have now brought about his greatest suffering. He determines to continue to serve him, and follows after him into the woods.
Foolish though Timon may have been, he inspired adoration even among his servants, who didn't benefit nearly as much as the lords who abandoned him. Flavius shares his money among the remaining servants in a gesture of generosity he must surely have learned from Timon, who spent money on gifts for his friends even as he mortgaged his lands. His act of kindness seems to make sense, to divide a small amount of money among people who have nothing, though it seems a great contrast to a rich man giving extravagant gifts to people who were already wealthy. Flavius shows the same kind of generosity as Timon--to be generous to those in need, at the expense of oneself. But it's this behavior that Timon has learned will lead to flattery and false friendship. Why does it seem more natural or believable for poor men to share small sums than a rich man to give large gifts? From Timon's fall we have just learned that generosity doesn't pay, yet Flavius is generous to the other servants. Is generosity worthwhile, but only to the right kind of people? Are lords poor recipients of generosity and prone to flattery? Is it that poorer people or servants can accept gifts without false behavior?
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