From Stories of Shakespeare’s Tragedies by Helene Adeline Guerber. New York: Dodd, Mead and company.
The first act opens in Athens, in the hall of Timon’s house, just as poet, painter, jeweller, and merchant, enter by different doors to await the coming of their wealthy lord arid patron. Meanwhile, they exchange greetings, the poet and painter entering into conversation together, and presently asking the jeweller what he has brought to sell. Proud of his wares, the jeweller exhibits a gem of such uncommon beauty and value that all present rave about it. Meanwhile, the poet cons over the lines he has written, until the painter, noticing his abstraction, wonders whether he is about to dedicate some new work to the great lord whose favour they are all seeking. The poet negligently rejoins it is only a trifle, which idly slipped from him, ere begging permission to see in his turn what the painter has to offer. The picture he is shown is evidently a portrait of Timon, since he praises it until the pleased painter modestly admits “it is a pretty mocking of the life.”
Meantime, senators are passing through the hall on their way to join Timon, who, painter and poet decide, must be a happy man since so many people pay court to him. The poet now states he has tried to describe in his rough work “a man, whom this beneath world doth embrace and hug with amplest entertainment,” using for his verse the bold flight of an eagle. He also remarks that all conditions of men come to tender their service to Lord Timon, whose popularity depends even more upon his large fortune than upon the good and gracious nature which “subdues and properties to his love and tendance all sorts of hearts,” from that of the cynical philosopher Apemantus, who enjoys nothing so much as abhorring himself, down to the lowest of those who kneel at his nod.
In his poem, the poet claims he has represented Fortune enthroned upon a high hill, up whose sides climb all manner of men with eyes devoutly fixed upon their sovereign lady. But one of these men, who, of course, personates Timon, is wafted up to Fortune’s side by a motion from her ivory wand, only to receive innumerable gifts, which he carelessly passes on to others. The painter deems this conceit a happy one, although the poet fancies the people who surround Timon with their flattery might, should Fortune change her mood and spurn him down from the top of the hill he has climbed, refuse to accompany “his declining foot.” The painter avers, however, such is the common lot of mankind, and exclaims “A thousand moral paintings I can show that shall demonstrate these quick blows of Fortune’s more pregnantly than words.” Still, he praises the poet for making his meaning plain even to Timon’s eyes.
Just then the sound of trumpets is heard, and Lord Timon enters, speaking to his various visitors in turn. All at once, he is approached by a messenger from Ventidius, reporting that his lord is in prison, where, unless five talents are immediately sent, he will have to remain. In his distress, Ventidius beseeches the aid of Timon, who generously exclaims: “I am not of that feather to shake off my friend when he must need me.” On the contrary, knowing Ventidius to be a gentleman deserving help, Timon generously volunteers to pay the whole debt and set him free, sending the messenger off with an invitation, to present himself, as soon as he is released, to Timon, who will give him further aid, for “tis not enough to help the feeble up,” but one must “support him after.”
The messenger having gone, an old Athenian steps forward, and after greeting the rich man, bitterly complains that his servant, Lucilius, frequents his house and wooes his young daughter. The old Athenian does not approve of this suitor, because he wishes his daughter to marry a man of means. When Timon remarks that his servant is honest, the old father coolly rejoins “his honesty rewards him in itself,” but that he shall not have his daughter. On learning that the young people love each other dearly, but that the father will disinherit the girl if they persist in seeing each other, Timon enquires what dowry the Athenian intends to give her in case she marries according to his wishes. After hearing the father’s intentions, Timon declares his man has served him so faithfully that he will strain a little “to build his fortune.” He, therefore, bargains, that provided the Athenian give Lucilius his daughter, he, Timon, will bestow upon his servant an amount equal to the girl’s dowry. This fully satisfies the avaricious parent, who, trusting in Timon’s promise, goes off with the overjoyed and grateful Lucilius.
The poet and painter now draw near Timon, who graciously accepts the proffered poem and praises the painting, promising to prove his satisfaction to both artists in some substantial manner. Turning to the jeweller, Timon next informs him his “jewel hath suffer’d under praise,” a remark which alarms the merchant, but which Timon explains by adding that should he pay it as highly as it has been extolled, it would bankrupt him. The jeweller rejoins 1 things of like value differing in the owners are prized by their masters,’ and assures him he will 1 mend the jewel by the wearing it.’ When Timon hints this is meant sarcastically, the merchant assures him, “no, my good lord; he speaks the common tongue, which all men speak with him.”
Just then the churlish philosopher Apemantus comes in, and the rest whisper he will spare none of them, as he is noted for his propensity for uttering surly and disagreeable truths. He does not disappoint their expectations, for he returns the greetings of Timon, poet, merchant, and painter with such acerbity, that the dialogue soon degenerates into a verbal fencing match, wherein the surliness of the philosopher becomes only too apparent. He derides everything, and when Timon proudly exhibits his recent purchases, runs them down, too, vowing everybody is merely trying to make as much as possible out of a wealthy patron.
In the midst of this talk a blast of trumpets is heard, and when Timon enquires what this noise means, a servant informs him Alcibiades has just arrived with some twenty horsemen. Giving orders that they, too, be well entertained, Timon turns to the rest, inviting them to dine with him, and charging them not to depart until he has had time to thank them properly for coming and to examine all they have brought. Then, Alcibiades appearing, Timon steps forward to greet him, while the philosopher sarcastically comments that everybody shows politeness to the rich man.
Meantime, Alcibiades and Timon have exchanged greetings; the latter assures his guest he is welcome, and vows that ere they part they “will share a bounteous time in different pleasures.” To begin with, Timon conducts his guests into a neighbouring banqueting-room, thus leaving Apemantus alone on the stage for a few moments. He is soon joined, however, by a couple of lords, who attempt to enter into conversation with him, but he gives churlish replies to their bantering remarks and finally goes off, still snarling at the rich man and his friends. The lords now prepare to join the banqueters and enjoy the lavish hospitality of Timon, vewing he ‘ out-goes the very heart of kindness,’ and that no gift is ever bestowed upon him “but breeds the giver a return exceeding all use of quittance.” It is evident they approve of Timon’s lavishness, for they express a hope he may long live in fortune.
We are next transferred to the banqueting-room, where soft music is played, while Ventidius addressing Timon, exclaims it has at last pleased the gods to recall his aged father and leave him very rich. In “grateful virtue,” he can now return the five talents through whose aid he recovered his freedom. But Timon refuses to accept this payment, exclaiming, “I gave it freely ever; and there’s none can truly say he gives, if he receives.” Then, turning to his other guests, and noticing they are still standing, he invites them all to sit down, declaring “ceremony was but devised at first to set a gloss on faint deeds, hollow welcomes, recanting goodness, sorry ere ’tis shown;” and adds that where “there is true friendship, there needs none.” Instead of grace, he calls to his friends” more welcome are ye to my fortunes than my fortunes to me,” and urges them all to sit down.
All rejoice in such a welcome except Apemantus, who insists he has come here only to be thrown out, for he wishes to give his host a well-meant warning. Without paying heed to his strictures, Timon politely expresses a hope his meat will annul all objections, but the philosopher refuses to be silenced. He vows that Timon is blind since he fails to see that all these people are dipping in his blood, and adds that his greatest madness consists in cheering them on to do it. In fact, Apemantus clearly gives his host to understand that he considers his guests mere parasites, and as Timon, in reply, proposes a health, he vows it will not be long before such health-drinking “will make thee and thy state look ill.” Then he pronounces a grace which is the acme of cynicism, wherein among other things he prays he may never be so foolish as “to trust man on his oath or bond.”
His grace ended, the philosopher sits down to eat and drink, while Timon, turning to Alcibiades, asks whether his heart is already in the field, and whether he prefers a breakfast of enemies to a dinner of friends. Their playful conversation is interrupted by sarcastic remarks from Apemantus, and by enthusiastic praises on the part of the other guests in regard to the magnificence of the feast. In reply Timon assures them he is proud to entertain so many friends, and that he has often wished himself poor so he might come nearer to them. Still, he realises fully that the least thing a rich man can do is to share his wealth with others as with brothers, principles highly approved by all present, save Apemantus. This conversation continues with unabated vivacity until sounds of a new arrival are heard.
Before long a servant announces that some ladies have come and are sending a herald to beg for admittance. After ordering this emissary shown in, Timon is greeted by Cupid, who announces “the five best senses acknowledge thee their patron; and come freely to gratulate thy plenteous bosom.” In return, Timon bids such guests heartily welcome, whereupon Cupid ushers in five ladies in masks, who sing and dance, to the delight and entertainment of all present, save the churlish Apemantus. He seems to consider them mad women, and deems the spectators fools to gaze admiringly at them and expend flatteries upon their host.
A moment later some lords rise from the table, and after returning thanks in pantomime to Timon, join the ladies and dance with them to the strains of gay music. It is only when all are out of breath, and when the music ceases, that Timon can thank the strangers for adding worth and lustre to his entertainment; the praises he utters being offset by snappish, mocking comments on the part of the philosopher. Then Timon invites his female guests to step into an adjoining room, where a banquet awaits them, for he wishes to entertain them in return for the pleasure they have given him and his friends.
The ladies and Cupid having gone, Timon bids his steward bring him his casket, whereupon the man wonders whether his master is going to bestow more jewels upon his friends. He knows, however, “there is no crossing him in’s humour,” and that it is vain to warn him he is spending more than he can afford, so goes off grumbling. Meanwhile, several of the guests call for their horses and prepare to depart; but, when the steward returns, Timon eagerly snatches the casket from him, and begs them to accept trifles, as he calls them, which he bestows with many gracious words. All his gifts are received with delight by the guests and the presentation ceremony is barely finished, when the servant announces some senators are arriving. Timon has just exclaimed he will receive them with joy, when his steward, bending down to his ear, anxiously begs a moment’s hearing, as he has matters of importance to communicate. Carelessly rejoining he will listen some other time, Timon bids the steward hasten off to prepare suitable entertainment for newcomers an order poor Flavius does not know how to carry out, seeing there is nothing left.
Just then a servant reports that Lord Lucius, out of his free love,’ presents Timon with “four milk-white horses, trapp’d in silver,” a gift which is graciously accepted, as well as that from Lord Lucullus, who sends a brace of hunting hounds, with an invitation to hunt on the morrow. Timon bids these gifts be accepted and the bringers rewarded, while the steward wonders what will come of it all, and how he can supply his master’s wants from empty coffers. He murmurs that Timon’s “promises fly so beyond his state” that he is already deeply in debt, his lands having long been mortgaged, and no further devices remaining whereby funds can be raised. Pie wishes, before the ruin is complete, he might gently be removed from office, and sadly vows “happier is he that has no friend to feed than such that do e’en enemies exceed.”
The second act opens in a senator’s house, at the moment when he is looking over some papers, and remembers how Timon has lately borrowed large sums of money, which, seeing his wasteful habits, there is no likelihood he can ever repay. This senator, remembering how, whenever a gift is bestowed upon Timon he always repays it tenfold, suddenly decides to call in his loans, and summoning a servant, sends him off to Timon’s house to ask for the repayment of his funds. The man is instructed not to leave without obtaining the money, for his master feels sure that Timon, who flashes now like a phoenix, will soon be nothing but a “naked gull.” Having secured the necessary vouchers, the servant departs, and the curtain next rises on the hall in Timon’s house, where the steward Flavius, his hands full of bills, sadly remarks there is no end to his master’s senseless expenditure. He vows that Timon takes no account of the things that go from him, and that, when he returns from hunting, he must again call his attention to his disordered affairs.
At that moment the servants of three of Timon’s friends enter together, all bound on the same errand, that is to say, to collect loans. A moment later, Timon, Alcibiades, and their respective trains appear, the master of the house loudly calling for his dinner, and hospitably inviting all to partake of this meal with him. Approaching him with the notes they wish paid, all three servants are referred in lordly fashion to the steward, although they object he has put them off again and again. When Timon impatiently rejoins he has no leisure to attend to them now, all three become so importunate that he urges his friends to pass into the banqueting-room without him, promising to join them soon.
Then, turning to his steward, Timon indignantly demands how it comes he is thus besieged by duns, and why debts long due have not been paid. Not wishing publicly to expose his master’s poverty, Flavius promises to explain matters as soon as Timon has leisure to hear him, and persuades the duns to wait until dinner is over. Giving orders that they be hospitably entertained, Timon goes off to join his guests, while Flavius leaves the stage in despair.
The duns are now joined by the philosopher and a fool, with whom they enter into a bantering conversation, which lasts until a page appears bringing letters. He, too, exchanges witticisms with them, ere he begs Apemantus to read for him the addresses on the letters he has to deliver. The fool and philosopher, renewing their argument, come to the conclusion that the duns serve usurers, and that Timon acted unwisely in allowing himself to be plucked so ruthlessly by his friends.
They are interrupted in their talk by the entrance of Timon and of the steward, the master of the house impatiently dismissing them all, so he can converse privately with his man. When alone, Timon enquires why Flavius has not sooner called his attention to the present state of affairs, stating, “I might so have rated my expense, as I had leave of means.” The man assures him he has often vainly tried to do so, mentioning in self-defence, how frequently he has brought his accounts, only to be dismissed to see to this or procure that, until what is left of Timon’s fortunes scarcely suffices to cover outstanding debts.
When Timon exclaims that all his lands, extending as far as Lacedaemon, must immediately be sold, the steward reminds him they have long been pledged, and that this money has gone in riotous feasting, for his friends have been preying upon him shamefully. Granted the opportunity to speak, the steward adds that “when the means are gone that buy this praise, the breath is gone whereof this praise is made,” giving such an eloquent and detailed statement in regard to Timon’s disordered finances that the unfortunate man finally bids him cease, exclaiming, “no villainous bounty yet hath pass’d my heart; unwisely, not ignobly, have I given.”
Because Flavius weeps over his ruin, Timon proudly informs him he has many friends, and can easily tide over present difficulties by borrowing from them. Confident that all whom he has helped will be glad to aid him, Timon summons two servants, and bids them hasten to the lords Lucius, Lucullus, Sempronius, and the senators, with requests to lend “him funds. He refuses to heed the steward when the latter states he has already tried to borrow from them, but that whenever he has done so they have shaken their heads and dismissed him empty-handed. To convince his incredulous master, Flavius repeats their excuses, and describes their actions; whereupon Timon vows his man must have angered these true friends or they would surely have complied with his request. Timon feels so sure that Ventidius, whom he so recently helped, and who is now so rich, will gladly assist him in his turn, that he haughtily bids Flavius “ne’er speak, or think, that Timon’s fortunes ‘mong his friends can sink,” when this man continues incredulous.
The third act opens in Lucullus’ house, where Timon’s servant is waiting for admittance. On entering the room and perceiving one of Timon’s men, Lucullus fancies he is bringing, as usual, a costly gift. Because he dreamt last night of a great silver basin and ewer which he would like to possess, Lucullus fancies this gift is being brought to him, and, therefore, playfully enquires what the man is concealing beneath his cloak. When the servant rejoins it is an empty box, in which he hopes to carry off the money Timon needs, Lucullus rejoins his friend is passing foolish to keep an open house, and that, although he often went there to dinner to remonstrate with him, and stayed to supper to continue the good work, he regrets to state Tirnon has always refused to heed his warnings. Ashamed to refuse his aid, however, he tries to bribe Timon’s servant to report him not at home; but the man, knowing how lavish Timon has always been in his gifts to Lucullus, is so indignant at such meanness, that he refuses the tip Lucullus offers, only to be called a fool and fit for his master.
Left alone, the servant curses Timon’s false friend, venomously declaring he hopes his master’s meat still in Lucullus’ stomach will turn to poison, and wondering “has friendship such a faint and milky heart, it turns in less than two nights.”
On a public square we next behold Lucius, one of Timon’s former flatterers, discussing with three strangers the rumours afloat concerning the great man’s loss of all his worldly goods, and his friends’ churlish refusal to lend him aid. All agree it is contemptible friends should refuse favours to a man who has been so generous with them, but Lucius has barely protested his own extreme devotion, when one of Timon’s servants approaches him, begging for a loan. With great volubility, Lucius now explains how gladly he would aid Timon, had he not just purchased goods for which he must pay out every cent he owns. With loud protestations of affection and devotion, he sends the servant empty-handed away; then, turning to the strangers, declares Timon’s ruined, since he is vainly trying to borrow, and sagely adds, “he that’s once denied will hardly speed.” After Lucius has left them, the strangers comment upon his heartlessness, declaring that, although not acquainted with Timon, they would willingly serve one who in his prosperity has always been generous, and whom they admire for “his right noble mind, illustrious virtue, and honourable carriage.”
In another house in Athens Sempronius is wondering why Timon should apply to him for funds rather than to Lucius, Lucullus, or Ventidius. When he asks this question of the servant who has come to borrow money, the man assures him all these friends have been tried and found wanting. Hearing this, Sempronius pretends to feel insulted because he was asked last, and for that reason refuses to help Timon, exclaiming “who bates mine honour shall not know my coin.” Leaving the room after this burst of pretended virtuous indignation, Sempronius does not hear the servant term him a villain, or exclaim Timon is being sorely punished for his lavishness, before he ruefully adds “this is all a liberal course allows; who cannot keep his wealth must keep his house.”
We now return to Timon’s dwelling, where the creditors’ servants have assembled, and are eagerly asking whether Timon cannot be seen, and will not pay their claims. They conclude “deepest winter” must have come to his purse, and one of them adds he is ashamed of his master, who wears a jewel Timon has not paid for, yet refuses to share any of his wealth with his friend. They are still discussing this affair, when a servant passes through the room, of whom they eagerly enquire when Timon will appear. A moment later they perceive the steward trying to slip out, so muffled up in a cloak that he looks as if he were going “away in a cloud.” They, therefore, seize him and demand money; whereupon he bluntly informs them none is left, and that as his master has nothing for him to reckon, he is about to leave. A moment later the servant comes back, gravely informing the duns Timon is too much out of health to see them. Such being the case, the impudent duns declare he should pay his debts, so as to be reconciled to the gods and depart in peace.
Their clamours for payment become so noisy at last that Timon enters in a rage; but when all thrust their bills at him, he rushes out again in despair. Then, only, do they leave, exclaiming their masters will have to consider these debts “desperate ones, for a madman owes ’em,” and of course insane persons are not held responsible for bills. When they have gone Timon comes back into this apartment, in company with his steward, railing bitterly against the men who so cruelly dun him; nevertheless, he soon bids Flavius go and invite these false friends to a last feast, and when the man cries there is nothing left to lay before them, vows he and his cook will provide all that is necessary for this final entertainment.
We now behold the senate house, where the senators have decided on the death of a soldier, a decree against which Alcibiades comes to plead, indignantly exclaiming that “pity is the virtue of the law, and none but tyrants use it cruelly.” As the senators will not yield to his entreaties, and accuse him of striving “to make an ugly deed look fair,” Alcibiades pleads the services this man has rendered the state on different occasions, and the many wounds he has received, and even reminds them of his own deserts. The senators, however, remain obdurate, and when Alcibiades reviles them, become so indignant chat they banish him and go away. This decree calls forth hot curses from Alcibiades, together with the threat that he will collect all the discontented, and with their aid besiege Athens, of which he has no doubt he will soon become master. He deems “’tis honour with most lands to be at odds; soldiers should brook as little wrongs as gods” and, therefore, goes off in high dudgeon.
The curtain next rises on the banqueting-room in Timon’s house, where all has been prepared for the guests, who come thronging into the house, as usual, shamefacedly concluding all rumours have been false, and that Timon has merely been testing their affection. All, therefore, glibly set forth their valid excuses for not honouring his demands, making their refusals sound as plausible as possible, in hope of deceiving each other. When Timon enters, they surround him as usual with adulation, feeling sure he is still the lavish host who will enrich them with gifts, and declaring fulsomely “the swallow follows not summer more willing than we your lordship,” when he invites them to the feast.
On crowding around the table, the guests perceive none but covered dishes in sight, and hence gleefully conclude they contain gifts to be lavished upon them. Meantime, they openly continue their remarks, regretting they could not oblige Timon at the moment, and expressing amazement that Alcibiades should have incurred banishment. When all are seated, Timon pronounces an extraordinarily cynical grace, concluding with the words “for these my present friends, as they are to me nothing, so in nothing bless them, and to nothing are they welcome.” Then, with the words, “uncover, dogs, and lap,” Timon orders the covers of the dishes removed, and his guests perceive they contain nothing but hot water! Because they stare, in mute amazement, Timon first reviles them as detested parasites, and then throws the water in their faces, driving them out amid the deafening clash of the dishes he hurls after them. In this way the banqueting-room is speedily cleared, and Timon, standing alone in the midst of his wrecked fortunes, grimly vows he will in future hold no feast “whereat a villain’s not a welcome guest, “and that Athens shall” henceforth hated be of Timon, man, and all humanity.”
Only after he has gone, do the visitors sneak back into the room to collect their belongings, marvelling over what they term Timon’s madness, and frantically searching for the jewels which have fallen from their caps, some of which were bestowed upon them by Timon himself, who one day “gives us diamonds, next day stones.”
The fourth act opens outside the walls of Athens, just as Timon, leaving the city, gazes his last upon it, and curses it volubly, calling down every imaginable woe upon the place where he was once so happy, and whence he now flees in wrath, hoping “his hate may grow to the whole race of mankind, high and low!” Leaving everything behind him, he intends to take refuge in the woods, “where he shall find the unkindest beast more kinder than mankind.”
We next behold a room in Timon’s house, where Flavius sadly takes leave of his fellow-servants, all of whom bewail their master’s departure and regret his friends should have shrunk away from him. One and all declare they would gladly do anything in their power for Timon, until the steward, touched by their devotion, assures them as long as he has anything left he will gladly share it with them. Exclaiming, “thus part we rich in sorrow,” all embrace and go, the steward murmuring he will follow Timon, who “flung in rage from this ingrateful seat of monstrous friends.” He wishes to follow his master, because he knows Timon has taken nothing with him to maintain life, and resolves, “I’ll ever serve his mind with my best will; whilst I have gold, I’ll be his steward still.”
We now view an abandoned spot near the sea-shore, in the midst of the woods, where Timon, issuing from a rude cave, blesses the sun, although in the same breath he accuses it of causing great harm on earth. He now has nothing but curses left to bestow upon mankind, and all he asks of earth is a few roots to sustain his failing strength. While digging for them, Timon accidentally discovers a huge treasure of gold, which he vehemently curses, for he knows this metal brings nought but evil in the world. His eloquence in regard to the harm gold can do is astounding, and he has just decided not to allow this treasure to be seen, lest it do more damage, and has barely covered it over, reserving a part for his immediate needs, when music is heard in the distance, which causes him to hurry.
A moment later Alcibiades marches upon the scene, followed by an army of discontented men. He is flanked on either side by gay courtesans, and no sooner beholds the hermit than he eagerly enquires who he may be? When Timon morosely rejoins he is one who hates mankind, Alcibiades exclaims in that case he should follow him. Timon, however, refuses to do this, although he approves of Alcibiades’ intentions, which are “with man’s blood to paint the ground.” On beholding the courtesans, Timon exchanges curses with them, ere Alcibiades enquires what he can do for him, for by this time he has recognised his former host. After wringing from Alcibiades a solemn promise to execute his wishes, Timon enjoins upon him to do all the harm he can to Athens and the world, and bids the courtesans also do their very worst.
In order to help in what he terms this worthy undertaking, Timon, hearing they have only the slight funds which they generously offer to share with him, lavishes upon them the gold he has found, hoping it will enable them to carry out their plans. But while loading Alcibiades and the courtesans with wealth, Timon accompanies his gift with curses, suggesting all the harm they can do by means of these new subsidies. Delighted with having thus obtained new sinews for war, the troops go off to destroy Athens, while Timon accompanies their departing footsteps with a rumble of curses.
When all have gone, Timon reverts to his digging, as he is anxious to secure one poor root to sustain life; and he is still greedily gnawing this find, when the philosopher Apemantus joins him, stating he has heard Timon is following his example and living like a cynic. He enquires the meaning of the spade, and asks why Timon has withdrawn to this remote place, giving vent meanwhile to many morose views. Finally he advises Timon to forego everything else, and turn flatterer, reminding him how his friends thus obtained rich gifts from him, and suggesting he might “seek to thrive by that which has undone thee.” These suggestions prove unwelcome to Timon, who bids the philosopher begone and play the flatterer and knave if he will, declaring he himself is too proud to do so and prefers to live on the roots he digs. In pity for Timon’s fallen estate, the philosopher expresses compassion, until Timon assures him he has more gold than he can use. Even the philosopher now shows signs of toadying, and the conversation continues, until Timon, irritated by the philosopher’s cynical remarks, drives him away by pelting him with stones, thus earning his curses also.
Sick of the world, and feeling it time to prepare for death, Timon now decides to carve his own epitaph, so “that death in me at others’ lives may laugh.” Then, suddenly remembering his treasure, he again mentions it, his words being overheard by the philosopher, who has stolen back to spy upon him, and who decides to publish abroad that Timon has found a treasure.
Soon after, we behold some bandits, wondering how Timon can still have such stores of gold, and why in that case he lives in such a deserted spot. These thieves are, however, determined to obtain the treasure, and for that purpose cautiously approach Timon, describing themselves as soldiers in want. When Timon bids them feed upon the roots in the ground and the berries on the bushes, they retort it is impossible to thrive upon such things, so he gives them large sums of gold, adding curses to his gift, and bidding them continue their evil courses, robbing each other, cutting throats, and doing every harm they can think of. His curses and evil suggestions almost disgust the bandits with their trade, because “’tis in the malice of mankind” never to wish to do what one is told.
The bandits having gone, the steward enters, murmuring his poor master must now be in a sorry plight, and hoping he can still serve him out of love. When Flavius addresses Timon, the latter pretends to have forgotten him; and when the steward insists he is an honest poor servant of his, mutters he never had an honest man about him! Still, when Flavius actually weeps over his misfortunes, Timon is so touched that when his man offers him all he owns, he wonders how he did not sooner recognise the one honest man in his company. Nevertheless, he refuses the steward’s offers, telling him that instead of receiving he can bestow upon him enough to make him rich. He then gives Flavius a large part of the treasure he has found, bitterly bidding him live rich and happy, and never show charity to any one, for no one will have pity upon him should he ever be in need. Although anxious to stay with his master and comfort him, Flavius is dismissed by Timon, with the injunction never to come again.
The fifth act opens in the same forest, before Timon’s cave, just as poet and painter draw near, remarking that Alcibiades and the two courtesans report their former patron still has wealth to bestow. They have also heard rumours of the fashion in which Timon has enriched stragglers and his steward, so come here in hopes that their Mecaenas will again lavish money upon them. Hidden in the thicket, Timon overhears the hypocritical plot they are weaving to persuade him they have not forgotten him, but have come here merely to offer him their services.
While the two artists are talking, Timon expresses his views in an aside, vowing he will surprise them presently by meeting them as if by accident, and murmuring “then do we sin against our own estate, when we may profit meet, and come too late.” A moment after, stealing around behind the bushes, he meets his visitors face to face, and when they greet him, pretends to be happy to see two honest men. When the painter and poet assure him they have come to offer their services and share his lot, he innocently enquires whether they can eat roots, and drink cold water. Hearing them vow they will do anything he wishes, Timon angrily turns upon them, saying he knows they have learned he is wealthy. Then, after a little more talk, instead of bestowing upon them some of the riches they are so anxious to receive, he informs them he has already given them gold enough, and drives them away with harsh blows.
A little while later, Flavius draws near with two senators, assuring them it will be vain to apply to Timon, who no longer looks or acts like a man, and is not willing to be friends with any one. The senators, however, insist upon being led to the cave, and on reaching Its entrance, summon Timon to come forth and speak to them. Issuing from this den with curses upon his lips, Timon is greeted by the senators, who inform him they have come hither to lead him back to the city, and there invest him with certain dignities, for they attribute all the misfortunes which have befallen Athens of late to the city’s ingratitude toward him.
Although Timon declares they surprise him, they insist upon his returning to Athens, vowing his mere presence will enable them to drive back Alcibiades, who is even now approaching, and who “like a boar too savage, doth uproot his country’s peace.”
To this speech Timon rejoins he doesn’t care if Alcibiades does kill his countrymen, sack fair Athens, and bring every imaginable woe upon its unfortunate people. He declares his sole occupation now consists in carving his epitaph, for he soon expects to die, as he feels his “long sickness of health and living now begins to mend.” Meanwhile, he cynically hopes Alcibiades will prove their plague and they his. Perceiving it is vain to try and persuade him further, the senators depart, Timon calling out after them that a tree still stands near his cave, where his friends can come and hang themselves, if they like, ere it falls beneath his axe. Then, retiring into the cave, Timon watches the senators depart, convinced that their hopes in him are dead and that they will have to “strain what other means is left unto us in our dear peril.”
Before the walls of Athens two other senators meeting a messenger, eagerly enquire whether Alcibiades’ troops are as formidable as has been declared, and whether Athens is really doomed.They are also anxious to know whether he has met the senators despatched in quest of Timon, and are dismayed to learn that they have failed to bring him and that Alcibiades is near at hand. Then the senators appear, vowing nothing is to be expected of Timon, and that their fall is near since the drums of the enemy can already be heard.
We again return to the woods near Timon’s cave, where only a rude tomb is now to be seen. A soldier, penetrating into this solitude to seek Timon, seems surprised to discover a tomb bearing a fresh inscription. As he cannot read it, he decides to take its imprint in wax, so his captain Alcibiades, now besieging Athens, “whose fall the mark of his ambition is,” can interpret it for him.
The rising curtain next reveals the walls of Athens, just as Alcibiades’ trumpets announce his approach to the cowardly and lascivious town. At this martial summons, senators appear upon the walls, and Alcibiades arraigns them for their crimes. To placate his wrath they assure him every effort has been made to atone for former mistakes, and that they are now anxious to have him and Timon back in their midst. They add that it behooves him to show mercy, because few in town are guilty of offending him, and that the rest should be exempt from his wrath. In their terror, they offer to submit to any humiliation, provided he will enter their city in a friendly mood. Called upon to cast down his glove in sign of consent, Alcibiades soon does so, and bids the Athenians throw open their gates. All he requires is that they shall surrender to him his own and Timon’s foes; in exchange he promises to spare the rest. This decision satisfies the senators, who therefore descend to open the gates.
Meantime, the soldier rushes up announcing to Alcibiades that Timon rests in a tomb close by the sea, and that on his grave stands an inscription whose waxen impression he produces. Alcibiades, thereupon reads aloud Timon’s epitaph, which is, “Here lies a wretched corse, of wretched soul bereft: seek not my name: a plague consume you wicked caitiffs left. Here lie I, Timon; who, alive, all living men did hate: pass by and curse thy fill, but pass and stay not here thy gait.”
This grim epitaph convinces Alcibiades that his friend is dead, so, turning to the senators, he bids them lead him into the city, where he proposes to “use the olive with my sword, make war breed peace, make peace stint war, make each prescribe to other, as each other’s leech.” Then he marches into the city, like a conqueror, in the midst of drumbeats.