BB: Timon of Athens, Act 1


(Podcast recorded and produced by Daniel J. Rowe, blog written and edited by Eric Jean)

Welcome back Brawlers!

Today we start on our eighth play, Timon of Athens! You’re going to love this one.

Listen to or download the podcast.

Timon of Athens is a tragedy set in – you guessed it – Athens. Timon is a well-loved aristocrat who is extremely generous with his wealth. In other words, he’s a sucker surrounded by sycophants but he’s the only one who doesn’t see it.

First order of business, this is how you pronounce Timon’s name: /ˈtaɪmən/.

Seeing as that’s basically gibberish, here’s a clearer pronunciation guide: it’s Timon like Simon, not Timon like Timon and Pumba.

Moving on.

Only two scenes in this opening act but they cover a lot of ground. The play opens on a scene set inside one of the (probably richly appointed) halls of Timon’s house in Athens. A painter, poet, jeweller and merchant are discussing the fact that they each are hoping to win Timon as a patron, or to sell their products to him at an inflated price. We learn that this appears to be common practice and that Timon seems to operate under the motto of ‘no unreasonable offer refused.’

Eventually Timon arrives, followed by a messenger who tells him that his friend Ventidius is about to be carted off to debtor’s prison because he’s been unable to pay his debts. (Yes, unpaid invoices used to result in jail time, indentured service or flat-out slavery.) Of course, Timon cannot let his friend go to jail so he accepts to pay the debt on his behalf and asks the servant to bring him to dinner so he can eat the shirt of Timon’s back as well.

Hot on the heels of the this messenger comes an old Athenian gentleman who is upset because one of Timon’s poor servants wants to marry his daughter. No problem for Timon; he offers to match the dowry offered to allow Lucilius to marry her. No sooner has the old man walked off that the painter, poet, jeweller and merchant swoop in. However Apemantus, an ornery Athenian lord, calls them out for their self-interested flattery. Timon accuses Apemantus of being an arrogant and proud ass; Apemantus calls Timon out for being a sucker who spends his money buying false friends. (Apemantus is still going to eat Timon’s food though, and Timon isn’t going to kick Apemantus out for berating his guests.)

Scene II features the actual banquet itself. A bunch of lords and senators of Athens are in attendance, partying it up on Timon’s dime. Ventidius is there and thanks Timon for his hep in bailing him out of jail. In this short span, he has had a sudden and mysterious windfall: his father died and Ventidius inherited his fortune. He offers to pay Timon back twice the amount of his bail but Timon refuses to take his cash. In fact, he says, his bank account is always open for his friends.

More banter between Apemantus and Timon ensues and Timon threatens to banish Apemantus to the kiddy table. Timon then starts making speeches about how great his friends are and how he’s lucky to be able to take care of all of them. Some women dressed as Cupid and some Amazons then arrive to crash to party. After a dance, Timon feeds them too.

In the mood to hand out more gifts, Timon calls his servant Flavius to bring him a box of jewels. It would seem that Timon is in the habit of giving more than he can afford. Flavius tries to warn him that he’s broke even as he’s handing out jewels like they’re business cards. The party wraps up with everyone running off with their loot. Only Apemantus remains and he tries to get Timon to see that’s he’ being taken advantage of. Timon, of course, refuses to see it.

With that , here’s a short list of the major characters appearing in this act.

  • Poet, Painter, Jeweller and Merchant: Their titles pretty much sum it all up. These aren’t really fully fledged characters but are there to give Timon opportunities to give out more money than he can afford.
  • Timon: A naive and generous Athenian lord who’s not quite as wealthy as he thinks he is, in both his friends and his funds.
  • Apemantus: Honestly, Apemantus is a bit of a jerk. Is he right? Yes. Timon is being taken for a ride by all of his so-called friends. However, if your ‘friend’ was trying to point out your mistakes by being a sarcastic jerk, how likely would you be not to tell him to f-off? There’s a difference between flattery and tact, Ape-Mantis! (Sorry, I can’t help thinking ‘Godzilla vs Ape-Mantis’)
  • Alcibiades: He’s an Athenian general recently returned from battle. He’s actually one of Timon’s real friends.
  • Ventidius: This is the guy Timon bails out of jail. And who we now know is rich because his dad died and he inherited the fortune. Remember that because it might come back later.
  • Flavius: Timon’s servant and, it would appear, his chief bookkeeper. He’s the only guy who seems to know just how little money Timon actually has.

Surrounded by great friends, full of food and wine, where else could this play go but down, down, down! Should be entertaining.

Terry stopped by to give his interpretative reading of sonnet 38. Trust me, you want to stay for this one.

Stay tuned, Brawlers. 

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