Bluff Your Way Through the Play: Timon of Athens


Because it’s not performed all that often, chances are you’ve never seen a production of Timon of Athens.  You may not have even known it is one of Shakespeare’s plays.  Don’t worry.  You’re in the same boat as a lot of other people.  And we’re here to help give you some of the inside scoop on this rarity from Shakespeare’s canon.


So What’s the Story?

Timon is a big-spending philanthropist who burns through wealth. After turning to friends for help, Timon gets turned away and retreats to the wild. While wandering and digging for food, Timon discovers a cache of gold. Will Timon return to his old life and false friends? Read a more detailed synopsis here.

In Isolation

Timon is Shakespeare’s only central character who has no significant relationships. The character doesn’t have a spouse, children, parents, or any family.

Rare and Unknown

Timon of Athens was written at about the same time as King Lear and shares some of its sense of disillusionment, but is the least known and most rarely performed play in the canon.

Writing Buddies

There are questions about the play’s authorship as Thomas Middleton, possibly the author of an earlier Timon play, has been suggested as co-dramatist and responsible for at least a third of the play.

The Yellow Slave

Shakespeare enthusiast Karl Marx was impressed by Timon’s tirade against the corrupting influence of gold.

The Duke and the Bard

In 1963 jazz great Duke Ellington composed 20 original songs for a Stratford Festival production of Timon of Athens set in the roaring 1920s.

Where Are the Women?

Timon of Athens is the play with the fewest lines for female designated characters – just eleven lines…and they’re given to the camp followers.

Weighty Role

The character of Timon speaks 850 lines…more than a third of the entire play! It is the 7th largest role in Shakespeare’s canon of plays.

Political Unrest

When Shakespeare wrote Timon of Athens, England was in political turmoil after a royal assassination attempt, the Gunpowder Plot, had failed.

Written But Not Performed

Timon of Athens is one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays to date as there is no record of a performance in Shakespeare’s lifetime. Its style suggests that it belongs alongside King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra.

The Currency of Love

Timon of Athens and The Merchant of Venice are the two Shakespeare plays that primarily deal with tangled relationships to money.

Stage Symmetry

In Timon of Athens watch for counterpoint repetitions in the play: two banquets, two encounters with the poet and the painter, and two sets of occasions on which Timon faces flattering friends.