Perhaps the most rarely produced of Shakespeare’s plays, the drama begins outside the house of Timon, a very rich Athenian. He takes pleasure in giving more than he receives and orders a great banquet, to which he invites all his friends, including General Alcibiades and the ill-tempered philosopher Apemantus.
His faithful steward, Flavius, realizes that his master is about to go bankrupt. Suddenly no one is willing to lend him money.
Timon is angry and disillusioned with his fair-weather friends. Once more, he invites them to a grand banquet. The food is served in covered dishes that, when opened, contain only lukewarm water and stones. Timon reviles his guests, swears himself to the life of a misanthrope, and leaves the city to live alone in the woods.
As he digs in the earth for roots to eat, he discovers a hoard of gold. But such good fortune is no longer of interest to him. His old friend Alcibiades visits him with two courtesans, but Timon is not interested. Instead, he gives them gold and begs them to infect the world with venereal disease. He is courteous to Alcibiades only because he believes that the general will switch sides in the endless war with Sparta.
Alcibiades and the courtesans are only the first in a long line of visitors that include three vicious thieves to whom Timon gives his gold willingly in an unsuccessful attempt to get them to continue their murderous ways. Only the arrival of his faithful Flavius elicits any kindly response from him, but even he is sent away. Meanwhile, Alcibiades is about to attack Athens. A soldier begs Timon to return as their general and save the city. He refuses the commission and turns his back on humanity forever.