Timon of Athens — Act Four: Mr. Misanthropos and the revolving door

Previously on Timon of Athens: In the first act of the play, we meet Timon–a rich patron, generous to a fault–and an entire cast of sycophants and hangers-on who take advantage of the man’s foolish giving. We also meet Apemantus–a misanthropic rogue–and Alcibiades–a returning Athenian general. We witness one of Timon’s extravagant parties, and learn from his steward Flavius what Timon himself doesn’t yet know–that he has given all away and is now in debt. In the second act, Timon’s creditors begin to call on Timon to pay his debts. Timon criticizes Flavius for not telling him about the debts, but Flavius says that he has tried. Learning he owes more than twice what his possessions are worth, Timon decides to send his servants out to his followers and sycophants to see if they can get any money from them. In the third act, we see each of the servants greet each of the followers and get the same response: refusal. Timon does not handle this well, flying into a Lear-like rage; when calmed, he tells Flavius to invite the flatterers to one more feast. Meanwhile, Alcibiades pleads to the Senate for mercy for one of his soldiers. When he is refused and his soldier ordered for execution, Alcibiades decides to return to his army and attack Athens. Back at Timon’s home, the flatterers arrive for the feast, which turns out to be stones and water. Timon berates them, rages at the world, and calls for hatred and destruction for all.

The fourth act of Timon of Athens begins outside the walls of the city. The first scene of the act is a single 41-line soliloquy by Timon, in which he curses Athens. Again. He calls for the inhabitants to turn on each other. His language is brutal (reminiscent in some ways of Henry V’s fear-mongering railings at the Mayor of Harfleur). He tears off his clothing and ends the speech and scene with a kind of prayer, two couplets, and an “Amen”:

The gods confound—hear me, you good gods all!—
Th’ Athenians both within and out that wall,
And grant, as Timon grows, his hate may grow
To the whole race of mankind, high and low!
Amen.
  • IV.i.37-41

The second short scene of the act takes the action back to Athens and Timon’s house, where TImon’s servants talk of the now absent Timon. Flavius gives “the last of [Flavius’] wealth” (IV.ii.23) to the servants and they part ways, leaving Flavius alone on stage to soliloquize on the fall of Timon, whose “worst sin is he does too much good!” (IV.ii.39). He decides to follow and find Timon. Flavius obviously has some money left as he says, “Whilst I have gold, I’ll be his steward still” (IV.ii.50).

Act Four, Scene Three is the last of the act and a long one. How long? How about close to the length of the second scenes of the first two acts (you know, the long ones)…COMBINED. How about longer than all of Act One, and almost all of Act Three. It’s pretty long. And it takes us back to Timon who has now found himself a cave in the woods.

Timon enters alone, beginning a 48-line soliloquy, in which he rails against the sun and earth and air. And that’s before he turns his attention to misanthropically cursing man. Again.

Then in a crazy piece of irony, as Timon digs for roots to eat, he discovers gold. Then he rants about the evil of gold, only to be interrupted by the approach of Alcibiades “in warlike manner” (IV.iii.48), with drum, fife, and what the cast of characters refer to the two mistresses of the general. Before they enter, Timon takes some gold but re-buries the rest.

When Alcibiades doesn’t recognize him, Timon re-introduces himself,

I am Misanthropos and hate mankind.
For thy part, I do wish thou wert a dog,
That I might love thee something.
  • IV.iii.54-6

Interestingly, after this, the general recognizes him through claims not to know what happened. Timon insults one mistress as a “whore” (IV.iii.62). Alcibiades offers his friendship, but Timon spurns him because he “art a man” (IV.iii.76). Alcibiades continues to try to engage Timon, but receives nothing but insults in return, with Timon calling both Alcibiades’ companions whores.

The general says that Timon’s “wits // Are drowned and lost in calamities” (IV.iii.89-90), and even offers Timon gold. Of course, Timon refuses. When Alcibiades is about to leave, he says something about his friendly past in Athens. Timon questions this and learns of Alcibiades’ war on Athens.

This changes Timon; he offers Alcibiades some of the gold he has found. He wants the general to defeat Athens and then himself (the general) afterward. Alcibiades accepts the gold, but when the mistresses ask for some, Timon trades their degradation via bawdy insults for some of the gold.

On his departure, Alcibiades says,

If I thrive well, I’ll visit thee again.
TIMON
If I hope well, I’ll never see thee more.
ALCIBIADES I never did thee harm.
TIMON
Yes, thou spok’st well of me.
ALCIBIADES
 Call’st thou that harm?
TIMON
Men daily find it. Get thee away, and take
Thy beagles with thee.
  • IV.iii.170-75

Left alone on stage, Timon digs for more roots to eat, all the while soliloquizing on his hatred for everything. After Timon finds a root, Apemantus shows up, saying, “I was directed hither. Men report // Thou dost affect my manners and dost use them” (IV.iii.198-9). Timon shows this to be true, and they insult each other for nearly two hundred lines, during which Apemantus attempts to reason with Timon, even offering him food and gold. Timon refuses both, showing the cynic he has both.

Apemantus, as a kind of final insult, tells Timon that he will tell the world Timon has found gold, and that he “will be thronged to shortly” (IV.iii.392). Apemantus sees other men approaching and leaves.

The men are bandits (or “Banditti” according to the stage direction). And they know Timon has gold, but they are not sure if it is “some slender ort of his remainder” (IV.iii.397). It seems that word of Timon’s “treasure” (IV.iii.400) has spread from Alcibiades and his whores, er, mistresses, I suppose, since word could not have traveled so fast from the just-exited Apemantus. They decide to ask Timon for the money. Before they can, Timon calls them out as robbers, but they respond, “Soldiers, not thieves” (VI.iii.412). If this is true, then word must have come from the general or his two female companions.

Timon offers roots to eat, then insults, then gold. In giving them gold, he demands they go to Athens and “cut throats” (IV.iii.443). The effect is interesting: two of the three say they renounce their trade, but the third says only after “peace in Athens” (IV.iii.454). And the three leave.

The revolving door of visitors continues with Flavius, Timon’s steward. He is stunned by what he sees, and out of love and “honest grief” (IV.iii.468), presents himself to his former master. After much convincing–and the beginnings of pity for the weeping Flavius–Timon recognizes his old steward and proclaims him (or her…Timon calls Flavius a “woman” [IV.iii.481] earlier, but that could be because of Flavius’ crying) the “one honest man” (IV.iii.495) of the world.

He gives Flavius gold and sends him off. Flavius wants to “comfort” (IV.iii.532) Timon, but Mr. Misanthropos sends him away and and retreats himself into his cave.

And thus, a long, strange scene and act ends.

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