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Timon of Athens

A scene from Timon of Athens

Introduction to the play

The real Timon of Athens lived there in the fifth century BCE, making him a contemporary of Socrates and Pericles. Shakespeare presents Timon as a figure who suffers such profound disillusionment that he becomes a misanthrope, or man-hater. This makes him a more interesting character than the caricature he had become to Shakespeare’s contemporaries, for whom “Timonist” was a slang term for an unsociable man.

Shakespeare’s play includes the wealthy, magnificent, and extravagantly generous figure of Timon before his transformation. Timon expects that, having received as gifts all that he owned, his friends will be equally generous to him.

Once his creditors clamor for repayment, Timon finds that his idealization of friendship is an illusion. He repudiates his friends, abandons Athens, and retreats to the woods. Yet his misanthropy arises from the destruction of an admirable illusion, from which his subsequent hatred can never be entirely disentangled.

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Timon of Athens

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

When every feather sticks in his own wing
Lord Timon will be left a naked gull

Act 2, scene 1, lines 31–32

Sun, hide thy beams. Timon hath done his reign.

Act 5, scene 2, line 255

Timon of Athens in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Timon of Athens. Find more in our digital image collection

One of a set of title pages and page decor. By Wyndham Lewis.
Act 4, scene 3: Timon laying aside the gold. By Johann Heinrich Ramberg.
Act 4, scene 3: Timon giving away the gold to Phrynia and Timandra. By Johann Heinrich Ramberg.
From Timon of Athens, a set of seven original drawings. By Byam Shaw.

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

Timon of Athens

Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Graphic: A Map of Ancient Greece

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Timon of Athens

Early printed texts

Timon of Athens was printed first in the 1623 First Folio, and that text is the source of all subsequent editions.