David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TIMON OF ATHENS: A Retelling in Prose — Cast of Characters and Act 1, Scene 1


Male Characters

Timon of Athens

Lucius, Lucullus, Sempronius, flattering Lords

Ventidius, one of Timon’s false friends

Apemantus, a churlish Cynic philosopher

Alcibiades, an Athenian Captain

Poet, Painter, Jeweler, Merchant

Certain Senators

Certain Masquers (Ladies dressed as Amazons)

Certain Thieves

Flavius, steward to Timon

Flaminius, Lucilius, Servilius, servants to Timon

Caphis, Philotus, Titus, Lucius, Hortensius, several servants to Usurers and to the Lords

Female Characters

Phrygia, Timandra, mistresses to Alcibiades

Minor Characters


Diverse other Servants and Attendants

Servants of Ventidius and of Varro and Isidore (two of Timon’s Creditors)

Three Strangers

An Old Athenian

A Page

A Fool


Athens, and the neighboring Woods

— 1.1 —

In a hall in Timon’s house, several people stood. A poet and a painter stood together, and a jeweler and a merchant stood together.

The poet said to the painter, “Good day, sir.”

“I am glad you’re well,” the painter replied.

“I have not seen you for a long time. How goes the world?”

“How goes the world?” was a way of saying, “How are you?” However, the painter took the question literally.

“It wears, sir, as it grows,” the painter replied. “The world wears out as it grows older. With entropy, someday the world will wear out completely.”

“Yes, that’s well known,” the poet said, “but what particular rarity do we see in the world? What strange event never experienced before and without equal — according to many and varied witnesses and records of history — do we see?”

The poet answered his own question: “Seethe magic of bounty and generosity! The powerof bounty and generosityhas conjured all these spirits to be in attendance here and now.”

He was referring to the people present, all of whom were present because of Timon’s bounty. Timon was a very generous man.

The poet pointed and said, “I know that merchant.”

“I know both of the men,” the painter said. “The other man’s a jeweler.”

A short distance away, the merchant said, “Oh, he is a worthy lord.”

The jeweler replied, “That’s very certain.”

“He is a very incomparable man, and he keeps his generosity well exercised. His goodness is, as it were, tireless and enduring. He is surpassingly generous.”

The jeweler said, “I have a jewel here —”

“Please, let me see it,” the merchant requested. “Is it for the Lord Timon, sir?”

“If he will pay me its estimated value, but as for that —”

 As for that, Timon always paid its estimated value.

The poet recited two verses to himself, “When we for recompense have praised the vile, / it stains the glory in that happy verse that aptly sings the good.”

A person can praise things that are bad in order to receive money, but doing that devalues praise for things that are good.

Now, lots of praise began to be stated for things for which people were hoping to receive money.

“The jewel is of good quality,” the merchant said.

“The quality is rich,” the jeweler said. “Look at its luster.”

A short distance away, the painter said to the poet, “You are rapt, sir, in some work, some dedication to the great lord.”

The great lord was the generous Timon. Poets would often dedicate a work to a generous lord in return for financial patronage.

“These two verses slipped idly and casually from me,” the poet said. “Our poetry is similar to gum that oozes from the tree from whence it is nourished.”

The poet believed that poetry was easy to write as long as it was nourished — paid for.

The poet added, “The fire in the flint does not show itself until the flint is struck.”

There is a way to strike the flint that is this poet so that it produces the spark of poetry. That way is to give this poet money.

The poet continued, “Our refined flame produces itself and like the current flies each barrier it chafes.”

According to the poet, writing poetry could be compared to flowing water that went around or leapt over barriers in the stream and then continued downstream.

One can wonder whether truly good poetry can be easilywritten in return for money.

Seeing the painter holding something, the poet asked, “What do you have there?”

“A picture, sir,” the painter said. “When does your book come forth?”

“Upon the heels of my presentment, sir.”

The poet was present to present his book to Timon; he was fully confident that Timon would approve of the book and would give him money for its publication — and for its composition.

The poet requested, “Let’s see your piece.”

Showing the poet his picture, the painter said, “It is a good piece.”

“So it is,” the poet said. “This picture turned out well, and it is excellent.”

“It is indifferent,” the painter said.

One can wonder whether the painter was being falsely modest in order to get a compliment, or was telling the truth.

“It is admirable,” the poet said about the painting, which depicted a man. “Look at how the gracefulness of this figure proclaims his status! What a mental power this eye shoots forth! How forcefully imagination moves in this lip! The figure is dumb — silent — but the viewer can provide words for the gesture the figure is making.”

“It is a pretty mocking of the life,” the painter said. “It is a good imitation of reality. Look here at this part. Is it good?”

“I will say about your picture that it tutors nature,” the poet said. “Artificial strife lives in these touches that are livelier than life.”

The artificial strife was the effort needed to make art. The poet had said that writing poetry was easy when the poetry would be paid for, but to him painting was hard.

Senators now entered the hall and walked in front of the poet and the painter.

“How this lord is followed!” the painter said. “Lots of important people seek his patronage.”

“The Senators of Athens seek Timon’s patronage!” the poet said. “Timon is a happy man!”

“Look, more are coming!” the painter said.

“You see this confluence, this great flood of visitors,” the poet said. “I have, in this rough work, shaped out a man, whom this Earthly world that is below him embraces and hugs with the amplest reception. My free drift halts not particularly, but moves itself in a wide sea of wax: No targeted malice infects one comma in the course I hold; the course I hold flies an eagle flight, bold and straight on, leaving no trace behind.”

The poet was describing the work of art that he would present to Timon. It was a work about a man whom many people praised. He did not name any particular man. In addition, he claimed that no maliciousness against any particular person could be discerned in his writing. The scope of the poet’s writing was broad. At this time, people often wrote on wax tablets with a stylus, but the poet wrote on a sea of wax — a very broad scope. The poet also claimed that the targeted malice of his writing flew like an eagle; it flew high and straight and left no trace of its passage behind.

In other words, the message of the writing was universal, but it definitely applied to a particular individual. However, the poet expected that his writing would fly over the head of its audience and leave no trace behind.

The poet’s words were vague, and the painter said, “How shall I understand you? What are you saying?”

“I will unfold my meaning to you,” the poet said. “You see how all social ranks, how all minds, as well of glib and slippery creatures as of grave and austere quality, tender their services to Lord Timon. His large fortune, in conjunction with his good and gracious nature, subdues and appropriates to his love and attention all sorts of hearts. Yes, hearts ranging from those of the mirror-faced flatterers who reflect back the flatteree’s own moods and opinions to the Cynic philosopher Apemantus, who loves few things better than to hate himself.”

If what the poet said is true, then Apemantus hates himself simply because he is a human being.

The poet continued, “Even Apemantus drops down to his knee when he is before Timon, and returns home happy when Timon acknowledges him by nodding to him.”

“I saw them speak together,” the painter said.

“Sir, I have represented in my work Lady Fortune, who is enthroned upon a high and pleasant hill. The base of the mountain is surrounded by rows of men with differing degrees of merit and differing kinds of character. These men labor on the bosom of this sphere to increase their wealth. Among them all, whose eyes are fixed on this sovereign lady — Lady Fortune — is one man I describe as being like Lord Timon in disposition and build, whom Lady Fortune with her ivory hand beckons to her. Lord Timon’s present grace translates his rivals to present slaves and servants — his ever-present generosity immediately changes his rivals into his slaves and servants.”

“You have hit your target,” the painter said. “This throne, Lady Fortune, and this hill, in my opinion, with one man beckoned to climb from the rest below, bowing his head against the steep mountain to climb to his happiness, would be well expressed in our condition.”

The painter meant that Lady Fortune also beckons creative people such as himself and the poet to climb the mountain. Such a climb is steep, but it is rewarding.

“Sir, continue to listen to me,” the poet said. “All those who were his equals just recently, some of whom are worth more than he himself is, at the moment follow his strides, fill his lobbies as if they were his servants and attendants, rain sacrificial whisperings — like the adoring prayers of a priest at a sacrifice — in his ear, treat as a sacred object even his stirrup that they hold as he mounts his horse, and act as if only through him are they able to drink in the air that is free to all.”

“What about all these people?” the painter asked.

“When Lady Fortune in her shift and change of mood kicks down her late beloved, all his parasites who labored on their hands and knees and crawled after him to reach the mountain’s top now let him slip down the mountain. Not even one will accompany him in his decline.”

“That is a commonplace idea,” the painter said. “I can show you a thousand moralistic paintings that demonstrate these quick blows of Lady Fortune more pregnantly than words can. Yet you do well to show Lord Timon that lowly eyes have seen the foot above the head.”

The eyes of the lowly have seen Lady Fortune’s foot above their head just before it kicked them down the steep hill; previously, the eyes of the now lowly were the eyes of the then great.

Trumpets sounded; someone important was coming.

Timon entered the hall and talked courteously with those present — people who had a request to make of him.

A messenger from Ventidius began talking with Timon; Lucilius and other servants followed Timon.

Timon said, “Imprisoned is he, do you say?”

The messenger from Ventidius replied, “Yes, my good lord. Five talents is his debt; his means of repayment are very short, and his creditors are very strict. He wants you to write an honorable letter to those who have shut him up. If you fail to do that, his comfort will come to an end.”

The honorable letter would state that Timon would honor — pay — the debt of his friend.

“Noble Ventidius!” Timon said. “Well, I am not of that feather — that kind of person — to shake off my friend when he needs me. I know him to be a gentleman who well deserves help, which he shall have. I’ll pay the debt, and free him.”

“Your lordship binds Ventidius to you forever with your generosity,” the messenger said.

“Convey my greetings to him,” Timon said. “I will send his ransom. Once he has been freed, ask him to come to me. It is not enough just to help the feeble up, for we ought to support him afterward. Fare you well.”

“All happiness to your honor!” the messenger said as he exited.

An old Athenian man entered the hall and said, “Lord Timon, hear me speak.”

“Speak freely, good father,” Timon said.

In this society, old men one was not related to were called “father” as a term of respect.

“You have a servant named Lucilius,” the old Athenian man said.

“I have,” Timon said. “What about him?”

“Most noble Timon, call the man before you.”

“Is he here, or not?” Timon asked. “Lucilius!”

“Here I am, at your lordship’s service.”

“This fellow here, Lord Timon, this creature of yours, by night frequents my house,” the old Athenian man said.

The terms “fellow” and “creature” were contemptuous. The old Athenian man looked down on Lucilius because he was a servant and lacked wealth.

The old Athenian man continued, “I am a man who from my first years has been inclined to be thrifty, and my estate deserves an heir more raised than one who holds a trencher.”

A trencher is a wooden plate that holds food. Lucilius was a servant who waited on Timon during meals. The old Athenian man’s problem with Lucilius courting his daughter was Lucilius’ lack of social status and wealth. He wanted his daughter to marry someone with a higher social status and more wealth.

“Well, what further do you have to say?” Timon asked.

“I have only one daughter, no kin else, on whom I may confer what I have gotten throughout my life. The maiden is beautiful and has just become old enough to be a bride, and I have raised her at a very dear cost to have the best accomplishments. This man of yours wants her to be his. I ask you, noble lord, to join with me to forbid him from being in her presence. I myself have spoken to him, but in vain.”

“Lucilius is honest,” Timon said. “He is honorable and worthy.”

“If he is honest, then therefore he will be honest,” the old Athenian man replied. “He can show that he is honest by leaving my daughter alone. His honesty will be his reward; his reward must not be my daughter — he must not bear her away.”

“Does she love him?” Timon asked.

“She is young and apt — she is impressionable. Our own former passionate feelings teach us what levity’s in youth.”

Some of the old Athenian man’s words had a double meaning. “Apt” could mean “impressionable” or “sexually inclined.” “Levity” could mean “frivolity” or “licentiousness.” A woman with light heels is a promiscuous woman.

Timon asked Lucilius, “Do you love the maiden?”

“Yes, my good lord, and she accepts my love.”

The old Athenian man said, “I call the gods to witness that if in her marriage my consent is missing, I will choose my heir from among the beggars of the world, and dispossess her of all she would have inherited if she had married with my consent.”

“How shall she be endowed, if she marries a man who is her equal?”

“Immediately, three talents of money; in the future, all that I possess.”

“This gentleman of mine has long served me,” Timon said. “Although he serves me, he is well born. As I said, he is a gentleman. To build his fortune I will strain a little because generosity is a duty among men. Give him your daughter. What you bestow to your daughter, I’ll match and give to him. If the wealth of Lucilius and the wealth of your daughter were weighed in a pair of scales, they would weigh the same.”

“Most noble lord, if you stake your honor to me that you will do this, she is his.”

“Let’s shake hands,” Timon said. “I promise on my honor that I will do what I said I will do.”

“Humbly I thank your lordship,” Lucilius said. “May no property or fortune ever fall into my possession that I do not acknowledge as being due to you!”

Lucilius and the old Athenian man exited together.

The poet went to Timon, offered him a document, and said, “Please accept my labor, and long live your lordship!”

“I thank you,” Timon said, accepting the document. “You shall hear from me soon. Don’t go far away.”

Timon then said to the painter as the poet went a short distance away, “What do you havethere, my friend?”

“A piece of painting, which I ask your lordship to accept.”

“Painting is welcome,” Timon said, taking the painting. “The painted figure is almost the natural man who is free of artificiality. But since dishonor has dealings with man’s nature, he is merely outward appearance: A man may appear to be other than he actually is. In contrast, these painted figures are exactly what they appear to be. I like your work, and you shall find I like it. Wait here in this hall until you hear further from me.”

“May the gods preserve you!” the painter said.

“May you fare well, gentleman,” Timon said to the painter. “Give me your hand. We must dine together.”

Timon then turned to the jeweler and said, “Sir, your jewel has suffered under praise.”

“What, my lord!” the jeweler said. “From underpraise? From dispraise?”

Timon explained what he had meant: “It has suffered from an excess of praise. If I should pay you for the jewel as it is praised, it would quite ruin me. The jewel is praised so highly that it must be very expensive.”

“My lord, it is rated as those who sell would give,” the jeweler said. “It is priced in accordance with what jewelers would normally pay for it; that is, it is priced at cost. But as you well know, things of like value that have different owners are prized differently by their owners — and other people will value the things differently according to who owns them. Two jewels may have the same objective value, but their owners may value them differently — and other people may value them differently according to who owns the jewels. Believe it, dear lord, when I say that you increase the jewel’s value by wearing it.”

“Well mocked,” Timon said. “Well jested.”

“No, my good lord,” the merchant said. “He speaks the common tongue, which all men speak with him. Other men say the same thing that the jeweler did.”

Seeing Apemantus coming toward him, Timon said, “Look and see who is coming here.”

He said to the jeweler and the merchant, “Will you stay and be rebuked? You know that he will criticize all of us.”

The jeweler replied, “We’ll stay and endure his company, along with your lordship.”

“He’ll spare no one,” the merchant said.

“Good day to you, gentle Apemantus!” Timon said.

“Until I become gentle, you will have to wait for me to wish you a good day; I will be gentle when you become your dog, and when these knaves become honest men. That will be never.”

“Why do you call them knaves?” Timon asked. “You don’t know them.”

Hmm. Perhaps if Apemantus knew these men, he would be justified in calling them knaves.

“Aren’t they Athenians?” Apemantus asked.


“Then I don’t repent my calling them knaves,” Apemantus said. “All Athenians are knaves.”

The jeweler asked, “Do you know me, Apemantus?”

“You know I do. I called you by your name — knave.”

“You are proud, Apemantus,” Timon said.

Timon meant that Apemantus was arrogant and presumptuous, but Apemantus twisted the meaning of “proud.”

“I am proud of nothing so much as that I am not like Timon.”

Apemantus turned as if he were moving away, and Timon asked, “Where are you going?”

“To knock out an honest Athenian’s brains.”

“Murder is a crime. That’s a deed you shall die for,” Timon said.

“You are right,” Apemantus said, “if doing nothing results in being put to death by the law.”

In other words, no honest Athenian existed, and so Apemantus would knock out no honest Athenian’s brains.

“How do you like this picture, Apemantus?” Timon asked, holding up the painting.

“I like it best for the innocence,” Apemantus said.

The figure in the painting, not being a living being, could do no evil.

“Didn’t the artist who painted it do a good job?”

“The man who made the painter — the painter’s father — did a better job, and yet the painter’s but a filthy piece of work.”

“You’re a dog,” the painter said.

Apemantus was a Cynic philosopher who rejected materialism. The word “Cynic” was related to the Greek word for “doglike.”

“Your mother’s of my generation and breed,” Apemantus said. “What is she, if I am a dog?”

He was calling the painter’s mother a bitch.

“Will you dine with me, Apemantus?” Timon asked.

“No,” Apemantus replied. “I don’t eat lords.”

He did not consume lords by eating their food and so consuming their wealth.

“If you did eat lords, you would anger the ladies,” Timon said.

“Oh, they eat lords,” Apemantus said. “That’s how they come to have great big bellies.”

By consuming the lords’ food, the ladies grew great big bellies. By sexually consuming the lords, the ladies got pregnant.

“That’s a lascivious apprehension,” Timon said.

“Since that is how you apprehend — interpret — my words, take the apprehension for your labor.”

“How do you like this jewel, Apemantus?” Timon asked, displaying it.

“Not so well as plain-dealing, which will not cost a man even a coin that is worth less than a penny.”

Apemantus was referring to this proverb: “Plain-dealing is a jewel, but he who engages in plain-dealing dies a beggar.” “Plain-dealing” is “honest dealing” — not cheating in business transactions.

“What do you think it is worth?” Timon asked.

“It’s not worth my thinking about it,” Apemantus said.

He then said, “How are you now, poet?”

“How are you now, philosopher?” the poet asked.

“You lie,” Apemantus said.

“Aren’t you a philosopher?” the poet asked.


“Then I’m not lying.”

“Aren’t you a poet?”


“Then you lie,” Apemantus said.

A proverb stated, “Travelers and poets have leave to lie.”

Travelers brought back home fantastic tales of their adventures.

As early as Plato, poets have been criticized for lying. In The Republic, Plato’s character Socrates criticized Homer for lying about the gods by making them figures of fun instead of majestic beings. For example, in Homer’s Iliad, Hera outwits her husband, Zeus, by having sex with him so that he will fall asleep and the Greeks, whom Hera supports, can rally against the Trojans in a battle of the Trojan War.

Apemantus continued, “Look in your last work of poetry, where you have depicted Timon as a worthy fellow.”

“That’s not feigned,” the poet said. “It’s not a lie. Timon really is worthy.”

“Yes, he is worthy of you,” Apemantus said, “and to pay you for your labor: He who loves to be flattered is worthy of the flatterer. Heavens, if I were a lord!”

“What would you do then, Apemantus?” Timon asked.

“I would do what I — Apemantus — do now; I would hate a lord with all my heart.”

“What! Would you hate yourself?”



“Because I had no angry wit to be a lord,” Apemantus said. “Because to be a lord I had no angry wit.”

In order for Apemantus to be a lord, he would have to give up being a Cynic philosopher because Cynic philosophers rejected materialism and high social rank. Apemantus would have to give up the angry wit of a Cynic philosopher if he became a lord.

Apemantus also meant that if he became a lord, he would be a poor lord because he lacked the angry wit necessary to be a lord. Yes, he possessed the angry wit he needed to be a Cynic philosopher, but he lacked the angry wit he would need to be a lord. As a Cynic philosopher, he could direct his anger toward people whose behavior he disliked, but as a lord, he would have to behave in a way that he disliked and that would make him angry at himself for being a phony. Apemantus enjoyed mocking others; he had no desire to seriously mock himself or to do anything that would result in him mocking himself.

Apemantus would be intelligent either as a Cynic philosopher or as a lord. As a Cynic philosopher, he was intelligent enough to realize the foolishness of other people. As a lord, he would still be intelligent, and he would realize how foolish he — a lord — was. Most of the lords he knew were flatterers and hypocrites. Timon was a lord, but Apemantus regarded him as a fool for being deceived in the belief that he had true friends.

Apemantus then asked, “Aren’t you a merchant?”

“Yes, I am, Apemantus,” the merchant replied.

“May business ruin you, if the gods will not!”

“If business ruins me, then the gods ruin me,” the merchant replied.

“Business is your god, and may your god ruin you!” Apemantus said.

A trumpet sounded, and a messenger entered the hall.

“Whose trumpet is that?” Timon asked.

The messenger replied, “It is the trumpet of Alcibiades, and some twenty horsemen, all in the same company.”

Timon said to some attendants, “Please, welcome them; guide them here to us.”

The attendants left to carry out their orders. The messenger went with them.

Timon said to Apemantus, “You must dine with me.”

He said to the painter, “Don’t go until I have thanked you. When dinner’s done, show me this piece.”

He then said to all who were present, “I am happy and joyful to see all of you here.”

Alcibiades and others entered the hall.

Timon said, “Most welcome, sir!”

Much bowing took place.

Apemantus said, “Well, look at that! May your aches shrivel and wither your supple joints! That there should be little love among these sweet knaves, and yet there is all this courtesy! The strain of man’s bred out into baboon and monkey. Men have degenerated and become baboons and monkeys.”

Alcibiades said to Timon, “Sir, you have satisfied my longing to see you, and I feed most hungrily on your sight.”

“You are very welcome, sir!” Timon said. “Before we part, we’ll spend abundant time sharing various pleasures. If you please, let us go inside.”

Everyone exited except for Apemantus.

Two lords arrived.

The first lord asked, “What time of day is it, Apemantus?”

“It is time to be honest.”

“It is always that time,” the first lord said.

“Then the more accursed are you, who always neglect it,” Apemantus said.

“Are you going to Lord Timon’s feast?” the second lord asked.

“Yes, to see food fill knaves and wine heat fools.”

“Fare you well, fare you well,” the second lord said.

“You are a fool to bid me farewell twice,” Apemantus said.

“Why, Apemantus?” the second lord asked.

“You should have kept one farewell to yourself, for I mean to give you none.”

“Go hang yourself!” the first lord said.

“No, I will do nothing at your bidding,” Apemantus said. “Make your requests to your friend.”

“Go away, quarrelsome dog, or I’ll kick you away from here!” the second lord said.

“I will flee, like a dog, the heels of the ass,” Apemantus said.

A dog will flee to avoid being kicked by the hooves of an angry donkey or ass.

Apemantus exited.

The first lord said, “Apemantus is opposed to humanity. Come, shall we go in, and taste Lord Timon’s bounty? He outstrips and surpasses the very heart and soul of kindness.”

“Timon pours his bounty out,” the second lord said. “Plutus, the god of gold, is his steward. Timon receives no gifts that he does not repay sevenfold above the value of the gift. Every gift to Timon breeds the giver a return exceeding all the usual practice of repayment. Timon repays the gifts with much more than the usual rate of interest given for a loan.”

“Timon carries the noblest mind that ever governed man.”

“Long may he live with his fortunes!” the second lord said. “Shall we go in?”

“I’ll keep you company,” the first lord said.

They went in.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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