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The Theme of Betrayal
A number of Themes and ideas stand out in Shakespeareís Timon of Athens. However, its central theme is betrayal. It is the tale of a man, Timon, who has to face the hard facts of life, which he was initially unaware of. Timon innocently places his trust in his Ďfriends.í He is too naïve for this corrupt world. It is only when he is in need of help that the truth comes to light, and he clearly sees the two-sided nature of man. The Senators, who were the recipients of Timonís generosity, now turn their backs on him. The poet, the painter, the jeweler, and the merchant, who were regular visitors in Timonís court, also disappear. Timon is very hurt and shocked by this betrayal. This bitter experience in life transforms him from a benevolent friend to a misanthrope.
In the subplot, Shakespeare shows that Timonís friend Alcibiades faces a similar situation. Alcibiades is banished from Athens, for pleading for the release of a friend, who has been sentenced to death. The Senators therefore show no gratitude for all the good that he has done for the city of Athens. But Alcibiades, unlike Timon, takes revenge on those who have wronged against him, that is, the Senators. He and his army marches into the city of Athens, defeat the Senators, and take over the city.
The theme of Disillusionment
Timon is known in Athens for his generosity. He is always lavishing gifts on people. It is because of this generous nature of his, that he lands into debt. He has full faith and confidence that his Ďfriendsí will come to his rescue. They however make excuses and do not help him in this crisis. He now realizes the true nature of his friends and his love turns to hatred. Timon leaves Athens and starts living in the forest. It is here that he discovers a lot of gold. He then gives away this gold to bring about the destruction of mankind. Timon therefore becomes a misanthrope, which is the result of extreme disillusionment. Although he finds kindness in his faithful steward and Alcibiades, he doesnít change his attitude towards mankind.
The theme of Reality versus Appearance.
Timonís Ďfriendsí as well the people who always surround him (flatterers), appear to be his admirers. But, when the time comes to show their real love and admiration for Timon, they show their true colors. This shows that, in reality, they are just usurpers, who only love Timonís generosity and not Timon as a person.
The theme of Beastliness
Right from the beginning of the play, man has been compared to a beast. Shakespeare shows that the beastliness in man is worse than a real beast. Timon wishes, Ďthat beasts may have the world in empire.í This has resulted from his hatred towards mankind, not because of his love or affection for beasts.
In the opening dialogue of the play, the hypocrisy of the merchant, the jeweler, the poet and the painter is established. Later, the atmosphere is very pleasing. Though the atmosphere in Timonís house is very joyful, with Timon distributing gifts and with feasting and dancing, there is something ominous about Timonís actions. After the first act the readers can sense some kind of tension, as creditors send their servants to Timonís house to collect their amounts. Towards the end of the play Alcibiades declares war on Athens. There is commotion and the air is filled with smoke and the sound of drums. The city is calm and at peace after the Senators surrender.