Read the full text of The Life of Timon of Athens Act 1 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
So, a Poet, a Painter, a Jeweler, and a Merchant walk into a bar...
Okay, actually, they go to Timon's house—but it might as well be a bar, given all the people who hang around there night after night.
They're all, "Hey, how's it goin'?" and "What did you bring for Timon today?"
We learn that Timon (as in, of Athens) is a rich guy who is super generous with his money. All the merchants love him and think he's a good guy.
Since they know Timon's wealthy, each of the men has brought something to give (translation: sell) to Timon. Sure, they're bighearted, too: they made gifts for Timon without him asking. If he happens to reimburse them, who cares?
As the men are sharing what they brought, each of them marvels at the others' gifts. The jewel is so rare and expensive; the poem is so beautiful; but the painting is marvelous. It looks exactly like Timon, and all the other men ooh and ahh over it. (We'll let you guess who brought what.)
When some Senators and noblemen come in, the painter and poet talk about what people think of Timon. People from all around town pay tribute to Timon. Hmm… is this because he's such a great guy, or is it because they want some of his generosity to come their way?
Either way, the poet and painter decide Timon must be a happy man. Who wouldn't be happy with so many friends?
The Poet tells the painter a little more about his poem. He says that in it, he describes a rich and famous guy a lot like Timon.
The guy in the poem gives all his gifts away, which the Painter thinks could only make someone happy. But the Poet wonders what would happen if Fortune stopped giving Timon—er, the guy in the poem—so much wealth. What would happen if Fortune spurned this dude?
Just then, Timon enters. He's every bit as charming and kind as the men have said. He shakes hands with each person and even poses with a few babies for the press. (Okay, he doesn't really, but he certainly has the whole do-gooder politician thing down pat.) Bring out the cake.
But not so fast. Not everyone is in a celebratory mood: Ventidius and Lucilius need some dough. Ventidius is in debt, even though he's a nobleman, so Timon pays off the dude's MasterCard and Visa bills—or, you know, the ancient Roman version of those.
Timon's servant Lucilius is in love, but since he's a servant and all, he's poor. His honey's dad is worried that if he lets her marry Lucilius, his grandkids will be poor.
Timon takes care of that, too: he gives the couple a way-too-expensive wedding gift.
Now that all that business is taken care of, it's time for the merchants to give Timon their gifts. Timon likes each one, and there's a big sigh of relief from the merchants, who know they have just made more than their fair share of money. There's cheer and laughter all around.
Every party has a pooper, and that's why Shakespeare invited Apemantus. He's a philosopher, which basically means he's always going around town spurting out cranky comments about how badly people treat one another.
After a few jabs at the poet and painter, Apemantus makes fun of Timon's new purchases. He warns Timon that these men are just pretending to be his friends to get his money.
That's when another twenty men show up along with Timon's acquaintance Alcibiades: they're expecting to be fed and entertained, and Timon doesn't disappoint. He leaves to greet the men and get them settled.
Apemantus takes the opportunity to be grumpy with another two lords before leaving.
Then the lords talk about how great Timon is. He outdoes himself every time, they say: if there were a kindness competition, Timon would totally win.