Study Guide

The Life of Timon of Athens Principles

By William Shakespeare


Were you totally bummed when Timon's friends couldn't give him any money after he gave them all those fancy gifts? We were, too. It drives a wedge between Timon and his buddies, and it forces Timon to think about who his real friends are. It gives us a glimpse into the characters' principles as well.

In Timon of Athens, we get a couple of different views on how gifts and debts should be repaid. Timon's friends readily admit they are in debt to Timon, but they still won't pay up. On the other hand, Timon happily pays his friends' debts, even when those debts have nothing to do with him. Is either approach the right one?

Questions About Principles

  1. What does Timon expect in return for his gifts? What is his attitude toward gifts and debts with his friends? How about with his enemies?
  2. Timon's friends expect gifts when they see one of Timon's servants walk up to them individually, or when Timon invites them to banquets. What does that tell us about what these friends expect from Timon? What are they willing to do for those gifts?
  3. Whose principles do you most agree with in the play? Why?
  4. Does Timon change his gift-giving ways or his principles? How can we understand his gifts in the woods to Alcibiades, Flavius, the thieves, and the prostitutes?

Chew on This

Timon never changes his principles. Even in the woods, he gives to people who probably won't do anything for him in return.

Timon begins as an extravagant gift-giver, but by the end of the play, he's super stingy with his gifts because his principles have changed.