Timon of Athens
T. S. Eliot identified Titus Andronicus as Shakespeare’s worst play. I can only assume that he had never read Timon of Athens. It is quite legitimately among the least frequently produced of his plays; one wonders only why it is produced as frequently as it is. Next to Timon of Athens, Titus Andronicus seems to me to be a scintillating and entertaining dramatic piece. Titus is built around a morbidly fascinating exchange and escalation of revenges: Timon is just dreary.
This is a tragedy that largely seems to go nowhere. It’s based on a well-known ancient story that appears in Lucian’s Dialogues (where it is much more amusing), but ultimately the character of Timon is developed in one direction and then more or less dropped. Many have thought it incomplete, and that seems a plausible suggestion. It details Timon’s extensive and pitiable suffering, but ultimately he becomes something worse than what he has been made, and he winds up being so bitter and malignant that the only thing we can do is despise him.
For all that, however, there are some good things in the play, some fine speeches that can be detached and examined, and some interesting thought about undiscriminating largesse and the like. How much of Timon’s fall is his own fault? Why or how can he not be rehabilitated when he recovers his wealth? The problem of the play, in some respects, is poised between the practical reality that has defeated Timon (his spendthrift ways and subsequent penury) and the psychological realities that dwarf and ultimately outlast his bad condition.
Parents and teachers should also be advised: it is also fairly crude in spots. Timon’s ultimate revenge on Athens involves (among other things) loosing a horde of pestilential prostitutes on the city to infect everyone. The play concludes before any of this is explicitly carried out, but that’s more or less where it ends.