The Life of Timon of Athens
In thirty-seven of Shakespeare’s thirty-eight plays, there are representations of family and sexual relationships — parents and children, siblings, lovers, married couples, usually in multiple combinations. The bonds of family and desire are the very DNA of his dramatic world. Timon of Athens is the unique exception that proves the rule. Nobody in the play has a blood relationship to anyone else. The central character has no family and no lover.
The real Timon of Athens lived there in the fifth century BCE, making him a contemporary of Socrates and Pericles. Shakespeare presents Timon as a figure who suffers such profound disillusionment that he becomes a misanthrope, or man-hater. This makes him a more interesting character than the caricature he had become to Shakespeare’s contemporaries, for whom “Timonist” was a slang term for an unsociable man.