Act 5, scene 1
The Poet and Painter enter. They have heard that Timon has been giving away gold, so they assume that his purported bankruptcy was just a ruse to test his friends. They both plan to offer him a new piece of their work. The poet plans to describe it in such a way that Timon will find it pleasing—as an exposure of flattery.
Timon is now living in a cave, and he has emerged and is observing the Poet and Painter, but they do not see him. Then he makes himself known to them. The Poet makes a big show of denouncing Timon’s former friends who flattered him and then deserted him. Timon addresses them as honest men, and they do not realize that he is being sarcastic. They say they have come to offer him their service. Timon flatters them and they do not notice that he is doing to them what so many did to him. Then he finds a roundabout way of telling them that they are villains. He gives them some gold, since he well knows what they came for, and tells them to leave, throwing stones at them. He retires to his cave.
Flavius enters with two senators. The senators have promised the Athenian citizens that they will speak to Timon. Timon emerges from his cave and the senators greet him cordially. Timon responds by saying that if he were able, he would send the plague to all the senators. First Senator says that all the senators warmly invite him to return to Athens, where he will be provided for. They regret not extending help to him before and now extend wealth, love, and authority to him. He says that Athens will soon drive Alcibiades’ forces away. Timon replies that he does not care if Alcibiades kills his countrymen and sacks the city. He is content where he is, owning nothing. He will not return to Athens. However, he adds that he loves his country and takes no pleasure in the war that afflicts it. Then he says he has a message for the Athenians. He has a way for them to put an end to their griefs and fears and avoid the wrath of Alcibiades. The senators become hopeful, but then Timon says that in order to accomplish what he has just explained, all people have to do is come to a tree near his cave and hang themselves. He indicates that he will shortly be dead and will be buried on the beach. He invites the Athenians to visit his grave, although he likely means this ironically.
This scene continues the pattern of the previous act. Timon, in his outpost in woods and cave, receives visitors, in this case, of men who deliberately seek him out. The Poet and the Painter, confirming the insincerity and flattery they showed in Act 1, scene 1, come only to ingratiate themselves with Timon and once more to share in what they assume is his continuing riches. This time, unlike the last occasion in which they met, Timon sees right through them and sends them packing. The senators who implore him to return never have a chance of success, and Timon uses their presence to expound again on his newfound negative philosophy. He has become indifferent to the suffering of others because he thinks no one is worthy of anything else. For himself, though, he claims to have found contentment in the woods, since he now owns nothing so cannot participate in the shallow world of material possessions and the evil they engender.
Act 5, scene 2
Two senators enter with a messenger. It transpires that Alcibiades’ forces are strong. The senators hope that Timon can be brought back to Athens and that he will lead them against Alcibiades. The messenger says that Alcibiades has approached Timon, asking for his support. The First Senator enters and reveals that they can expect no support from Timon. The enemy is strong and the senator fears the worst.
This very short scene makes it more clear why the senators approached Timon in the previous scene. They think he will make a useful ally against Alcibiades.
Act 5, scene 3
A soldier enters in the woods, seeking Timon. He finds only Timon’s grave with an epitaph on it. He does not know how to read the epitaph but he makes a copy of it using some wax. He plans to take the copy to his captain, who will be able to read it.
Act 5, scene 4
Alcibiades and his army are at the gates of Athens. The senators appear at the walls and a negotiation begins. Alcibiades speaks threatening words and the senators try to appease him. First Senator says that some while ago they tried to address his grievances, and Second Senator says that they also tried to get Timon to return to Athens. He also points out that the men who banished him are no longer alive. Taking up this point, First Senator says that not everyone in the city is guilty of wronging him. It is not fair to take revenge on them. He asks that Alcibiades not kill everyone, only those who have committed some offense. Both senators appeal to him to enter the city not in a warlike mode. Second Senator speaks some more conciliatory words, and Alcibiades is persuaded. He says that only Timon’s and his own enemies will be killed. He promised the good behavior of his men. The senators approve his words.
A messenger arrives with the wax copy of Timon’s epitaph,. Alcibiades reads it out loud. In the epitaph, Timon wishes a plague on everyone and says that here lies a man who when he was alive hated all men. Alcibiades says that Neptune now weeps on Timon’s grave (since it is on the beach and sometimes covered by waves). Then he asks to be admitted to the city, where he “will use the olive with my sword,” meaning that he will be a peacemaker as well as an avenger.
While Timon in his life veered between extremes, this final scene shows Alcibiades and the senators negotiating and able to reach a compromise that appears to be satisfactory to both sides. Thus Athens does not suffer the widespread destruction that Timon, in the extremity of his misanthropic philosophy, had wanted.