The group constituting Timon’s friends is not precisely defined in the First Folio printing of the play. In the stage direction opening 1.2, those friends he has invited to dinner are named both genetically (States [i.e., rulers], Athenian Lords) and specifically (e.g., Ventidius). (In the play’s first scene, two of his guests were also named generically as “two Lords” [1.1.291 SD].) But the Folio stage direction opening 1.2 fails to include all the proper names that will be used later in the scene to designate speakers. It leaves out Alcibiades and the speaker whose speech is prefixed “Luc.” in the Folio (line 134). Since among Timon’s friends, as we learn later in the play, are both a Lucius and Lucullus, we cannot be sure precisely to whom this speech prefix “Luc.” refers. We have converted “Luc.” to the speech prefix “LUCIUS,” but that choice is arbitrary. Otherwise, in 1.2, except for Alcibiades and “Luc.” all Timon’s friends are designated in speech prefixes generically as “1. Lord,” “2. Lord,” and “3. Lord.”
In Act 2, however, the play comes to focus on a number of particular friends of Timon, referring to them by their proper names: Lucius, Lucullus, Sempronius, and, again, Ventidius (2.2.211–13, 246–52). This tight focus on three or four of Timon’s friends, all with proper names, continues throughout the first four scenes of Act 3, as Timon’s servants visit Lucullus, Lucius, and Sempronius, and as we hear that Timon’s request for money has also been denied by Ventidius. In 3.4, when Timon orders that “all my friends again” be invited to a “feast,” he names in particular “Lucius, Lucullus, and Sempronius” (123–25).
In spite of this focus on certain named individuals, the play does not, in Acts 2 and 3, abandon generic reference to Timon’s friends. Among those friends to whom Timon hopes to turn in Act 2 are the senators of Athens (2.2.219–22). More important, the opening stage direction for 3.6, the second banquet scene, also contains only a generic reference: “Enter divers Friends.” When these “Friends” reenter later in the scene, the stage direction again employs generic terms, albeit different ones: “Enter the Senators, with other Lords” (line 110 SD). This scene also ends with a stage direction phrased in generic terms: “Exeunt the Senators.” In this scene, the only speech prefixes for the “Friends” are the bare numerals “1,” “2,” “3,” and “4.” Editors have made various choices about expanding these Folio speech prefixes. Some have substituted the proper names of Timon’s friends Lucius, Lucullus, Sempronius, and Ventidius for the Folio’s numerals. Others have expanded the numerals to, for example, “FIRST LORD” or “FIRST SENATOR.” We have chosen to follow the Folio as closely as possible, using its initial stage direction “Enter divers Friends” as a guide in expanding the Folio’s numerals to read “FIRST FRIEND,” etc.
The Folio’s imprecision in designating Timon’s friends has been used as evidence for two different theories about the origin of the play’s text. The shifts in designation have been construed as signs of different authorial hands (see “Authorship of Timon of Athens”). The lack of precision has also been used to support the theory that the play is by Shakespeare alone, but that it remains unfinished (see the article by Una Mary Ellis-Fermor in “Further Reading”). Since, however, it is not possible to confirm either of these theories, a more useful approach might be to consider how the imprecision in designation functions in the play itself. It may be important, for example, that Timon’s friends be thought of not as a handful of particular individuals (Lucius, Lucullus, etc.) but as representative of the whole of Athens and therefore, for Timon, of the whole of the human community. After all, when Timon becomes a misanthrope, it is all of Athens and all of humanity that he rejects. That rejection might seem silly if Timon were driven to it only because three or four individuals had disappointed him. Instead, by representing Timon’s friends as a large and ill-defined group, the play may make his later repudiation of the human race somewhat more sympathetic. Directors will, of course, be inclined to use the same actors for the “Friends” that have been playing the parts of Lucius, Lucullus, and the others; such a choice both avoids adding cast members and adds coherence to the story.