Thomas Middleton, a great Jacobean playwright junior to William Shakespeare, (see one collection of his plays at A Mad World, My Masters and Other Plays: A Mad World, My Masters; Michaelmas Term; A trick to Catch the Old One; No Wit, No Help Like a Woman's (Oxford World's Classics) as well as Women Beware Women (Oxford Worlds Classics) and Three Jacobean Tragedies: The White Devil; The Revenger's Tragedy; The Changeling (Penguin English Library) with Revengers Tragedy) frequently collaborated with Will in his later years.
This work, The Life of Timon of Athens, is one such of heavy, nearly equal, collaboration, and often appears a discussion and amplification of certain points raised in The History of King Lear (The Oxford Shakespeare). Lear's Fool becomes Athen's Apemantus as Lear becomes Timon.
We might then entitle this A Monk's Tale, as Timon turns to the poverty and solitude of the forest after the disillusionment of society's reciprocal generosity. Some might consider it a Parable for the Paranoid; I find it a meditation on Lear by two great masters.
It is like hearing Dizzy Gillepsie and Charlie Parker discuss Salt Peanuts. It is brilliant, for me one of the best of Shakespeare all the better for being an open collaboration with the wonderful Middleton.
It also provides implicitly a model for the dialogue of Didi and Gogo in Waiting for Godot: A Bilingual Edition: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts (French Edition). Timon's Life as presented here is a true tragicomedy, although his grave is seen at the end. This play is the epitome of the tragicomedy, although the editors of the First Folio placed it at the last moment among the tragedies. There was no section of tragicomedies at the time. As the excellent 150 page introduction by the always sublime and trustworthy John Jowett suggests, perhaps it best finds companionship in the canon with The Oxford Shakespeare: The Winter's Tale.
After an initial presentation of philosophical themes by a proverbial painter and poet (who return later in the play near the end, no more wise) the laughs don't stop, mainly provided by the cynic philosopher Apemantus. Timon goes from exceedingly generous into deepest poverty, a direct result of his prodigious self-sacrifice. He finds no relief from those he has aided in their own distress, despairs of human society in Athens, and flees for the wilderness to be alone and far from humanity. Apemantus, the poet, the painter and others discover him there, and so he passes, with three epitaphs recorded, two from Plutarch's account of his tale.
The test of a true edition of Timon in fact lies in these three epitaphs. Modern editors and directors cannot abide such a thing, in the main, and cut them to one. They do not trust their Shakespeare, let alone their Middleton, yet anything less than the three is not Timon. Jowett gives it all to us, and that is all that we seek.
For this reason I recommend above all, and always, the Oxford edition. We can trust Jowett for the finest scholarship, and the most faithful text well and fully annotated. I appreciate very much, even as my eyes grow dim, his following the traditional format of including his footnotes at the bottom half of the page, the variorum of the several editions in a band in the middle, and the text of the play itself squeezed into whatever remains at the top. I highly recommend you read the play straight through at first, pausing for the footnotes at particularly troublesome points, simply for the sheer joy and beauty and heart of the language. Then read the introduction as well as possible alone, and then read the text along with all of the footnotes and variations of other editions. But above all read the play straight through without interruption. This play is the greatest philosophical joy of them all.
Be sure to get two copies, one to mark as you write, the other to keep for your shelf. You will appreciate such forethought and mark to your fullest pleasure.
Do not overlook this great play, this wonderful collaboration of two of our finest playwrights in this brutal English tongue.