This play has caused considerable debate among scholars. It is oddly constructed, with several lacunae (gaps), and for this reason, it is often described as unfinished, multi-authored, and/or experimental. As a result, no precise date of composition can be given, to the point that some scholars have proclaimed it his very first or very last work, while most place it as close but prior to the late romances. It is usually grouped with the tragedies (as in the First Folio), though some scholars have placed it with the problem comedies despite the death of its title character. Its source materials include Plutarch's "Life of Alcibiades" and Lucian's dialogue, Timon the Misanthrope, both of which are excerpted in the Arden Shakespeare edition. The play was not published prior to its inclusion in the First Folio (1623).
Since the nineteenth century, suggestions have been made that Timon is the work of two writers, and it has been argued that the play's unusual features are the result of the play being co-authored by playwrights with very different mentalities; the most popular candidate, Thomas Middleton, was first suggested in 1920. A 1917 study by John Mackinnon Robertson posits that George Chapman wrote "A Lover's Complaint" and was the originator of Timon of Athens. These claims have been rejected by other commentators, including Bertolt Brecht, Frank Harris and Rolf Soellner, who claim that the play was an experiment. They argue that if one revised the other's play it would have been "fixed" to the standards of Jacobean theatre, which it clearly is not. Soellner believes the play is unusual because it was performed at the Inns of Court, where it would have found a niche audience with young lawyers.
Nonetheless, in the past three decades, several linguistic analyses of the text have all discovered apparent confirmation of the earlier theories: the play contains numerous words, phrases and punctuation choices that are common in the work of Thomas Middleton and rare in Shakespeare. These linguistic markers cluster in certain scenes, apparently indicating that the play is by Middleton and Shakespeare, and that it is a collaboration rather than a revision of one by the other. The editor of the Oxford edition, John Jowett, describes this evidence and stresses that Middleton's presence does not mean the play should be disregarded: "Timon of Athens is all the more interesting because the text articulates a dialogue between two dramatists of a very different temper".