In Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, I found a difficult passage in 1.1.57-60:

(Their services to Lord Timon): his large fortune,
Upon his good and gracious nature hanging,
Subdues and properties to his love and tendance
All sorts of hearts.

  1. I think Shakespeare used inverted word order in the phrase "to his love and tendance / All sorts of hearts.", i.e. he meant "All sorts of hearts to his love and tendance". Is this correct?

  2. In Oliver's edition (Arden Shakespeare, second series), he noted that "to his love and tendance" means "loving and being in attendance on him", which indicates the grammar of objective genitive-"his love and tendance" = "the love and attendance of him", which is supported by Dawson and Minton (Arden Shakespeare, third series): "their desire to love and attend on him" and John Jowett (Oxford Shakespeare).

    But in Karl Klein's edition (Cambridge Shakespeare), he thinks no more than the usual meaning that people are desiring his love, which is supported by some other editions (for example, K. Deighton).

    Which edition gave this explanation of "objective genitive" first? Which is the better explanation?

2 Answers 2


Inversion is far from unusual in Shakespeare's verse. Many other examples can be found in other plays. See for example Act 1, scene 1 in The First Part of King Henry VI:

Four of their lords I'll change for one of ours.
Bonfires in France forthwith I am to make,
Ten thousand soldiers with me I will take

From Richard II:

Free speech and fearless I to thee allow.

The meaning of "to his love and tendance" is the more difficult question. The meaning of the first two lines of the quote seems to be that it is Timon's fortune, i.e. something that "hangs" on him as something external, rather than "his good and gracious nature", an internal trait, that draws people to him (Hibbard, p. 151).

To "property" here means to "appropriate" (Onions), a word choice that continues the idea of "fortune". "Tendance" can mean "attention, care" but also "people in attendance" (Onions). The latter meaning is definitely used later in the same scene and by the same speaker:

All those which were his fellows but of late,
Follow his strides, his lobbies fill with tendance,

If we assume the poet uses the same meaning in the earlier quote, one way of reading the lines is that Timon's fortune increases the number of people in his attendance. But these people are attracted by his wealth and cannot be assumed to truly love him. For this reason, the most sensible reading seems to be that Timon's fortune attracts people who try to benefit from the love and attention bestowed on them by Timon. This interpretation assumes that "love" does not merely means "shows of love" (to quote Julius Caear). By contrast, the interpretation "their desire to love and attend on him" assumes that his followers' expressions of love are taken at face value. A good actor can probably use intonation to suggest which meaning he has in mind.


  • Brook, G. L.: The Language of Shakespeare. London: Andre Deutsch, 1976.
  • Onions, Charles Talbut: A Shakespeare Glossary. Enlarged and Revised Throughout by Robert D. Eagleson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.
  • Timon of Athens. Edited by G. R. Hibbard. The New Penguin Shakespeare. Penguin, 1970.

(Just considering the last of your questions, “Which is the better explanation?”)

I think this is a case where the text is ambiguous as written, and so we can't work out the meaning from the grammar: instead, we have to consider each possibility and see if it makes sense in context. Grammatical ambiguity is common in Shakespeare, and often multiple readings make sense, so that the overall effect of the lines is a combination of the readings.

The first ambiguity is whether the clause “to his love and tendance” applies to “properties” only, or to both “subdues and properties”. That is, do we parse the sentence as:

  1. {subdues and {properties {to his love and tendance}}} {all sorts of hearts}; or
  2. {subdues and properties} {to his love and tendance} {all sorts of hearts}?

This ambiguity doesn’t make a difference to the meaning, because in context “subdues” and “properties” are rough synonyms, and so it doesn’t matter whether one or both of them gets the clause.

The second ambiguity is whether “his love” means “his love of them” or “their love of him”. This makes sense both ways round, depending on whether we think Timon’s “large fortune” or his “good and gracious nature” is the primary motivation. In the former case, they want Timon to love them, so that he will reward them. In the latter case, his good qualities compel them to love him. Of these readings, the first is the stronger, because the theme of the play is that people only pretend to be friends of Timon in order to get his money.

The third ambiguity is whether “his tendance” means “his attendance of them” or “their attendance of him”. In this case, the second reading is the only plausible one in context. That’s because the Poet is describing how “all minds … tender down their services to Lord Timon”, and in order for someone to tender services to Timon they must attend on him, not vice versa.

So I agree with J. H. Oliver that “his tendance” needs to be read as “their attendance of him” (the “objective genitive” interpretation), but I disagree that “his love” needs to be read as “their love of him”: I think it could be read either way, and is stronger if read as “his love of them”. I suppose that Oliver recoiled from the zeugma created by reading the phrase as “his love of them, and their attendance of him”, but I doubt that Shakespeare felt constrained by this kind of rule.

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