Manvotional: A Father’s Advice From Hamlet

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 9, 2008 · 10 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals

William Shakespeare’s words speak across generations and cultures. In this scene, Polonius gives a bit of fatherly advice to his son Laertes before he heads off to France. While all the advice is good, the best doesn’t come until the end- “To thine own self be true.” Be a man of honor and integrity. Live life in a way that allows you to look at yourself in the mirror and not be ashamed.

Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jacob November 9, 2008 at 6:43 am

After seeing a movie version of Hamlet, I’ll never be able to think of Polonius apart from the face of Bill Murray…

2 Algernon November 9, 2008 at 11:40 am

I like Polonius, but feel I should mention that his advice is often considered ironic. He’s widely regarded as loquacious and contradictory. His famous line, “brevity is the soul of wit,” comes after a rambling dialogue to the Queen. Even his advice to Laertes is sometimes criticized as eloquent, but meaningless. As Shakespeare would say, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The line, “Give thy thoughts no tongue,” has to be seen as ironic when found in the midst of this lengthy advice.

3 Michael Sheehan November 9, 2008 at 11:56 am

Well said, Algernon –it’s almost meant to be funny, I think many will agree. I wouldn’t call it good fatherly advice by any means.

4 Frito November 9, 2008 at 1:49 pm

He did teach us a valuable lesson though. Dont hide behind tapestries when stab happy people are around.

5 Britt November 9, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Personally I take Polonius’ advice to heart… One of the important lessons is that good advice can come from anyone… Polonius was a liar, braggert, full of BS, but even so, he knew what a man should be, he merely didn’t exemplify that… But still strove to give his son good advice.

So the message I receive is not to confuse the man, with the words he speaks.

A good, smart, honorable man may give bad advice, just as a bad man, may give good advice.

6 scott November 9, 2008 at 4:19 pm

Some of the best of advice comes from those who have learned the hard way. My children will loook upon me and be very wise…

7 Rodney Hampton November 9, 2008 at 6:15 pm

This is a great example of “do as I say, not as I do.”

8 Landon November 10, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Yeah, Polonius certainly isn’t the example of a good father…sending servants to spy on Laertes and assuming the worst about his son. It always strikes me as funny when people think Polonius a good source of advice.

And “to thine own self be true” has always struck me as a strange phrase. It is my grandfather’s life motto, but what does it even mean to be true to the self? What if the self is wicked? Wouldn’t it be better to be true to something greater and stronger than self (i.e. “be true to the right” or “be true to truth”)?

9 Matt September 14, 2009 at 9:22 am

I actually have this tattooed on my right wrist in Theater short-hand. It raises a lot of questions, and approving looks from retired English teachers.

10 bruce robbins December 18, 2013 at 2:04 pm

The character of Polonius is a very complex one…we have to try and think exactly what Shakespeare tried to do with his character…he was certainly not just a fool or comic…he made a mistake of judgment that played a big part in the plot,,,,telling Ophelila to return Hamlet’s letters because “he is out of they star”, but at Ophelia’s grave the Queen says she wished she had been Hamlet’s wife…

He gets the best of Hamlet’s act…though this be madness, yet there is method in it….

His stabbling plays a big part in the play

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