AD's English Literature : Why Should Every Student Learn from Sententious Polonious? Act I, Sc III, Hamlet

Why Should Every Student Learn from Sententious Polonious? Act I, Sc III, Hamlet

“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!”


Polonius’ famous advice to his son, Laertes is given in Act I, Sc III of Hamlet. In this scene, we are able to get a glimpse, and a very important glimpse, of the Polonius household. The characters of Polonius, the head of the family and his son, Laertes, and daughter, Ophelia, are sketched here in outline.Read More about Drama   

When the scene begins, we find Laertes packing up for his journey to Paris. He is a young man worldly wise beyond his years. He takes leave of his sister, Ophelia, while advising her to careful in receive the court of Hamlet. 

Polonius enters at this stage and asks his son to hurry up and board immediately the ship bound for Paris for “the wind sits in the shoulder of your sail”. He blesses his son and then pronounces the following precepts to keep in his memory. These precepts are a summing up of all Polonius’ experiences and knowledge of the world. He asks Laertes not to give expression to his thoughts but to be a good listener. He shall act after due deliberation and never out of any impulse. Friends should be chosen with care and caution and others to be kept at a safe distance. He should seek to be familiar but never shall be vulgar. Once friends are properly selected, he shall grapple them to his soul “with hoops of steel”. Similarly he should never entertain people unworthy of comradeship. Read More about William Shakespeare Quarrels have to be avoided; however, if forced into them, the opponent must be made to run them. He should give every man his ear, but few his voice. He must take every man’s opinion while reserve his own judgment. People are often judged by what they wear; so the sartorial style for Laertes shall be “rich not gandy”. This should be particularly so in France where the men of rank and station are especially selective in such matters. Laertes must neither be a borrower nor a lender, for loan losses “both itself and friend”, while “borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry”. After all this very worldly advice, Polonius suddenly strikes a very contrasting note in his conclusion when he advises his son to be true to his own self, above all.  Read More about William Shakespeare

The above sententious advice of Polonius shows the worldly wisdom of the minister to the king. It also exhibits in a funny way a pompous, talkative old man “bred in courts, exercised in business, stored with observations, proud of his eloquence and declining into dotage” (Dr .Johnson).Read More about Drama  In his son, he appears a commonly prudent man with a streak of cynicism in him. But at the conclusive part of his eloquent advice when he asks his son to be true to himself, he appears to attain a sort of greatness otherwise unsuspected in his generally funny and commonplace character. Perhaps remembering this part of the scene, Coleridge remarked: “this scene must be regarded as one of Shakespeare’s lyric movements in the play, and the skill with which it is interwoven with the dramatic parts is peculiarly an excellence of our poet. You experience a pause without the sensation of stop”.    

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