As a father, what advice would you give to Laertes in Shakespeare's Hamlet, before you let him go to university? (Act 1, scene 3)

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Ironically, in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Polonius, who is the King's advisor, is a foolish old man who never takes his own advice. However, his advice is actually quite sound.

In Act One, scene three, (lines 59-85), Laertes prepares to go away to school. He has some hypocritical advice to give Ophelia about Hamlet, which she reminds him he had better be prepared to follow as well, and Polonius provides these "pearls of wisdom:"

  • keep your thoughts to yourself; think before you act; don't be overly friendly ("vulgar");
  • keep your old friends who you know you can trust, close to you;
  • spend your money wisely;
  • don't get into fights easily, but once in, prove you are to be taken seriously;
  • listen to the advice of others, but 'reserve your judgment;'
  • buy clothes that are well made, but avoid buying showing garments to impress others—the 'clothes make the man.'
  • don't borrow money or lend it;
  • be true (honest) with yourself, for then you cannot lie to any other man.

I find that all of these pieces of advice to Laertes from Polonius are valuable. The father encourages his son as I would my own child to be wise, to be honest and to be honorable. Don't fight with others easily; listen carefully, but be slow to speak. If this were today, I would add that one should not put anything in writing; be careful to enter into contracts; be mindful of what you say and to whom; and, be kind to others. I don't think that Polonius's advice is out-of-date at all, which is why Shakespeare is so wonderful: his writing is timeless.

 

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