Is Polonius's advice to Laertes good in Act I, Scene iii?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I've always found some of his advice interesting, particularly the borrower/lender idea.  However many of his ideas are given an ironic slant with his last remark, which might seem to be violated by everything Polonius does:

This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

What he has told his son suggests he wants Laertes to put on a front (clothing) and listen more than he speaks. While this emphasizes the appearance vs. reality theme, making a good impression, because the company you attract and keep affects your nature, and being wise enough to know when not to speak are pieces of sage advice that Shakespeare would have known about from the Book of Proverbs in the Bible.

In another irony, you cannot be true to yourself if you attract to and surround yourself with false people and if you speak out arrogantly in a pretense of wisdom.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

 

Since parts of  Polonius' advice has been quoted for centuries and several lines has become proverbs for good behavior, I would say his advice was very good. We often hear the following adages, not even realizing they were originally a part of Polonius' speech to Laertes:

"For the apparel oft proclaims the man"I,iii,76)

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be;" (I,iii,79)

"...to thine own self be true," ( I,iii, 82)

In addition, other piece of advice are often said in other ways, but are still part of Polonius' advice.

"Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel" ( I,iii,66,67)

"Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;( I,iii,72)

Although Polonius was rather addled in some of the scenes in Hamlet, this speech survives as some of the best advice a father could give a son.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial