"To Thine Ownself Be True"How do you interpret Polonius' advice, "To thine ownself be true"?  And is Polinous, in fact, being true to his personal "self"?  In other words, if...

"To Thine Ownself Be True"

How do you interpret Polonius' advice, "To thine ownself be true"?  And is Polinous, in fact, being true to his personal "self"?  In other words, if one has a disagreeable nature, is it advisable to follow instinct or try to thwart it?  

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cmcqueeney's profile pic

cmcqueeney | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

These words seem almost ironic to me coming from Polonius - he speaks of being true, yet he is the one sneaking throughout the entire work trying to deceitfully discover the cause of Hamlet's lunacy.  Keeping that in mind, I would have to say that Polonius, if he really means anything by these words at all(the whole speech is one long cliche), means to be true to your own ambition.  He supports a king and queen who live by this idea making choices to promote their own good and reach their own goals.  He, himself, chooses the way of a wormy, servile sidekick to gain the kings praises, and he assumes others live by this dictum - i.e. Hamlet's ambition is Ophelia, but he cannot get her therefore he must have gone insane for failing to reach his ambition.  

The only person who this does not apply to is Ophelia, but I think that could easily be explained by the mere fact that she is a woman.  As the dominant male role in her life, Polonius would tell Ophelia to be true to him rather than true to herself, thus landing her in insanity as well. 

malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

This is one of the most amazing speeches ever written...so full of truth and good advice - what we should all impart to our children and try to follow ourselves...and yet it's given by a character who many of us cannot admire because we suspect/know Polonius was out for his own ends. Sure, he probably wanted to see Ophelia happy - but not if it did not fit in with his own plans. Sure, he wanted Laertes to go back to France and do his studies - as long as he towed the line and did what was expected of him.

I suspect that Shakespeare laughs often to himself when he sees us reading and digging through his words, trying to figure out why he wrote what he did, and why he had such weird characters saying some of the best things out there.  "Lord what fools these mortals be!" :)

jeff-hauge's profile pic

jeff-hauge | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

I always try to find Shakespeare's ambiguity in seemingly straight forward things. This can either be the advice of the honest, by the honest, for the honest. How to stay pure in an impure world.

But Polonius is such a snake. Although it is possible for a dishonest man to know the ways to honesty, for who knows a thing more than its enemy?

But it can also be the ultimate relativistic perspective. Believe in what you are doing and as long you believe it, it is true.
Is this the admonition to follow the Truth in its absolute form? Is it like George Costanza telling Jerry, "It is not a lie if YOU believe it is true."

<enter Kramer>

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

This topic intrigues me.  As complex people, we often do not know what we want.  Even so, when we do, things change and we discover that what we thought we wanted... wasn't, really. At the same time, I find that what I want changes with my mood.  Smile.  Basically, as a teacher, I want everyone to have one of those "A-ha!" moments where we can all bask in knowledge and the wonder of it all.  We all know those occur, but they are sometimes few and far between.  So, in the meantime, I just want them all to have a pen or pencil, their books, and to have read the assignment. 

I flash back to Sundays in church where we kids just wanted to have fun (being true to ourselves) and laughter, because it was forbidden, was prolific.  We couldn't help ourselves and therefore, we know to expect that bruise-inducing pinch which came from mom whose intention was to make us behave.  Often, I was sitting five people away from her, and still she reached me.  My mother was Stretch Armstrong!             

clane's profile pic

clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

I like to interpret it just as it says, be true to one's own self. Be sure of who you are and what your intentions in life are and stick to them, have convictions, don't change in the midst of something different. I love Polonius' advice and in many ways I do think that he followed his own advice. He never submitted that he was divine, he was ambitious and didn't try to hide it. He wanted the favor of the king, he wanted great things for Laertes and Ophelia, but was willing to make sacrifices for his own good favors. He did some deceitful things, but he never put on a face that said he would do anything differently.

I would like to think that those with disagreeable natures would want to disobey their instinct and try to change for the better because I would like to think that it's everyone's desire to be good. I like Plato's idea that people inherently seek the just and the good and moral is just so people inherently seek to be good and moral. Ifthis were true then the disagreeable should strive for change, but if it is not then I suppose if they were to follow Polonius' advice they would have to remain true to their disagreeable selves- what a miserable existence though!

Great Topic!

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