What advice does Polonius give his son in Hamlet?

Expert Answers
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act 1, Scene 3 of Hamlet, Laertes is about to embark for France to attend the university. His father Polonius gives him the following famous lines of advice.

Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion'd 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 own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Although Prince Hamlet regards Polonius with contempt, and although the old man does seem foolish on more than one occasion, his advice to his son is full of sound practical wisdom. No doubt this wisdom is coming from Shakespeare himself and he is only using Polonius as his spokesman. For instance, Shakespeare twice cautions young people to be very careful about what they say to others.

Give thy thoughts no tongue


Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice

What Shakespeare's character Polonius says about borrowing or lending money is also good advice, as many people can attest from experience.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

What Polonius means by borrowing dulling the edge of husbandry is that if you get into the habit of living on borrowed money you can dig yourself into a hole that will be hard to climb out of. Borrowing also tends to make a person careless about earning, saving, spending, and budgeting. 

The best advice of all comes last and is the hardest to follow:

This above all, to thine own self be true

It is hard to follow because it is hard to understand your own self. But it is worth the effort to do so. If you understand yourself you will make better career decisions, a better marital choice, better friends, and end up leading a more satisfying and prosperous life. Robert Frost wrote about making a choice between two diverging roads in his famous poem "The Road Not Taken." He made his decision based on his knowledge of himself. There are many times in life when we have to decide something for ourselves and no one can advise us. We come to a lot of diverging roads, or what William James called "crossroads situations," in life. Polonius says, "Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment." By "censure" he means advice. A lot of people will offer you free advice, and you should listen to them--but in the end you should make your own decisions.

Buddha is quoted as having told a disciple:

Do not believe anything anybody tells you, including anything I tell you, unless it agrees with your own experience and your own common sense.

zumba96 | Student

When he lectures Laertes, for the most part it results in a lot of juxtaposition. For example, keep your thoughts to yourself. Be friendly but not overly friendly. Don't get in fights but if you do make sure you win. Listen well, don't talk as much. Buy nice clothes but don't be overly dressed up. Do not borrow money. And the most important of all BE YOURSELF. The entire speech he gives to his son is opposite and results in confusion to some of the readers. There are many conditions that apply to this speech. 

thewanderlust878 | Student

Laertes receives 9 pieces of advice from Polonius: 
1) keep thoughts to oneself 
2) be friendly but not too friendly 
3) have some friends but keep your distance 
4) Try to stay away from confrontation however, if he must get involved, make sure he overcomes all 
5) be a good listener, and do not talk much 
6) Listen to what others say and reserve his ones judgement 
7) buy nice and expensive clothing but nothing that overbears your friends' clothes 
8) do lend or borrow money 
9) be yourself !

Hope this helps!

asmit | Student

Polonius advices to his son on his leave taking has often been condemned as showing a cynical spirit of eorldiness which takes a low vie of human nature.Through polonius shakespeare wants to convey the message that such priests and such moral maxims do more harm than good.

kaybrennan874 | Student

Hi there,

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, in Act 1, Scene 3, Laertes' father, Polonius provides his son with multiple pieces of advice in preparation for his trip to France to attend a university. Polonius first advises his son to reserve his personal thoughts for only himself, as he notes, "Give thy thoughts no tongue, / Nor any unproportioned thought his act." In addition, another piece of advice that Laertes receives is to not stray into areas defined as "vulgar," encompassing topics that both parties are unwilling to discuss. In other words, he is advising his son to only talk about pleasant topics, while not revealing overly dramatic details. Following this advice ensures his son to broaden his knowledge of human nature (Hamlet I, Scene 3, Line 61).

In lines 65-77, Polonius says, "Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;/ Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement. Costly thy habit as thy pursue can buy, But no express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy."
In this quote, what Polonius is simply saying is to listen to what other individuals have to say, but keep his thoughts to only himself. Buying high-priced and decent-looking clothing is also important but nothing that "overbears your friends' clothes." What he has told his son is good advice, as Polonius emphasizes the idea to make a good impression among others.

Hope this helps!!