Neither a borrower nor a lender be
Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
Old Polonius counsels his hotheaded son Laertes, who is about to
embark for Paris for his gentleman's education [see THE
PRIMROSE PATH]. While he still has the chance, Polonius wholesales
a stockroom of aphorisms, the most famous of which is "Neither a
borrower nor a lender be."
On Polonius's terms, there is little to argue with in his
perhaps ungenerous advice. His logic is thus: lending money to
friends is risky, because hitching debt onto personal relationships
can cause resentment and, in the case of default, loses the lender
both his money and his friend. Borrowing invites more private
dangers: it supplants domestic thrift ("husbandry")—in Polonius's
eyes, an important gentlemanly value.
Incidentally, in the days when Hamlet was first staged, borrowing was epidemic among
the gentry, who sometimes neglected husbandry to the point where
they were selling off their estates piece by piece to maintain an
ostentatious lifestyle in London.