Hamlet Advice: Laertes vs. Polonius

William Shakespeare

Advice: Laertes vs. Polonius

One of the most interesting things about Hamlet's Act 1, Scene 3 is how the loving brother, Laertes, is pitted against his own father, the fool, Polonius.  Another bit of irony is that they are proven as such through their words of advice.  This status of character proceeds through the entire play.  In regards to Laertes, who is about to go abroad, he has wonderfully bold words of advice (and even of warning) for his sister, Ophelia.  These words of advice center upon Hamlet's possible love for her.  Laertes, always the good big brother, doesn't want Ophelia to concentrate on Hamlet's advances and love.  Above all, Laertes reminds Ophelia of the importance of her virtue.  Perhaps his most poignant words of advice center around the fact that "for [Hamlet] himself is subject to his birth."  

Then, literally twelve lines later, Polonius shares his advice for his son.  Polonius is immediately cemented as a fool by instructing Laertes, "Aboard, aboard, for shame!"  Polonius spits cliches, and in so doing, doesn't make a single one seem of any importance.  This conversation serves to initiate Polonius as the fool of the play.  Ironically, some of these cliches become the most memorable allusions to Hamlet found in our modern world, such as "neither a borrower or a lender be" and "This above all, to thine own self be true."  Unfortunately, if you read between the lines of Polonius's own words of advice, you find nothing more than copied aphorisms.  True wisdom is found elsewhere.