The Meaning and Origins of ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’

‘ To thine own self be true ’ is a long-familiar proverbial saying which means ‘ be true to yourself ’ or ‘ don ’ thyroxine do anything that would go against your true nature ’. But what are the origins of this phrase ? To discover those, and why they may come tinged with irony in their original context, we need to turn to the text in which ‘ to thine own self be genuine ’ first appears : William Shakespeare ’ south Hamlet .
It ’ mho deserving probing the origins of this phrase because they make more sense when watch within the context of the longer passage to which they serve as a ( kind of ) completion, a summing-up, if you will.

‘ To thine own self be on-key ’ is spoken by Polonius, a council member to the King, Claudius, in Act 1 Scene 3 of Shakespeare ’ south play, Hamlet. It ’ randomness barely an exaggeration to say that there international relations and security network ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate space in this article to list all of the many everyday english expressions and turns of phrase which we owe to Hamlet, but to name just a very few of them, there ’ s ‘ to the manner born ’, ‘ barbarous to be kind ’, ‘ neither a borrower not a lender be ’, ‘ something is rotten ’, ‘ hoist with one ’ second own petard ’, ‘ in my mind ’ sulfur eye ’, ‘ primrose path ’, ‘ the lady doth protest excessively much ’, ‘ shuffle off this person coil ’, and ‘ method in one ’ mho lunacy ’. And there are lots of others besides .
anyhow, in the scene, Polonius is bidding farewell to his son, Laertes, who is leaving Denmark for France. Polonius, like any concerned parent, gives his son some advice before the young man leaves home :
Give every man thy auricle, but few thy voice ;
Take each man ’ south censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express ’ five hundred in fancy ; rich, not flashy ;
For the dress frequently proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most choice and generous head in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be ;
For loanword frequently loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of farming.
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.
Farewell : my benediction season this in thee !
note that ‘ to thine own self be genuine ’ is alone the first separate of this morsel of advice : we should besides wait for the other shoe to drop as Polonius follows this up by saying, basically, ‘ and if you are on-key to yourself, then it naturally follows that you will be true to others, besides. ’
This piece of wisdom is borne out by other, alike statements about the rate of telling the truth and being true ( or trustworthy ). In The quintessence of Ibsenism, for exemplify, George Bernard Shaw made a slenderly different but relate point when he asserted that ‘ the liar ’ s punishment is, not in the least that he is not believed, but that he can not believe any one else ’. In other words, honest behavior is crucial not just because dishonest demeanor harms other people, but because it ultimately harms you yourself, because you become convinced that the rest of the worldly concern is as unfaithful and a sneaky as you are .
Note the see-saw bipartite structure to many of Polonius ’ strictures to his son : listen to everyone … but keep repose yourself in most situations ; let other people tell you off … but resist the urge to judge others ; wear clothes that are expensive-looking … but not excessively ostentatious. And then, crowning it all : ‘ be genuine to yourself and you will be true to others ’. In early words, there is a transfer in this final examination piece of advice where the pearl of wisdom of solomon are linked not by a ‘ but ’ but by an ‘ and ’ .
Polonius ’ advice to his son seems legal enough, but did Shakespeare intend it to be taken at side value ?
There are two things to note here. First of all, barely anything that Polonius says in this long actor’s line to Laertes is original. As R. W. Dent points out in Shakespeare ’ s proverbial language : An Index, ‘ every mind in the speech is a banal ’, even if entirely a pair of lines close match the give voice of an established proverb. The word picture that Shakespeare portrays is of a forefather fuss over his son and giving him the typical bromidic advice that parents always give to their children when they ’ ra leaving home. If Polonius had actually come out with anything luminary or striking at this moment, the comedian effect would have been marred.

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The second point to note is that Polonius will prove himself to be a hypocrite : in the class of the play, he surely will ‘ be delusive ’ to other men. He spies on Hamlet, using his own daughter, Ophelia, as a pawn to elicit information about Hamlet ’ s state of mind. And then, in a later setting, he conceals himself behind the arras in Gertrude ’ s bedroom so he can hear the conversation between Hamlet and his mother. This work of listen in will get him killed, when Hamlet – thinking it ’ south Claudius behind the hanging – stabs the hapless chump .
Polonius ’ role in Hamlet is sometimes described as ‘ Lord Chamberlain ’. It is thought that the actor John Heminges was the first base to play the role of Polonius in the play ’ s original production in late-Elizabethan England, in around 1601. Heminges, along with Henry Condell, would compile and publish the celebrated First Folio of Shakespeare ’ south plays in 1623, after the Bard ’ s death. traditionally, in dramaturgy companies the roles of Polonius and the Gravedigger have been taken by the lapp actor, because by the clock time the Gravedigger comes into the play, Polonius ( spoiler alarm ) has been dispatched by Hamlet after the Prince err Polonius for Claudius behind the arras and stabbed him .
Given the Gravedigger is an decidedly amusing role in the dally, does this think of Heminges was a comedian actor, and Polonius a character designed to be played ‘ for laughs ’ ? This is surely how the character is normally played, and some productions make it clear that Laertes himself international relations and security network ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate actually attending to this paternal advice .
Polonius is besides a schemer and an important extremity of the royal court of Elsinore. In these two sentences, we have the key to the character of Polonius. Like Hamlet with his feigned madness, Polonius is playing a part, at least in part. We can not be wholly certain how much of his prolixity is an affectation to conceal his more crafty plot behind the scenes. And when he tells Laertes, ‘ to thine own self be true ’, he is not being true to his son or to himself .

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