We reckon no one would have ever dared to get into any verbal jousting with Mr. William Shakespeare, for words were the pieces of his soul that he sprinkled on the paper for the world to admire his expertise with emotions and conflict. Here, we discuss the meaning of the profound words by Shakespeare ‘To Thine Own Self Be True.’
It’s not Biblical, but Shakespearean!
Contrary to popular belief, ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’ doesn’t appear in the Bible anywhere! Just like “Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be”, which like the former is again, is falsely attributed to the Bible. Give Mr. Shakespeare the respect he merits, fellas.
Widely reckoned as one of the greatest playwright of all time, William Shakespeare was a man of extraordinary wit and extraordinary grasp of human emotions that he portrayed with his unparalleled skill to create a stimulating imagery and situations. What is truly incredible and startling at the same time about this genius is the ‘appeal’ of his works that despite being centuries old still meld so beautifully with the modern times (as if he practiced necromancy and gathered knowledge of the posterity to pen some of his most powerful works) that his works have traversed the bridges of time and continue to reverberate.
“To Thine Own Self Be True” as quoted by Polonius in Shakespeare’s popular tragedy Hamlet is also one of the most misinterpreted quotes. So what actually does this quote imply? Or what did Shakespeare intend to imply through this quote? Before that let us read the following lines.
“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 blessing season this in thee!”
A Little Background
Let us first orient you with what is exactly happening around―first Polonius is a bombastic man who likes to, you guessed it right is a babble-moth, someone who indulges himself in incessant prattling. We are sure you will understand this part (there was no scarcity of windbags even in the Elizabethan period!). So, Polonius finds himself an opportune situation to demonstrate his faculty as a prattler to his son Laertes. Laertes is to visit France and like every other father, Polonius thinks it is requisite to give his son some valuable tips on moral propriety and conduct; in short to behave himself. Don’t we all get this from our folks? Yes, we do, but if one is to go by the length of Polonius’ behavioral guide, we are sure you will be really happy to have your parents as your parents. Haha.
Now, we get down to peeling off the profound meaning of the aforementioned lines by the preposterous character.
Polonius doles out quite a few admonishments to Laertes, and some of them are pretty valuable and yes sensible too, so maybe we could ascribe Polonius’ swanky utterances as a result of approaching senility. Polonius gives Laertes some judicious but banal advice like―don’t lend or borrow money (it’s not your money to lend in the first place; so that is why most kids are forced to borrow, lol), don’t garb yourself up all fancy, be friendly but not overfriendly, and other two-three things more, but what we are concerned here is the last advice that he gives Laertes, which is ta-da! ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’.
“To thine own self be true” Meaning
This line can be linked with the other advises that Polonius gives Laertes. “To thine own self be true” means to be true and honest to oneself. So what does Polonius reckon to be false to one self? The sage admonishments that we read earlier. Despite his clichéd utterances, this advice somehow manages to touch our heart.
Through these lines, he is telling Laertes to be faithful and honest to one’s interests. He advises him to be true to himself, even at times when people don’t concur with his opinions, to stick to what one firmly believes in, and not succumb to societal pressure. Truly sagacious Mr. Polonius, and original too.