To Thine Own Self Be True Examples
This line, "to thin own self be true," from Shakespeare's Hamlet was spoken by Polonius to his son Laertes. Like many lines from Shakespeare's plays, this line has become a popular saying. Today, many use it to encourage self-direction and self-esteem. However, read in context, and based on the meaning of the words in Shakespeare's time, the line meant something a little different in the actual play.
Hamlet, Act I, Scene III
In a speech to his son Laertes, who is departing, Polonius offers fatherly advice:
Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay'd for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned 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 ownself 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!
Scholars believe that the line "to this ownself be true" is in reference to finances. In the lines above it, Polonius has cautioned his son to "neither a borrower nor a lender be." He wants Laertes to manage his money well and make sure his "ducks are in a row," so to speak. In essence, he was encouraging his son to benefit himself first-take care of his own needs first.
The irony is that Polonius, who spies on Hamlet and is accidentally killed by Hamlet, is false to Hamlet while being "true" to himself. It leads to his death.
Literary Terms Examples