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Neither a borrower nor a lender be

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” appears in Act I, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The quote is spoken by Polonius, Ophelia’s father, and King Claudius’ chief minister. 

This well-known quote is part of a long monologue that contains several other seemingly good pieces of advice. But, readers, like Laertes, should take Polonius’ moralizing with a grain of salt.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be meaning

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” Meaning

This quote means that one should neither borrow money from friends, risk being in debt to them and not being able to pay them back, and that they should not lend money out either. Then one might be at the risk of never retrieving one’s funds and losing friends. 

This line, and the others that are included in this famous monologue, are incredibly hypocritical and ironic due to their source. Polonius is a generally unpleasant character who, as soon as he gives all this seemingly good advice, employs someone to go spy on his son in Paris. It’s his sneaking and eavesdropping that eventually gets him killed later on in the play.

Where Did Shakespeare use “Neither a borrower nor a lender be?” 

Shakespeare used this quote in Act I, Scene 3 of Hamlet. The line is spoken by Polonius and directed at his son, Laertes, who is leaving for university in Paris. It is one of several pieces of advice he gives his son. The quote appears as part of a longer monologue that begins with: 

Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame! 

The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail, 

And you are stayed for. There, my blessing with 


His son is about to leave for university, and Polonius wants to give him a few pieces of parting advice. The most important part of the monologue reads: 

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 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.

Here, he wishes his son farewell and reminds him that it’s important to refrain from lending or borrowing money in order to maintain good relationships with one’s friends. It’s also important to “above all: to thine own self be true.” These pieces of advice fall on deaf ears, especially considering their source. It is hard for readers to take Polonius’ advice seriously. In one part due to his character and in another, due to the tired and cliché nature of the advice itself. Even in Shakespeare’s time, these phrases were overused and un-impactful. Audiences at the time would likely have felt the same way as modern readers do about the nature of the phrase “to thine own self be true.” 

Why Did Shakespeare Use the Quote?

Shakespeare used this quote as a piece of advice that Polonius conveys to his son, Laertes. It is one of several dubious pieces of advice (due to Polonius’ own lack of morality) that he delivers. Polonius, within these lines, is suggesting that his son should be like him and not “borrow” or lend money because: 

loan oft loses both itself and friend,

and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. 

He also tells his son to be true to himself, “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice,” and “Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.” He follows each statement with an added piece of information. For example: 

Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade. 

Within this passage is the well-known quote, “To thine own self be true.” It is one of the most famous lines from the play. But, today (as it was then), it is considered a cliché. Much of Polonius’ advice is obvious, cliché, and uninspired. This suggests a great deal about his character and might inspire readers to wonder at how wise, creative, and moral Polonius truly is. Additionally, one might question how he views himself and how others, like his son, the King, and Hamlet, view him.

Shakespeare chose to use this quote, among the others in this monologue, in order to emphasize the characters’ hypocritical nature. Throughout the play, Polonius violates most of the suggestions that he gives his son. For instance, he spies on Hamlet, lies, conceals himself, eavesdrops, and more. Eavesdropping eventually gets him killed, something that perhaps proves the importance of taking his own advice. 


Who says, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be?” 

This quote is spoken by the often immoral character Polonius in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The line is a piece of advice that Polonius gives his son, Laertes.

What does “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” mean?

The line “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” means that one should neither borrow money from friends or acquaintances nor should one lend out money and find themselves in debt to another person. It is better, Polonius suggests, to keep one’s finances to oneself and depend on no one. 

Why does Polonius say, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be?” 

Polonius uses this phrase as one of several pieces of advice that he gets his son, Laertes before he goes away to university. It is one of the most important ways that Shakespeare reveals the inner working of Polonius’ character. He is far less moral than he would assert himself to be or that his advice recommends.

Other Quotes from Hamlet 

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