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To thine own self be true

“To thine own self be true” is a well-known Shakespearean quote. It is found in Hamlet in Act I, Scene 3, and is spoken by the King’s advisor, Polonius. 

The quote is one of the best-known excerpts from the play, and one of the most commonly used today. But, it reveals a great deal more about the character who speaks it, Polonius, than comes through in contemporary contexts. Polonius is a scheming, backstabbing, hypocritical character who eavesdrops and gets himself killed. He provides his son with the advice included in the long monologue below but does not follow it himself. 

Scholars have often connected Polonius’ feigned morality with Hamlet’s feigned madness. Both characters (although Hamlet’s true sanity is questionable) are pretending to be something they aren’t. 

To thine own self be true meaning


“To thine own self be true” Meaning

The quote “to thine own self be true” means that one should be true to their principles and who they are. They should not strive to please other people by changing what they believe in or acting in any way that is outside what they really want to do. 

Where Did Shakespeare Use “To thine own self be true?” 

“To thin own self be true” can be found in Act I, Scene 3 of Hamlet. The quote is on line eighty-four of that scene. The line falls near the end of a monologue in which Polonius is speaking about staying true to ones’ self and sharing other, seemingly good, life advice. Here is the quote in context within Polonius’ monologue: 

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.

Polonius is not one of the most interesting characters in Hamlet, something that makes these lines stick out even more. He’s an advisor to King Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle. In the scene, Polonius is talking to his son, Laertes, who is about to leave for France. He gives his son the above words as advice. He tells his son to be true to himself, but, the advice does not stop there. He adds that it’s important to be true to others as well. Do not be “false to any man,” Polonius tells his son. But, the monologue is much longer. It begins with: 

And these few precepts in thy memory
Look 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 unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade. 

Within these lines, readers should note the way that Polonius gives a piece of advice and then follows it up with more information. For example, “Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar” and “Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel, / But do not dull thy palm with entertainment / Of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade.”

He goes on to say: 

Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear ’t that th’ opposèd 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 expressed 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.

Interestingly, while the commonly quoted “To thine own self be true” is considered a cliché today, scholars have noted that at the time it was used in Hamlet it was already a common piece of advice. Polonius isn’t saying anything in this speech to his son that hasn’t already been said. His advice can come across as stereotypical and basic, lacking depth or interest, if one truly digs into it. 

Why Did Shakespeare Use “To thine own self be true?” 

Shakespeare used this quote within Polonius’ speech in order to later emphasize the characters’ hypocritical nature. Polonius gives his son, Laertes, all of this information about how to behave but he doesn’t follow it himself. For example, 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. 

FAQs 

Who says “to thine own self be true?”

This quote appears in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, his best-loved tragedy. The quote features early on in the play, I Act I, Scene 3, and is spoken by Polonius, an advisor to King Claudius. 

What does the term “to thine own self be true” mean?

This expression suggests that above all else, one should be true to one’s own beliefs, morals, and principles. If one fails in this, then they are failing themselves. 

How is Hamlet not true to himself?

Hamlet is untrue to himself in several ways. First, he spends much of the play pretending (to an extent) to be “mad.” He lies and tricks in order to try to get information and revenge on his Uncle Claudius. Hamlet is conflicted about his desire to kill his uncle, his belief in the ghost, and how he treats other people. 


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