Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Polonius’

Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit

Posted by Admin on July 9, 2010

We all know that jokes and funny stories seem so much funnier when they don’t drag on and on before getting to the punch line.  Even Shakespeare knew that!

In his play, Hamlet, you’ll find the expression, “brevity is the soul of wit.”  Polonius speaks the well-known line but the fact of the matter is that Polonius is one of the least brief and least witty talkers around. 

POLONIUS:
This business is well ended.
My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.

 Throughout the play, Polonius doles out quite a bit of advice to anyone who crosses his path.  What makes this all the funnier while being tragic at the same time is that he doesn’t follow any of his own advice.

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There’s Method In My Madness

Posted by Admin on July 5, 2010

This is a straight forward explanation for the expression “there’s method in my madness.”

It’s actually from a play by William Shakespeare.  In his play Hamlet, written in 1602 in Act 2. Scene 2.   The actual line from the play, spoken as an aside by Polonius is:

POLONIUS
Though this be madness, yet there is method
in ‘t. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?

Since then, the line has been modified into the more popular version we use today:  “There’s method in my madness.”

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To Thine Own Self Be True

Posted by Admin on June 1, 2010

As with yesterday’s phrase, “to thine own self be true” is oftentimes mistaken as a direct quote from the Bible.  It is actually taken from Polonius’ advice to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet

 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
 Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
 Nor any unproportion’d 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, unfledg’d comrade.  Beware
 Of entrance to a quarrel but, being in,
 Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee.
 Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
 Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgement.
 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 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!

Of course, it’s easy to see how this could happen as what Polonius tells his son is actually Shakespeare reworking the Ninth Commandment:  “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”  

In other words, one should not lie to himself or herself.  When one does not lie to himself or herself, it follows that he or she does not lie to others no matter what the situation.  The Ninth Commandment is phrased in an absolute manner that does not permit exceptions and so one can only be true to himself or herself in following the Commandments.

So while Shakespeare may have coined the phrase “to thine own self be true” the spirit of the phrase has a very long history that reaches back thousands of years into the Old Testament.

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Neither A Borrower Nor A Lender Be

Posted by Admin on May 31, 2010

Surely with Biblical passages that reference lending and borrowing, the Bible must be the origin of this phrase.

Ex. 22:25  “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.”

Deut. 23:19  “You shall not charge interest on loans to another Israelite, interest on money, interest on provisions, interest on anything that is lent.” 

Luke 6:34 “If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” 

Oddly enough, however, the Bible is not the origin of this phrase.  It is actually an original phrase written by none other than William Shakespeare in his play Hamlet in Act 1, scene 3 and is spoken by Polonius.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edges of husbandry.”

When Shakespeare’s play was staged around 1600, history shows that borrowing was epidemic among the gentry.  This epidemic resulted in more than a few cases of landowners selling off their estates piece by piece to maintain their ostentatious lifestyles in London.

Wisely enough, those with money to spare had that money because they knew better than to borrow money against their assets and they knew better t han to loan money to others.

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