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Perhaps Polonius' saying "This above all, to thine own self be true" is the most ironic line in Hamlet. Who among the major characters in the play actully remains true to himself or herself throughout the course of the action?
-- valerie jean dixon (email@example.com), January 26, 2000
This statement is especially strange coming from Polonius who is probably the most devious of all the characters. Of course, he later says "'tis too much prov'd, that with devotion's visage and pious action we do sugar o'er the devil himself" (III,i,47-49). Which side of this argument is he advocating anyway?
-- Virginia (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 26, 2000.
Polonius is just chock full o' good advice. Unfortunately, his ambition forces him to lead a more "practical" life.
-- mikken (email@example.com), February 04, 2000.
Horatio and Fortinbras, in very different ways. And I think it's probably WS's statement that they are the ones still alive at the end
-- catherine england (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 03, 2001.
You are so right: "This above all, to thine own self be true." Is an incredibly ironic line!
The characters in Hamlet seem to be hypocritical and without integrity. They give advice which they do not follow, condemn actions that are habitual for them, and generally turn a blind eye to their own wrongdoing. Laertes warns Ophelia against Hamlet, but is suspected of drinking, fencing, swearing, quarreling, and drabbling with loose women to the extent that his father, Polonius, sends a spy to find out the truth about his son. Laertes seems to be just the inconstant fool that he describes Hamlet to be and warns his sister against. I think that Ophelia must have some idea of the duplicity in her brother's words because, when he has warned her, she warns him against disregarding his own counsel.
Polonius reveals his values in the advice he gives to Laertes but Polonius, too, is unfaithful to his morals. Polonius tells Laertes to above all else, be true to himself and then he will be true to others, but we see him being a pompous, babbling man who tries to impress others by putting on what he thinks is a witty show. In this way, Polonius tells his son not to do the very things that he is prone to do.
Later in the play, we observe Hamlet making fun of Polonius, and then telling the Players not to mock him. Hamlet also seems to think nothing of killing Laertes' and Ophelia's father, even though he is sick with grief and anger at his own father's murder. After Polonius' murder, the king is so outraged that Hamlet would take the old man's life that Hamlet has to flee the castle. Just a few months before, the king himself took his brother, the old king's life committing not only murder but fratricide as well.
Through observing the characters in Hamlet, and humankind in general, I have come to the conclusion that the things that we are most bothered or upset by, are the very things that we are guilty of, or apt to do.
-- Erin James (Erin1.James@ucourses.com), March 26, 2003.
Gertrude stands out to me as the character in Hamlet who is least true to herself.
In Act 3, Scene 4, we see that the queen has been so overcome with the guilt she feels at her murderous thoughts and immoral actions that she has proceeded to deceive herself into thinking that she is innocent in order to find relief. Therefore, throughout the scene she isn't just trying to convince Hamlet of her innocence, she is trying to convince herself that she is blameless. At first the queen acts like she can't figure out what it is that Hamlet is accusing her of and asks such questions as: “kill a king?” and “What have I done that thou dar'st wag thy tongue in noise so rude against me?” Hamlet is shocked that his mother can be so unashamed of what she has done and says: “O shame! where is thy blush?”
Hamlet continues to make accusations and eventually turns his mother's glare inside herself where she sees the guilt which she has tried so hard to convince herself does not exist. She cries out: “O Hamlet, speak no more! Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul, and there I see such black and grainèd spots as will not leave their tinct.” It is interesting that this is the only time where we observe the queen in a passionate state. This makes me think that throughout the rest of the play she is putting on an act to cover her guilt, and this passionate person we observe in the chamber is her true self.
At the end of the this scene Hamlet beseeches his mother to: “for love of grace, lay not that flattering unction to your soul, that not your trespass but my badness speaks. It will by skin and film the ulcerous place, whilst rank corruption, mining all within infects unseen. Confess yourself to heaven; repent what's past; avoid what is to come; and do not spread the compost on the weeds to make them ranker.” Unfortunately, the queen does not follow Hamlet's advice, and soon after this conversation, she has again “forgotten” her guilt and thus made her self-deceiving condition even worse. In this way, the queen, to me, is the greatest example of a character in Hamlet who simply refuses to be “true to themselves.”
-- Erin James (Erin1.James@ucourses.com), March 26, 2003.
Another character who remained true was Horatio.
-- Nick Hylander (email@example.com), May 18, 2003.
I always thought Polonius' intended meaning in the phrase 'to thine own self be true' was in fact 'look after number one'. Which makes the line rather in keeping with the rest of his character.
-- rosie (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 08, 2003.
I think that that is probably nearer the truth than the more obvious reading of the quote.
-- Patrick Walker (email@example.com), December 08, 2003.
How can that me? It would mean the lines immediatly following wouldn't make sense: 'And it shall follow, as the night [follows] the day,[that]thou canst not then be false to any man.'
-- catherine england (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 08, 2003.