Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Parallels in Hamlet - Polonius 1 of 3

Shakes-Speare's Hamlet - Polonius / Bacon part 1

The following well-known passage from Hamlet was given a three-page analysis by Cockburn. And I'll break it up into three posts to make it more digestible.

This passage is from Hamlet 1.3.57-80

(Polonius, an elderly adviser to the King - as Burleigh was to Queen Elizabeth - gives this famous advice to his son Laertes who was about to visit Paris):

           "There, my blessing with thee,
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned though his act.
Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar;
Those friends thou hast and their adoption tried,          {line 62}
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
But do no dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd courage. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel
, but being in,                           {line 66)
Bear't that th'opposed may beware of thee.
Give everyman thy ear but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure [opinion], but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gawdy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous [well-born] chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loseth both itself and friend
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.           {line 77)
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

Comment: In 1596 young Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland, was about to set out on a Grand Tour of Europe. He received three letters of advice (according to Bacon's biographer Spedding). They were written in the name of the Earl of Essex, but it is obvious from the style of the first two that they were drafted for Essex by Bacon. Parental advice containing gems of worldly wisdom was common in the period, especially to a son about to travel. But it is interesting to compare Polonius's advice with that drafted by Bacon. Here are some extracts from the letters and numbered for convenience:

1) When you see an infinite variety of men, choose the best...Good choice should be made of those with whom you converse.

2) To profit much by conference, you must first choose to confer with expert men...By hearing many...you shall...be able to judge the truth. In conference be not superstitious, not believing all you hear, nor too desirous to contradict.
Now compare these and some other Bacon writings with some of Polonius's precepts:

a)  "Those friends thou hast and their adoption tried" (line 62) - This advice to be careful in one's choice of friends is reflected in Bacon's 1) above "choose the best...Good choice should be made of with whom you converse". But this was common advice and itself count little by itself.

b)  Bacon's advice in the letters above does not deal with quarrels. But in his Essay on Travel he says: "For quarrels, they are with care and discretion to be avoided". This can also be compared with Much Ado About Nothing 2.3.190 "He avoids them [quarrels] all with great discretion". This agrees with Polonius's "Beware Of entrance to a quarrel". (lines 65-66)

c)  "Take each man's censure [opinion], but reserve thy judgment". - This fits with 2) above "By hearing many...you shall...be able to judge the truth...nor believing all you hear.."

d)  "But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gawdy; For the apparel oft proclaims the man" - Bacon does not deal with clothing in the letters or elsewhere, except for a few allusions. The Arden editor notes that "Polonius's advice on dress has perhaps an individual note (costly, rich)". The usual advice was that attire should not be costly. But rich dress would fit Bacon's known liking for tasteful splendour. For example, he married clad in purple from head to toe. And as Lord Chancellor, he had all his staff attired in his own personal livery.

continued on next post.

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