The above mentioned phrase appears in the third scene of the first act of William Shakespeare’s most talked about tragedy Hamlet. This speech is delivered by Polonius. The phrase is not really simple in English as it appears to be because it has multiple layers of meanings associated with it. If the first meaning is analyzed it shows that someone should always do something that he should have done that eventually helps in judging that very person accordingly. The other meaning conveys that one has to be honest enough in every way possible. He must be honest and truthful to what he says and what he does and no means should affect his honesty. The last meaning that it carries is that an individual must do something which is right.
While delivering the speech Polonius must have been emphasizing something more on the philosophy of contemporary Elizabethan time but it is evident that the speech is uncannily relevant to new age and will be as pertinent as it is now for the case of self-acknowledgement. Polonius rightfully points out some activities and declares them to be harmful for one’s nature that eventually can bring him misfortune and misery. Things like borrowing money and indulging into the company of dubious women can turn out to be detrimental to an individual while staying loyal to what one preaches and practices is important because that makes a man follow the path of truthfulness and reach his target. He also mentions that taking care of oneself can make him take care of other people whom he cares about. Hence, one should start with himself because that is how he will learn to value each individual in his life.
It is true that his speech reflects a grim shadow of orthodoxy however it is not free from wisdom that comes along with the tone of warning. He preaches a kind of self-satisfaction that has unwonted aspect amalgamated with it. Polonius who speaks highly about the ethics and moralities regarding truthfulness is a character who is deeply surrounded with worldliness who perfectly knows how to preserve his interests. He is also aware of the fact the projection of virtues can portray him to be true to his own self as well as others. For being true to his own self he does not refrain himself from spying on Hamlet ritually.
It must not be forgotten that the meaning that has been implied in the phrase has evolved through time because the meaning that has been accepted by the audience of Elizabethan era has definitely transformed now. The meanings of true and self have inevitably changed along with time. According to the Shakespearean scholars staying true does not necessarily has to be truthful and harmless as suggested by Polonius. He meant what would turn out to be beneficial must be performed by an individual no matter what comes in the way even if it causes harm to anybody, it does not concern the very individual. Therefore he suggests his son to prioritize his own self at first and then think of others’ benefits.
It is certain that Shakespeare has immense contribution not only in the English literature but also in the field of language formation because of his participation in including new words and phrases to practice. It has been mentioned earlier that the meaning of the phrase has changed through the course of time. Now the phrase is used to imply what honesty is and how commitment is an integral and unavoidable part of human life. This phrase has become so common that it is vehemently used everywhere in day to day life. Suppose one feels betrayed or cheated by another person he might use this phrase as a warning. For instance in office boss can use it on his fellow employee that one must not do anything that wastes his time. A mother can warn her child to stay away from bad company when she can apply this very phrase. This phrase is incorporated in colloquial language by different companies where service is provided with care and efficiency. The companies use this phrase to show their loyalty and commitment to the customers and that they adhere to the best quality.
For Polonius it is also important to be stable financially because that is where an individual falters. Hence, one needs to be financially sound and stable. That, according to him can make him stay harmless to others. In his speech it is implied that in order to stay good to others one must be good to his own self. One should take care of his own self no matter what else is bothering him before taking care of others. However, the meaning has taken a different shape altogether in the modern age. The phrase in this age indicates that one should be more truthful to his own self because that carries the weight of self ownership, self esteem and individuality.
On deep analysis of the phrase it can be observed that Shakespeare has strongly employed irony in the speech. The speech is the skilful combination of humour and ritual use of irony where the character is nothing but hypocrites because they speak of high values but their actions do not really define so. The speaker of the phrase is one of them because Shakespeare doe not truly intend to speak highly about him. That is why he makes him do things that establishes him to be a person with low esteem of morale and who can do anything to satisfy his own needs and well being. Shakespeare devised him to be one of the weapons to justify his opinion through the creation of his character. The critiques are still in this faith that it is Shakespeare who speaks in the attire of Polonius to justify how one should behave in order to stay truthful and honest to his self and others and how it proves to be helpful.