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 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. This famous bit of fatherly advice is spoken by Polonius to Laertes shortly before Laertes leaves for France, in Act I, scene iii (59–80).
Polonius, who is bidding Laertes farewell, gives him this list of instructions about how to behave before he sends him on his way. His advice amounts to a list of cliches. Keep your thoughts to yourself; do not act rashly; treat people with familiarity but not excessively so; hold on to old friends and be slow to trust new friends; avoid fighting but fight boldly if it is unavoidable; be a good listener; accept criticism but do not be judgmental; maintain a proper appearance; do not borrow or lend money; and be true to yourself.
This long list of quite normal fatherly advice emphasizes the regularity of Laertes’ family life compared to Hamlet’s, as well as contributing a somewhat stereotypical father-son encounter in the play’s exploration of family relationships. It seems to indicate that Polonius loves his son, though that idea is complicated later in the play when he sends Reynaldo to spy on him.