Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

Origin of Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

This is a famous phrase said by Polonius in Act-I, Scene-III of William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. The character Polonius counsels his son Laertes before he embarks on his visit to Paris. He says, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; / For loan oft loses both itself and friend.” It means do not lend or borrow money from a friend, because if you do so, you will lose both your friend and your money. If you lend, he will avoid paying back, and if you borrow you will fall out of your savings, as you turn into a spendthrift, and face humiliation.

Meaning of Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

The literal meaning of this phrase is that lending money is always dangerous. Sometimes, when people are unable to pay you back, you take help from your friends due to that failed deal. On the other side, it is disgusting to borrow money, because it indicates that you are living outside of your resources and means. Also, this phrase refers to Laertes, who, with a poison-tipped sword, injures Hamlet and then exchanges swords accidently with Hamlet and is poisoned by his own sword. In this way, he is a lender and borrower of swords. A lent sword kills him during his fight for a borrowed cause.

Usage of Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

We find the use of this phrase in everyday life, as it has a didactic tone with universal application. For instance, parents use this to warn their children against lending and borrowing money, because bringing debts into their personal relationships could cause resentment. The financial advisors in governmental or non-governmental sectors use it as a piece of advice to their authorities, to save the organizations from bearing debt. Generally, this line serves as a piece of advice to restrain people from lending and borrowing money, by reminding them of the negative effects it may have for them.

Literary Source of Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

Old Polonius gives advice to his son Laertes, before his departure to Paris. Polonius wholesales a full stockroom of wise quotes and aphorisms, and this is one of the most famous phrases:

Polonius

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”

(Hamlet, Act-I, Scene-III, Lines 75-77)

Literary Analysis of Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

William Shakespeare often contributes his most reflective lines to the biggest fools in his plays. Likewise, here he gives this role to Polonius, who advises his son, though Polonius does not bother to follow is own advice. In Polonius’s eyes, borrowing invites private dangers and replaces domestic thrift (husbandry). He warns his son not to act rashly, to hold his tongue, and not to lend or borrow money. However, Polonius himself dies because of acting rashly, speaking too much, and entering into a fight between Hamlet and his father. This shows contradiction in his nature. Besides, the theme of this phrase is money and logical philosophy that plays an important role in everyday life.

Literary Devices

  • Tone: The tone is that of dejection and disappointment.
  • Run on line: The idea continues in the next line.

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