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. 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 as well as 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.


The literal meaning of this phrase is 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 sources and means. Also, this phrase refers to Laertes, who with a poison-tipped sword injures Hamlet and then exchanges swords accidently with Hamlet and poisons 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.


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

Literary Source

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

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

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

Literary Analysis

William Shakespeare often contributes his most reflective lines to the biggest fools in the plays. Likewise, here he gives this role to Polonius, who advises his son though Polonius himself does not bother to follow this. In Polonius’s eyes, borrowing invites private dangers and replaces domestic thrift (husbandry). He warns his son from acting rashly, holding his tongue and lending and borrowing money, whereas he 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

Following are the literary devices in this phrase:

  • Tone: The tone of this phrase is didactic.
  • Run on line: The idea continues in the next line.

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