As a self-professed, permanently inked Shakespeare nerd it comes as no surprise to anyone that I have quite a few, very specific Bard-related pet peeves. I was going to do a multi-part series of my top five, building up to number one, but this week made me jump straight to number three*: People who quote Polonius as a philosophical role model.
The feelings of rage surfaced this week as I was looking through the archives of fyeahtattoos, because I'm unemployed at the moment and spend far too much time looking at the internet. I started noticing an unhealthy number of people walking around sporting a line from a wholly unlikeable character in an attempt to seem deep and introspective. Two thing Polonius is not.
Polonius is a political animal through and through. He passes his devotion to whomever can give him the most power. He is a professional toady, willing to sacrifice his daughter to help a murderous king get rid of his pesky nephew (and rightful heir to the throne). He gets killed while eavesdropping on a conversation between Hamlet and his mother, which Polonius set up to chastise Hamlet into good behavior. So really people, this is the guy you turn to for your life's philosophy? I'm not saying Hamlet's a much better option, because he's kind of unstable and for a thirty-three year old, acts rather immature at times. Really only Horatio and the Ghost seem to be stable enough to really take direction from. (Laertes has been poisoned by being raised by Polonius, and Fortinbras doesn't really have enough lines to base any life choices on. Though I imagine Elsinore became much more stable and less bloody after he took over.)
Polonius is best known and referenced for the scene in which he is giving advice to his son, Laertes, as he leaves to study abroad. The entire thrust of Polonius' advice is to be selfish, look out for number one, and never let anybody know too much about the real you. Excellent advice for a future sycophantic courtier, but unless you want to become a ruthless CEO (or ruthless CEO's butt-kissing underling), it's maybe not the best advice to follow in your day-to-day life in the modern age.
So- before you throw down at least a hundred bucks to get “To thine own self be true” permanently and prominently placed on your body, consider the source. You're not actually proclaiming to be the most real and honest version of yourself, you're saying I'm always going to put myself first. And that I don't understand what my tattoo actually means, or where it's from, but so many other people have it, it has to be all deep and stuff. (I also have a pet peeve about people getting stupid, generic, flash tattoos.) Anyone with a basic understanding of Shakespeare, Hamlet, or the Queen's English will not be impressed with your professed philosophy. I personally would back away with great haste.
I'll leave all of you with a different option to express a desire to be true to your own morals, philosophies and ideals: go with the Oracle of Delphi and “Know Thyself.” Still classic (in fact it pre-dates Shakespeare), still uses that fancy English, and doesn't reference a nattering buffoon of a character.
*I'll probably go back to four and five, and you will DEFINITLY hear about one and two...