Monday, November 20, 2006

Polonius's advice to his son ought to be read in full:

Yet here, Laertes! Aboard, aboard for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay'd for.
There . . . my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor an unproportion'd thought his act
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to they soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd comrade. Beware
Of entrance to quarrel but, being in,
Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, 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 of a 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 day the night,
Thou canst not be false to any man
Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!
In reading the entire speech, two things become readily apparent. First, the full breadth of advice to Laertes was to not be swayed nor to lose his character as he voyaged into the wilds of the continent far from his father's protective embrace. It was a valediction of a sort and its counsel wide-ranging. Second, and perhaps more important: it presumes with Polonius that Laertes has a character to which to be true. The father did not counsel his son on what to become but rather not to attempt becoming something that he was not -- either by coercion or fleeting self-interest.

Morality is the issue. Those who are imbued with the corporate credo, who have its self-interest woven into their adult fabric as the result of indoctrination, education, and experience appropriate the Bard's words but not the moral lesson. The corporate creed and Shakespeare's lessons are, in fact, at odds and can be reconciled only by adjusting the value of the meaning to accommodate the morality of the business corporation. Rather than an admonishment to stay true to one's character it becomes a rally cry to stay true to one's self-interest. Quoting Shakespeare again: "And there's the rub."

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