In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius shared with his son Laertes critical advice that has withstood the test of time. The saying “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” is still used today and holds various meanings to its users. The full discussion between Polonius and Laertes revolves around the trip that Laertes is about to embark upon. Although the attitudes and preconceived notions towards finance and borrowing during Shakespeare’s time are greatly different, we see that the advice created still holds value in today’s modern financially intertwined societies.
The literal conversation that took place in Hamlet between Polonius and Laertes is just, to the unknowing reader, fatherly advice to his son who is about to travel and mingle in the dangerous land of Paris. The conversation goes, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For a loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry” (Shakespeare). Polonius is saying that lending and borrowing money is a dangerous sport. It can greatly influence relationships and add an extra level of complexity to ones life. In today’s society, borrowing and lending money is much more regulated then during Shakespeare’s time.
The underlying principal of owing or lending an asset of great value to a person who might not make good on the arrangement still resides. Modern markets are much more efficient in connecting lenders and borrowers, mostly through financial institutions such as banks. These institutions add a level of security because of their size and backing. This backing comes in the form of legal action, insurance and collateral. If the borrowers in Shakespeare’s time where to neglect their obligations, the lender would be left holding the bag plus the added complexity of the damage to their relationship. Today, banks act as impartial lenders who minimize the risk through various resources, ultimately relieving as much of the possible dangers related to financing.
During the era of Hamlet, it is interesting to note the level of borrowing that was occurring. It is said “in the days when Hamlet was first staged, borrowing was epidemic among the gentry, who sometimes neglected husbandry to the point where they were selling off their estates piece by piece to maintain an ostentatious lifestyle in London” (eNotes). The attitudes of the upper class towards lending and borrowing money were generally negative. It was thought, during this time, that a proper gentleman should be able to carry his estate forward and provide for his family on with his own merits. The act of borrowing brought forth a perceived weakening of the persons’ social status and ability.
A more modern example of this age-old prophecy is the current European crisis. Weaker economies who are relying on a Euro-zone bailout, such as Greece and Spain, are living through the trials and tribulations of there past decisions. The Euro-zone as a whole is expected to relieve the financial burdens created by these weaker countries through financial support. Stronger countries, such as Germany and France, are faced with the decision to help their “friends” to the south ride out the turmoil.
The European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have all reigned in on the issue. It is said that, “Germany is under pressure from the US, France and some other countries to go further than just expanding the EFSF (European Financial Stability Facility) to 40 billion Euros”… possible solutions include, “letting it borrow funds from the European Central Bank or private investors in order to buy euro-zone government bonds” (WSJ). It is becoming clearer that Greece and other struggling countries problems are not limited to the euro-zone, Europe, and just there markets. The social unrest and economic burdens stemming from these crises will damage the global economy for many years. The age-old saying from Polonius to his son seems to be holding true.
Shakespeare, William. “SCENE III. A Room in Polonius’ House.” The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. MIT. Web. 28 Sept. 2011. <http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/hamlet.1.3.html>.
ENotes. “Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be – Shakespeare Quotes.” ENotes Literature Study Guides, Lesson Plans, and More. ENotes. Web. 28 Sept. 2011. <http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/neither-borrower-norlender>.
Forelle, Charles, and David Crawford. “Euro-Zone Bailout Plan Progresses WSJ.com.” Business News & Financial News – The Wall Street Journal Wsj.com. Wall Street Journal, 28 Sept. 2011. Web. 28 Sept. 2011. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405297020422620457659889359099086.html>.