In Hamlet 1.3.57-81, Polonius’s instructions to Laertes are imparted in the form of either advice or admonition. There is still debate amongst scholars as to the sources Shakespeare might have had in mind in writing these maxims. The purpose of this work is not only to consider the source behind Polonius’s precepts; it also aims to show the main occurrences of such a theme in the Bible and in English literature, especially in the Middle Ages, up to Shakespeare’s time. The works considered in this essay have the same topos: they are the endeavour of a father/mentor to guide his child/disciple on some specific issues. The sage often speaks to the addressee calling him by name and utters his maxims in the imperative. The addressee is never fictional. Writers turn to such a father-to-son pattern not only to instruct their own children, but also to reach out to all those who seek guidance and words of wisdom on a specific matter. This theme has never lost its peculiar essence despite the different literary sensibilities and styles. In fact, throughout history, children always needed warnings and counsels in order to be successful in their own lives; the advice is delivered by a caring father/mentor who, by means of his wisdom and example, will lead them in the world in which they live. Despite cultural, religious and national differences, the rich legacy of moral instructions is an unfailing path which accompanies sons or disciples on a successful course. The hearts of the fathers will turn to those of their children (Mal. 4:6). And the hearts of the children will be filled with the knowledge provided by their fathers. Hence, they will pursue a successful course and will be guided by the wisdom of old – the truest of all compasses.

(2011). Of Fathers and Mentors to Sons and Disciples: English Medieval Literature and Beyond . Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10446/154033

Of Fathers and Mentors to Sons and Disciples: English Medieval Literature and Beyond

Cocco, Gabriele
2011

Abstract

In Hamlet 1.3.57-81, Polonius’s instructions to Laertes are imparted in the form of either advice or admonition. There is still debate amongst scholars as to the sources Shakespeare might have had in mind in writing these maxims. The purpose of this work is not only to consider the source behind Polonius’s precepts; it also aims to show the main occurrences of such a theme in the Bible and in English literature, especially in the Middle Ages, up to Shakespeare’s time. The works considered in this essay have the same topos: they are the endeavour of a father/mentor to guide his child/disciple on some specific issues. The sage often speaks to the addressee calling him by name and utters his maxims in the imperative. The addressee is never fictional. Writers turn to such a father-to-son pattern not only to instruct their own children, but also to reach out to all those who seek guidance and words of wisdom on a specific matter. This theme has never lost its peculiar essence despite the different literary sensibilities and styles. In fact, throughout history, children always needed warnings and counsels in order to be successful in their own lives; the advice is delivered by a caring father/mentor who, by means of his wisdom and example, will lead them in the world in which they live. Despite cultural, religious and national differences, the rich legacy of moral instructions is an unfailing path which accompanies sons or disciples on a successful course. The hearts of the fathers will turn to those of their children (Mal. 4:6). And the hearts of the children will be filled with the knowledge provided by their fathers. Hence, they will pursue a successful course and will be guided by the wisdom of old – the truest of all compasses.
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