In Hamlet the pompous old windbag Polonius sends his son Laertes off with this speech:
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatched unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a 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 habir as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy; rich, but not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are more select and generous 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 night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
This speech consists wholly of platitudes, platitudes intended by Shakespeare as platitudes, platitudes then and platitudes now. It’s kitchen-sampler stuff. It is delivered by one of the least attractive characters in all of the plays, one who lacks the virtue to be a hero and the brio to be a villain and can’t even manage to snoop without getting himself stabbed. Yet after “To be or not to be” it is probably the most often-quoted speech in Shakespeare, and always seriously. This is not a happy reflection on the state of literary culture.