A Father's Advice to his Son


Act 1 Scene 111. – A Room in Polonius’s House

  1. This scene contains a lot of advice. Paraphrase or summarise the advice Polonius gives his son.
  2. The speech tells us something about Polonius and his role in the play. How is it typical of him? To what extent could it be ironic?
  3. The advice would have been considered sound and wise in Shakespeare’s day.
    • What is your initial response to it?
    • In particular explain why we should, or should not, give our thoughts no tongue.
    • Explain why Polonium says, neither a borrower nor a lender be and discuss theramifications for our credit card culture.
  4. What is meant by, To thine own self be true ------ Thou canst not then be false any man. ?
  5. Explain the underlying humanist assumptions. Identify the strengths and limitations of this philosophical viewpoint. e.g. in Christian terms is it right to be satisfied with one’s own judgement of one’s deeds?
  6. If you were a parent what advice, would you give your child? Justify your choice.
  7. If you were a young person going off to a university town what advice if any would you want?
  8. Justify your answer.

It’s All in the Playing

I began by saying that since I realized I created my own reality in every way, I must therefore admit that, in essence, I was the only person alive in my universe. I could feel the instant shock waves undulate around the table. I went on to express my feeling of total responsibility and power for all events that occur in the world because the world is happening only in reality. And human beings feeling pain, terror, depression, panic, and so forth, were really only aspects of pain, terror, depression, panic, and so on, in me! If they were all characters in my reality, my dream, then of course they were only reflections of myself.

I was beginning to understand what the great masters had meant when they said “you are the universe.” If we each create our own reality, then of course we are everything that exists within it. Our reality is a reflection of us.

Now, that truth can be very humorous. I could legitimately say that I created the Statue of Liberty, chocolate chip cookies, the Beatles, terrorism, and the Vietnam War. I couldn’t really say for sure whether anyone else in the world had actually experienced those things separately from me because these people existed as individuals only in my dream. I knew I had created the reality of the evening news at night. It was in my reality. But whether anyone else was experiencing the news separately from me was unclear, because they existed in my reality too. And if they reacted to world events, then I was creating them to react so I would have someone to interact with, thereby enabling myself to know me better.

My purpose in mentioning this on New Year’s Eve was to project a hope that if I changed my conception of reality for the better in the coming year, I would in effect be contributing to the advancement of the world. Therefore, my New Year’s resolution was to improve myself – which would in turn improve the world I lived in.

Most of the faces around the table looked scandalized. I created the Declaration of Independence and Marilyn Monroe and the fifty-five miles per hour speed limit? If I changed my reality, it would change the world? I had clearly gone too far. The discussion that ensued was a microcosm of the world itself. And while the others expressed their objections, I felt I was creating them to object, so that I could look at some things I hadn’t resolved myself. In other words I was them. They were me. And all because I was creating them as characters in my play.

The classic question was asked: If what I was proposing were true, would it also be true that I did nothing for others, everything for myself?

And the answer is, essentially, yes. If I fed a starving child, and was honest about my motivation, I would have to say I did it for myself, because it made me feel better. Because the child was happier and more fulfilled, I would be. I was beginning to see that we each did whatever we did purely for self, and that was as it should be. Even if I had not created others in my reality and was therefore not responsible for them, I would feel responsible to my own feelings which desire to be positive and loving. Thus in uplifting my own feelings I would uplift the feelings of my fellow human beings.

How do we change the world? By changing ourselves.

That was the gist of my New Year’s Projection.

Shirley MacLaine, It’s All in the Playing (New York Bantam Books, 1987), pp 173-175. Copyright 1997 by Shirley MacLaine.
  1. What do you think of this New Age solution to the evil, suffering and death in the world?
  2. How does the MacLaine piece differ from the Auschwitz piece?

Remembering Auschwitz

Nine out of ten survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau gain safe distance from it during the day, but at night, when the world is suspended, they inevitably return to it. Auschwitz-Birkenau was not behind them, but with them, in them.

When I returned to Auschwitz-Birkenau recently, a new horror possessed me. Austchwitz-Birkenau as a museum commemorating human brutality does not evoke in one’s imagination even a shadow of the fear, anxiety, and hopelessness that the single moment of this death factory induced while in full operation.

Sometimes I wish that all men and women, wherever they live on earth, would have to visit Auschwitz-Birtenau for a day, an hour or even a single second during the time when Hitler, Himmler, Eichmann, or Baldur von Schirah, the Hitler Youth Leader, swelled with pride at what they had commissioned German architects, planners and builders to do.

This visit would be a test of maturity before they could receive a driver’s license or be allowed to vote or get married, with a guarantee, of course, that nothing would happen to them. I believe that this peek into hell would ripen their image of the world, for only those who have seen how little is needed to peel what is human from us – to turn us into animals – can understand the world into which we are born.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is at the beginning of all questions that torment us, and instead of providing answers, it can only lead to further question.

I can remember an afternoon in September ’44 when I stood in the gypsy camp by the high voltage wires, surrounded by bare Polish plains and forests. A thin, transparent fog enveloped the ground, the people. Everything stunk. The smoke became a cloud and slowly black lines of ash dropped down. Like everyone else, I wished the wind would lift or the earth reverse its direction. The ashes had a bitter taste. They fell on us, mute, dead, relentless ashes, in which human breath, shrieks, and tears could be felt. But the loneliness among the dead is still better than the loneliness of the living.

From an interview on All Things Considered, January 27 1995.
  1. Reflect on how different people you know, with different philosophies of life, would understand Auschwitz differently?
  2. What gives you the right to force the evil of Auschwitz and still have ground for hope about human beings?
  3. Somewhere in Auschwitz one prisoner turned to another and said, Where is God? The other replied, Where is Man? In what way does the extract help you answer that question?
  4. Could anything like Auschwitz, even on a smaller scale, happen in New Zealand?
  5. Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed that, The line between good and evil does not pass between principalities and powers but oscillates within the human heart.
  6. In what ways does Remembering Auschwitz you understand Solzhenitsyn’s observation?

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