What does it mean --- This is the Shakespeare quote.
The following is not real useful for simple understanding, for a language learner, of what the words
mean. By asking what the quote
means, syl07 has invited me to parse the difference, and more than likely, for weal or woe, with little brevity.
Every one of you gave the meaning of the Polonius
The "meaning" of a Shakespeare
quote lies in the context, often one of ironic tension, between the face-value message of the line delivered-- and the nature of the character delivering it.
The other famous Polonius quote, "this above all, to thine own self be true," is being made by a notorious liar by profession-- in fact the statement itself (thou canst not then be false to any man) turns out to be untrue.
The irony of this, not the dictionary definition of the words, is what Shakespear is getting at, sharing with us and presumably enjoying himself, when he puts such words in Polonius's mouth.
And what does "brevity is the soul of wit" really mean? It is a setup line whose punchline is Polonius himself-- the most notorious windbag in all of literature.
Here's the context (public domain material, but I'll abbreviate
This business is well ended.
My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night is night, and time is time.
Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief. Your noble son is mad.
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.
More matter, with less art.
Madam, I swear I use no art at all.
That he is mad, 'tis true: 'tis true 'tis pity;
And pity 'tis 'tis true. A foolish figure!
But farewell it, for I will use no art.
Mad let us grant him then. And now remains
That we find out the cause of this effect-
Or rather say, the cause of this defect,
For this effect defective comes by cause.
Thus it remains, and the remainder thus.
Well, he's just getting warmed up-- but you get the idea.
If Cicero had been given more than a half dozen lines in Julius Caesar,
I idly speculate that we'd have an aphorism or two of "Shakespearean wisdom" to quote, on the subject of being scrupulous.