What Shakespeare teaches us about money
As well as being a literary genius, the Bard of Avon gave sound financial advice in his great works!
William Shakespeare (1564-1616), known as the Bard of Avon, is widely recognised as England's greatest dramatist, playwright and poet.
We know that the Bard enjoyed some personal financial success, as he had at least two homes. Thanks to his hard work, he earned a healthy income from performances of his 38 plays, notably at the famous Globe theatre.
Shakespeare often mused on money, notably warning of its corrupting effects on those who worship it. Also, the Bard was anxious about debt, writing an entire play about its menaces (see point six below).
To show you what I mean, here is some financial wisdom from some of the Bard's greatest works:
1. Don't mix money and friends
Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3
Polonius (a Lord) to his son Laertes:
"Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry."
This is wise advice indeed. Polonius warns his son Laertes never to borrow or lend money to friends. All too often, both loan and friendship go bad, leaving both lost. Also, borrowing recklessly is the enemy of good money management.
2. Money can be a friend
As You Like It, Act 3, Scene 2
Corin (an elderly shepherd) to Touchstone (a court jester or fool)
"...he that wants money, means, and content is without three good friends..."
The impoverished Corin tells the eager fool that a man without money, work and happiness is missing a trio of solid allies. Here, Shakespeare places all three possessions on a par, suggesting that happiness and work are at least as important as money.
3. Money can be a heavy burden
Measure for Measure, Act 3, Scene 1
Vincentio, Duke of Vienna to Claudio (a young nobleman):
"If thou art rich, thou art poor,
For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,
Thou bears thy heavy riches but a journey,
And death unloads thee."
The Bard's meaning here is clear as day: excessive wealth can be a heavy burden – and one that is only relieved by dying. I suspect that many EuroMillions jackpot winners have painfully learnt this lesson about the crushing burden of wealth.
4. Love is more precious than money
The Merchant of Venice, Act 2, Scene 7
The Prince of Morocco, reading aloud to Portia (a wealthy noblewoman):
"All that glisters is not gold,
Often have you heard that told."
Shakespeare makes the point that the proverb "All that glisters [glitters] is not gold" has been repeated many times.
In this scene, a prince seeks to win Portia's hand in marriage by correctly choosing her portrait in one of three caskets of gold, silver and lead. He opens the gold casket to reveal a picture not of Portia, but of Death. As always, Shakespeare places life, love and happiness above mere money.
5. Your reputation is more valuable than money
Othello, Act 3, Scene 3
Iago (Othello's standard bearer):
"Who steals my purse steals trash,
'Tis something, nothing,
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands,
But he that filches from me my good name,
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed."
Iago is a soldier who wishes to destroy General Othello, by convincing his master that Othello's wife Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, an officer.
In this speech, Iago likens money to trash – something that can be easily taken without causing deep loss. Instead, he praises a man's good name and character as, once lost, this leaves him destitute. In short, destroying a man's reputation is far worse than robbing him, because honour is worth more than money.
6. A love of money can be deadly
All of The Merchant of Venice
Rather than pick another quote, I choose the whole of morality play The Merchant of Venice as a profound warning against greed.
In this tragi-comedy, Bassanio, a noble young Venetian, wishes to woo Portia of Belmont, a beautiful heiress. Lacking funds, Bassanio asks his friend Antonio – a wealthy merchant of Venice – for a loan. Antonio agrees to act as guarantor for a loan to Bassanio from Jewish moneylender Shylock.
Shylock's price if his interest-free loan is not repaid is a "pound of [Antonio's] flesh". When Antonio's shipping fleet founders at sea and he cannot repay the loan, Shylock is determined to seize the pound of flesh owed. Indeed, in court, he refuses repayment of twice the sum borrowed.
When Shylock takes a knife to cut open Antonio, a disguised Portia asks him to show mercy. She then warns Shylock that he can take only flesh, not blood, and exactly one pound, no more nor less – on pain of death. I won't spoil the exciting ending by revealing it here...
What are your favourite Shakespearean quotes for modern life? Please tell us in the Comments box below.