I’ve always loved the writings of William Shakespeare, ever since I first read Hamlet in eighth grade. Since then, I’ve read almost everything by The Bard, excepting some of the sonnets, and I’ve enjoyed both the famous and the obscure.
The breadth of topics tackled by Shakespeare is large, so I recently wondered what thoughts he had on financial issues. I expected to find a few pithy quotes, but what I actually found were several profound statements from strong, intelligent characters. Here are a few of the best, along with my thoughts.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be; for loan doth oft lose both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
Polonius, Hamlet, Act I, Scene ii
Polonius is kind of like Dave Ramsey: avoid debt at all costs. As for the husbandry thing, I have to agree that less debt means more “husbandry.”
Gold? Yellow, glittering, precious gold? No, Gods, I am no idle votarist! … Thus much of this will make black white, foul fair, wrong right, base noble, old young, coward valiant … Why, this will lug your priests and servants from your sides, pluck stout men’s pillows from below their heads: this yellow slave will knit and break religions, bless the accursed, make the hoar leprosy adored, place thieves and give them title, knee and approbation with senators on the bench. This is it that makes the wappen’d widow wed again. She, whom the spital-house and ulcerous sores would cast the gorge at, this embalms and spices to the April day again. Come, damned earth, thou common whore of mankind, that put’st odds among the rout of nations.
Timon, Timon of Athens, Act IV, Scene iii
Clearly, Timon feels that competition for wealth is the source of many of mankind’s problems. In the modern world, we spend so much time competing for money that it seems normal, but how healthy is it really to spend all of our life’s energy just keeping up with the Joneses? In fact, all of Timon of Athens is about money – a “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” for the seventeenth century.
Thou know’st that all my fortunes are at sea
Neither have I money nor commodity
To raise a present sum: therefore go forth;
Try what my credit can in Venice do:
That shall be rack’d, even to the uttermost,
To furnish thee to Belmont, to fair Portia.
Go, presently inquire, and so will I,
Where money is, and I no question make
To have it of my trust or for my sake.
Antonio, The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene i
Antonio doesn’t have enough money to give to his friend, Bassanio, so that he can see his love, Portia. So, rather than being fiscally responsible, he decides to take out a debt that will eventually render him deeply in debt to Shylock, something he’ll have a hard time digging his way out of. What’s the lesson here? Don’t splurge, especially when it makes you indebted. If you can’t afford a luxury, you shouldn’t spend money you don’t have to afford it.
Shakespeare really can teach you everything you need to know.