Shakespeare expert Hannah Manktelow assembles some of The Bard’s most helpful financial lessons, and translate this for the modern day layman.
Says Hannah: ‘Shakespeare is more famous for his tales of love and power than his financial advice. But if you look closely at his plays you’ll find some valuable monetary wisdom: how to spend it, how to save it, and how to avoid losing all your wealth and ending up living in exile, hating mankind.’
Check your wallet for disease
Falstaff: ‘I can get no remedy against this consumption of the purse; borrowing only lingers and lingers it out, but the disease is incurable.’
Henry IV, Part 2
Falstaff is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comic characters, a loveable drunk who parties relentlessly with Prince Hal, the future King Henry IV. But while Falstaff is entertaining, he’s not exactly a financial role model; despite holding a knighthood, he’s always in debt, and lives off borrowed or stolen money. Most people borrow a little cash from friends occasionally, but if, like Falstaff, your wallet is terminally ill, you need to break the cycle and get your spending in check. The portly knight meets a sorry end when the Prince inherits the crown and, unwilling to be associated with such a scrounger, disowns Falstaff and renounces his former lifestyle. Don’t let it happen to you!
Don’t mix money and friendship
Polonius: ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.’
Polonius is an advisor to Hamlet’s royal family, but in these lines he’s offering guidance to his son Laertes, who’s just about to leave for France. Although Polonius is often mocked for his wordiness, sometimes his waffling contains pearls of wisdom. His words are as true today as they were in Shakespeare’s time: think carefully before lending money to a friend, as if they don’t repay you’ll resent them and risk losing your friendship as well as the cash.
Reckless generosity comes at a price
Timon: ‘This yellow slave
Will knit and break religions, bless th’accurs’d,
Make the hoar leprosy ador’d, place thieves,
And give them title, knee and approbation
With senators on the bench.’
Timon of Athens
Timon of Athens is hardly ever staged, but it has a pretty strong message about money at its core. The play tells the tale of Timon, a wealthy Athenian who ruins himself with his irresponsible spending. He hosts lavish parties, pays his friend’s debts, and gives his servant money for his wedding – but when Timon’s creditors come calling and he finds he’s lost his fortune, none of his former buddies will help him out. He ends up living in the woods, mad and embittered against the world. If Timon had only kept an eye on his accounts, and taken a step back to think about his friendships, he might have realised his acquaintances were just there for a good time and saved himself a lot of trouble. It’s always nice to treat those closest to you once in a while, but if you’re constantly putting your hand in your pocket to fund other people’s lifestyles, a rethink might be in order.
Never bet what you can’t afford to lose
Shylock: ‘Let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut and taken
In what part your body pleaseth me.’
The Merchant of Venice
In The Merchant of Venice, Antonio makes a foolish agreement with Shylock, a moneylender: if he doesn’t pay back a loan within the agreed time, Shylock can take a pound of his flesh in compensation. Antonio is sure he’ll be able to get the money in time, but his investments fail and so Shylock seeks to take what he’s owed. Though most of us wouldn’t go so far as to put our body parts up as insurance for a quick loan, it’s worth remembering that all credit has to be repaid eventually – so don’t bet your economic future on a gamble that might not pay off.
Money can’t buy you love
Prince of Morocco: ’All that glister is not gold,
Often have you heard that told’
The Merchant of Venice
A subplot of The Merchant of Venice follows Portia, a rich noblewoman, in her search for a husband. Each of her suitors must pick one of three caskets – in gold, silver and lead – only one of which will grant her hand in marriage. The Princes of Morocco and Aragon choose the valuable gold and silver, and walk away with nothing, but nobleman Bassanio picks the lead and wins the right to wed Portia. It’s a lesson that runs through lots of Shakespeare’s plays – material possessions can’t bring you happiness, and love is more precious than power and fortune. If the person you’re pursuing can be won over by flashy gifts, they’re probably more interested in your bank account than your heart.
Words: Shakespeare expert Hannah Manktelow and giffgaff money