Shakespeare wrote almost a million words (884,647 to be exact) and covered every aspect of life, including, of course, money—from its influence on relationships to its role in business. The Bard’s oeuvre demonstrates time and again that he, like most of us, had money on his mind. In fact, as Nick Hornby observed, it’s the main reason he wrote so many plays.
In honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, here are 11 of his best money insights.
1. “But the comfort is, you shall be called to no more payments, fear no more tavern-bills.”
— First Gaoler (Jailer), Cymbeline, Scene 5 Act 4
Posthumus Leonatus is in jail, and the jailer is saying that while he’s not in a great situation, the silver lining is that he doesn’t have to pay his bar tab. According to Shakespeare, one definition of comfort is not having to pay your bills.
2. “Think’st thou, Hortensio, though her father be very rich, any man is so very a fool to be married to hell?”
— Gremio, Taming of the Shrew, Act 1 Scene 1
This is a version of the “no such thing as a free lunch” truism, but applied to marriage. In other words, it’s not worth it to marry rich if you’re hitched to a disagreeable partner. It’s as bad as eternal damnation.
3. “Whiles I am a beggar, I will rail and say there is no sin but to be rich; and being rich, my virtue then shall be to say there is no vice but beggary.”
—Bastard, The Life and Death of King John, Act 2 Scene 1
Shakespeare clearly understood that we adapt our views to fit our finances. The observation has relevance in today’s election cycle, where many voters favor their financial interests over a consistent ideology. The classic example: Lower-income supporters of higher taxes and well-funded social programs, who abandon their left-leaning principles when they become wealthy.
4. “With a good leg and a good foot, uncle, and money enough in his purse, such a man would win any woman in the world, if a’ could get her good-will.”
—Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing, Act 2 Scene 1
Beatrice thinks that if someone looks good, gets into another person’s good graces, and is rich, the courtship will be successful. It’s funny that this even came up. It’s pretty much first thing you learn in Humans 101.
5. “Money buys lands, and wives are sold by fate.”
—Ford, Merry Wives of Windsor, Act V Scene 5
Shakespeare is really into the entanglements of money and love and constantly hedges himself through his characters dialogue. While Beatrice’s quote (above) considers money’s utility an aphrodisiac, Ford’s establishes a concept popularized by those other British bards, the Beatles, in their classic song “You Can’t Buy Me Love.”
6. “For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”
—Polonius, Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 3
Polonius is generally portrayed as a fool in this speech, but he gets this right: Lending to your friends is a bad idea because you will end up without money or friends.
7. “If thou wilt lend this money…lend it rather to thine enemy, who, if he break, thou mayst with better face exact the penalty.”
—Antonio, Merchant of Venice, Act 1 Scene 3
Shakespeare takes the don’t-lend-to-friends advice a step further, recommending instead that you lend to enemies. That way, if there’s an issue and proverbial knee caps need to be broken, you won’t feel bad.
8. “He that dies pays all debts.”
—Stephano, Tempest, Act 3 Scene 2
The jailer in Cybelime noted that you don’t have to pay your bar tab if you’re in the clink, and Stephano says you don’t have to pay anything if you’re dead. One wonders if Shakespeare, had he lived in the modern era, would have maxed out all his credit cards on his death bed.
9. “He lends out money gratis and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice.”
—Shylock, Merchant of Venice, Act 1 Scene 3
If someone offers a service or good, it hurts similar businesses that charge. Remember when you had to pay for an email account? Yeah, Gmail destroyed that industry.
10. “If money go before, all ways do lie open.”
—Ford, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 2 Scene 2
Although Shakespeare’s work shows nothing if not that money complicates things, he did not miss the fact that money can make life much easier, greasing wheels, buying respect, and providing opportunity.
11. “Money is a good soldier, and will on.”
—Falstaff, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 2 Scene 2
Shakespeare: Life Coach, a site that applies the Bard’s wisdom to your life, notes that this quote is essentially saying “you should be putting your money to work for you.” It’s weird that he seems to be using “on” as a verb, but there’s no doubt that money can be a good soldier to have in your corner.