What Shakespeare Teaches Us About Business

William Shakespeare is one of the most famous authors of all time. I think it is interesting to take a moment to hear what he had to say about business. WATCH NOW

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Shakespeare was more than just an author. He was also a businessman. He was a part owner in a play company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later known as the King’s Men). He spent his whole career with this group of actors, writing, acting, and promoting his plays. The group later built and operated the famous Globe Theatre in London.

When you look at Shakespeare’s plays, business is not a major theme of his plays, but he was a master of observation of the human character. There is one play called “Julius Ceasar.” And he says something in the play I find very interesting.

In case you do not know the story of Julius Ceasar, it is a historical tragedy. Julius Ceasar is a member of the Senate in Rome who is growing in popularity. Three senators, including Julius Ceasar’s friend Brutus, are afraid that Julius Ceasar will use his popularity to create an insurrection at the capital and seize control of the republic. The three senators decide the right thing to preserve the Republic is to conspire to kill Ceasar. Each conspirator stabs Julius Ceasar on the Senate floor. Their actions start a civil war.

In preparation for battle, Brutus is talking to his co-conspirator Cassius. They are discussing whether to go to meet the opposing troops in battle or wait in their current location. Brutus is in favor of going into battle. He says:

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Shakespeare is talking about how to be successful in life. He is saying that there is a component to business that has a lot to do with trends. This is different than a lot of the conventional wisdom you hear today. A lot of business gurus preach about grinding your way to success, or capitalizing on your talent. But Shakespeare is saying something different. He is saying success comes from awareness. You need to be observing your environment around you, be able to identify trends, and then take action to take advantage of those opportunities. Success does not come from the individual’s actions, but from what is happening in the environment around them. He is pointing to others success stories as evidence that this is how life works. Some people take advantage of opportunities and get rich, and others let those opportunities pass them by and stay poor and miserable.

It must be pointed out that after Brutus says these lines, in the play he falls into misfortune. Brutus and Cassius’ forces are actually winning the conflict, but then Cassius makes a mistake, thinks he is losing, and kills himself. Without a leader, Cassius’ forces are quickly overtaken. Brutus has no chance of winning and kills himself in a tragic ending.

For a modern audience, a tragedy like this seems strange. Hollywood does not make tragedies anymore. The point of tragedies was to be entertained by watching someone else’s misfortune, while revealing some truth about the human condition. Shakespeare wrote an excellent and entertaining play with Julius Ceasar and explored the idea of awareness in business. The character of Brutus throughout the play is trying to take advantage of the changing situation around him. Shakespeare is perhaps using this play to refer to his own good fortune taking advantage of opportunities early in his career which turned into become the leading playhouse in London. Shakespeare’s success in business is the reason why we are still talking about him to this day.

The reason I wanted to make this video, is because business school does not teach you this concept of how important awareness is in business. It is the whole game. You could be grinding away at your job, working 16 hours a day, and completely miss the opportunity that could make you rich, just because you are not paying attention. There are trends happening all around you. Are you able to identify what trends are working and what trends have potential for the future? You need to work on that trend and ride that trend all the way to the moon.

I make this sound like it is easy. But it is anything but. If it was easy, everyone would do it. But business does take on a new meaning, when you realize that what Shakespeare said was valuable. A modern day example of this is the company Facebook, which just this week rebranded itself as “Meta.” Mark Zuckerberg was just an ordinary college student. He identified a trend and rode that trend to become one of the most powerful companies in the world. Think about this for a moment. Facebook is only about 17 years old. Mark Zuckerberg went from a nobody to one of the most powerful people in the world in only 17 years. Given all the bad press Facebook has received lately, Mark Zuckerberg’s story may still end in tragedy. But you have to admit it is a striking example of what Shakespeare is talking about. In the business world, there are tides all around us, just like in the ocean. You can either work with those tides or against them.

Now we do not know very much about Shakespeare’s personal wealth. It does appear that he became wealthy during periods when the Globe theatre was successful, but he actually ran into some misfortune at the end of his career. There was a massive pandemic of the bubonic plague that swept across England from rats. If you don’t know what the bubonic plague was like, it targeted people ages 10 to 35. You would get a fever, trouble breathing, pain, and a cloudy mind. Sores would break out on your groin, armpit, and neck and when the sores burst, they would be so painful that some people would throw themselves out of windows to commit suicide to stop the pain. The government issued a massive lockdown, quarantining people in their homes and painting red crosses on their doors. Playhouses were closed to the public for 60 months between 1603 and 1610. These events probably impacted Shakespeare’s finances, and like one of the unlucky characters in one of his tragedies, he fell on hard times.

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Neither Zach De Gregorio or Wolves and Finance shall be liable for any damages related to information in this video. It is recommended you contact a CPA in your area for business advice.

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