What Shakespeare can teach us about money

A First Folio edition of William Shakespeares' plays is pictured at Sotheby's auction house in London.

So, what do Shakespeare and money have in common? The course "Shakespeare and Financial Markets," was introduced at Duke University to explore that very connection. Classic Shakespeare plays like "Hamlet" and "Julius Caesar" are used to teach students about what drives financial behavior. The class is taught by visiting professor John Forlines III, who is also an investment banker and corporate securities manager.

"It's clear when you delve into Shakespeare -- and of course I've spent a large time looking at Shakespeare and also looking being in the financial markets -- human behavior is behind so much of what we do in our lives and also most important in our decision making," says Forlines.  "Shakespeare held up a mirror to humans and showed us how we behave, probably one of the first artists to really capture that. When you look at some of the mistakes -- both policy wise and also by investors -- in the last 20 or so years, you see a lot of those behaviors. Drawing out those connections is part of what made the course I think for me and also for the students a lot of fun this year."

To help with money management, Forlines uses a quote from "Julius Caesar" by the character of Brutus.

From "Julius Caesar" Act 4, scene 3, 218–224
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.

Forlines says the quote means you should "go with the flow and in the case of personal investments, spend your time finding a very good adviser and then watch other TV shows besides ones that focus particularly on your investments."

About the author

Veteran journalist Tony Cox has joined American Public Media as guest host of Marketplace Money.

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