Historical Echoes: Neither a Lender nor a Borrower Be, or When the Bard Met the Fed
Means to cure the nation’s cloudy state o’ercast
By stormy speculation. To-morrow morning’s news proclaims
The fury of their warning. Such dismal stuff will shake
The Wall Street world to marrow of its gambling bones;
These lines come from a 1929 play, Shakespeare on Wall Street, a mash-up of famous Shakespearean characters from various plays set to the story of the stock market crisis just then in motion. Written by a Harvard Law professor, Edward Henry Warren, the play features Shakespeare as a New York investor and his three sons—Hamlet, the bond salesman; Macbeth, a timid investor; and Falstaff, an anti-prohibitionist. The opening act parallels Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but with a twist: the three witches meet up in New Jersey. When Macbeth encounters the witches, he is willing to offer them as much as a golden eagle for their investment tips. A few scenes later, Polonius mentions that Macbeth has asked him to contact the Fed for assistance.
The Bard has been a source of inspiration to many at the Federal Reserve; Shakespearean lines pop up in various speeches and papers. During a January 2012 speech, Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Raskin quoted Shakespeare in emphasizing the importance of regulatory enforcement. Richard Fisher, the Harvard-educated president of the Dallas Fed, mentioned lines from Henry IV in a speech on monetary policy. A few years earlier, then-Governor Kevin Warsh opened his speech with a short Shakespearean soundbite. Chairman Ben Bernanke paraphrased the Bard in a commencement speech he gave at MIT. It’s also possible that Governor Elizabeth Duke may have had a Shakespearean role or two at the Playmaker Theater while earning a degree in dramatic art from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
A Minneapolis Fed author quoted from All’s Well That Ends Well to open an article about the 2011 floods that affected the Dakotas and Montana. And at least two Fed papers have had a Shakespeare-inspired title or theme.
How many others can you find? To look for your favorite quotation from Shakespeare (or any phrase of interest) appearing in other Fed publications, you can use this search tool.
And in case you still doubt the applicability of Shakespeare to economic and financial issues, find out what happens when the doleful poet meets the dismal economist.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author.
Mary Tao is a research librarian in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Research and Statistics Group.