Liberty Street Economics

« | Main | »

February 8, 2013

Historical Echoes: Neither a Lender nor a Borrower Be, or When the Bard Met the Fed

Mary Tao

The Federal Reserve in secret conclave ponders
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
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
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
that affected the Dakotas and Montana. And at least two Fed papers
have had a Shakespeare-inspired
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.

About the Blog

Liberty Street Economics features insight and analysis from New York Fed economists working at the intersection of research and policy. Launched in 2011, the blog takes its name from the Bank’s headquarters at 33 Liberty Street in Manhattan’s Financial District.

The editors are Michael Fleming, Andrew Haughwout, Thomas Klitgaard, and Asani Sarkar, all economists in the Bank’s Research Group.

Liberty Street Economics does not publish new posts during the blackout periods surrounding Federal Open Market Committee meetings.

The views expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the New York Fed or the Federal Reserve System.

Economic Research Tracker

Image of NYFED Economic Research Tracker Icon Liberty Street Economics is available on the iPhone® and iPad® and can be customized by economic research topic or economist.

Economic Inequality

image of inequality icons for the Economic Inequality: A Research Series

This ongoing Liberty Street Economics series analyzes disparities in economic and policy outcomes by race, gender, age, region, income, and other factors.

Most Read this Year

Comment Guidelines


We encourage your comments and queries on our posts and will publish them (below the post) subject to the following guidelines:

Please be brief: Comments are limited to 1,500 characters.

Please be aware: Comments submitted shortly before or during the FOMC blackout may not be published until after the blackout.

Please be relevant: Comments are moderated and will not appear until they have been reviewed to ensure that they are substantive and clearly related to the topic of the post.

Please be respectful: We reserve the right not to post any comment, and will not post comments that are abusive, harassing, obscene, or commercial in nature. No notice will be given regarding whether a submission will or will
not be posted.‎

Comments with links: Please do not include any links in your comment, even if you feel the links will contribute to the discussion. Comments with links will not be posted.

Send Us Feedback

Disclosure Policy

The LSE editors ask authors submitting a post to the blog to confirm that they have no conflicts of interest as defined by the American Economic Association in its Disclosure Policy. If an author has sources of financial support or other interests that could be perceived as influencing the research presented in the post, we disclose that fact in a statement prepared by the author and appended to the author information at the end of the post. If the author has no such interests to disclose, no statement is provided. Note, however, that we do indicate in all cases if a data vendor or other party has a right to review a post.