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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
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
.

Disclaimer
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.


Tao_mary

Mary Tao is a research librarian in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Research and Statistics Group.

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