Business advice from the Bard of Avon

Phil Castle

Could there be anyone who isn’t familiar with at least some of the immortal words of William Shakespeare? Who hasn’t heard the line “To be or not to be” from “Hamlet?” Or contemplate, as Juliet did in “Romeo and Juliet,” whether a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?

As it turns out, many of the common phrases people use come from the works of Shakespeare even though they don’t realize the connection.

Ever warned someone an endeavor could turn into a wild goose chase? That’s another line from “Romeo and Juliet.” Who hasn’t used the expression good riddance? That comes from “Troilus and Cressida.” And then there’s the lament if you don’t understand something — some mathematical gymnastics, for example — it’s “Greek to me.” Credit that to “Julius Caesar.”

As a writer, I’m a big fan of Shakespeare. But as a writer who works as editor of a business journal, I wondered what words of Shakespeare might apply to business — the Bard of Avon as a business consultant, if you can imagine that.

An internet search produced some interesting results:

“To business that we love we rise betimes and go to ‘t with delight.” Antony makes the point in “Antony and Cleopatra” that life is easier for those who enjoy what they’re doing. Those who love what they do and are good at it wake up eager to take on the tasks at hand. That holds true for business owners and managers as well as those who work for them. 

“Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast.” Friar Laurence’s advice to Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet” to think carefully before he acts applies not only to marriage, but also business decisions. The increasing pace of business and competitive advantages of agility aside, it’s sometimes better to think through the potential outcomes before determining a course of action.

 “Strong reasons make strong actions.” This line from “King John” further illustrates the basis for good decision-making. The best course of action is based on the best reasons — information as well as the powerful combination of information and experience.

“I like not fair terms and a villain’s mind.” The line from “The Merchant of Venice” offers the reminder deals really can be too good to be true if the transaction involves someone who can’t be trusted. When it doubt, check them out until gut feelings are either confirmed or denied.

“The purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation.” The line from “Richard II” asserts the importance of maintaining a good reputation, especially at a time when customers can so quickly sully one on social media.

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” As Polonius asserts in “Hamlet,” less really is more. That’s true of running a meeting, giving a speech or writing a newspaper column. Enough said.

Phil Castle is editor of the Business Times. Reach him at or 424-5133.