The Ballad of Golden Means
In sooth, a tale of coin oft told,
Doth shake the hearts of young and old;
For lucre’s siren song entwines
The very core of mortal lines.
Yet, shall we to this master bow?
Or find we balance ‘twixt the bough?
In measure fair and wisdom’s sight,
Let not the gold our souls indict.
For though the purse may fill with glee,
’Tis but a shadow’s feign’d decree.
A full heart needs not excess,
But thrives in love’s simple caress.
Hark! Wise Shakespeare’s quill doth spin,
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be;”
For richness found in peace within,
Outweighs the chest of treasury.
This sonnet, inspired by the timeless musings of the Bard of Avon, illuminates the complex relationship humanity has with money. Shakespeare himself often peppered his works with financial wisdom, understanding that money, while a necessary player in the theatre of life, should never overtake the essence of human experience.
Here are some of the greats…
“Timon of Athens”
One of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays, “Timon of Athens,” is a cautionary tale about wealth, generosity, and ingratitude. Timon, a wealthy Athenian, lavishes his fortune on parasitic friends. When his wealth evaporates, so does their loyalty, and Timon is left destitute and embittered. The play speaks to the dangers of tying one’s identity too closely to wealth and the fickle nature of friends won by money.
“The Merchant of Venice”
This play is rich with monetary themes, most famously in the storyline involving Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, and Antonio, the titular merchant. The bond between them, which involves a pound of Antonio’s flesh as collateral for a loan, reflects on the peril of debt and the complexities of business ethics. Through the characters’ dealings, Shakespeare contemplates the value of mercy over material wealth, as well as the cost of human life against monetary debt.
In “Hamlet,” Polonius gives his son Laertes a litany of advice, including the oft-quoted financial counsel: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend.” This nugget of wisdom warns of the personal and financial perils of mixing money with relationships.
In “King Lear,” we see a tragedy unfold around wealth, power, and family. Lear’s decision to divide his kingdom based on his daughters’ professions of love speaks to the folly of equating monetary gain with genuine affection and loyalty. The play ultimately reveals the emptiness of wealth without the foundation of true human bonds.
We open our sonnet above by recognising money’s powerful role, acknowledging its potential to captivate both the youth in their naivety and the elders in their reflection. Yet, it challenges us to question its sovereignty, urging a balance that can be found “’twixt the bough,” an allegory for life’s myriad offerings beyond the financial realm.
The third quatrain cautions against the illusion that happiness is synonymous with wealth. True contentment is not found in the abundance of possessions but rather in the intangible richness of love and connection.
Echoing Polonius’s advice to Laertes in “Hamlet,” the couplet serves as a moral compass, guiding us towards inner peace and self-reliance rather than the uncertainty of debt and dependence. It’s a call to value our internal wealth over external riches.
In contemporary terms, this poetic reflection serves as a reminder that while financial security is important, it is but one facet of a fulfilling life. Our financial pursuits should not consume us to the point of overshadowing the other aspects of our existence – relationships, passions, and inner peace. The greatest wealth we can accumulate is the richness of a well-lived life, balanced in means and rich in purpose.