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Shakespeare's 5 best investing tips

April 26, 2014: 9:00 AM ET
Shakespeare money investing

Shakespeare left the world plenty of wit and wisdom ... even about finance

Most people don't pick up Shakespeare's plays when they're looking for investing advice, but the Bard of Avon did write frequently about money matters.

Consider that the word "rich" appears more than 150 times in his plays. "Gold" gets over 200 mentions, and "debt" about 40.

There are even college courses on "Bardonomics" like Duke University's "Shakespeare and Financial Markets."

As the world celebrates the 450th birthday of English literature's leading man this week, we took a look at his top financial recommendations.

1. Read the terms of any deal carefully, especially loans

"Go with me to a notary, seal me there
Your single bond; and, in a merry sport,
If you repay me not on such a day,
In such a place, such sum or sums as are
Express'd in the condition, let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me." -- Shylock in The Merchant of Venice Act I, Scene 3

There are many famous Shakespearean scenes, but Shylock demanding his pound of flesh from Antonio in a courtroom is up there on the all time greats. These lines come earlier in the play when the deal is struck. Much like a subprime mortgage, the terms look good upfront: Shylock isn't charging any interest. He just wants to be repaid.

But there's a big catch. Shylock sells it as "merry sport" as if it's just a joke, but he says he will take a pound of flesh if the money isn't repaid on time. It's a reminder to read all the terms of any deal.

2. Patience often pays off

"How poor are they that have not patience!
What wound did ever heal but by degrees?" -- Iago in Othello in Act 2, Scene 3

Sure, Iago is sort of like a stereotypical used car salesman ... or even a gangster. He spends most of the play trying to rip off his boss, Othello, and his "friend" Rodrigo. But his advice to Rodrigo to be patient would ring true to Warren Buffett and many other long-term value investors.

3. Don't spend money you don't have

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry." -- Polonius in Hamlet Act I, Scene 3

Hamlet is more often thought of as a psychological tome than an economic one, but Polonius' advice to his son Laertes to stay out of the loan business is a telling reminder that debt can make it harder to sleep at night.

 4. Don't put your money under the mattress

"Foul-cankering rust the hidden treasure frets,
But gold that's put to use more gold begets." -- Venus and Adonis, a poem

Shakespeare's take on two famous lovers (or better said, a lusty goddess and a not-so-sure mortal), Venus and Adonis, has several references to gold. This line comes at the end of one of Venus' speeches where she tries to seduce Adonis. The love goddess reminds us that it's hard to gain unless you actually invest. Putting money (or gold) under the mattress or burying it in the backyard doesn't do much.

 5. You can't take your riches with you

"If thou art rich, thou'rt poor;
For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,
Thou bear's thy heavy riches but a journey,
And death unloads thee." -- Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure Act 3, Scene 1

Being a billionaire is great, but, as Duke Vincentio warns so eloquently when he goes to visit Claudio in prison, it's not much use after you die. Shakespeare makes these warnings about money only going so far in a number of his plays.

Bonus: Mergers are great wealth creators...sometimes

"I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;
If wealthily, then happily in Padua." -- Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew Act 1, Scene 2

In Shakespeare's day, people often married for money or political alliances. Petruchio certainly wanted to secure a rich bride. While that custom isn't as in vogue these days, plenty of companies agree to merge with hopes of increasing their fortunes.

Of course, it's debatable how well life turned out for the wealthy shrew who marries Petruchio, and many a company has ended up playing out a Shakespearean tragedy after a merger or acquisition.

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Heather Long
Heather Long
Markets & Investing Editor, CNNMoney

Heather Long is markets and investing editor for CNNMoney. She was formerly an assistant editor at The Guardian and an editor at The Patriot-News, which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting. She started her career at the investment consulting firm Cambridge Associates and is a Rhodes Scholar. Follow her on Twitter @byHeatherLong

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