News article

What Shakespeare’s King Lear tells us about the relationship between wealth and emotion

National Shakespeare Day is fast approaching, landing on the Bard’s birthday, 23 April. A universally beloved writer who changed British culture forever, William Shakespeare was born and died on the same day, making this occasion one to celebrate for fans of his literary canon.

One of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, King Lear, first staged in 1606, is a nihilistic tale of horror: Lear, the King of England, knows he is getting old. He decides to split his realm between his three daughters, but on one condition: they must explain to him how much they love him.

Lear’s eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, oblige his request immediately. They shower their father with flattery, to his immense satisfaction. But his youngest and favourite child, Cordelia, refuses to play the game. Although it breaks his heart to do so, Lear exiles her to France – and so begins this story of destruction, madness, and death.

King Lear’s most regrettable mistake illustrates how your heart and your head might be at odds when it comes to money

You might be thinking: what on earth does this have to do with me and my relationship to money? Indeed, the details of your life might be rather different to that of Shakespeare’s 400-year-old King of England.

Nevertheless, Shakespeare’s plays are renowned for their universal themes, and King Lear is no different.

Lear’s estate could have been amicably split between his daughters, but instead, he allowed his vanity to cloud his judgement.

Indeed, it is easy to allow fear, ego, or self-absorption to influence your financial decisions – and this could ultimately allow your wealth to become a source of pain or stress in your life.

For example, if you are considering how your money might be divided when you pass away, your head and your heart could be at odds. You might be wondering who would be best to take on your family business if you have one, or how to evenly distribute assets among your children in a way that meets their needs.

Like Lear, your responsibility is huge, but unlike Lear, you can give your wealth the chance to spur you into positive, healthy, and well-judged decisions.

Indeed, by allowing your emotional relationship with money to positively affect your financial decisions, rather than consume you with dread, you could find yourself feeling more confident. This feeling of positivity could translate into the way you work, too – if a trusted client or colleague is experiencing financial distress, you could encourage them to tap into what matters most in their life, rather than letting fear get the better of them.

Unlike Lear, you could make calm, clear-headed decisions about your money, if you form a positive emotional connection to it

Money can inspire a whole spectrum of emotions in all of us. On one side, there’s the fear of not making enough to do what you want; shame that you’ve made financial mistakes in the past; or even guilt at overspending.

On the other end of that spectrum, there’s the joy at being able to treat those you love to something special; pride that you have built a significant amount of wealth over your life; or the excitement at the prospect of new financial opportunities.

Making good financial decisions isn’t about removing emotion from the equation, but rather allowing those good feelings – joy, pride, excitement – to lead the way.

Ramit Sethi, author of bestselling book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, says in an interview with the Harvard Business Review, “One of the misconceptions about money is that it’s all math. We believe that there is a mathematically correct answer for questions like, ‘Should I buy a house or rent one?’

“Buying a house can mean you don’t have to pay rent. Renting, on the other hand, can help you live in a city you’ve always wanted to live in. Our relationship with money is just as personal and valuable as any other relationship in our life.

“[It’s important to note that] emotions are okay. Use them to understand your values, your fears, your needs, and your wants.

“[In fact], try to be inspired by money. It doesn’t have to be a thing that worries you. It can also motivate you. It can help you create joy and opportunities.”

The mindset Sethi describes could help you to recalibrate your relationship with money, both on a personal note, and on a professional one too.

By taking on this approach, your positive attitude to money can be infectious. Not only will you see your own circumstances in a better light, but you could encourage your friends, family members, and your clients to do the same.

If someone close to you is struggling, you could use Sethi’s advice to soothe their concerns, and help spin their stress into a goal-oriented strategy to tackle their issues head-on.

King Lear’s bitterly sad ending can be a lesson in what not to do when tasked with important financial decisions

In what is perhaps Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy, King Lear slowly goes mad, and dies of grief after his youngest daughter is executed in prison.

Shakespeare took this story to the extreme, but in the case of your own story, dealing with important financial decisions both at work and at home doesn’t have to be stressful.

By reframing your emotional connection to money over time, you can make informed choices that are driven by your desire to meet your goals and live the life you want.

One of the final lines spoken in King Lear is this: “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

This pearl of Bardic wisdom could encourage you to carve your own financial path, rather than following old patterns of negativity when it comes to your money. Furthermore, you could bring these new patterns into your working environment, paving a brighter and more positive financial future for your company, too.

Stay in touch


Sign up to receive our hints, tips & ideas to improve your marketing.
As you’d expect, we’ll never pass your details to anyone else and if you don’t like what we have to say, you can unsubscribe at any time.