Business

The Bard's business: Shakespeare's economic legacy

William Shakespeare Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Shakespeare wasn't just good with words, he was also clever with his finances

William Shakespeare may be widely regarded as finest playwright in the English language, but when he put his quill down he was also a savvy businessman.

In Elizabethan London, the original Globe Theatre could accommodate 3,000 people. Commoners or "groundlings" paid a penny to stand in the open air, while the gentry parted with as many as six pennies to sit on cushions in the covered galleries.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Globe burned down in 1613, Shakespeare's share in the playhouse made him a tidy fortune.

He also part-owned another London theatre and a production company. And back in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, he invested widely in land and property, and reportedly bought and sold grain.

By the time Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616 - 400 years ago on Saturday - he was a very wealthy man. In today's money he would have comfortably been a millionaire.

Muse of fire

Image caption Warwick Business School's Create unit uses Shakespeare's plays to teach management and leadership

Fast-forward four centuries, and Shakespeare would likely be rather pleased that his work and legacy continues to support a large and lucrative industry, which is far from being limited to the sale of theatre tickets and employment of actors.

Instead, Shakespeare supports a substantially wider business community - from hotels and restaurants in Stratford, to walking tours in London, bars near a balcony in the Italian city of Verona, sales of books and memorabilia, and even leadership classes for businessmen and women.

It is definitely not much ado about nothing.

Measure for measure

Piers Ibbotson says there are so many lessons from Shakespeare about the perils and pitfalls of power that it has provided him with an inexhaustible fund of material for his management and leadership workshops over the past two decades.

"The plays of Shakespeare are case studies for central human dilemmas," says the 61-year-old, who is part of Warwick Business School's Create unit.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Globe Theatre was a popular draw for Elizabethan Londoners

"The plays are so rich, and so complex, that there are actual situations to examine. Acting things out is very powerful, people can physically get inside situations."

Create uses Shakespeare's plays to guide students, and business clients, through numerous difficult business situations.

Macbeth, for example, is viewed as a study into the limits of ambition, while The Tempest is seen as a metaphor for a perfect storm of workplace rivalry.

Meanwhile, A Midsummer Night's Dream is used to explore business transformation, and the Merchant of Venice teaches contract enforcement.

Mr Ibbotson says: "Shakespeare is such a wonderful asset and of course you're always using such powerful language - it allows people to articulate much more subtle and complex ideas than thin business language."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Stratford-upon-Avon attracts Shakespeare fans from around the world

Richard Olivier, 54, is another person who uses Shakespeare's plays to teach good leadership and business practice.

The son of Sir Laurence Olivier, the UK's most famous 20th Century Shakespearian actor, Mr Olivier says: "Shakespeare is an amazing ethical teacher.

"Apart from the history plays, there is no play where the bad guy ends up in charge at the end."

Clients of Mr Olivier's company Olivier Mythodrama have included NHS management, the Metropolitan Police and Daimler-Benz. His charges range from £5,000 for a half-day session to as much as £40,000 for a six-day intensive course.

Mr Olivier adds: "There's huge drama in leadership, and Shakespeare was probably the first playwright to portray the human drama of leadership in three-dimensional form."

Midsummer night's dream?

The area known as Shakespeare's England (which takes in the towns of Stratford, Royal Leamington Spa, Kenilworth and Warwick) received 9.94 million tourists in 2014, according to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the charity that cares for Shakespeare heritage sites.

It adds that the total value of tourism to the local economy is in the region of £635m, which supports some 11,150 jobs.

Image copyright Robert D Tysall
Image caption Rick Allen's cafe is full of overseas tourists in the summer months
Image caption The Hathaway Tea Rooms are in the heart of Stratford

Alisan Cole, from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, says: "2014, the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, was our record year with 820,000 visitors, and we're expecting 2016 to be on a par with it, if not exceed it."

In terms of attracting hungry and thirsty tourists, Hathaway Cafe is perfectly positioned in the centre of Stratford, and is just a short walk from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.


Discover more about Shakespeare


Manager and owner Rick Allen, 51, says that during the summer the warren-like Tudor-era teashop is packed with Asian customers, typically from China and Taiwan, playing £13 a head for afternoon tea (or £18 with a glass of prosecco).

"Off-peak we get around 1,000 customers per week, but it's well over 2,000 per week during the peak season of July and August," he says.

Mr Allen adds that Birmingham Airport's new runway extension, which caters for the growing number of flights from East Asia, has been a fillip for the business.

"We're literally getting calls from people saying 'we've got a booking for 24 and we're on our way'. In August it's mayhem - good fun, but mayhem."

All's well that ends well

Down in London former actor Declan McHugh, 55, has been taking people on Shakespeare-themed guided walks since 1999.

He says his business - Shakespeare in the City Walk - has grown thanks to positive word of mouth, and good reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor.

Mr McHugh adds that London is a rich seam for Shakespeare fans since the playwright spent most of his working life moving through the then murky and bohemian world of the Elizabethan city's playhouses.

Image caption Declan McHugh's tour takes in sites including The Seven Ages of Man sculpture inspired by Shakespeare's As You Like It

Charging £10 per adult, he says the Shakespeare anniversary year is shaping up as a record one for his business.

"I've been doing this for 17 years and I'm starting to reap the rewards," he says.

Image copyright Oli Scarff
Image caption Shakespeare's legacy looks like continuing for many more centuries

While he says it's hard to give exact numbers, he normally gets between five and 10 people meeting him outside Blackfriars underground station every Friday at 11am. But that's just for the public walks.

"Then I also do regular walks privately for colleges and universities from across the globe, plus there's UK institutions and businesses. I have the Girl Guides coming next Monday, for example.

"Private walks usually are for 15-20 people but I have done the tour for 60 people before," he says.

Mr McHugh says his fascination for Shakespeare began at 11 years old, and now he regards the Bard as pretty much "his guardian angel".

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