Tomorrow marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Legend has it that he shuffled off this mortal coil thanks in part to a massive drinking session with fellow playwright Ben Jonson. But aside from serving as a cautionary tale against the dangers of binge drinking, the Bard has so much more to impart to the people of today, even though separated by four centuries!
If there is another author, playwright or poet with a more acute understanding and fascinating presentation of the human condition, I’ve yet to encounter their work. His words can teach us so much and inspire us in many different pursuits. I’m no scholar or expert, but the personal enjoyment and edification I’ve taken from reading Shakespeare is enormous.
To mark the anniversary, I pulled a few quotes below to illuminate SHIFT’s seven values, obviously attributes that we think are critically important for all marketing and PR professionals to develop. Hopefully these quotes will provide some inspiration for readers of this blog in their day-to-day work and, I hope, as an encouragement to explore Shakespeare more! Hoping to see some comments with other quotes that better fit these values.
- Positive (from Richard III)
Richmond: In God’s name, march.
True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings.
Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings.
We are subject to a profession that suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune regularly, so in all probability, there will come a time for all of us where the temptation is to be defeatist. Richmond, with his sites firmly on defeating the tyrannical King Richard, eloquently captures the power of thinking positively about the future and how it can help us move forward quickly and better ourselves in the process.
- Ballsy (from Julius Caesar)
Caesar: Cowards die many times before their deaths.
The valiant never taste of death but once.
So says Caesar in resisting his wife’s overtures not to go to the Capitol for fear he’ll come to harm. Of course, given he ends up brutally assassinated shortly after this exchange, you could be forgiven for saying the coward’s road is the better one! But Caesar’s message here is one of huge importance for communications professionals. You have to experiment and take risks to get true enjoyment and success from your work. There is always the looming shadow of catastrophe, but you can’t let it hold you prisoner. Plus, a poorly judged piece of copy in an ad or press release is unlikely to get you stabbed dozens of times by your colleagues… at least hopefully not.
- Honorable (from Troilus and Cressida)
Hector: Mine honour keeps the weather of my fate:
Life every man holds dear; but the brave man;
Holds honour far more precious-dear than life.
Oh dear, another doomed hero making bold pronouncements before meeting an untimely end! Before being slain by Achilles outside the walls of Troy, Hector refuses to back down from the combat. I think the most important piece of this quote is that first line: “Mine honour keeps the weather of my fate”. I guess it’s another way of saying you reap what you sow. PR and marketing pros daily face the temptation of the short cut or being economical with their scruples. We should remember that our fate depends upon the choices we make, even when nobody is looking.
Prologue: O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.
There is something quintessentially English about the opening of Henry V (appropriate for the play) and it’s worth reading the full prologue. It is wildly and hyperbolically aspirational, but then plummets down to earth in self-depreciating humility! In a windowless conference room it’s sometimes difficult to see the game changing campaign or breakthrough idea, in the same way that on Shakespeare’s “unworthy scaffold” of a stage, it’s hard to imagine “the vast fields of France”. We need to respect the power of the imagination to deliver and always push ourselves to do more.
- Dedicated (from Antony & Cleopatra)
Marc Antony: To business that we love, we rise betime and go to’t with delight.
You can fake dedication to a degree, but dedication is so clear in people who love what they do. If you find yourself questioning that, don’t beat yourself up about it. Assess if you’re doing all you can to be positive, creative and ballsy (see above), and if it’s still not working for you, do something else!
Lord Saye: Ignorance is the curse of God,
Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven
To be truly smart in the strategies we put forward as marketers, we need to be hyper well-informed. That’s why SHIFT is obsessive about our data-driven PR approach. The more we strive to know, the more successful we can be in our objectives.
- Connected (from Richard III)
King Richard: A horse, a horse, my Kingdom for a horse
This is kind of an anti-example and deserves some explanation. In this famous scene King Richard finds himself isolated both on the battlefield and politically. His Machiavellian machinations have alienated so much of the country that he fixates on the fact that only a horse can save him from defeat. It’s a poignant reminder that we all need other people to be successful and to consider their interests as well as our own. As one of Richard’s enemy combatants says “He hath no friends but who are friends for fear // Which in his dearest need will fly from him.” The lesson for all PR and marketing pros is to build a strong network and try to be as helpful to peers and colleagues as possible… in case you end up stranded on the battlefield!
For many, Shakespeare seems inaccessible thanks to the antiquated language and the stuffy pretentiousness that sometimes accompanies discussions about his work. But his plays and poetry cover an extraordinary amount of human experiences and emotions. Aside from offering us a vast range of entertainment, they can help us grow as people and professionals.