What can we learn about Business English from Shakespeare? A LOT!!

What can we learn about Business English from Shakespeare? A LOT!!

Shakespeare was born on April 23rd, 1564 and reportedly died on April 23rd 1616 as well.  He is from England and was a playwright and poet. He is often affectionally referred to as ‘The Bard’.  Shakespeare is one of the most influential contributors to the English language. How many words do you think Shakespeare as contributed to English? He contributed approximately 400 words to the English language, however, he is attributed around 1700 words because his publications were the most referenced and often first place many of these 1700 were seen by the general public. Many of the words that he contributed were made by adding prefixes, suffixes, and modification of nouns into verbs and adjectives and verbs into nouns and adjectives. While Shakespeare undoubtedly ‘made-up’ many of his own words, you should explain to students that because his plays are the first place that many people ever saw the words, this is why he is attributed with creating so many of them. The business words you will look at with students were not necessarily created by him, but they were first widely used in his plays and in some instances, he created them.

The following words and quotes can be obviously linked to modern business language. For a full copy of the teacher and student lesson plans please leave a comment below with your email.

Part 1: Examine these important Business words, their modern use, and the original context that they appeared.

Word Modern Use Play Quotation



Businesses may be looking for more leaders these days, but they still rely on managers to get things done. Who would have thought this bread-and-butter word we use?–?mostly unconsciously?–?dozens of a times a week, came from Shakespeare?


A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1600): Used to describe one who manages amusement and comedy. Come now; what masques, what dances shall we have,
To wear away this long age of three hours
Between our after-supper and bed-time?
Where is our usual manager of mirth?
What revels are in hand? Is there no play,
To ease the anguish of a torturing hour?


Whether you’re a one-person stay-at-home freelancer, or a sprawling multinational with hundreds of thousands of employees, everything we do in business is about making our product or service as marketable as it can be. As you like it (1623): Used to describe the state of being more attractive to the public because of having fresh news. Celia. By my troth, thou sayest true; for since the little wit that
fools have was silenced, the little foolery that wise men have
makes a great show. Here comes Monsieur LeBeau.Enter LE BEAURosalind. With his mouth full of news.
Celia. Which he will put on us as pigeons feed their young.
Rosalind. Then shall we be news-cramm’d.
Celia. All the better; we shall be the more marketable.


In business, we negotiate everything: Prices, delivery times, sales targets, compensation, severance packages. Much Ado About Nothing (1623): Used to describe what you should do to avoid falling for someone just for their good looks:


Friendship is constant in all other things
Save in the office and affairs of love:
Therefore, all hearts in love use their own tongues;
Let every eye negotiate for itself
And trust no agent; for beauty is a witch
Against whose charms faith melteth into blood.


Business is about creating?–?and destroying?–?jobs. It’s about employment of people, whether they work full-time or part-time, whether they’re outsourced or in-sourced.


Two Gentlemen of Verona (1623): Used to make a pitch for a bunch of men who are trying to make up for past wrongs and find a decent job These banish’d men that I have kept withal
Are men endued with worthy qualities:
Forgive them what they have committed here
And let them be recall’d from their exile:
They are reformed, civil, full of good
And fit for great employment, worthy lord.


How could businesses get off the ground?–or grow–?without investments? Shakespeare probably wasn’t thinking of Silicon Valley or unicorns when he used the word, but “investments” does make an appearance in two of his plays, Henry IV and Hamlet. Hamlet (1602):

Used to refer to clothing

In few, Ophelia,
Do not believe his vows; for they are brokers,
Not of that dye which their investments show,
But mere implorators of unholy suits,
Breathing like sanctified and pious bawds,
The better to beguile.


Companies that receive an offer from a potential acquirer like to argue they are being undervalued. Employees often complain how their talents and skills are undervalued by their company. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare uses the word to describe a woman’s beauty:


The Merchant of Venice (1600):  used to describe a woman’s beauty: In Belmont is a lady richly left;
And she is fair, and, fairer than that word,
Of wondrous virtues: sometimes from her eyes
I did receive fair speechless messages:
Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued


 Part 2

  • Go through the quotations with your instructor and try to figure out what you think they mean.

  • Write a modern translation of the phrase.

  • Decide which of the following areas the business quotation is linked to:

Decision Making, Leadership, SWOT Analysis, Work Ethics, Time Management, Interpersonal skills, Being Concise, Corporate Well-Being, Bigger Picture Thinking

  1. Brevity is the soul of wit (Hamlet) – Time management, being concise
    Indeed it is. Whether we’re in a meeting, writing an email or giving a presentation, being brief is essential. Your colleagues, readers and audience will thank you for your conciseness.
  2. “Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush, stumble and fall.” (Romeo and Juliet) – Leadership, decision making, reflection
    In this age of 24 hour news and breakneck pace, it is a real challenge to find and, more importantly, to take the time to quietly reflect on what we’re doing in our business and why. Sometimes we’re so busy rushing around that we can make some bad decisions. It is important to slow down and consider all the options.3.“Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.” (Troilus and Cressida) – well-being
    We all love to get things or projects done and ticked off our to-do list in the shortest possible time. However, in our haste to get everything done we forget to enjoy the actual experience of doing the task or project.
    In business, you often hear about entrepreneurs who build one business after another and never seem to stop. When asked why they don’t stop, their response is that they get the most pleasure when working and striving to achieve something.
  3. “Strong reasons make strong actions.”(King John) – Decision Making, leadership
    In business, it’s important to ensure that our decisions and actions are based on solid foundations, carefully thought out ideas and backed by solid facts.  What do you think? Do you agree?
  4. “We know what we are but know not what we may be.” (Hamlet) SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)
    Introspection is an important quality in business. It allows us to look at our strengths and weaknesses and to look at ways we can continue to improve and grow ourselves and our businesses. Hard work and perseverance will allow us to achieve so much more.
  5. “How far that little candle throws his beams!” (The Merchant of Venice) Bigger Picture thinking, leadership
    There are times when we are so tied down by the day- to -day details of running a business or doing our jobs that we often forget just how much we have achieved. People often talk about looking at the big picture and this quote says just that. Sometimes we need to step back and look at all that we have achieved.

7.“How poor are they that have not patience? What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” (Othello) Leadership
Such wise words. We’ve all been there. Rushing around, working towards deadlines, chasing the next deal and never once               stopping to listen to our colleagues or peers. You never know – they might have a great idea or they might have a solution to           a problem that has been bothering you. Patience is a virtue in business as well as in our personal lives. We would do well to             practice some.

  1. “It is not in the Stars to hold our Destiny but in ourselves” (Julius Caesar) – Leadership, Work Ethics
    This can be applied both in our personal and professional lives. You often hear about people who envy entrepreneurs who seem to have achieved success so easily. And yet, when you read their stories you find many failures along the road to success. And never once did they leave their destiny to chance but took it in their hands and steered it and owned it.


  1. “And oftentimes excusing of a fault doth make the fault the worse by the excuse.”  (King John) Leadership, Management
    Don’t make excuses. They are weak. Take responsibility for your mistakes and make them right. It’s so important especially if you’re looking to establish a reputation and credibility with your business relationships.


  1. “It is a tale…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Macbeth) Management, Interpersonal skills
    There’s always someone you work with who will have this great idea and insist that it should be acted upon, but who cannot seem to back it up with real substance. Or the person who makes lots of promises but doesn’t deliver on any of them.









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