Shakespeare on training the next generation
In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Hamlet’s father, the king of Denmark, was murdered by his brother Claudius, who then married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude.
The ghost of the late king orders his son to avenge his death, likening Hamlet to a rotten weed if he were not to do so:
“I find thee apt / And duller shoudst thou be than the fat weed / That rots itself in ease on Lethe wharf / Wouldst thou not stir in this.”
Though revenge is part of the royal family business, Lloyd Steier of the University of Alberta’s (U of A) Family Business Institute likens this to the often impossible demands that parents place on their children in family businesses.
Hamlet eventually kills the usurper, but many of his loved ones, and he himself, die as well.
“That’s a tall order for a parent to lay on a kid,” Steier is quoted as saying in the U of A website.
“Parents can put all kinds of pressure on kids to, for instance, take over the family business. But maybe their kids don’t want to take over the family business, but they do so because they feel this stewardship legacy and obligation. They are good kids but not necessarily equipped to fill the roles they are expected to play.
“In the case of Hamlet, you have a protagonist who procrastinates, and the girl he loves ends up dead, he ends up dead and many others who end up dead as well. All because a good son could not assume the role he was asked to play.”
Prepare successors well
On St. Crispin’s Day, Oct. 25, 1415, King Henry V leads his vastly outnumbered English troops to battle against France. Though the French are heavily favored to slaughter the English, the latter wins a decisive victory, despite the lack of a homecourt advantage, as the battle commences in Azincourt in northern France.
On the eve of battle, one of England’s greatest kings upholds honor and valor above all. In the play “Henry V,” the eponymous character says:
“By Jove, I am not covetous for gold / Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost / It yearns me not if men my garments wear / Such outward things dwell not in my desires / But if it be a sin to covet honor / I am the most offending soul alive.”
Henry V inspires his men with the following lines: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers / For he to-day that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile / This day shall gentle his condition / And gentlemen in England now a-bed / Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here / And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks / That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
Henry V leads his men to combat, unlike his French counterpart King Charles VI. The surprising English victory boosts national morale, leading to English dominion over the continent.
However, when Henry V dies, his son, Henry VI, has not been trained to succeed him. A timid soul who prefers leisurely pursuits to leadership, Henry VI can’t contain the various factions in the court, including his wife. The country plunges into civil war, and Henry VI dies an ignominious death, leaving the throne to another dynasty.
If the next generation is ill-trained, then they cannot lead the family business. Sometimes, because they have been coddled too much or have not been exposed to the realities of enterprise, successors fail to develop the requisite traits and skills to sustain, much less grow, the empire.
In “Henry VI”, the son is a far cry from his father, and he knows it.
Poignantly, he cries: “Was ever king that joyed an earthly throne / And could command no more content than I? / No sooner was I crept out of my cradle / But I was made a king at nine months old / Was never subject longed to be a king / As I do long and wish to be a subject.”
Successors should be chosen based on merit, not simply by virtue of birth.
(Next week: Shakespeare on sibling rivalry)
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