Shakespeare's Portfolio Discovered
By David Gardner and Tom Gardner

The following story is part of our 2000 April Fools' joke. For an explanation of why we did the joke, click here.

If you haven't been following the news this past week, you probably haven't heard about the remarkable story that's been developing in England. As a site built loosely around the writings and teachings of William Shakespeare, we're extremely excited today.

To summarize the story briefly, recent discoveries have suggested that Shakespeare, perhaps the greatest writer in history, was also a superior investor.

According to newly found documents, it appears that Shakespeare owned a stock portfolio. His original portfolio looks to consist of around 50 holdings, each of which was a commercial enterprise that operated during the late-16th century.
Trade Slip
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The original stock certificates were discovered on Tuesday, March 14 when a team of historians and scholars concluded a lengthy investigation into Shakespeare's social, psychological, economic, and genetic past by disinterring the late poet's body from the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The news was revealed yesterday at a press conference from Oxford University.

The investigators had been following clues discovered in the Shakespeare Collection of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. What makes us especially proud is that this entire investigation, and the unearthing of Shakespeare's bones, was initiated largely because of the efforts of one graduate student working full-time as an intern at The Motley Fool UK.

In addition to writing her graduate thesis on the financial themes of Shakespeare's plays, the intern was also helping us find quotes for our latest book. During this research, she stumbled upon what appeared to be Shakespeare's receipt for the purchase of a company called "Horse." She showed this receipt to Dr. Ian Garrick Burbage, holder of the Olivier Chair of Shakespearean Studies at Oxford. It was Dr. Burbage who launched the investigation.

As the search progressed, historians found more evidence suggesting that Shakespeare had, in fact, invested. When Shakespeare's coffin was finally unearthed, the team found Shakespeare's stock portfolio, along with 52 stock certificates. The account was labeled "My First Folio."

Obviously, most of the stock certificates were completely worthless. But not all of them. And this is what makes the story so relevant to us Fools. It turns out that nine of Shakespeare's holdings are still valuable. In fact, they are extraordinarily valuable.

These nine firms evolved into other companies, or were acquired by or merged with other companies. In fact, you can trace the evolution of these holdings all the way to modern-day companies -- behemoths like Ford Motor Company and R.J. Reynolds, to name a couple. And this past week, the stock certificates were verified by the London Stock Exchange and deemed to be "financially good."

Financially good? A bit of an understatement, we think. Financially earth-shattering is more like it. Early estimates reported in the London Telegrapher value Shakespeare's holdings at around $18.7 billion! Evidence suggests that Shakespeare probably invested the equivalent of 60 cents in U.S. dollars in 1585 and generated 6% annual returns on the full account through to today.

It is bewildering to think that the most famous playwright in history -- a man who supposedly perished young and penceless -- has apparently generated enormous riches due to the simplest of concepts: compounding. Even though most of his holdings went bankrupt, the long-term gains of his winners far outweighed the costs of his losers. And that, Fools, is buy-and-hold to the 400th power.

And how ironically and deliciously fitting for us, too! We've always borrowed heavily from Shakespeare in everything from our portfolio recaps to the very name of our company. However, we had previously used Shakespeare solely for the beauty of his written words and his keen insight into human nature. To now learn that Shakespeare actually invested makes our frequent citing of the Bard all the more appropriate.

So, you may ask, "Who gets all this money?" It's a man named Chester Rozalowski. He's a farmer from Buenos Aires, Argentina, who 27 years ago was determined by a Parliamentary task force to be the most direct descendant of the late playwright. In a gesture of extreme gratitude, Mr. Rozalowski has now directed a sum of $500 million to The Motley Fool Inc. to reward our efforts in helping launch the investigation. Needless to say, we are ecstatic.

But what should we do with this money? Well, we eventually decided to spend the cash in many different ways: upgrading our site, improving working conditions at Fool HQ, etc. But there's one that deserves special mentioning.

We're going to share the wealth with you, our customers.

At the end of next week, one lucky Fool will be awarded a month's supply of beef. That's right, completely free, courtesy of The Motley Fool. No need to thank us. Your loyalty and continued patronage is thanks enough. To win, all you have to do is enter our Shakespearean contest. The winner will be the person who writes the most clever poem/sonnet about Shakespeare and investing.

But before you pull out your pen, there's a lot more to the Shakespeare story, and we hope you'll keep your eyeballs here for a while to learn more. In fact, the following articles may serve as inspiration for both the poet and the investor in you.

  1. Learn more about Shakespeare's holdings and see how they were traced to modern-day companies.

  2. Listen to the official press conference from Oxford University.

  3. Read excerpts of our intern's thesis on the financial references in Shakespeare's works.

  4. Take a peek at an unpublished first draft of Macbeth that has glaring financial overtones.

  5. Find out more about Chester, the $18 billion heir.

  6. Read TMF Edible's skeptical commentary on the naming of Chester as the heir.

  7. See how we spent the $500 million.
Finally, while this is all very exciting for us, it does make us wonder if we haven't set a very dangerous precedent. Just as DNA evidence is telling us more and more about our ancestors, are we going to see the same types of investigations in the financial world? Will the offspring of Magellan come forth and try to claim untold wealth? Will companies' stock be diluted by other instances of "found money"? If you have any thoughts on this topic, please post them to our message board or feel free to e-mail us.

As Shakespeare proved...

"A crafty knave does need no broker"
-Henry VI, Part Two, Act I, Scene 2

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    Shakespeare's Portfolio Discovered
  • Introduction
  • About the Portfolio
  • Graphical Timeline of the Portfolio
  • Press Conference
  • Thesis Excerpt
  • Unpublished Scene
  • About Chester Rozalowski
  • Fool Commentary
  • How We Spent the $500 Million
  • Contest
  • Shakespeare Message Board
  • E-mail us!