The unromantic truth behind creative genius

What do Shakespeare and Jay-Z have in common beyond their artistic talent?

They both became filthy rich:

Shakespeare didn’t only write plays, he owned the theatre.

Jay-Z was president of Def James. Then he bought tidal.

Wealth is freedom to create. When you’re an artist, that’s the only competitive edge that matters.

And they both really understood this because they took real risk to create wealth: in 1594, Shakespeare bought a share in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a theatre company. The company held exclusive right to perform his plays.

This was an unprecedented step for an Elizabethan author. His investment meant he was free to really work with his favourite actors with total artistic control — a prerequisite to the the deep and distinctive characterisation he pioneered.

Conventional playwrights at the time had to accept their work could be re-written and adapted by others, including Shakespeare who had to supplement his writing with some acting.

Without the total artistic control financial freedom afforded him — which was just as rare then as it is in Hollywood today — he might not have moved beyond convention to develop something which no other previous dramatist had explored.

The lesson here then should be:

Great work requires great privilege, either in our circumstance alone or from our opportunity to create it.

The research here originates from Shakespeare in Company, a book which traces the evolution of the playwright’s innovation.

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