Shakespeare and Olin? How better to integrate business and the arts

Henry Schvey, professor of drama and comparative literature in Arts & Sciences


Shakespeare and business. Yoking together these two words seems almost surreal. Yet on April 15, Washington University’s Olin Business School  — under the aegis of its dean, Mark P. Taylor — did something which would be unimaginable anywhere else in the United States.

For the second year in succession, Olin celebrated William Shakespeare’s birthday with a day of theater, magic, juggling, song and Renaissance music — complemented by oversized turkey legs which might even satisfy the appetite of Henry VIII. It was billed as an afternoon of “Shakespearean Scenes & Bardic Ballads, Festive Fare & Madcap Mirth.” Judging by the numbers and the laughter of the enthusiastic children in attendance, the event was an unqualified success.

Dean’s Players, from left: Hannah Marias, BSBA ’18; Katie Neill, BSBA ’21; Trip Smith, MBA ’19; Daniel Bentle, MBA ’13 and director, Center for Experiential Learning; Kathryn Roman, PMBA; Mark Kelley, graduate program records assistant; Dean Mark Taylor; Sam Roth, MBA ’19; Ryan Kirk, MBA ’18; Joseph Pulikkottil, MBA ’19; and Cole West, BSBA ’18.

The centerpiece of the afternoon was a staging of the famous opening scene from Shakespeare’s great tragedy,  King Lear by the Dean’s Players, starring Dean Taylor himself as Lear, the aged king who wants to abdicate his royal responsibilities, conferring his kingdom “on younger strengths,” even as he attempts to maintain control over the realm he has partitioned and given away to his ungrateful daughters, Goneril and Regan.

Although the scene ended with Lear’s dramatic banishment of his faithful servant Kent (played by Daniel Bentle, director of the Center for Experiential Learning), its most poignant moment was the aging monarch’s rejection of his faithful daughter Cordelia (played by Hannah Marias, an Olin senior) who found herself unable to proffer the false love so eagerly dispensed by her conniving sisters (played by Katie Neill, an Olin freshman, and Kathryn Roman, a PMBA student), who merely seek to flatter their father’s enormous ego. The scene was directed by Mark Kelley (Graduate Programs Records assistant), who also took on the role of the Duke of Albany.

Dean Mark Taylor and the Dean’s Players perform a scene from “King Lear.” (Photos: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

The spectacular celebration was accompanied by the exquisite musicianship of a trio from Washington University’s Department of Music in Arts & Sciences; the song “Welcome to the Renaissance” from “Something Rotten” and performed by the university’s a capella group The Ghost Lights, and a fast-paced, 50-minute staging of “Romeo and Juliet” by the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis (adapted and directed by Joanna Battles). The entire event was free and open to the public, and was very well-attended.

We are living in an age when business and the arts (both within academia and in American society) seem to have resolved to take separate, even diametrically opposed paths. For this reason, it was remarkable to see Dean Taylor’s initiative to integrate the two on Washington University’s campus. Midway through the Shakespeare at Olin festivities, Dean Taylor took time to announce Olin Business School’s inauguration of a new minor in the Business of the Arts, courtesy of a $1 million gift from Richard Ritholz, a 1984 graduate of the school (bachelor’s), and Linda.

Thus, this seemingly odd coupling of disciplines will last well beyond this one-day festival and become integrated into the university’s curriculum. With this in mind, it is relevant to recall that William Shakespeare himself was not only the greatest playwright in our language but a savvy entrepreneur who eventually became a wealthy shareholder at the Globe Theatre! Thanks to Dean Taylor, Oxford-educated with both an MBA and PhD degrees (and a master’s degree in English literature), Washington University has made a case for bridging the seemingly insurmountable gulf between business and the arts.

Shake-ing up Olin Business School, indeed!

Students, alumni, donors and onlookers gather in the Frick Forum for the second annual Shakespeare at Olin celebration April 15. Performances included Act 1 Scene 1 from “King Lear,” performed by The Dean’s Players; “Welcome to the Renaissance” from Something Rotten, performed by The Ghost Lights; and “Romeo and Juliet,” performed by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis.


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