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What’s the Real Story Behind Euro Zone Crisis?

Jens Weidmann, the head of the Bundesbank, may be regretting showing off his knowledge of Goethe, the playwright who’s probably the closest Germany comes to Shakespeare. His remarks about Goethe’s version of Faust on Tuesday have been used to argue that he compared the European Central Bank (ECB)’s bond-buying program to a Faustian bargain.

The devil’s servant Mephistopheles’ persuasion of an emperor to print new money might be uncomfortably reminiscent of “the core problem of today’s paper money-based monetary policy” to more than Weidmann.

Yet this is far from the only literary parallel which can be drawn with the current crisis.

The phrase “Greek tragedy” has, of course, been bandied around so frequently that at one point it looked as though headline writers had entered their own Faustian pact to use it as often as possible. But in the pantheon of Greek drama, the story of Oedipus probably has most parallels to the country’s current situation. Not because there have been Freudian goings-on in the few families which dominate the top of Greek politics, of course.

Yet the play’s theme of blindness in the ruling class and its refusal to see what is really wrong with the country – symbolized when Oedipus blinds himself after the awkward realization that he has killed his father and married his mother - is uncomfortably close to Greece’s recent history. (Read More: Greece's Economic Crisis)

Charles Dickens famously based much of his work on the streets around the City of London. Some of those who live and work there today could draw parallels with the aftermath of the collapse of a financial scheme in Little Dorrit, where investors are compared to “drowning men clinging to unseaworthy spars.”

And Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s dithering over whether or not to accept a full bailout might remind Shakespearean students of Hamlet’s to be or not to be-ing. (Read More: Pressure on Spain Grows)

Indeed, if you’ve followed the torturous ins and outs of the euro zone crisis for the past couple of years, another German story might seem like the most apposite parallel. Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where a vain emperor is persuaded that his birthday suit is in fact a wonderful new set of robes and based on an old German story, may seem closest to the truth.

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