Shakespeare has been working overtime in recent months. In addition to his ongoing stints on the stage and in Hollywood, he is being groomed by management for a position high atop the corporate ladder. Taken on as a sort of common sense CEO – not to head a company, but to head the idea of how to run a company – Shakespeare has been serving as frontman for several new primers on management: J.M Shafritz and Paul Corrigan’s identically-titled but otherwise unrelated Shakespeare on Management, and Norman Augustine and Kenneth Adelman’s Shakespeare in Charge: The Bard’s Guide to Leading and Succeeding on the Business Stage.

Published between August and November 1999, these books mark a new trend: The business of marketing Shakespeare as an expert on business. As the most recent and most successful of these works, Shakespeare in Charge affords an intriguing window into the bard’s new business-like appeal.

As a primer for management, Shakespeare in Charge offers basic but sound advice on how to do business. Indeed, at its most fundamental level, Shakespeare in Charge is a self-help book for those who want to brush up on their leadership skills. Here are some representative do’s and don’ts:

Do: care about your employees. Do: accept challenge. Do: seize opportunity. Don’t: dawdle during a crisis. Don’t: be an absentee leader. Don’t: avoid change. Do: learn to recognize the stock personality types of the business world. Toxic people are as common at work as they are in life, and an ability to tell the Kents from the Nestors and the Cassiuses can help the executive distinguish among loyal, ineffectual, and divisive colleagues.

Valuable though these points may be, one hardly needs Shakespeare – or an MBA – to arrive at them. Shakespeare’s role in this project is rather to mask the self-help format of the book by enabling the authors to represent a guide for making money as a course of personal enrichment. Although Augustine and Adelman are essentially writing the corporate equivalent of The Rules, it would never do to come right out and say so. Instead of aligning themselves with the Dr. Lauras of the self-help scene, the authors dress up their purpose in respectable theatrical garb, trading on Shakespeare’s universal appeal to lend their own writing an aura of timeless authority.

Augustine and Adelman are none too subtle about this aim. "Many business executives think they lack the time for Shakespeare, or the training to understand his archaic language," they write. However, those who do read Shakespeare find that he offers "deft and gripping explorations of the world of power which remain as relevant today as they were in the sixteenth century." Enlisting Shakespeare’s plays as expert studies in human nature enables the authors to disguise a conduct manual as a guide to high culture.

Deft and gripping Shakespeare may be, but he is also difficult. Augustine and Adelman acknowledge that few people – particularly those in the fast-paced business world – actually have time to read Shakespeare. The book is their attempt to package Shakespeare for an audience that has neither time nor inclination to peruse Shakespeare’s work, but wants nonetheless to profit from what he has to say. Structured like a play, the book’s five chapters – called "Acts" – provide quickie plot summaries of five major plays, liberally sprinkled with quotes from the plays themselves. Those summaries in turn yield essential insight into leadership, which the authors dutifully list as "Acting Lessons" at the end of each chapter. The result is a pseudo-Shakespearian seminar on management in five acts.

In act one, Henry V demonstrates the art of leadership; in act two, The Taming of the Shrew’s Petruchio shows how to create and manage change in people and institutions; in act three, Julius Caesar supplies a how-to manual for setting and achieving goals, recruiting, communicating, and encouraging teamwork. In act four, The Merchant of Venice profiles the art of corporate risk-taking in the figure of Portia, while in act five, Hamlet supplies a case study in crisis management.

As this synopsis can’t help but suggest, the authors’ efforts to yoke Shakespeare and management are consistently strained – sometimes to the point of absurdity, as when kings such as Lear and Antony are called CEOs, or when CEOs such as Michael Dell are described as living embodiments of Shakespearean characters (Dell is said to be a latter-day Valentine straight out of The Two Gentlemen of Verona). Indeed, so poor is the analogy upon which the book is based that we would do well to ask why it is present at all. What is the point of bringing Shakespeare into the boardroom?

One answer lies in the book’s own business connections. Coming fast on the heels of the award-winning "Shakespeare in Love" (1998), Shakespeare in Charge may be read as the businessman’s analogue to the film: where the idea of the bard "in love" sells Shakespeare to a movie-going public with an insatiable interest in the lifestyles and love lives of the rich and famous, the idea of the bard "in charge" sells Shakespeare to a corporate sector whose relentless drive toward financial success has become synonymous with an embarrassing lack of "culture."

The benefits of such an approach are legion. Not only does the invocation of Shakespeare give the book’s recipe-for-success format a certain dignified cachet, it also casts the work of management as high drama, as an art form in its own right. After all, if we accept the premise that Shakespeare was the original CEO (however poorly that premise is defended), it follows naturally that today’s CEO is descended more or less directly from Shakespeare. Dressing up the modern executive as a renaissance man in this way not only imbues him with wide cultural significance, but configures his employees as players on a "business stage" which is itself the modern equivalent of the Elizabethan theater.

And so we have it: under the guise of finding the CEO in Shakespeare, Shakespeare in Charge is really in the business of finding the bard in the businessman. The book doesn’t offer much insight into either Shakespeare’s art or the art of leadership. But it is nonetheless a masterful merger, one whose net worth lies in its ability to make management seem more meaningful.