Shakespeare's tips for corporate climbers

William Shakespeare has been experiencing an extended boom at the box office, from "Shakespeare in Love" winning the Academy Award for Best Picture to the recent release of "10 Things I Hate About You" -a teenage retelling of "The Taming of the Shrew."

But movie producers aren't the only ones showing renewed interest in the Bard. If you're a junior executive determined to clamber to the top branch of the corporate tree, forget about learning to make profit forecasts or the best way to interpret pie-charts. Study Shakespeare instead.

At least, that's the theory of Cranfield University School of Management in Bedfordshire, England.

The school will soon hold a series of two-day courses at the Globe Theatre, London, at which classics such as "Henry V," "Julius Caesar," and "Macbeth" will be used to teach the best ways of moving your company ahead, and moving ahead in your company.

The courses were devised by Richard Olivier, theater-director son of the acclaimed Shakespearean actor Lord Laurence Olivier.

MR. OLIVIER says the Bard is "largely about power and responsibility, and anyone wanting to know about either could do a lot worse than study his plays. Take Hamlet, for example," he says. "He was a character who couldn't make up his mind. Nor could he adjust to living in a world that kept on changing. Nobody in business today can afford to ignore the lessons of Hamlet's predicament."

Other plays, Olivier insists, can be equally instructive for high-flying executives-in-the-making. A course titled "Stepping Into Leadership With Henry V" is scheduled for late July. "Henry marched into France," Olivier says, "and had to learn how to lead his men, how to win a war, and how to take advantage of victory. These are things business executives must learn, too."

Olivier says Henry's advice: "Trust none, for oaths are straws, men's faiths are wafer-cakes," could usefully be taken by anyone entering an important negotiation.

The Globe Theatre, where the courses will be (literally) staged, opened in 1996. It is a near-replica of the playhouse where many of Shakespeare's most famous works were enacted after 1599.

Nicholas Janni, who is helping Olivier organize the courses, says that as well as learning from what the Bard has to say about getting on in a corporate environment, the executives will be taught basic acting skills, because "role-playing is nowadays an important aspect of business activity."

Just about every Shakespeare play, it seems, has something to offer an aspiring executive.

In June, a course titled "Emotional and Political Intelligence in Leadership With 'Julius Caesar'" will explore the perils of betrayal by associates, known in business parlance as backstabbing. With Mark Antony's famous "Friends, Romans, countrymen" speech, the play also holds a lesson for anyone wanting to know how to turn the tables on ruthless opponents.

Perhaps the sharpest lesson any budding executive can learn by taking one of the Globe's 1,000 ($1,600) courses is contained in "King Lear." In the play, the aging monarch hovers fatally between giving up his throne and refusing to surrender authority - a common enough failing among silver-haired tycoons.

"The Merchant of Venice" has something important to say to any banker tempted to crank up interest rates too high, although Polonius's advice to Laertes in "Hamlet" - "Neither a borrower nor a lender be" - mightn't be of much use to anyone eager to learn the basics of leveraged buyouts.

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