Study Guide

The Prince

by Niccolo Machiavelli

The Prince Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Overview

Almost as soon as it was published in 1532, The Prince was derided as a controversial, heretical work. Sidney Angelo collected a handful of these early reviews that he found during his research:

Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries we find Machiavelli depicted as the very hand of the devil; as an "imp" of Satan, as "hell-bourne", as a "damnable fiend" of the underworld, as the "great monster-master of hell." John Donne once went so far as to describe a vision of the netherworld in which Machiavelli, attempting to gain a place in Lucifer's innermost sanctum, was out-argued by Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. And it was even possible for Samuel Butler to suggest, facetiously, that "Old Nick" himself took his name from "Nick Machiavelli."

The Prince was placed on the Papal Index of Prohibited Books in 1559, but historians disagree as to whether this was for religious or political reasons.

More telling is the scathing reaction to Machiavelli by English minister Richard Harvey in his treatise A Theological Discourse of the Lamb of God and His Enemies (1590). After discussing how much Machiavelli's anti-Christian philosophy sickened him, comparing him to a spider who has gathered his venom from "old philosophers and heathen authors," Harvey warns to his readers:

Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man soweth that he shall also reap for he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption, but he that soweth to the spirit, shall...

(The entire section is 649 words.)