Other Literary Forms
Had Niccolò Machiavelli not written any of his other works, he would without doubt still be remembered today as one of the most innovative and perceptive playwrights of the sixteenth century, for he contributed much to revitalize the tradition of the Italian commedia erudita, combining classical and Boccaccean sources with contemporary themes and morals. Although Machiavelli’s theatrical production is noteworthy for its satiric and biting treatment of societal attitudes, as well as (especially in his play The Mandrake) for its political overtones, Machiavelli is best known today for his political and historical writings, which mark one of the highest achievements in this sphere of intellectual pursuit. His best-known work, Il principe (wr. 1513; The Prince, 1640), that list of practical advice by means of which a prince, properly trained in the workings of politics, might acquire and maintain a state and muster enough virtú to overcome and keep in check fortuna, has had a profound impact on the development of political thought. Clearly implied in it is Machiavelli’s tenet that politics and morality are independent of each other and that the behavior of people or the course of events is no longer necessarily determined by dogmas or fate; even the consequence of chance may be anticipated and confronted. Moreover, in chapter 26 of The Prince, Machiavelli reaches the highest expression of Italian nationalism and desire for political territorial integrity by exhorting the Italians to seek liberty and to unite against foreign invaders. Searching in ancient history for precedents that might offer solutions to the world in which he lived and explain the nature of humankind, Machiavelli, in his Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio (wr. c. 1513-1517, pb. 1531; Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, 1636), attempted to analyze the proper functioning of a republican state so that the laws of ancient Rome could be successfully reapplied in a modern state in order to achieve national strength and unity. In addition, Machiavelli completed Dell’ arte della guerra (1521; The Art of War, 1560), a dialogue on military tactics with examples drawn from both ancient and modern history, and Istorie fiorentine (1525; The Florentine History, 1595), the official history of Florence commissioned by Cardinal Giuliano de’ Medici, which is noted for its political rather than purely historic tone, and in which Machiavelli had to reconcile his republican beliefs with a perfunctory pro-Medici posture.