Niccolò Machiavelli Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

0111207654-Machiavelli.jpg Niccolò Machiavelli (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Niccolò Machiavelli unquestionably belongs to the ranks of the most profound and original political theorists in history. This reputation not only rests on his most famous and influential work, The Prince, and on his other political works but also attests the political sophistication of such literary and dramatic efforts as The Mandrake and Clizia.

The considerable influence Machiavelli has had on political thought is evidenced by the several and varied reactions to his works throughout history. As a result of the Church’s perception of his ragione di stato (reason of state) as a rejection of the connection of the state to Catholic teachings and as an obvious attempt to release rulers from religious compliance, Machiavelli was accused of impiety and his works were placed on the Index in 1559. Nevertheless, Machiavelli’s works enjoyed great popularity while he was still alive, and even after his writings were banned they continued to be published—although, understandably, the publisher often chose to remain anonymous. The emperor Charles V, it is said, had only three books beside his bed: the Bible, Baldassare Castiglione’s Il cortegiano (1528; The Courtier, 1561), and Machiavelli’s The Prince. Ironically, among the greatest proponents of anti-Machiavellism were also the French Huguenots, particularly Innocent Gentillet, who blamed Machiavelli for having provided Catherine de’...

(The entire section is 460 words.)

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

How do the first eleven chapters of The Prince demonstrate Niccolò Machiavelli’s concern for realism over idealism?

What, according to Machiavelli, should be the political leader’s view of war and the preparation for war?

In chapters 15 through 23 of The Prince, Machiavelli speaks of several commonly recognized virtues. According to this account, when, if ever, should one be concerned with traditional codes of behavior?

What is Machiavelli’s view of fortune?

In what way is The Mandrake a play about exercising power?

How is Callimaco in The Mandrake a Machiavellian character?


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Ascoli, Albert Russell, and Victoria Kahn, eds. Machiavelli and the Discourse of Literature. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993. A collection of essays that focus on the literary aspects of Machiavelli’s writings, historical, political, and artistic.

Bondanella, Peter E. Machiavelli and the Art of Renaissance History. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973. This astute study constitutes a chronological survey of Machiavelli’s development as a literary stylist. Focuses on the compositional techniques that he employed in depicting the character and conduct of heroic personages. Lacks a formal bibliography, but there are copious endnotes for each chapter.

Grant, Ruth Weissbourd. Hypocrisy and Integrity: Machiavelli, Rousseau, and the Ethics of Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. This work challenges the usual standards for political ethics and sheds light on Machiavelli’s argument for the necessity of hypocrisy. Grant interprets the writings of Machiavelli as pro-hypocrite and the writings of Rousseau as anti-hypocrite and balances them in a conceptual framework encompassing the moral limits of compromise, and integrity in political behavior.

Grazia, Sebastian de. Machiavelli in Hell. 1989. Reprint. New York: Vintage, 1994. A colorful intellectual biography.

Hale, John R. Machiavelli and Renaissance Italy. New York: Macmillan, 1961. A...

(The entire section is 523 words.)