Discussion Topic

Machiavelli's main purpose and message in writing The Prince


Machiavelli's main purpose in writing The Prince was to provide practical advice to new rulers on how to maintain power and control over their states. His message emphasizes the importance of pragmatism, often advocating for the use of cunning, manipulation, and ruthlessness when necessary to achieve political stability and success.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why did Machiavelli write The Prince and what message is he conveying?

Machiavelli's The Prince is very obviously a political piece.  While Machiavelli himself was not a prince, he did grow up in a politically active family in France.  Despite an educated childhood and connection with others of high social standing, Machiavelli struggled to support his own wife and children (probably because he had 16).  This put the author in a position to see things from both sides.  The purpose of The Prince was to present politics in a more realistic rather than idealistic way.

The ideas presented in The Prince were certainly revolutionary for their time, and caused the essay to be highly controversial and much debated by the church and others.  Clearly, Machiavelli was attempting to raise revolutionary political ideas - throw out the idea that  truth and morality are the best methods of gaining power.  Instead, he introduces conniving, cunning, manipulation and selfishness as a means to gain control and stay in power.  Ultimately - people realized that while the ideas sounded new (and certainly horrifying) - they were really just an honest reflection of the truth in politics.

Eventually Machiavelli was praised for his courage to present a reality that many people were simply ignorant of.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why did Machiavelli write The Prince and what message is he conveying?

Machiavelli's main motivation in writing The Prince was his profound frustration and anger at the contemporary political situation in Italy. At that time, the Italian peninsula was divided up into a patchwork of different states, consisting of republics, kingdoms, and, of course, the Vatican. For years, Italy had been the plaything of foreign powers, most notably France, which systematically exploited Italian weakness for its own gain.

An ardent patriot, Machiavelli thought this situation intolerable and set out to offer a way forward for a ruler with the foresight, vision, and utter ruthlessness necessary to restore Italy to its former glory.

As a Renaissance humanist, Machiavelli compared the state of contemporary Italy with the glories of ancient Rome and found it wanting. He saw that the only way to make Italy strong and united again was for a new breed of ruler to emerge—a kind of ruler who would adopt the kind of ruthless strategy for seizing and maintaining power that he recommends in The Prince.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What was Machiavelli's main purpose in The Prince?

In 1511, Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was in the service of Piero Soderini, the Prior of the Florence Republic, as an ambassador to Pope Julius II, and to Cesare Borgia as Secretary of the Florentine Chancellery.

In 1512, forces of the Florentine Republic were defeated by the Spanish army, and the Florentine government collapsed. With the blessing and military support of Pope Julius, the Medici family was returned to power in the city they had previously ruled, and Machiavelli was dismissed from his service to the Florentine Republic.

Machiavelli was implicated in a conspiracy against the Medici, and he was imprisoned, tortured, and threatened with execution. Machiavelli was found to have been wrongly accused, and he was released from prison, but he was exiled from Florence. He retired to his farm near the town of Sant’Andrea, about nine miles southwest of Florence, where he decided to pursue a writing career, and where he wrote The Prince between 1513 and 1514.

Machiavelli wrote The Prince for two reasons, one of which he explained in the dedication of the book, and the other which was implied by the nature of the book itself and the person to whom it was dedicated.

Machiavelli dedicated The Prince to Lorenzo Di Piero de' Medici, Duke of Urbino, and later governor of Florence, who was one of the most famous of the Medici at that time.

The book was intended to show a prince or other ruler of a city-state or country how best to maintain a safe, secure, and prosperous government in the midst of the seemingly never-ending political turmoil of early sixteenth-century Italy. As Machiavelli stated in the dedication, the book was based on Machiavelli's "knowledge of the deeds of great men which I have acquired through a long experience of modern events and a constant study of the past."

And although I deem this work unworthy of your countenance, nevertheless I trust much to your benignity that it may be acceptable to you, seeing that it is not possible for me to make a better gift than to offer you the opportunity of understanding in the shortest time all that I have learnt in so many years, and with so many troubles and dangers.

... I trust, therefore, that Your Highness will accept this little gift in the spirit in which it is offered ...

The "spirit in which" Machiavelli offered The Prince to Lorenzo de' Medici is both stated and implied.

On one hand, Machiavelli intended to enlighten Lorenzo and the Medici family with the book, "wherein, if it be diligently read and considered by you, you will learn my extreme desire that you should attain that greatness which fortune and your other attributes promise."

On the other hand, Machiavelli desperately wanted to leave his retirement and return to public life in Florence. He hoped to redeem himself in the eyes of the Medici, and he hoped that the knowledge and experience that he demonstrated in writing The Prince might prompt Lorenzo de' Medici to appoint him to an advisory position in the Medici government in Florence.

Although The Prince might well have enlightened Lorenzo and other Medici as to methods of government that they had not yet put into practice, Machiavelli was not invited to return to Florence as an adviser or in any other capacity, and he died in 1527, still living in exile in Sant’Andrea.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on