TABLE OF CONTENTS for BRITISH LITERATURE
TABLE OF CONTENTS for SHAKESPEARE
POLITICAL THEORY FROM CLASSICAL TIMES TO THE RENAISSANCE
(SEE ALSO ON THIS SITE, MACHIAVELLI AND SHAKESPEARE)
CLASSICAL GREECE--PLATO AND THE PHILOSOPHER KING:
Man is a social animal; he needs to serve the state. The state builds ethical character and prepares its citizens for the good life, involving political activity and philosophical contemplation:
In the microcosm, the soul of man corresponds to the state in that each have three elements that ideally should exist in harmony. When they do not, chaos leading to insanity/political anarchy can ensue. Such became the basis for Renaissance "psychology" and "political theory" that you will find in Shakespeare's plays.
These are tripartite divisions of the soul:
These correspond to three divisions of the
Plato and not without irony envisions an ideal state in which all live in harmony and justice which he defines functionally, each individual's soul and position in the political hierarchy being determined by what innate talents state educational actualizes. Note that this is a pre-Christian concept, and Plato may well have realized something about the the ideal state that is not so ideal--think of 20th Century dictators.
THE CHRISTIAN SYNTHESIS:
The important contribution made by Christianity to the development of political thought is to see man as made in the image of Jesus Christ and not a servant (slave) of any political organization. In the chain of being idea, a prince is a "mirror" who is supposed to reflect the will of God in governing his subjects--in theory at least. Evidence from the Canterbury Tales suggests that (at least in theory) the needs of the poor were to receive priority, although Chaucer was able to satirize the exceptions wherein the clergy sometimes lived as rivals to the Knights and nobility in terms of wealth and power. The chain of being, however, does suggest God at the top who watches over his creatures with loving kindness, even if that is not always apparent in the nominalistic world.
Erasmus: "The Education of a Christian Prince:"
The perspective of a Christian humanist:
"Hatred is kindled by ugly temper, by violence, insulting language. A good prince must therefore use every caution to prevent any possibility of losing the affections of his subjects. The affections of the populace are won by those characteristics which in general are farthest removed from tyranny. They are clemency, affability, fairness...if taxation is absolutely necessary, barbarous and foreign goods should be heavily taxed because they are not the essentials...Plato calls it sedition when Greeks engage war with Greeks...what term should we apply, then when Christians engage in battle with Christians?
Machiavelli: [Is he a nominalist or realist?]
Machiavelli (1469-1527) lived in Florence, where for a time he was secretary of state. Florence and other city states fought each other and the papal states for political and economic hegemony. Rich and powerful families (the Borgia's and the de'Medici's) exerted enormous power as this comment suggests: "Do you not know that here I am. Pope and emperor and lord in all my lands and that no one can do anything in my lands save I permit it--no, not even God." Additionally, Spain and France, seeing a disunified Italy, saw opportunities for invasion, and Italy became a battle ground. Machiavelli hoped that his most famous work, The Prince, dedicated to his patron, Lorenzo de'Medici, would serve as a guide for what a prince need do to unify a nation threatened with conquest. Thus, this "educational book" became a survival guide, and acquired a reputation for fostering political amorality.
The political crisis in Italy deeply concerned the English. For almost 100 years, two branches of the royal family, the Yorkists and the Lancasterians, fought for political power. In 1485, Henry Tudor won and his descendants, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, made English a world power.
Writers did not delay long in seeing that these political controversies offered much for drama--the pragmatic theory was in full operation. Shakespeare wrote a series of history plays outlining the civil war between the Yorkists and the Lancasterians. These plays which would be called docu-dramas today featured what came to be known as the "Machiavellian villain," the cynical, manipulative politician who will do anything to keep power: from Richard III to Iago.
1--One is considered liberal...merciful...trustworthy...humane...serious. I know that everyone will admit that it would be highly praiseworthy in a prince to possess all of the above-named qualities.
2--Liberality if used virtuously will not be known.
3--A prince must proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and humanity.
4--How laudable it is for a prince to keep good faith and live with integrity. It is well to seem merciful, faithful, humane, sincere, religious and also to be so.
5--Nothing causes a prince to be so much esteemed as great enterprises and giving proof of prowess.
6--It is an infallible rule that a prince who is not wise himself cannot be well-advised.
7--It is not unknown to me how many have been and are of the opinion that worldly events are so governed by fortune and God, that men cannot by their prudence change them. Nevertheless, our free will may not altogether be extinguished, I think it may be true that fortune is the rule of half our actions.
1. Is this person a nominalist or realist?
2. How Christian does he appear to be?
Excerpts from: The Prince: (Chapters 15-18; Allan Gilbert, trans.)
[from: The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Fifth Continental Edition: W.W, Norton and Co., 1987.]
[On the things for which men, and especially princes, are praised or censured]
...Because I know that many; have written on this topic, I fear that when I too write I shall be thought presumptuous, because, in discussing it, I break away completely from the principles laid down by my predecessors. But since it is my purpose to write something useful to an attentive reader, I think it more effective to go back to the practical truth of the subject than to depend on my fancies about it. And many have imagined republics and principalities that never have been seen or known to exist in reality. For there is such a difference between the way men live and the way they ought to live, that anybody who abandons what is for what ought to be will learn something that will ruin rather than preserve him, because anyone who determines to act in all circumstances the part of a good man must come to ruin among so many who are not good. Hence, if a prince wishes to maintain himself, he must learn how to be not good, and to use that ability or not as is required.
...All this gives rise to a question for debate: Is it better to be loved than to be feared, or the reverse? I answer that a prince should wish for both. But because it is difficult to reconcile them, I hold that it is much more secure to be feared than to be loved, if one of them must be given up. The reason for my answer is that one must say of men generally that they are ungrateful, mutable, pretenders and dissemblers, prone to avoid danger, thirsty for gain. So long as you benefit them they are all yours; as I said above, they offer you their blood, their property, their lives, their children, when the need for such things is remote. But when need comes upon you, they turn around. So if a prince has relied wholly on their words, and is lacking in other preparations, he falls. For friendships that are gained with money, and not with greatness and nobility of spirit, are deserved but not possessed, and in the nick of time one cannot avail himself of them. Men hesitate less to injure a man who makes himself loved than to injure one who makes himself feared, for their love is held by a chain of obligation, which, because of men's wickedness, is broken on every occasion for the sake of selfish profit; but their fear is secured by a dread of punishment which never fails you.
Everybody knows how laudable it is in a prince to keep his faith and to be an honest man and not a trickster. Nevertheless, the experience of our times shows that the princes who have done great things are the ones who have taken little account of their promises and who have known how to addle the brains of men with craft. In the end they have conquered those who have put their reliance on good faith. You must realize, then, that there are two ways to fight. In one kind the laws are used, in the other, force. The first is suitable to man, the second to animals. But because the first often falls short, one has to turn to the second. Hence a prince must know perfectly how to act like a beast and like a man. This truth was covertly taught to princes by ancient authors, who write that Achilles and many other ancient princes were turned over for their up-bringing to Chiron the centaur that he might keep them under his tuition. To have as teacher one who is half beast and half man means nothing else than that a prince needs to know how to use the qualities of both creatures. The one without the other will not last long. Since, then, it is necessary for a prince to understand how to make good use of the conduct of the animals, he should select among them the fox and the lion, because the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot protect himself from the wolves. So the prince needs to be a fox that he may know how to deal with traps, and a lion that he may frighten the wolves. Those who act like the lion alone do not understand their business. A prudent ruler, therefore, cannot and should not observe faith when such observance is to his disadvantage and the causes that made him give his promise have vanished. If men were all good, this advice would not be good, but since men are wicked and do not keep their promises to you, you likewise do not have to keep yours to them. Lawful reasons to excuse his failure to keep them will never be lacking to a prince. It would be possible to give innumerable modern examples of this and to show many treaties and promises that have been made null and void by the faithlessness of princes. And the prince who has best known how to act as a fox has come out best. But one who has this capacity must understand how to keep it covered, and be a skillful pretender and dissembler. Men are so simple and so subject to present needs that he who deceives in this way will always find those who will let them be deceived.
It is not unknown to me that many have been and still are of the opinion that the affairs of this world are so under the direction of Fortune and of God that man's prudence cannot control them; in fact, that man has no resource against them. For this reason many think there is no use in sweating much over such matters, but that one might as well let Chance take control. This opinion has been the more accepted in our times, because of the great changes in the state of the world that have been and now are seen every day, beyond all human surmise. And I myself, when thinking on these things, have now and then in some measure inclined to their view. Nevertheless, because the freedom of the will should not be wholly annulled, think it may be true that Fortune is arbiter of half of our actions, but that she still leaves the control of the other half, or about that, to us.
I liken her to one of those raging streams that, when they go mad, flood the plains, ruin the trees and the buildings, and take away the fields from one bank and put them down on the other. Everybody flees before them; everybody yields to their onrush without being able to resist anywhere. And though this is their nature, it does not cease to be true that, in calm weather, men can make some provisions against them with walls and dykes, so that, when the streams swell, their waters will go off through a canal, or their currents will not be so wild and do so much damage. The same is true of Fortune. She shows her power where there is no wise preparation for resisting her, and turns her fury where she knows that no walls and dykes have been made to hold her in. And if you consider Italy--the place where these variations occur and the cause that has set them in motion--you will see that she is a country without dykes and without any wall of defence. If, like Germany, Spain, and France, she had had a sufficient bulwark of military vigor, this hood would not have made the great changes it has, or would not have come at all.
A good edition of The Prince is edited by Christian Gauss (Mentor Books). Click here for an on-line text from the MEDIEVAL SOURCEBOOK, and examine The Prince, noting especially:
Chapter XV: Of The Things for Which Men, and Especially Princes, Are Praised or Blamed
Chapter XVII: Of Cruelty and Clemency, and Whether It is Better to Be Loved Or Feared
Chapter XVIII: In What Way Princes Must Keep Faith
Chapter XXV: How Much Fortune Can Do in Human Affairs and How It May Be Opposed:
GENERAL GUIDES TO LITERATURE, CHRONOLOGIES, SOCIAL AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHIES, AND SCRIPTURAL/THEOLOGICAL REFERENCES CURRICULUM LINKS
RENAISSANCE HISTORY, PHILOSOPHY AND COSMOLOGY, PSYCHOLOGY [BURTON] AND SHAKESPEARE CURRICULUM LINKS
TABLE OF CONTENTS