Table of Contents for Shakespeare
MACHIAVELLI AND SHAKESPEARE
(SEE ALSO ON THIS SITE, RENAISSANCE POLITICAL THEORY)
Shakespeare wrote a series of history plays loosely based on the English civil war known as the war of the roses. The Shakespeare Index contains links to the conflict. A good edition of The Prince is edited by Christian Gauss (Mentor Books). Click here for an on-line text , 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:
Now did Shakespeare embody these ideas?:
This is the opening soliloquy by Richard:
Glou. Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sum of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths...
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glaze;
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform'd, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to see my shadow in the sun
And descent on mine own deformity;
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain,
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophesies, libels, and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false, and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,
About a prophesy, which says that G
Of Edward's heir the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here Clarence comes.
See the extended discussion of Richard III on the Shakespeare Index. What would Machiavelli say?
Perhaps the best "Machiavellian" villain in Shakespeare is Iago from Othello. His reliance on the force of his own will is seen in this selection when he attempts to convince Roderigo, a man he is robbing blind to remain with him. Roderigo is at the moment discouraged and says...
Rod. What should I do? I confess it is my shame to be so fond; but it is not in my virtue to amend it.
Iago. Virtue! a fig! 't is in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners; so that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry, why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions; but we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts, whereof I take this that you call love to be a sect or scion.
Again, what would Machiavelli say?
There are other characters in Shakespeare that might have Machiavellian affinities. Check:
Find appropriate passages....
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