Shakespeare, Machiavelli, and Montaigne - Oxford Scholarship

Machiavelli sees human affairs as being governed by two powers, nominally under the supervision of God. They are the masculine force of Will and feminine force of Fortune. Nature and “ungovernable human instinct” (John Roe, Shakespeare and Machiavelli, p. 25) are under the control of Fortune.

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In Twelfth Night and The Mandrake Root, Shakespeare and Machiavelli employ a character who discovers the true identity of a disguised character in the play, but does not give away that character’s true identity because of a self-interested motive. It can be argued that both Feste and Nicia know who a disguised character is in their respective plays: Feste with Viola, disguised as Cesario; and Nicia with Timoteo, disguised as Callimaco. Feste’s conversation with Cesario is interesting because he refers to him as sir in virtually every line. The only other characters in the play that Feste refers to as sir with any regularity are the members of Twelfth Night’s ‘high court’, Orsino and Oliva (Feste calls Oliva lady, modonna, or madam, which are all roughly the female equivalent to the word sir).

Machiavelli vs. Shakespeare - Research Papers - 642 Words

Roe, John, Shakespeare and Machiavelli, D. S. Brewer, Cambridge, 2002. Clearly Shakespeare and Machiavelli, responding to similar concerns among their responders, albeit in different chronological and geographic contexts, share significant values and attitudes towards the qualities required of a successful ruler during political uncertainty. It is not the idealist Brutus valued for his personal virtues but the pragmatist, often duplicitous and ruthless Antony who is equipped to protect and advance the state and the good of the people.

A great play this, in my book, one of my favourite Shakespeares

Clearly Shakespeare and Machiavelli, responding to similar concerns among their responders, albeit in different chronological and geographic contexts, share significant values and attitudes towards the qualities required of a successful ruler during political uncertainty. It is not the idealist Brutus valued for his personal virtues but the pragmatist, often duplicitous and ruthless Antony who is equipped to protect and advance the state and the good of the people.

ERIC - Machiavellian Precepts in Shakespeare's Plays., 1995


Machiavelli complains that Christianity makes men feeble, incapable of following the Romans in search of worldly glory. Christianity, he says, disposes men to suffer the domination of tyrants. Shakespeare rebuffs this challenge by showing that Machiavelli's prince is no antidote to the plague of perennial vendettas fought in the name of justice and honor. Shakespeare shows that this political disease can only be cured by the Christian virtue of mercy. He thus rebuts both Machiavelli's project and the Tudor doctrine of non-resistance, embracing instead the perfection of the classical virtues in Christianity. In the first tetralogy the desire of both factions to punish their enemies' injustices creates a seemingly irreconcilable conflict, which York claims he can resolve. But Shakespeare shows the culmination of York's Machiavellian consequentialism in the monstrous Richard III. Richard II undermines his own authority and justifies his own deposition by substituting his will for law. But Bolingbroke's murder of Richard begins a cycle of revenge that manifests the problem of whole-hearted commitment to justice as the principle human virtue. In 1 Henry IV Henry Monmouth learns the folly of his Machiavellian stratagem to win glory by creating the appearance of virtue. He learns that the only way to unify the political community is to overlook the faults of her subjects in order to foster merit in them. Shakespeare thus argues that the Christian virtue of mercy is the essential kingly virtue. In 2 Henry IV Prince Henry makes another effort to help Falstaff reform, but is forced to abandon the unrepentant knight to restore respect for the law. Henry V demonstrates an appreciation of the importance of appearances which accords with Machiavelli's teaching, but transcends Machiavelli's intent. Henry learns to use ceremony to inculcate virtue--not a Machiavellian conclusion, but one which makes use of a truth distilled from Machiavelli's powerful political calculus. Thus, Shakespeare rejects Machiavelli's consequentialism and repels his attack on Christianity by affirming the goodness of the classical virtues and their perfection in Christianity. But in rejecting Machiavelli's project, Shakespeare shows that he has nevertheless learned from Machiavelli's description of political reality.While the "engagement with ideas" approach seems the mostpromising strategy for the book, Roe is not content with this. Hewants there to be some sort of presentational or methodologicalparallel between Shakespeare and Machiavelli, and he often tries toestablish parallels on very specific points that do not rise to thelevel of "the essence of Machiavelli's thought." Both of theseefforts seem to me to be largely unsuccessful. The presentationalparallel relies on a view of the mode of as"dramatic," its style as improvisational, and its basic approach asperspectival and "evolving" (9-11, 120, 129). This use of"dramatic" is very loose, and Roe acknowledges that "Machiavellienjoyed presenting himself as a rather different kind of author"from the one Roe postulates (12). The attempt to present as exploratory in mode strengthens the parallel withShakespeare (and allows Roe to assert that Shakespeare can help usread Machiavelli [93]), but this attempt entirely misses the actualrhetorical mode of Machiavelli's , which isfundamentally assertive. From "long experience in contemporaryaffairs" ("") and"continuous study of antiquity," Machiavelli knows how things areand how they work—"ff"—and he is sharing his hard-won knowledge with anyone inor seeking power (Lorenzo de' Medici, locally) who is willing todrop preconceptions and be instructed. is a workof breathtaking certainty and assurance. Its premise is thateverything in the political world, successes as well as failures,can be rationally analyzed and explained—, to use thekey word, can be discerned—and that Machiavelli is the one to dothis. The tentative, perspectival Machiavelli that Roe describes isa fiction of Roe's argument. When Machiavelli undermines adistinction—between the of Cesare Borgia and the or of Agathocles, forinstance—or when he shifts his perspective—on the role of, for instance, in chapter 25 (from focusing on herpower to focusing on the need for anticipation andprovision)—Machiavelli knows exactly what he is doing.