Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) and his famous work “The Prince”

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) was a political theorist, diplomat, dramatist, and historian of Florence, After holding various offices, from 1498, in the restored Florentine republic and discharging various missions abroad, he was exiled on suspicion of conspiracy on the return of the Medici in 1512, but was subsequently restored to some degree of favour. He turned his political experiences to advantage in his writings, which include the Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio (written 1516–17; printed in 1531: Discourse on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius) on republican government, Arte della guerra (The Art of War, written 1517–20; English trans. 1560–62), and a history of Florence (Istorie Fiorentine, 1520–25; trans. 1595). His comedy Mandragola, probably written in 1518, is a cynical depiction of Florentine society.

The Prince

His best-known work is Il principe (written 1513, pub. 1532: The Prince), a treatise on statecraft by an acute observer of the contemporary political scene. This is a handbook for politicians on the use of ruthless, self-serving cunning, inspiring the term “Machiavellian” and establishing Machiavelli as the “father of modern political theory.” Dedicated to the Medici duke of Urbino, its aim is to disseminate successful strategies for acquiring and maintaining political power. Machiavelli teaches that the lessons of the past (of Roman history in particular) should be applied to the present and that the acquisition and effective use of power may necessitate unethical methods not in themselves desirable. According to him, a successful ruler must be brutal, calculating and, when necessary, utterly immoral.  In 1640 Edward Dacres published the first English translation of The Prince, but it was well known both by repute and in Italian and Latin editions throughout the previous century. It is repeatedly referred to in Elizabethan drama and influenced the policy of Thomas Cromwell (1485 1540), Robert Cecil (1563-1612), and the earl of Leicester. It was appreciated critically by Francis Bacon; exploited intelligently by Christopher Marlowe; used guardedly in the Maxims of State Wrongly attributed to Walter Ralegh by John Milton, who in 1658 published the collection as The Cabinet-Council. In Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, Machiavellian villains and anti-heroes abound, appearing in many guises, as pander, atheist, poisoner, politician, miser, and revenger, and the name of Machiavelli himself is frequently invoked: for example by Gloucester, who resolved in 3 Henry VI ‘to set the murtherous Machiavel to schooľ (111. ii. 193), by Flamineo in The White Devil, who rejoices in ‘the rare tricks of a Machivillian’ (v. iii. 193), and in the prologue to The Jew of Malta by the spirit of Machiavelli himself. There is a sketch of his character in George Eliot’s Romola.

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