Niccolo Machiavelli Essay

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The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince is a political book concerning different kinds of principalities, military affairs of the Renaissance period, and the qualities of a supreme ruler of that time. This book includes Machiavelli's views on Italy's political structure and status during the Renaissance. The author uses many real examples, of which Machiavelli had good knowledge and experience. In order to understand the book better and to find Machiavelli's reasons for writing The Prince, it is necessary to understand the life of an author and the period he lived in. Niccolo Machiavelli was born in the spring of 1469. During this time Italy had attained a high spot in the European community, however it would not last.

By the time Machiavelli had reached the age of twenty-five, King Charles VIII of France had driven the ruling Medici family out of the city of Florence, the last resisting Italian principality. The Florentine's would not stand for this; they ousted the new ruler out of the city and founded the Florentine republic. Machiavelli soon started work as clerk under Adriani, head of the Second Chancery. Four years past by and in 1498, Machiavelli became Chief Secretary of the Florentine Republic, and then later that year, he succeeded Adriani as head of the Second Chancery. On this position, Machiavelli gained a lot of knowledge, while he was participating in various diplomatic missions.

He had learned a lot about politics and about the way, the state should be governed. This was the information that Machiavelli covered in his book. The first several chapters of The Prince explicate the four types of princedoms and the methods in which they are acquired. Chapter I states that all governments are either republics or princedoms. From there, all princedoms are hereditary, mixed, new, or ecclesiastical.

Then, Machiavelli goes on to say that hereditary princedoms are easily maintained, granted that the prince will not diverge from his ancestors policies. Mixed princedoms arise when hereditary princedoms acquire new territories. These princedoms are not as easily kept, for two reasons. The first is that the people will replace their leader if they feel it would better conditions. Machiavelli gives five defenses for this situation. The first and best is to reside in the new province.

Secondly, a prince should set up colonies to serve as connections to the mother country. A prince should then become the chief defender of the less puissant adjacent territories. Then, he should weaken his more powerful neighbors. For no reason, should a prince allow any foreign power to enter the province. The second reason mixed princedoms are hard to maintain is a prince cannot satisfy the anticipations of those who helped him take over, and he does not want to use excessive actions because he requires the backing of the people. The main thesis of the book is that The ends justify the means.

Machiavelli feels that one should make whatever actions necessary in order to gain power. The Prince does little more then to support this thesis, though the use of a multitude of historical examples and arguments, but it does an excellent job in doing so. The Prince is an examination of the nature of power in principalities, and how one can exploit it to achieve his maximum political potential. Through the course of the book, Machiavelli pays a lot of attention towards the distribution of power in the society, discusses dictatorial power, and power with the people.

He also defines two types of people on one side, the political elite, including princes, kings, nobles, and on the other side is public. He states in the first chapter of The Prince that it will not include republics, because he had already done so in a previous book. Much of the concentration of the book is on the relationship between the prince and his peers active politic elite. Because ambition and desire for power drive such men, and they are by nature selfish and greedy beings, one must in turn to be aggressive and even ruthless in his methods if the wishes to gain and maintain power. Machiavelli feels that one must take direct action when ever able, and constantly exercise his power in order to maintain his political position. He goes on the state that shared power with others will never be effective because those others too are trying to attain power; since nobles are unforgiving, and driving by greed, it would be terribly dangerous, if not suicidal for a prince to rely of their good will and honesty.

At the same time, Machiavelli writes that one must not be hated by those he controls, as the people hold the true power, The best fortress a ruler can have is not the be hated by the people for is you posses fortresses and the people hate you, having fortresses will not save you. Upon reading The Prince, one of the first things the reader notices is the books strong structure and organization. Machiavelli supports virtually every statement with real historical examples and explanations, from times ranging from the Romans (which he obviously admired as most men of his time did) to his modern day. He organizes the book into twenty-six short chapters, each pertaining to a different aspect of how one should govern his state.

He also divided principalities in two types: hereditary principalities, where the family of a prince has ruled for many generations, and new principalities, which are either entirely new, or annexed. In presenting the main concepts of his book in such a defined format, Machiavelli makes his book easily accessible, and clearly gets his points across. Throughout The Prince, Machiavelli maintains a bias that it is impossible for a person to become strong and effective ruler without being immoral. Machiavelli states that it may be possible to become a strong leader, only when taking direct action against competitors.

He finds it to be very unlikely to achieve success for a weak and kind ruler. Machiavelli makes note of leaders who have been generous to their subjects, but he does not mention any that did so and were successful in their reign. This bias does not go so far as to discredit the book as an argument entirely, but actually makes it more as the list of own thoughts. Although Machiavelli was influenced while writing The Prince, much of what he wrote was true. He stated at length that in order for a prince to maintain his political standing, he must have the respect of his people. At the same time, he should not be hated and despised by them.

This has held true throughout the ages, for nearly every time a culture is held under the control of a belligerent dictator, it revolts, and a new government is formed. His ideas concerning ruthlessness and distrust, as unpleasant as they may be, proved to be all but necessary in living in the political world of modern Europe. To be a weak leader all to often meant to be no leader at all. Regardless of weather or not one does not support Machiavelli's political philosophy; it is indeed a quality book. It does an excellent job of conveying one mans feelings, and well represents the views of his time. Therefore, it is even quite interested to read.

While Machiavelli may have intended The Prince to persuade the reader to believe that morals are a counter productive in a good leadership, Machiavelli's cynical views may in fact lead the reader to develop a new respect for them. Niccolo Machiavelli was an intelligent politician who defined the science of politics. His book, The Prince, was the first of its kind. It explores not only the obtaining of power, but also maintaining power, which defines a strong leader from the rest.

Machiavelli clearly writes about present human conditions not some ideal utopia. He uses logically arguments, is realistic in his approach, and reveals his deep understanding of the autonomy of politics. Many of his ideas still hold true today, and have proven themselves true in the 20 th century. I think that the book is excellent in its logic, especially if to take into account that it was written five centuries ago.

Sources: Leo Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli (Chicago, 1995) George Bull, Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (Penguin, 1999) Whitfield, J. H. , Machiavelli (Oxford, 1947)


Free research essays on topics related to: florentine republic, niccolo machiavelli, direct action, machiavelli, excellent job

Research essay sample on The Prince By Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolò Machiavelli 1469-1527

Florentine (Italian) diplomat, essayist, and playwright.

Machiavelli is best known for his political treatise on government, Il principe (1532; The Prince), which sets forth his political theories based on a pragmatic understanding of government and a cynical view of history. Considered a shrewd and clever politician by his contemporaries, he spent most of his life as a diplomat and, at a young age, was entrusted with several sensitive diplomatic missions, quickly advancing his career and gaining a reputation for his intelligence and understanding. Patronized by the powerful Borgia family, Machiavelli admired Cesare Borgia and esteemed him as his role model of the perfect ruler, claiming that Borgia possessed a quality that he called virtù.Virtù can be defined as a quality of strength, confidence, and power (“manliness,” although women can also exhibit it) that includes a certain ruthlessness used to achieve an end. Machiavelli's political philosophy was built around the concept of virtù and was influenced by early Roman writers such as Titus Livy and the historian Polybius. His ideas about power and how to use it appear throughout his writings.

Written after his forced retirement from public life, Machiavelli's plays contain examples of characters with virtù and show how life would be if lived according to this principle. Indeed, Machiavelli's influence on theater was stronger than his influence on government, and his plays have been called revolutionary for several reasons. His characters, especially in his masterpiece Comedia di Callimaco: E di Lucretia (c. 1518), later published as Mandragola (1927; The Mandrake Root), exhibit the characteristics of virtù in varying degrees; so while purporting to be comic entertainment, they are, in effect, propagandizing Machiavelli's political theories and suggesting radical changes in the status quo of Florentine society. In addition, the style of Machiavelli's plays revolutionized European theater, inspiring an entire Elizabethan school of Machiavells that included William Shakespeare. His works provided the bridge between the fifteenth-century tradition of Latin comedy, derivative of Plautus and Terence, and the great Elizabethan theater that addressed local and social issues. The contemporary character of Mandragola, in particular, became a new model for dramatic construction that can still be seen centuries later.

Biographical Information

Born into a Florentine family of modest means on May 3, 1469, Machiavelli was well educated in the classics by his father, who emphasized instruction in Roman literature and Latin. Young Machiavelli spent some time in Rome, probably working for a banker, and returned to Florence shortly after the death of Lorenzo de' Medici, the invasion of Naples by the French King Charles VIII, and the rise of Savonarola—a particularly politically active period of Italian history. Following the overthrow of Savonarola, Machiavelli began a meteoric diplomatic career, undertaking important and sensitive missions to other Italian states, as well as to France and Germany. When his patrons, the Borgias, lost power in 1503, Machiavelli also lost his political status and influence. Falsely accused of conspiracy, he was arrested and tortured, but finally released due to a lack of evidence. He chose to retire to his villa near Florence with his wife and six children where he studied Roman literature and began writing. He remained there until his death on June 21, 1527.

Major Works

Machiavelli's first play, Andria (1517; The Woman From Andros), is considered a translation of a play by Terence, but Machiavelli departed from the original, modernizing and localizing it, while adding his own social commentary. The story—which includes incidents of confused identity, mysterious parentage, and hidden love—revolves around a father and son's struggle over the son's romantic and marital prospects. After much plotting and confusion, the loving couples are united and all is well.

Mandragola is widely acclaimed as Machiavelli's theatrical masterpiece. It revolutionized the theater of Renaissance Europe and continues to be analyzed both for its construction and its theme. The story concerns a married couple and their desire to have a child. The husband, Nicia, is told by a “Doctor” that if his wife, Lucrezia, takes a potion containing mandrake root, she will conceive a child, but that the first man she has intercourse with after taking the potion will die. The “Doctor”—in reality Callimaco, a young man who desires Lucrezia—offers to find a victim to take the husband's place if Lucrezia can be convinced to agree to the plan. Callimaco, of course, intends to offer himself as the “victim.” However, Lucrezia is a virtuous woman who runs a tight household and is difficult to convince. Under the influence of her pragmatic mother, and a priest who has been bribed, Lucrezia agrees to the plan and comes to find that it suits her very well. In the end, Nicia, who is supposedly too ignorant to know that he has been a party to his own cuckoldry, is so delighted with the prospect of a son that he makes Callimaco a part of his household, thereby providing his wife with a fertile live-in lover. Much of the literature written about Mandragola explores how Machiavelli uses the characters to demonstrate virtù in its various forms and to show how conventional attitudes can be bent to provide for particular needs.

The third of Machiavelli's plays, La clizia (1525; Clizia), was inspired by Plautus's Casina. However, Machiavelli again puts his own distinctive perspective on the plot and characters. For example, although the plot revolves completely around the title character, Clizia, she never actually appears on stage. The story concerns a father and son who are both enamored of the same woman, Clizia, a ward in their home. The father is planning to marry her to one of his servants who can be counted on to share her with his master. The son wants to marry her himself, but cannot tell his mother because Clizia's parentage is unknown, making her an unsuitable wife. Meanwhile, the mother, disgusted with her love-sick husband, substitutes a male servant for the bride at the wedding. The mother reveals the switch in the marriage bed, thus humiliating her husband, teaching him a lesson and gaining control over him. Clizia's father suddenly appears, providing Clizia with the status required to marry the son, and the play ends with order restored overall. In all his plays, Machiavelli expresses his admiration for those characters who exhibit virtù and makes clear his opinions about the societal norms of contemporary Florence, both as they were and as he believed they should be.

Because many of his works were not published until long after they were written, their dates are uncertain. Mandragola was first produced under the title Comedia di Callimaco: E di Lucretia at the house of B. di Giordana in Florence c. 1518, and La clizia was first produced at the house of Jacopo di Filippo Falconetti in Florence in 1525.

Critical Reception

Machiavelli's plays were generally received by his audiences—the moneyed and powerful aristocracy—as amusing entertainment. The revolutionary nature of his subject matter, his style, and his play construction would later have a profound impact on the European theater, and his influence on contemporary playwrights would help change the future of theater. Mandragola is still performed today and is often discussed as a pivotal work in history of theater courses.

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