Machiavelli His Influence on the Elizabethan Drama and Beyond Section Articles


Nick Ceramella


During the Elizabethan Age, the Machiavellian character developed to become one of the key dramatic types: a rascal and a harsh calculator. Edward Meyer, in his Machiavelli and the Elizabethan Drama, indicated that there were about 400 direct references to Machiavelli in the Elizabethan literature. A case in point is Marlowe's The Jew Of Malta where he has Machiavel to open the play. To the Tudor imagination, Machiavelli was the symbol of corruption and decadence driven by an insatiable “appetite” for power. But I argue that it was not as simple as that. One has the impression they had hardly read him, or, in the best of cases, misunderstood him. Indeed, it was not until Bacon and Hobbes, whose political thought agreed with Machiavelli’s attack on religion, that some light was thrown on the founder of modern political science. So that, by the late eighteenth century, a more favourable judgement became popular. Then with the growth of romantic nationalism, they discovered that Machiavelli’ s The Prince was not a dangerous guide for political criminals, but an objective study of sixteenth century Italian politics by a patriot hoping to help his country to unite and become a strong presence in Europe. Be that as it may, thanks to drama, Machiavelli entered the consciousness of the Anglo-Saxon secular world, but it expanded beyond it all over Europe. In the twentieth century, Antonio Gramsci (the first secretary of the Italian Communist Party) saw in Machiavelli a politician comparable to Marx. Unexpectedly, Mussolini wrote a sympathetic introductory essay to an edition of The Prince, though he had previously banned the philosopher’s writings. But even more surprisingly, Rauschning recounts that in his conversations with Hitler, the Fürher ranked Machiavelli with Wagner as among the influences shaping his thought. Hence, just like scholars, political leaders confront many contradictory interpretations according to their personal moral views, emotions, and conveniences. To this day, the Florentine’s legacy has provoked almost uninterrupted controversy and there is little consensus about what Machiavelli actually said. Yet, we still live in his shadow. He is even seen as some sort of guide for the unscrupulous modern manager, while Tupac, a popular American rapper, charmed by his writings, called himself Makaveli. Meanwhile, the “vices” Machiavelli denounced: political instability, social disillusion, corruption, intrigue, immorality, and riots, still permeate political life in Italy and elsewhere. Therefore, on concluding, I would like to stress how he speak to us not only of old far-off events but also, and memorably, of familiar matters of today.