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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Machiavelli
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0524  Friday, 22 February 2002

[1]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 17:34:58 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0501 Re: Machiavelli

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 10:09:51 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0501 Re: Machiavelli

[3]     From:   Hugh Grady <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Feb 2002 08:45:01 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.0501 Re: Machiavelli


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 17:34:58 -0000
Subject: 13.0501 Re: Machiavelli
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0501 Re: Machiavelli

Jill Phillips's excellent post on comedic Machiavels was instructive. I
am particularly pleased that we should have our attention drawn back to
good old Sir Politic Would-Be:

"Sir Politick Would-be advises Peregrine on how to be a savvy Italian
traveller, telling him to profess no religion, and to adhere only to the
local laws, adding that 'Nic. Machiavel, and Monsier Bodin, both/Were of
this mind' (4.1.375)."

"Volpone" was first performed at the Globe in 1605-1606), at the height
of anti-Catholic hysteria. Although probably written before the
Gunpowder Plot, there is some sketchy evidence that Jonson might
somewhow have been involved, perhaps working as a Roman Catholic
loyalist spy for Cecil (he attended a dinner party at Robert Catesby's
house days before the attempted attack on Parliament). This represents,
therefore, a remarkable upturn in Old Nick's representation on the
English stage, especially in this pairing with Jean Bodin. Bodin's
pioneering theoretical work on the nature of legal sovereignty, "Les six
livres de la republique" (1576), was written as a criticism of  the
national political decentralization which had allowed the Wars of
Religion to tear France apart throughout much of the middle of the 16th
century. Part of his project was to show how a centralized
legally-defined sovereignty, whose legitimacy could be detached from the
affective, divine-right precepts that Europe had inherited from the
Middle Ages (in various warped forms), could provide political
stability. Hobbes would provide a similar, if more theoretically
rigorous and wide-ranging critique, in "Leviathan" (1651) - written in
Paris, not coincidentally I suspect. Hobbes's, it will be recalled,
ended his masterpiece with a lengthy attack on the Roman Catholic Church
(indeed, religion that was not defined by the State as a whole). Both of
these thinkers, it appears, must have known of Machiavelli's observation
(in "The Prince", but most clearly in "The Discourses on Livy") that
religion should only be used as means of securing political power - or
stability, if we want to give his ideas a positive gloss.

Jonson, a loyal Roman Catholic (he would reconvert, apparently for
professional and political reasons, in 1611 I think), would have found
such notions attractive. By placing Machiavelli next to Bodin, he
suggests a way in which his most notorious theories - which were usually
blindly attacked as "atheism" - could be marshalled to an anti-Papist
ideology, or at least to a nationalist one. Profess no religion, but
adhere to local laws, indeed.  Just the sort of approach to being a
European which the post-Tridentine Papacy was struggling (vainly) to
sabotage. Now if we could just find some positive reference to
Machiavelli (or Bodin) in "Cymbeline"...

Just a thought -

m

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 10:09:51 -0800
Subject: 13.0501 Re: Machiavelli
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0501 Re: Machiavelli

Sam Small makes a strange elision (one, C. S. Lewis noted, also found in
The Prince) between being descriptive and proscriptive.  First, he
claims that

>Machiavelli did not invent 'real politic' he
>merely reported the methods of diplomats of the most successful
>governments in the world from Alexander to his present day.

Then he writes in the imperative, implying that these aren't just
observations, but demands,

>Lie, cheat, torture, ruin reputations, break your
>solemn word, murder and blame others for the deed - all is permissible
>in the struggle to keep the nation state intact and your people free to
>enjoy their business and leisure.

But surely there's a difference between what is (in the eyes of a
politician, no less) and what should be.  Were Shakespeare "an old style
idealistic Catholic" he would surely grasp this point.  The world is
indeed fallen.  This observation is not a moral imperative, however, to
act as sinfully as possible.

Cheers,
Se

 

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