The Prince and the Poet-On Shakespeare’s Machiavelli; A Hermeneutic Essay


Machiavelli’s work is a commentary on the power politics that frame Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories, and Shakespeare’s villains bring to life the inherent dangerousness of Machiavelli’s philosophy. Because their writings appear to illuminate each other in this way, because they constantly remind us of each other, several questions arise: what did Shakespeare know about Machiavelli? What did he think of Machiavelli’s philosophy as it’s normally construed, that is, as a kind of completely unscrupulous political realism? To what extent had the figure of the Machiavel already been articulated within the Elizabethan literary world when Shakespeare got a hold of it? Was the Tutor sense of Machiavelli’s thought accurate? If not, what was the pervasive sense of Machiavelli in Shakespeare’s culture?

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