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Alessandro Arienzo and Alessandra Petrina (eds), Machiavellian Encounters in Tudor and Stuart England, Literary and Political Influences from the Reformation to the Restoration (Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate 2013). ISBN: 978-1-4094-3672-0, 218 pp. £ 54.00.

Reviewed by Tania Rispoli

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[1] This collection of essays is dedicated to ‘Machiavelli in England’, during the Tudor and Stuart period. It transcends the strictly political field, encompassing both the material presence of Machiavelli’s texts in England and the influences of the literary and gnomic suggestions that radiate from this protagonist of Renaissance political thought. Cultural references, such as old Nick, much-evil (loose translation of Niccolò Machiavelli), the devilish caricature in the prologue of Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, testify to the impact of his ideas on the English literary tradition. His employment, whether with consensus or without, was always ideologically motivated. From Henry VIII to the Stuarts, throughout the years of the republican revolution and Cromwell’s protectorate, the interpretation of the Florentine Secretary is never objective: it is the litmus test of a philosophically-founded political choice.

[2] Several of the contributions gathered in this volume refer to the circulation and republication of the Italian and Latin copies of Machiavelli’s works, as well as Nifo’s plagiarized version, and the numerous refutations that were published before the canonical translations of Arte della Guerra (1560), Discorsi (1636) and Il Principe (1640). Even before the Elizabethan era, when it became a common topic of cultured debates and theatrical references (according to Alessandra Petrina), The Prince circulated within the court of Henry VIII. Its cold reception, which started with the Charlecote manuscript, is indicated by the Anti-Machiavelian Apologia of Cardinal Reginald Pole (1539), probably a covert criticism of Thomas Cromwell, who had both travelled in Italy and mastered the language. Around 1580, a number of clandestine copies of The Prince were documented, and a few years later The Quintessence of Wit (examined by Valentina Lepri) was published. This text, a collection of maxims, was the prototype for a long series of abridgements of both Machiavelli’s and Guicciardini’s thought – in this genre we even find analogous writings, erroneously attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh, as the essay of Ioannis Evrigenis explains.

[3] Machiavelli was also considered the foremost author for study of the military arts and Italian history, as the work of William Thomas demonstrates. In Stolen words to train a boy king: William Thomas translates Machiavelli, Maria Grazia Dongu shows how Thomas introduced key words and phrases in Machiavelli’s political thought to England and examines the different images of Machiavelli: from the diabolic instigator of tyranny, to the virtuous republican. This chapter focuses on the diffusion and propagation of Machiavellian thought thanks to a group of Italians, who all immigrated for religious reasons, in particular the great jurist, Alberico Gentili. In their essays, Rosanna Camerlingo and Diego Pirillo show how Gentili’s theory is important for different reasons: firstly, for the foundation of the international law based on the separation of politics from religion; secondly, for the supremacy of civil law over theology and, thirdly, for his claim for the republican character of The Prince. It should also be said that Gentili was first to acknowledge and praise the importance of Machiavelli as a historian. In the well-known quote III 9 of De legationibus, in which Gentili sustained the republicanism of Machiavelli, he identified the peculiar ability of the Florentine to merge philosophy (of which jurisprudence is an aspect) and history, overcoming their unilateralism. The former had been considered too often abstract and indifferent to concrete events, while the latter was seen as fixated upon facts and blind to their intrinsic meaning. Thus, Machiavelli, the pragmatic historian, selected events that had resonance with the present. In the same way, English scholars, artists and politicians interpreted Machiavelli, distorting his thoughts in order to negotiate contemporary religious controversies; to interrogate Tudor and Stuart absolutism; to defend a republican revolution; and, finally, to support the intricate balance of the Restoration. Troilus and Cressida, King John, Macbeth and, obviously, Henry V, are literary exemplars of this principle and it is not by chance that Gentili’s puritan adversaries loathed the theatrical scene, conceiving it as the apogee of that mendacium officiosum, which had a leading role in the political imagination and diplomatic negotiation.

[4] Within Elizabethan theatre negative stereotypes of Machiavelli were commonplace. We need only refer to Sir Politick Would-be’s parody of the Raison d’État in Ben Johnson’s Volpone, or to Marlowe’s work, however much more ambiguous than it appears at first sight, to see this trend. Protestant culture derived these stereotypes from the Anti-Machiavel of the Huguenot jurist, Innocent Gentillet, and from the echoes of the massacre of St. Bartholomew, inspired by Catherine de Medici, the daughter of the dedicatee of The Prince, Lorenzo. From a more positive perspective, the speech of Henry V to his “band of brothers” on the eve of the battle of Agincourt expresses two entirely Machiavellian themes organically incorporated: the awareness of the independent basis of the king’s power and action, as well as the employment of religious sentiment as a form of patriotism. In the Stuart era, the theme of the Raison d’État emerges. Analysed by Machiavelli, as well as by Tacitus, Bacon, Botero, Grotius, Lipsius and Hobbes, it is articulated in different strands: monarchic-absolutist, republican-revolutionary and parliamentary. In this animated context, the shift from the generic topic of politics to that of the prerogatives of power and prudence in government is thoroughly considered by Alessandro Arienzo and Marco Barducci. Fabio Raimondi comparatively examines the ideological role of religion in Hobbes, as a factor in preserving order and stability, and in Machiavelli, where its potentially subversive and innovative role is envisioned. On the Continent, where a regime of absolute monarchy prevailed, the Raison d’État was confined to the exercise of hypocrisy or “honest” dissimulation and considered among the mysteries of power (Arcana imperii). Jacob Soll’s epilogue highlights its different mutations in England, in both theatrical representations and parliamentary debates.

[5] From this collective effort the diverse, complex and controversial figure of Machiavelli emerges. This volume demonstrates the impacts of his theories throughout the centuries and the continuous, evolving mutations of the debates which have surrounded his work.

Tor Vergata, University of Rome 2
Vincennes-Saint-Denis, University of Paris 8
, October 2014