The parallels between Machiavelli's Prince and Shakespeare's Measure for Measure are significant. The great majority of characters in Measure for Measure - the Duke, Angelo, Claudio, Pompey and even Isabella - display Machiavellian qualities. A comparison of key passages, both of The Prince and Measure for Measure, will establish this clearly.
A study of kingship, arguably the entire premise for Measure for Measure, is immediately introduced in the first scene, with the Duke's declaration "Of government the properties to unfold/ Would seem in me t'affect speech and discourse." It is not until the third scene of act one, however, that this political discussion becomes specific and, ultimately, linked to the Machiavellian notion of statecraft. In this scene, which details the exchange between Vincentio and the Friar, we learn the reasons for the former's deputising of Angelo. Both of the Duke's significant dialogues - I.iii.20-33 and I.iii.36-55 - reveal that, for the last fourteeen years, the "strict statutes and most biting laws" (I.iii.20) punishing pre-marital intercourse have slipped into disuse. Although this scene is by no means extensive, it furnishes the reader with much food for thought.
Vincentio's Machiavellianism, as manifest in the above scene, is centred upon three main elements - his previous laxity, his present need to deflect responsibility and his use of Angelo as an instrument in effecting the enforcement of this "most biting law." Upon closer inspection, both of Measure for Measure and The Prince, we discern that the neglect apparent in the Duke's initial non-enforcement of the law may not really be neglect at all, but rathe...
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...ouples) is profoundly Machiavellian. Not only does Vincentio conceal his knowledge of Claudio's safety from Isabella, he uses it in an impressive display of stagecraft, specifically designed to evoke a sort of mystical awe in all onlookers (including Isabella, who he later asks to marry him). The Duke has clearly enhanced his reputation by the "spectacular deeds" Machiavelli writes of in his Prince, "[finding] a way for punishing or rewarding[...] that is sure to be much talked about."
Shakespeare, William: Measure for Measure, ed. Brian Gibbons, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Machiavelli, Niccolò: The Prince in Machiavelli: The Chief Works and Others, vol. 1, trans. Allan Gilbert, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1989
Machiavelli, Niccolò: The Prince, trans. George Bull, London: Penguin, 1995.
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