Machiavelli and Shakespeare

Session 14: Machiavelli's Prince

Session 15: Machiavelli's Prince Continued

Session 16: Machiavelli's Prince Continued


Session 18: Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Acts I and II

Session 19: Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Acts III-V

Session 20: Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Continued

Session 14 Questions (Machiavelli's Prince):

Dedicatory Letter and Chapters I-XI, Mansfield translation pages 3-47

1. What kind of knowledge does Machiavelli claim to possess? How might it be of help to Lorenzo de Medici, the prince to whom Machiavelli addresses the book?

2. What does Machiavelli mean by the term "nature?" How does his understanding of nature differ from that of Aristotle and Al-Farabi?

3. What does Machiavelli mean when he speaks of "virtue?" How does his understanding of virtue differ from that of Plato's Socrates and of Aristotle?

4. What does Machiavelli mean when he distinguishes between a "natural prince" and a "wise prince?"

5. Is it permissible "to speak well of evil" (cf. p. 37)?

6. Socrates and Crito reach the agreement that "one must in no way do injustice." What would Machiavelli say about their agreement? Do you agree or disagree? Why?

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Session 15 Questions (Machiavelli's Prince Continued):

Chapters XII-XIX, Mansfield translation pages 48-82

1. Why do you think Machiavelli claims "there cannot be good laws where there are not good arms" (Ch. XII) and that "if one has good arms, one will always have good friends" (Ch. XIX)? What do you make of his leaving out the "reasoning on laws" and speaking only of arms, as he says in Ch. XII?

2. In Ch. XV, what does Machiavelli intend by announcing that he "departs from the orders of others"?

3. Again in Ch. XV, what does Machiavelli mean that he cannot "let go of what is done for what should be done"? How does this relate to his opinion of human nature, especially whether humans are naturally good? What does Machiavelliís new understanding of human nature imply for how the prince should rule?

4. Why is it better for the prince to be feared than loved (Ch. XVII)? Are you persuaded of this advice?

5. In Ch. XIX, Machiavelli suddenly introduces a third "humor," namely, the soldiers, in addition to the great and the people. Who is it more important for the prince to satisfy? Why?

6. In Ch. XIX, what is the virtue of Severus?

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Session 16 Questions (Machiavelli's Prince Continued):

Chapters XX-XXVI and Appendix: Letter to F. Vettori, Mansfield translation pages 83-111

1. Note that Machiavelli mentions, in his survey of Roman emperors in chapter XIX, that the virtue of Severus is for the beginning -- the foundation of the principality -- and the virtue of Marcus (Aurelius) is for the rest. Are chapters XX-XXVI about the virtues of Marcus? What are these virtues?

2. Note the title to chapter XX -- Whether Fortresses and Many Other Things Which Are Made and Done by Princes Every Day Are Useful or Useless. In the chapter we realize that the actual fortress -- for ex. building a castle -- is useless, but the image of the people as fortress is useful. But aren't the people fickle, easy to persuade but difficult to keep them in place? That is, how is this advice more to "the effectual truth of the thing"?

3. What happened to the advice on liberality in chapter XVI? How is it that in chapters XXI-XXIII the prince is supposed to allow for the cultivation of the arts and money-making and honors?

4. In chapters I-XIX, we learned, among other things, (1) not to reason about certain examples but simply imitate them, (2) about preferring to use one's own arms, and (3) about how being feared is "safer" than being loved. Why then the discussion of reasoning and using the knowledge or insights of others in chapters XXII and XXIII?

5. In chapter XXIV we learn that all of the advice seems to aim to make a new prince look like an ancient (hereditary) prince (see the beginning of chapter XXIV). What ever happened to innovation and keeping the people in suspense?

6. According to Machiavelli's letter to Francesco Vettori (Appendix), what was the source of inspiration for the Prince, and how is this inspiration reflected in Machiavelli's writing?

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Session 18 Questions (Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Acts I and II):

Penguin Edition pages 49-111

1. Why were Marullus and Flavius upset with the commoners in the opening scene of the play?

2. On p. 61 (Act I, Scene 2, line 92) Cassius says that honor is the subject of his story to Brutus. What kind of honor is he talking about? Is it the same honor Brutus has in mind?

3. The conspirators -- or at least the virtuous Brutus -- seem to think that it is our civic obligation to kill a tyrant, even if the tyrant has never shown an instance "when his affections swayed more than his reason" (Act II, Scene 1, lines 20-21). How is this always the case?

4. How does Cassius interpret the thunderstorm and the strange events around Rome? What had Cicero said about interpretation?

5. If Machiavelli had been one of the conspirators, what would have been his advice in the conversation between Brutus, Cassius, Casca, Decius, Cinna, Metellus and Trebonius?

6. What do we learn about Caesar from his conversation with Calphurnia? What do we learn about Caesar from his conversation with Decius?

7. What would Machiavelli say about Caesarís virtue? What would he say about the conspiratorsí preoccupation with appearances? Do you think Shakespeare read Machiavelli, and do you think that he would have esteemed him more than Plutarch?

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Session 19 Questions (Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Acts III - V):

Penguin Edition pages 112-195

1. Was Caesar's death for the general good? Does tyranny die with Caesar, as Cinna immediately proclaims upon his death (118)? Can tyranny be eradicated from a republic?

2. Compare and contrast Brutus' and Antony's speeches to the Roman public (Act III.2). Why did Brutus allow Antony this opportunity? Why was Antony's speech so effective?

3. Outline the opinions and behavior of the plebeians in Act III.2-3. What does this suggest about political life in republics and the way republics are governed?

4. Why was Brutus angry with Cassius? In answering this question think of the reasons that Brutus gives for not being able to raise funds in order to support his army (and what this tells us about Brutus' character).

5. Why did Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus put to death so many senators (IV.3)? Given the outcome of the play, what does this imply for the future rulership of Rome?

6. Why do Cassius, Titinius, and Brutus prefer death to capture by the enemy in Act V? What does Strato mean that "no man else hath honour by [Brutus'] death" (194)?

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Session 20 Questions (Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Acts I - V):

Penguin Edition pages 49-195 (Entire Play)

1. How does Shakespeare build up the immortal character of Julius Caesar in the play?

2. What does the people's reaction to the two speeches teach us about the Roman citizens? What form of government is best for them (a monarchy or a Republic)? Today democracy is seen as the best form of government (or at least the best of the worst). Are modern citizens better informed than their Roman counterparts and as such better able to rule themselves?

3. Was it reasonable or practical to assassinate Caesar in order to keep him from becoming more powerful or, as Cassius puts it (see p. 121) , for the sake of giving liberty to Rome?

4. If Julius Caesar had too much ambition, did Brutus have too little? Was he wise in assassinating no one but Caesar on the ides of March?

5. In Act V Scene 3, Messala laments:

Mistrust of good success hath done this deed.
O hateful Error, Melancholy's child,
Why dost thou show to the apt thoughts of men
The things that are not? O Error, soon conceived,
Thou never com'st unto a happy birth,
But kill'st the mother that engendered thee.

What does this quotation teaches us about the play? In relation to this question, think of the difference between Brutus' character and that of Antony's. Why was the latter successful while the former a failure?

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