Prospero and Machiavelli

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In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Prospero is a good description of a Machiavellian Prince. Prospero was the ideal candidate for a political tyrant that instated power over all inhabitants on an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Machiavelli had a political vision that was ruthlessly pragmatic in a way to retain power. Prospero and Machiavelli are two of a kind but the difference lies in how Prospero mimics Machiavelli’s teachings. Machiavelli addressed certain subjects such as power, leadership and governance. However, Prospero did not utilize Machiavelli’s teachings the right way. Arial, Miranda and Caliban are characters in The Tempest who provide evidence in how Prospero was a tyrannical colonizer. Instead of addressing both Prospero’s and Machiavelli’s importance on a subject, Machiavelli’s principles will be used to determine their importance and influence in both The Prince and The Tempest.

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Power is a subject that both Prospero and Machiavelli used to fuel their political vison and power structures. In The Prince, Machiavelli uses his agenda to instill fear rather than love because to him, it was an important aspect for a powerful political leader to set those boundaries. He stated, whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with (Machiavelli 250; XVII). Machiavelli believed that because of man’s nature, he could have direct power of them entirely. He called men false, cowardly, and ungrateful because they felt obligated to take advantage of every opportunity that they could possibly get. Machiavelli came to the conclusion that, men loving according to their own will and fearing according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others; he must endeavour only to avoid hatred, as is noted (Machiavelli 251; XVII). Machiavelli did not avoid the importance of not being hated.

The opening scene of The Tempest began with a storm caused Prospero, the former duke of Milan. The Tempest is critiqued on political power similar to Machiavelli’s theory in The Prince. Prospero’s reign on the island is perceived differently by each person he subdues. Miranda, who is Prospero’s daughter finds herself disconnecting from him because love outweighed fear. Caliban revolted against Prospero because he disliked his hatred towards him. Machiavelli stated that, Therefore a prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty (Machiavelli 250; XVII). Prospero had a difficult time with the idea unifying. Ariel conveyed his/her admiration for Prospero, All hail, great master! grave sir, hail!… (Shakespeare 265; line 283). As we know from Caliban’s situation, Prospero would rather be loved as a leader than hated. However, Ariel does fear Prospero after his/her request for liberty was denied. Prospero replied, Before the time be out? no more! (Shakespeare 267; line 352). Ariel replied, Remember I have done thee worthy service; Told thee no lies, made thee no mistakings, served Without or grudge or grumblings: thou didst promise (Shakespeare 267; line 354-356). As Machiavelli said before, it is difficult to unite love and fear which is why Prospero failed as a political leader. Prospero did not utilize Machiavelli’s teachings the right way and lived in constant fear of mutiny.

In The Prince, Machiavelli addressed governance and leadership. Machiavelli stated that, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others (Machiavelli 250; XVII). He believed that a prince should carefully guard themselves and to not violate the women of his subjects. Courage and greatness were two of the characteristics that Machiavelli believed made a good leader. Machiavelli stated, That prince is highly esteemed who conveys this impression of himself, and he who is highly esteemed is not easily conspired against; for, provided it is well known that he is an excellent man and revered by his people (Machiavelli 252; XIX). In the terms of Machiavelli, a leader should proceed in a way with humanity and prudence because too much confidence would make him foolish, and too much distrust would be unbearable.

Unlike Machiavelli, Prospero violated the principles of leadership and governance. He failed to govern Miranda and Caliban, but the difference lied in the acts of love towards Miranda and hatred towards Caliban. Prospero violated Machiavelli’s principles when he colonized the island and enslaved Caliban. Caliban claimed the island as his stating, this island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother (Shakespeare 270; line 355). As Machiavelli said before, a leader has to keeps their hands off of others property. Caliban was an example in the failure of Prospero’s reign because he was not able to invoke fear but instead he invoked hatred. Caliban did not fear Prospero and he intensified his treachery by professing, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you for learning me your language! (Shakespeare 271; line 490). Prospero failed to address the subjects of governance and leadership in the right way resulting in him being an oppressive tyrant. Prospero’s source of powers came from rebellion and hatred.

Machiavelli and Shakespeare engaged in the subjects of power, governance and leadership in different ways. Prospero utilized his power to subjugate and suppress the characters in the play. It such a coincidence that even his name spells out oppressor when rearranged. Machiavelli’s teachings are situational because they do not fit every scenario in Prospero’s case. Prospero’s success in one situation lead to failure in other. Perhaps, the difference between a ruler and leader would be clarified by one word which is imposition. Machiavelli’s political precedent and Shakespeare’s political theory becomes very apparent. Machiavelli and Shakespeare gained influence through their teachings and it is apparent that the postcolonial perspective of governance and politics is prominent today although it was not understood during their time.

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Prospero and Machiavelli. (2019, Dec 11). Retrieved February 5, 2023 , from
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