Machiavellian Evaluation Of Hamlet
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Niccolo Machiavelli is undoubtedly one of the most enigmatic figures in the long evolving history of political thought of modern Europe. No other doctrine of any other political theorist has been so intensely dissected, read, reread and researched upon even after five hundred years. Machiavelli has been accused and accepted, revered and rejected, celebrated and condemnedvery few political theorists have actually managed to cause such diverse reactions in the minds of people all over the world.
It is understandable that the main cause of such diverse and contradictory reactions is the so called “immorality” in the text. Undoubtedly, Machiavelli advices the Prince to be as opportunistic and immoral as possible.
“A prince and especially a new prince, cannot possibly exercise all those virtues for which men are called good. To preserve the state he often has to do things against his word, against charity, against humanity, against religion….He should not depart from the good if he can hold to it, but he should be ready to enter on evil if he has to.”
Thus we realize that Machiavelli is actually giving us a practical and extremely context based guide, punctuated with numerous examples from his times and from classical times, on how to attain and then “hold” on to a state. Through him we enter into a complete new world of identification and thus we understand how in Renaissance the idea of the nation and the state changed. The single most important aspect of political history during this period is the transition from Christendom to Europe; that is, from a civilization in which the ideal was a culture united under a Christian Empire, to a civilization based on nation-states in open competition with one another. A word is perhaps in order here about that term “nation-state”. We tend to confuse “nation” with “state”, which in itself shows how thoroughly different modern society is from medieval. The word natio is Latin and it means something like “people” or “tribe”. A good example of this is how the phrase “the German nation” was used in earlier times. That phrase meant all those who spoke German and who shared in the common Germanic culture. It included some Swiss, the Austrians, Germans living in Bohemia, and so on. The German nation was larger than the German state. A nation is a cultural entity, a state is a political entity. With Machiavelli we stand in front of the gaunt open gate of modernism, where the “State” had finally attained its autonomy. The state became a completely independent and isolated concept. Political life of men now stood beyond the realms of religious, metaphysical and ethical life. The concept of the state was completely isolated. Machiavelli aimed at creating a republic which is unified and complete.. thus we have his “exhortation to restore Italy to liberty and free her from the barbarians” to the “magnificent Lorenzo the Medici” to take up “this task with that courage and with that hope which suit a just enterprise; so that under your banner, our country may become noble again..” We thus understand that prince is a doctrine of guide lines following which we unify an infected nation into “an unified body, which by acting instinctively, generated the strength, single minded will power and vitality necessary for political success.” Hence we can use the text was a credible method of testing or evaluating other states, principalities and kingdoms.. thus we can at the same time analyze the cause of the rise and fall of a particular king in a span of time, judge him through his political views and actions and see how they succeed or fail to qualify to the standards mentioned in Machiavellis Prince like the different examples cited by the author himself. We shall then try to evaluate Shakespearean texts and their macrocosms using the rules laid by Machiavelli and for this purpose we would consider the text of Hamlet and would thus try and evaluate the politics of Denmark.
When we look inside the play what we see is a Kingdom moving on..passing through the various phases of time and historical evolution. The King Hamlet is murdered by his own brother Claudius who then immediately married the sister-in-law Gertrude and reigns on till Hamlet the prince avenged the death of his father by killing Claudius and dying in the process..finally we have the advent of Fortinbras who march in a Denmark open, free and presented to him. Hence looking at it this way we have a general and evolving array of events in the history of Denmark, just like one of the examples cited in Machiavellis prince. We thus take the three mentioned characters and evaluate them. Claudius is a complete villain, he murders his own brother by pouring poison in his ears, he ruled the kingdom strongly, he indulges in incessant merry making, then he plots the death of his nephew. Thus his action as we see in the play is completely calculated. He ventures out taking a risk and ends up winning. Fortinbras on the other hand is an example of a completely opposite phenomenon; Denmark is presented to him in the end completely unguarded with the king, queen and the future prince lying dead. He, thus does not risk anything but attains the kingdom completely by luck. Hence we can, according to Machiavelli evaluate their gaining of the state as Claudius: Gaining his kingdom of becoming price by crime and Fortinbras: Gaining his kingdom by complete good luck. Claudius like Agathocles the Sicilian gains power but does not gain any glory. Claudius fails as a king because according to Machiavelli, his cruelty is not “well used”. According to Machiavelli the rulers who come to power by crime can survive if they use cruelty in the beginning to establish and determine his authority and then use it to maintain and preserve the state Claudius fails to exercise cruelty, he usurps the Kingdom in stealth. He should have complete murdered the royal clan, killing the queen and disposing the prince. He should have wiped off the royal clan to eliminate the possibility of revenge and then he should have ruled with an iron fist.. putting down the general population and then satisfying them later. He does not do all that at all, thus the “rotten” stench of the court reaches the commoners too. He marries the queen, causing tremendous discontent and affliction in the heart of the young prince.
“Frailty thy name is woman- A little month, or ere those shoes were old/With which she followd my poor fathers body,/Like Niobe, all tears-why, she- /O, God a beast that wants discourse of reason/Would have mourned longer-married with