Elizabethan View of Machiavelli as ‘Evil’ Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Apr 22nd, 2019

Elizabethan writers were among the major critics of Machiavelli’s work, where they depicted him as an evil and unjust individual. Writers such as Shakespeare continuously invoked Machiavelli’s work in their writings, in which they portrayed him as advocating for violence, gang society and deviance.

In fact, there are some religious and political reasons that motivated these writers to invoke Machiavelli’s ideas of the society and religion in their works and attempted to portray a negative picture of the Italian author. It has long been thought that Machiavelli’s ideas were antireligious, but is imperative to understand that most of the Elizabethan writers were British writers of the Queen Elizabeth I era.

Why was this so? Arguably, the sociopolitical and religious system of governance in Britain at the time was threatened by Machiavelli’s Ideas of freedom from religious dictatorship and injustice in the society. These aspects were largely lacking in the Elizabethan Britain.

In his work, “the Jew of Malta”, Christopher Marlowe represents a prologue that depicts the evils that humans cause on others. The work is about a Maltese Jew, who was barbaric and vengeful against the authorities of the city of Malta. In the prologue, it is evident that the character most likely reflects or depicts the evil Machiavelli.

In fact, the characters name is “Machiavel”, which suggests that Marlowe invoked Machiavelli’s name in his work (Boas 29). It is also evident that the character was used to display the evils of deviance associated with Machihavelli’s ideas, introduced the “power is immoral” theory.

In fact, this is one of Machiavelli’s ideas of society. In this context, it is worth saying that Marlowe was displaying Machiavelli as an evil Jew because Christians in the era believed that the Jews were antichrists. In “The Prince”, Machiavelli used some characters and a society similar to the situation in Britain.

Under the absolute rule of the Monarch, Britain was leading a dark path towards social conflict because power was concentrated in the palace while common people were subjected to authoritarian rule of the kings and queens. Machiavelli was a critic of this form of rule.

Marlowe was a proponent of the British sociopolitical and religious system. It appears that he was angered by Machiavelli’s ideas, which made him taint the picture of Machiavelli as an evil and unjust person.

In addition, Marlowe’s play “the massacre at Paris” provides some additional evidence of how the Elizabethan writers thought about Machiavelli’s political and religious ideas (Boas 127). In this play, there is a lot of stabbing and killings, which are perpetrated by gangs and deviant citizens in Paris (Marlowe 34).

It appears that Marlowe was attempting to make the Britons fear or reject Machiavelli’s literature. He portrayed Machiavelli’s idea of society as lawless and full of gangs ready to kill a person at sight (Mackenzie 148). This was a direct attack on Machiavelli’s play “The Prince”.

William Shakespeare, an Elizabethan writer, was also a critique of Machiavelli’s idea of a political system. In “the prince”, Machiavelli’s central theme revolves around the difficulty facing European societies as they attempted to consolidate illegitimate dynasties on the thrones, which caused violence and massive loss of life.

The Elizabethan writers did not like this idea because they thought it was directly attacking the British political and social system (Bloom 53). In “Macbeth”, Shakespeare depicts Machiavelli as an evil woman. In this play, Lady Macbeth represents a similar character with Catherine De Medici in Marlowe’s “the massacre at Paris”.

Both women are evil, ruthless and power hungry. They represent the tools that were used to destroy Christianity, especially Protestants. It appears that the writers were attacking Catholicism as a religion and instead advocated for Protestantism as the right religion. Therefore, the main idea was to display Machiavelli as the evil woman whose main purpose is to destroy the religion.

However, it is worth noting that the criticism was largely because Machiavelli’s idea of politics advocated for a system based on separation of state from religion, which was lacking in Britain. Machiavelli’s idea was that the monarchs in Europe were using religion to justify their illegitimate regimes, which made them won the support of their subjects.

The evil woman in Macbeth (Lady Macbeth) and the massacre at Paris (Catherine) represent Machiavelli’s character and view of his society (Adelman 68). Elizabethan writers attempted to portray Italy as an evil society that supported the idea of Catholicism and killing of monarchs. They attempted to depict Machiavelli as an example of an evil person the evil Italian society.

Based on these aspects, Shakespeare and Marlowe represent some good examples of Elizabethan writers who viewed Machiavelli as a threat to the sociopolitical system in Britain. In their view, Machiavelli’s idea of the abolition of monarchs and separation of religion from the state was evil, unjust and unreasonable.

One of their best targets was Machiavelli. Although they did not mention Machiavelli in person, it is evident that the characters presented in their works show the writers’ negative opinion of Machiavelli and his ideas.

Works Cited

Adelman, Janet. Born of woman, fantasies of maternal power in Macbeth. New York: Blooms Literary Criticism, 2008. Print

Bloom, Harold. William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. New York: Blooms Literary Criticism, 2010. Print

Boas, Frederick. Christopher Marlowe: A biographical and critical study. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953. Print

Mackenzie, Clayton. The Massacre at Paris and the Danse Macabre. Gale: University of Leicester, 2008. Print.

Marlowe, Christopher. The Jew of Malta. New York, Manchester University Press, 1997. Print




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