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Reading Machiavelli Rhetorically: The Prince as Covert Critique of the Renaissance Prince
By James O. Ward
California Italian Studies Journal, Vol.2:2 (2011)
Abstract: In this essay, classical rhetorical theory is applied to show that Machiavelli’s Prince was not intended as advice for a prince, nor as “political science,” but rather as a very subtle, but nevertheless powerful, critique of the Italian princes of his day, the Medici included. While not a new reading of the text (the notion of the Prince as a crypto-republican work goes back even before the Enlightenment to the very first years of its appearance), this article places such an interpretation on the firm base of rhetorical theory together with a close reading of the text. Classical rhetorical theory will thus be seen to be a powerful tool in the proper understanding of the text, a line of approach continuing the already important work of the past twenty years, which seeks to restore an appreciation of the fundamentally rhetorical nature of Machiavelli’s literary technique and political thought. From this examination of the text against the background of rhetorical theory, one of the perennially vexing questions in the interpretation of Machiavelli’s political thought–how to reconcile the apparently “princely” counsels of the Prince with the republican sentiments expressed in Machiavelli’s other writings–can finally be resolved.