Page images
PDF
EPUB

and ardent thought in composing the book, as he himself tells us when recounting the indignities which Italy was then suffering. Useless or unpremeditated cruelty and the capricious exhibition of power for its own sake are not, in a man like Cæsar Borgia, evidences of virtù : they are the most conclusive proofs of the want of it. That Borgia's virtù worked successfully, may be gathered from the inability of his enemies to disrupt his party or to seduce his subjects during the long illness which kept him at death's door.

This, therefore, is an Italian Renaissance conception of the political Superman, a glorification of the Will to Power without 'moralic acid,' and, as such, comparable with Nietzsche's more recent exposition. But a crucial difference may be noted in the views of the two men. Nietzsche unhesitatingly encourages the Will to Power in all walks of life, private as well as public. Machiavelli restricts its scope to public office or politics, as Nietzsche himself fully recognizes: “Now no philosopher can be in

any doubt as to what the type of perfection is in politics; it is, of course, Machiavellianism." Therein, the Italian is far more “humane" or "moral" than the Slavonic-German philosopher. For as soon as we apply the Will to Power to corporate action, or to the action of a private individual who represents a corporation, we do away with all questions of "humane" responsibility, and proceed on the only rational basis permissible, namely, that of the success of the corporation, party, or nation by whatsoever means it may be consummated. The norm of private behavior is the promotion of personal happiness with as little harm to others as possible, and often, with great self-sacrifice. The norm of conduct for persons in public office is the attainment of certain objects esteemed desirable by a nation, or by a party, or by their representatives; and as these objects are economic, social, political, administrative, or religious and inhere in conditions or in masses, not in individuals, they cannot be regulated by the rules of private duty, and the only right rules are those which bring victories. As a matter of logic and historical experience, then, Machiavelli might have asserted that he had said nothing fundamentally shocking or false ; and he might have left to the metaphysicians all debating on principles of political

or public morality, the genuine existence or utility of which he must have denied.

Through practical knowledge and historical insight, he had arrived at a conviction as to how big things are achieved in politics: and he had applied his conclusions to the specific case of decadent Italy. The critical need of Italy was a Superman. Machiavelli defined in plain language what the qualities of a Superman in politics must be. How plausibly and cogently he reasoned, the later success of Napoleon and other supreme leaders, and the general feeling that Il Principe is a dangerous and pernicious guide, clearly prove.

III The Elizabethan dramatists, while railing, with Greene, against the "pestilent Machivilian policie,” were attracted to the splendid boldness of Il Principe. It needs but a hasty glance at their dramatic personages to persuade us of their love for strong, forceful characters who created action, "transvaluated values," and, like Nietzsche's Superman, overcame "even pity for the sake of the far-off goal.” To Marlowe, in whom the turbulent Will to Power rose highest, in whom the impulse to do and to say things in a great way was innate, Machiavelli must have appeared a kindred, lofty spirit. How important for Marlowe's dramatic development some historians rate this meeting of like natures, may be gathered from the statement made by Courthope and John Morley and the emphasis placed on it by Meyer :

"The most colossal figures to be met with in the Elizabethan drama, are Marlowe's Tamburlaine, Faustus, and Barabas : into these Titans he breathed the very soul of his existence,-a wild craving for infinite power. He was the 'notable exception' among the Elizabethan dramatists; for he had studied Machiavelli with a vengeance : and it may be stated as an absolute certainty, that had the Principe never been written, his three great heroes would not have been drawn with such gigantic strokes." Like all the Elizabethan playwrights, Marlowe knew Machiavelli only superficially. He had read him,- or rather, equivocal adaptations of him, — but had never probed his inner meaning. Machiavelli's restricted application of psychology and politics

was removed by Marlowe from its lawful sphere, where, though amazing, it did not seem sardonic, and adjusted to the illimitable range of private life, where it appeared not only villainous, but even subversive of the most sacred social bonds. The Will to Power was magnified at the expense of law and order. The full consequences of that Nietzschean catchword were depicted in the glorious Superman verse of which Marlowe was the creator and in this theme running through each composition : "I love the great despisers. Man is something that hath to be surpassed.” Starting from Machiavelli, Marlowe had steered a straight course to Nietzsche. The heights to which Faustus soared far above the flat levels of mere humanity were the logical last step in the march of Marlowe's Supermen.

That Scythian shephered, Tamburlaine, the contemporary of Chaucer,- what had he to do with Machiavellian policy? Was it his aim to unite a people, to extend its influence, to increase its commerce, to spread its culture, to make the whole earth one vast Samarkand in language, customs, opportunities? Did he harbor the thought of welding into one homogeneous nation the diverse races of Asia and Africa ? Did he hold himself bound forever to his immense principality, and thus forced to work out the happiness of his subjects along with his own, as was incumbent on Machiavelli's Italian prince? No.

His unique, imperious desire was —

"to be a terror to the world, Measuring the limits of his empery

By east and west, as Phæbus doth his course." His political science may be summed up as a boundless, purposeless, completely un-Machiavellian cruelty. Assassination, spoliation, brutality, the murder of his own son by his own hand, marked the progress of his triumphal chariot. His liberality was uncalculating, his eloquence naïvely egoistic, lacking in farreaching results. A territory conquered was apparently a job finished and done with. The large number of people existing after his departure, patriotism and native ambitions lifting their heads before he was out of sight, the intensification of lingering traditions and racial animosities taking place on recollections of defeat, the religious hatred engendered by his scornful,

blasphemous outbursts, — these considerations, which, in Machiavelli's estimation, it were suicidal to neglect, Tamburlaine passed over as non-existent. Even the certainty that Bajazeth's son, Callapine, whom he had irrationally allowed to escape, would one day, coming to avenge his tortured father, catch him bedridden, seems never to have occurred to him.

Tamburlaine's Will to Power was thoroughly lion-like; it was splendid; it was contagious: but it was not Machiavellian. The author of Il Principe would have been the last to recommend it as a political asset :

“It being necessary then for a prince to know well how to employ the nature of the beasts, he should be able to assume both that of the fox and that of the lion; for whilst the latter cannot escape the traps laid for him, the former cannot defend himself against the wolves. A prince should be a fox, to know the traps and snares; and a lion, to be able to frighten the wolves; for those who simply hold to the

nature of the lion do not understand their business." He might have admired the tremendous energy of the Tartar chieftain, but he would have disowned him as a disciple.

Similarly, The Jew of Malta and the other dramas of Marlowe reveal a profound inability to grasp the essence of Machiavelli's doctrine. In spite of Marlowe's explicit avowal of the principles which he was endeavoring to put into operation in that rough draft of the Merchant of Venice,

« We pursue

The story of a rich and famous Jew
Who lived in Malta : you shall find him still,
In all his projects, a sound Machiavill;

And that's his character," — we are compelled to contemplate with doubt the highly exaggerated portrait he has drawn, and to ask ourselves whether he did not, in truth, unknowingly foster among his auditors that infamous superstition about the nature of Machiavelli and his works which has been handed down through the ages.

If deep-dyed villainy were a synonym for Machiavellianism, Barabas might, indeed, proudly boast of his fidelity to the Italian scribe. Deceit is his method; death, his instrument; inordinate lust for power, the motive force behind his machinations. Not

even his own daughter,— who is to him as Jessica to Shylock,- is safe from his sanguinary designs. The Will to Power has become a Craze for Slaughter, each new deed of horror defeating the effectiveness of that which preceded. Barabas, the fox with the appetite of a lion, loses his cunning in his unquenchable thirst for blood; and the offensive strength of the king of beasts, without which no Machiavellian can justify his title to the name, degenerates in him into the mere fortitude to bear the torments of a final ordeal by fire. With what ease can his failure to honor the memory of Machiavelli be proved! Nothing more is required than a fairly close reading of the two books involved. That the interpretation of Machiavellianism here given is the work of a tyro who has lightly skimmed over the carefully written mature thought of a much-experienced observer of political phenomena, is only too visible on every page. The young dramatist, barely past his majority, could hardly be expected to get the full benefit of that severely compressed wisdom representing the philosophic acquisition of nearly fifty years of incessant activity, study, and reflection.

And so the Jew of Malta is vulnerable, as a Machiavellian play, from innumerable angles. In the first place, Barabas is too manifold in his ambitions. To be a faithful Jew, to obtain the greatest happiness for one's daughter,—and that daughter a young Jewess at the perilous age, — to amass colossal wealth, and to secure supreme power among Christians, are conflicting ambitions of too varied a character for any but extraordinary geniuses. Had Barabas been content with power, he might have attained it through conversion and the marriage of his daughter to the Christian Lodowick. But he was a Jew. Had he been satisfied with loyalty to his religion, he might have gained eternal glory by the sacrifice of his dreams of temporal might. But he was ambitious. The two aspirations were bound to nullify each other. In the second place, to poison his daughter without preventing the transmittal of incriminating evidence, was, in a Machiavellian sense, witless. Finally, the confiding mood in which he accepted the proposals of the deposed governor, whose downfall he had accomplished and whose son he had caused to be murdered, was so anti-Machiavellian as to be incredible in

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »