The Comic Ethos of Il Principe


Angus Fletcher


While Machiavelli’s political writings have traditionally been claimed as the inspiration for views on comedy, this article suggests the reverse, tracing his views on Fortune to the plotting slaves of Plautus and Terence. These slaves offer the earliest surviving example of a successful method for negotiating the paradoxes of Fortune, and Machiavelli was himself so familiar with this method that he made it the basis for his own comedy, La Mandragola. When the culminating chapter of Il Principe is read not as a logical argument, but as a continuation of this comic tradition, its contradictions fall away, and it emerges as a practical guide to plotting successful polities.

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