The Prince

The Use and Acquisition of Authority in Julius Caesar and The Prince 12th Grade

A comparative study of two texts reveals context as the primary influence upon the interplay between pragmatism and personality morality in an individual’s pursuit and consolidation of power. Driven by an overarching contextual desire for stable government, Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513) and William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1599) demonstrates the incompatibility of personal morality and political success across their respective discussions of effective authority. Implementing his extensive diplomatic experience among Italy’s warring city-states, Machiavelli’s didactic treatise operates within a value system supremely favoring ruthless pragmatism over ethics in establishing and maintaining authority. While the relative liberality of the form enables Shakespeare to problematize Machiavelli’s binary perceptions of human nature, his ultimate desire to preserve the stability achieved under Elizabeth I’s reign leads him to favor pragmatism over morality in exercising authority. Therefore despite depictions of human nature nuanced by differing purposes, shared contextual priorities drive these composers to present aligned intertextual perspectives privileging pragmatism over morality in an individual’s pursuit of power.

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