Literary Essay Example: Influence of Machiavelli on Shakespeare

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In Elizabethan England, the story of king Lear and his daughters was a familiar tale. In fact, the story was believed to be a based on actual historical facts since it was considered to have been taken from ancient British history. By the time King Lear was written by Shakespeare, England had survived many years of political, civil war and religious upheaval. In fact, there was considerable turmoil in England after the death of Henry VIII. This was during the rule of Mary I. The conflict between the Church of England and Catholicism resulted in much bloodshed (Shakespeare, 1997). When Elizabeth I came to power, there was a period of extended peace. However, the populace in gland was worried in that she had refused to select a possible heir and she was unmarried. In fact, no citizen wanted a repeat of the events that unfolded during the earlier transfer of power. The mere fact that there was a possibility of a power vacuum created fear about a possible successor. English citizens had a comprehension that for a strong country like England, there was a need to have a strong leader so as to prevent it from any possible invasion. It was the leadership of Elizabeth that had thwarted the Spanish invasion of 1588. In fact, Elizabeth is credited to her efforts of trying to unite England. Having witnessed the conflicts that England had gone through earlier, no ruler would have deliberately chosen to divide their country. The key reason for not dividing the country is that there would be squabbles between lords and the lack of a central government would have weakened the country since there would be no one to conduct an effective defense of the country. One should note that Shakespeares Elizabethan audience would have felt horrified by the decision to divide the country as this would create disunity. There are various elements that are contained within a story. Such elements may include a reflection of the current events. Through the screening of King Lear, Shakespeare addressed the Prince. Some of the characters in King Lear portray some elements that Machiavelli had on what it took for one to be a successful prince.

Discussion of features, themes, symbolism, imagery

One of the key features that Shakespeare incorporated in King Lear is imagery. Shakespeare incorporated the Prince who was a self-serving villain. It is imperative to comprehend that works of Machiavelli influenced Shakespeare (Kanzer,1965). Machiavelli wrote that in order for a ruler to maintain power, the ruler should be able to utilize every means at their disposal to maintain control. Moreover, there is the issue of tragedy in the play. By murdering a ruler, one is able to achieve power. Therefore, in the bid to ensure that Lear was not disposed of, he disinherited his youngest daughter, Cordelia. However, to gain power, one has to be manipulative and intelligent. The older daughters of Lear conjured to take power from him.

King Lear play has taken a tragedy plot. In order for a play to be considered a tragedy, the hero in the play has to come from nobility or one who is endowed with a tragic flow and end up making a serious mistake in judgment (Elton, 1966). In the play, Lear was royalty. He ruled many people while at the same time owning vast lands. It is imperative to comprehend that Lear was not only nobility, but he was solely responsible for the fate that befell him. Additionally, pride is also one of the key reasons that Lear turned a tragic hero (Rosenberg, 1972).

As a play, King Lear is one instance that can be used to explain Machiavellis proposal in the manner that a ruler should act in the bid to be respected, successful, and wise. Through tragic hero, Shakespeare in King Lear is able to attribute some of the Machiavellian theories elements. Shakespeare is able to articulate his play through tragedy. In Shakespeares King Lear, there are various acts done by the king that display shrewdness and cruelty. Most of these instances are geared towards King Lears youngest daughter, Cordelia. During the beginning of the play, King Lear is actually convinced that he can hand the power of ruling Britain to his three daughters. However, King Lear was reluctant to give up most of his knights. This shows that Lear wanted to continue enjoying the benefits of being a leader while at the same time not taking responsibility for the decisions he made. Regan and Goneril were ready to begin their own lives and rule. However, their father continued to act as the King. According to the Machiavellian Prince, some of the vital traits of a leader include the use of ones military force, intelligence, having the support of citizens and most of all love or fear from the subjects.

One of the greatest mistakes that King Lear did was alienating himself with the individuals who really loved him. When the king requests that all of his daughters show him, love, there is a misunderstanding that leads to the disinheritance of Cordelia. This occurs after the king believes that Cordelia did not love him. This leaves the king in a vulnerable position in that he is forced to deal with two power hungry daughters while at the same time lacking support from the only individual who really loved him.

The rash decisions that Lear make on the spur of the moment lead him towards making mistakes. One of the King Lears mistake is splitting the kingdom. It is only after splitting the kingdom that Lear realizes that he had given away power (Bullough, 1973).

In conclusion, both Machiavelli and Lear comprehend the vitality of eliminating the opposition. However, in the instance of Lear, the individual who was considered as the opposition was one who actually loved the king. Lear fall victim to the false flattery of his two daughters who in the end betray him. King Lear play has taken a tragedy plot. In order for a play to be considered a tragedy, the hero in the play has to come from nobility or one who is endowed with a tragic flow and end up making a serious mistake in judgment. One of the greatest mistakes that King Lear did was alienating himself with the individuals who really loved him Machiavelli in the Prince has the belief that there is need to eliminate the opposition so as to remove any potential of getting overthrown while Lears rejection of opposition was his undoing. Edmund in King Lear is the character that has the most Machiavellian characteristics. He uses different strategies such as manipulation and deceit in the bid to get power.



Bullough, G., 1973. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare: Major tragedies. Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. Volume VII (Vol. 7). Columbia University Press.

Shakespeare, W., 1997. The Norton Shakespeare: based on the Oxford edition.

Elton, W.R., 1966. King Lear and the gods. University Press of Kentucky.

Mack, M., 2013. King Lear in our time. Routledge.

Muir, K., 1951. Samuel Harsnett and King Lear. The Review of English Studies, 2(5), pp.11-21.

Rosenberg, M., 1972. The Masks of King Lear. Associated University Presse.

Kanzer, M., 1965. Imagery in King Lear. American Imago, 22(1), p.3.


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