Still I Rise
November 13, 2011 12:56 AM   Subscribe

What is the connection (if any) between Niccolò Machiavelli and faked deaths?

There seems to be an idea around that Machiavelli either faked his death or wrote about faking one's death as part of his political and/or martial philosophy. However, searching for the subject turns up a lot of pages discussing Tupac Shakur and little else.

The reason I'm interested is because in the prologue to The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe, the character Machiavel comes on and introduces the play, saying, "Albeit the world think Machiavel is dead, Yet was his soul but flown beyond the Alps ...". Does anyone here know if there is any actual connection between this and the writings of Machiavelli - or conversely, where the idea of a connection between Machiavelli and faked deaths might come from? Might it even originate with this play?
posted by iotic to Writing & Language (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I haven't read everything Machiavelli wrote, but I've read much of it, and much about him, and I've never run across this idea. The supposed parallel between Tupac Shakur and Machiavelli is just silly. Machiavelli did not fake his death at 25 and remain hidden for 18 years; at the age of 29, he was appointed Second Chancellor of the Florentine Republic, an office that he held until the return of the Medici family to power in 1512, when he was 33 years old.

In the Prologue to The Jew of Malta, Machiavel implies that the late Henri, Duke of Guise (assassinated on the orders of Henri III of France in 1588) had incarnated his spirit, i.e. had epitomized "Machiavellianism" as understood or caricatured by sixteenth-century critics. I can't imagine that any contemporary who knew who Machiavelli was would have missed the reference to the Guise.

In an article from 1996 in Slate, the music critic Mark Steyn claimed that rapper Chuck D was at the origin of the notion that Machiavelli faked his death. That might be a good lead to pursue.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:55 AM on November 13, 2011

Interesting question.

You have to distinguish, of course, between Machiavelli the real man and Machiavelli the legend; they typically share no more than a name. Marlowe was helping to elaborate the legend, and I think the reason 'old Nic' is not dead here is simply that he's been pressed into dramatic service as a ghost. English writers at the time liked what Seneca had done with ghosts: I think Marlowe wanted to do something similar with a more contemporary reference, and Machiavelli just happened to be the best example of a dead modern who, as a ghost, would be recognisable to his audience and plausible as an embodiment of evil.

It's interesting to see that the Machiavelli legend is still being elaborated and updated in unexpected ways.
posted by Segundus at 4:37 AM on November 13, 2011

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