- Seeking Real Truths: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Machiavelli
A multidisciplinary volume dedicated to Machiavelli is welcome, and the editors' goal "to widen the scholarly lens on Machiavelli to include the work of scholars from countries beyond the United States and Italy" (ix) is also agreeable. Even though the "scholarly lens" was widened, the editors intentionally narrowed the scope of the text to three categories: government, society, and reception.
The first section on government focuses on Il Principe and the Discorsi: two essays on the former (Marie Gaille-Nikodimov and Charles D. Tartlon) and one on the latter (Julia Conaway Bondanella). These essays are complemented by a fourth essay on Machiavelli's use of rhetoric (Eugene Garver). These essays present many of the classic arguments about the relationship between language and power, tyranny and republican virtù, that one would expect to find in a collection of this sort. Of course, this means that the essays herein, while certainly well-written, are more appealing to the student than the specialist. And, with the exception of Conaway Bondanella's thorough bibliography, the others are surprising sparse. [End Page 873]
The second section, society, provides the reader with six essays on gender (Jo Ann Cavallo, Gerry Milligan), the Mandragola and the Clizia (Salvatore Di Maria, Salvino Bizzarro, Patricia Vilches), and Belfagor (Sante Matteo). Again, the approach to each of these topics is relatively standard, often using the stage as a rather warped "mirror" for Florentine society and culture. There are two notable exceptions that must be highlighted. Jo Ann Cavallo's essay "Machiavelli and Women" is an elegant, restrained, and controversial reconsideration of contemporary scholarship concerned with Machiavelli's view of women and femininity. For example, Cavallo concludes that the "women [Machiavelli] portrays positively in his letters, historical writings, comedies, and fictional prose and poetry are presumed to be just as capable as men in any branch of activity —if not more so. They thus provide models of behavior for either sex" (147). Surely this should spark fruitful debate among those who examine Machiavelli's views on gender. It is also worth mentioning Salvino Bizzarro's "Debauchery, Mayhem, and Sex in Machiavelli's Mandragola" for its interesting blend of historical, literary, theatrical, and film criticism, a novel approach in Machiavelli studies. There are, however, portions of the second section that could have benefited from more rigorous editing. For example, in the first sentence of Salvatore di Maria's "Machiavelli on Stage: Mandragola and Clizia," the author notes in passing that "The Prince . . . gained [Machiavelli] immediate notoriety" (173). Did it? Il Principe was not published until 1532, five years after Niccolò's death. It likely circulated in manuscript form, but its limited readership did not gain him anything like "notoriety," at least not outside of the circle of his friends.
The last section on reception is, once again, standard in its approach, but nevertheless sound in its coverage of the "Renaissance" Machiavelli. The essays that stray too far into the modern era are far less successful. Furthermore, Sydney Anglo's recent book Machiavelli: The First Century (Oxford, 2005) is not cited by any of the authors (Mary Walsh, Susan A. Ashley, Joseph Khoury, John Roe, William E. Klein, RoseAnna Mueller). Surely it was in print before the present text went to press. That point notwithstanding, the essays by Mary Walsh, Joseph Khoury, and John Roe, which cover Machiavelli's "Historical Reception" and his influence on Marlowe and Shakespeare, are the standouts here. Scholars and students of the Renaissance will find these essays to be useful. Khoury's last sentence in particular ought to provide impetus for further study: "in some sense, we could plausibly argue that our two authors [Machiavelli and Marlowe] are proto-existentialists" (354). His tentative conclusion dovetails perfectly with Mary Walsh' s earlier comment about how the French regarded Florence, which they "dismissed . . . as Ser Nihilo" (279). Perhaps Lucretius is hiding in the details.
This text's categories, government, society, and reception, leave ample room for varied academic specialties to be...