Mack the knife Machiavelli, the honest criminal

Shakespeare knew there was bad in everybody, “made no ideological exception,” wrote Wyndham Lewis in his 1950 autobiography Rude Assignment.

He had “no appetite for . . . useless and degrading performance of a series of . . . tricks” by rulers. As opposed to Machiavelli, who glorified the “heroic man — a ‘Prince’ — a model for other ‘Princes,’ a paragon.” (403 of the 1966 collection by Raymond Rosenthal, A Soldier of Humor and Selected Writings (Signet Classic)

Machiavelli did much in the cause of dictatorship with his articulate defense of it. (405) No one had argued it was the people’s own good that someone should rule over them, they just said they liked power. Shakespeare knew as much as Machiavelli about it, but did not endorse it.

M. became the go-to guy for despotism if not for despots such as Frederick the Great, a disciple who objected to his candor. M. was an honest criminal, admitting everything, and is so admired by the student who turns to him with respect. (406)

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