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TOPIC: Shakespeare, Francis Bacon and the Anti Machiavel

Shakespeare, Francis Bacon and the Anti Machiavel 2 months 1 week ago #7460

  • Ryan Murtha
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There are many parallel passages in Shakespeare, Francis Bacon and Innocent Gentillet's Anti-Machiavel first published in 1576. I've posted them at

Bacon: Constancy is the foundation on which virtues rest.

Gentillet: I will then presuppose that constancy is a quality which ordinarily accompanies all other virtues; it is, as it were, of their substance and nature.

Two Gentlemen of Verona: O Heaven, were man but constant, here were perfect…

Measure for Measure: It is virtuous to be constant in any undertaking.

​I can add colours to the chameleon,
Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,
And set the murderous Machiavel to school.

Henry VI, Part III

Gentillet: Machiavelli then was not anything deceived, when thinking to lead a prince unto a sovereignty of wickedness, he furnishes him with inconstancy and mutability as the winds. For as soon as the prince shall clothe himself with Proteus’ garments, and has no hold nor certitude of his word, nor in his actions, men may well say that his malady is incurable, and that in all vices he has taken the nature of the chameleon. At the hands of such a prince who is inconstant, variable in his word, mutable in actions and commands, there is nothing to be hoped for but evil, disorder, and confusion.

Bacon: He of whom many are afraid, ought himself to fear many... He that injures one, threatens many.

Gentillet: Moreover, cruelty is always hated by everyone; for although it be not practiced upon all individuals, but upon some only, yet those upon whom it is not exercised cease not to fear when they see it executed upon their parents, friends, allies, and neighbors. But the fear of pain and punishment engenders hatred; for one can never love that whereof he fears to receive evil, and especially when there is a fear of life, loss of goods, and honors, which are the things we hold most precious.

Bacon: Everyone wishes that to be destroyed which he fears.

Merchant of Venice: Hates any man the thing he would not kill?

Antony and Cleopatra: In time we hate that which we often fear.

Gentillet: And of that which we hate, we by the same means desire the loss and entire ruin, and search out, procure, and advance it with all our power.

​Bacon: Prosperity discovers vice, adversity discovers virtue.

Gentillet: Adversity also is a true touchstone to prove who are feigned or true friends, for when a man feels labyrinths of troubles fall on him, dissembling friends depart from him, and those who are good abide with him, as said the poet Euripides: Adversity the best and certain’st friends doth get, prosperity both good and evil alike doth fit.

Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.

As You Like It

Bacon: Things will have their first or second agitation. If they be not tossed upon the arguments of counsel, they will be tossed upon the waves of fortune.

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

​ Julius Caesar

Gentillet: Fortune may be compared to a great flood which nothing can resist, when it overflows its banks with great inundations. But when it remains in its ordinary course, or when it overflows not without measure, the force thereof may easily be resisted by levies, ditches, ramps, and other like obstacles. So fortune is sometimes so unmeasurable in violence that no virtue can resist her, yet virtue may afterward repair the evils which that overflowing violence of fortune has brought. It may also very well resist fortune which is moderate and not too violent, as the forces thereof shall not hurt.

Bacon: If a man look sharply and attentively, he shall see Fortune; for though she is blind, she is not invisible.

Fortune is painted blind, with a muffler afore her eyes, to signify to you that Fortune is blind; and she is painted also with a wheel, to signify to you, which is the moral of it, that she is turning, and inconstant, and mutability, and variation; and her foot, look you, is fixed upon a spherical stone, which rolls, and rolls, and rolls. In good truth, the poet makes a most excellent description of it: Fortune is an excellent moral.
Henry V

Gentillet: By this description of Machiavelli is evidently seen that he thinks what the poets wrote for fables concerning fortune is the very truth. For the pagan poets have written that fortune is a goddess who gives good and evil things to whom she will. And to denote that she does this inconsiderately and without judgment, they wrap her head in a cloth, lest with her eyes she sees and knows to whom she gives; so that she never knows unto whom she does good or evil. Moreover, they describe her standing upright upon a bowl, to denote her inconstancy, turning and tossing from side to side.

Bacon: Dramatic poesy, which has the theatre for its world, would be of excellent use if well directed. For the stage is capable of no small influence both of discipline and of corruption. Now of corruptions in this kind we have enough; but the discipline has in our times been plainly neglected. And though in modern states play-acting is esteemed but as a toy, except when it is too satirical and biting; yet among the ancients it was used as a means of educating men’s minds to virtue.

Gentillet: After Solon had seen Thespis’ first edition and action of a tragedy, and meeting with him before the play, he asked if he was not ashamed to publish such feigned fables under so noble, yet a counterfeit personage. Thespis answered that it was no disgrace upon a stage, merrily and in sport, to say and do anything. Then Solon, striking hard upon the earth with his staff, replied thus: “Yea but shortly, we that now like and embrace this play, shall find it practiced in our contracts and common affairs.” This man of deep understanding saw that public discipline and reformation of manners, attempted once in sport and jest, would soon quail; and corruption, at the beginning passing in play, would fall and end in earnest.
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