Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

K. C. Eapen


The concepts developed by Niccolo Machiavelli and presented in The Prince exerted a profound influence on the dramatists of the Elizabethan age. However, before they were incorporated into Elizabethan dramas, these ideas were perverted and disparaged by Innocent Gentillet, Gabriel Harvey, Father Parsons, and others. The result of this perversion is that Machiavelli's original ideas are barely recognizable, at times, in the Elizabethan interpretations, of those ideas.

The key ideas of Machiavelli are these: the ruled majority of the people are passive, weak, mutable, inconsistent, simple, and ungrateful, so they can be easily subjected and controlled by the Prince; the Prince is noble, ambitious, determined, superior to the ruled, and invincible; war is paramount over all other things; religion is a mere prop of the state used to keep subjects under control; and the use of both fraud and force will guarantee successful conquering. In summary, Machiavelli believed that the only successful government is based on power politics in which the Prince uses love and fear to force the peasant to obey his will.

The perverted ideas upon which the Elizabethan villain-hero is based reflect the vilification of Machiavelli's ideas. His political cynicism is applied to all personal and political affairs; virtù becomes opposed to moral virtue; selfish motives replace the goal of common good through the unification of the Italian state. The result is a black and corrupt fiend who is superior to all others, violent, cruel, deceiving and dissembling, and incredibly ambitious.

Christopher Marlowe used these concepts to develop the main characters of Tamburlaine in Tamburlaine the Great, Parts I and II, and Barabas in The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta. Tamburlaine evidences the Machiavellian traits of virtù, ambition, and violence while Barabas evinces the villainy, selfish ambition, and deception of a stereotyped Machiavell. By melding the two characters, a completely Machiavellian figure is formed. The careers of both villain-heroes follow the Machiavellian pattern of life: they achieve great power and success through the use of force and fraud, then they are plummeted to destruction by the Fate which they believed that they controlled. Both are forced to learn that Fortune cannot be controlled by any man, not even by a superman or a conquering hero.