Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Niccolo Machiavelli
Editor: Rosemary Gaby
Peer Reviewed

The Prince (Selection)


[Machiavelli's The Prince (1513) provided pragmatic advice on statecraft and politics. His analysis of power had a significant influence on the way Elizabethans interpreted the actions of historical figures. In Henry IV, Part One, both King Henry and the prince show an acute awareness of the need to control their public image which accords with Machiavelli's advice. This excerpt is based on the 1640 English translation by Edward Dacres, available through Early English Books Online.]

Chapter XVIII

In what manner princes ought to keep their words.

[From pages 135-141.]

1How commendable in a prince it is to keep his word and live with integrity, not making use of cunning and subtlety, everyone knows well. Yet we see by experience in these our days that those princes have effected great matters who have made small reckoning of keeping their words and have known by their craft to turn and wind men about and in the end have overcome those who have grounded upon the truth. You must then know there are two kinds of combating or fighting: the one by right of the laws, the other merely by force. That first way is proper to men, the other is also common to beasts. But because the first many times suffices not, there is a necessity to make recourse to the second, wherefore it behooves a prince to know how to make good use of that part which belongs to a beast as well as that which is proper to a man. This path hath been covertly showed to princes by ancient writers who say that Achilles and many others of those ancient princes were entrusted to Chiron the centaur to be brought up under his discipline. The moral of this, having for their teacher one that was half a beast and half a man, was nothing else but that it was needful for a prince to understand how to make his advantage of the one and the other nature because neither could subsist without the other. A prince, then, being necessitated to know how to make use of that part belonging to a beast, ought to serve himself of the conditions of the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot keep himself from snares nor the fox defend himself against the wolves. He had need then be a fox that he may beware of the snares, and a lion that he may scare the wolves. Those that stand wholly upon the lion understand not well themselves.

2And therefore a wise prince cannot nor ought not keep his faith given, when the observance thereof turns to disadvantage and the occasions that made him promise are past. For if men were all good, this rule would not be allowable; but being they are full of mischief and would not make it good to thee, neither art thou tied to keep it with them, nor shall a prince ever want lawful occasions to give color to this breach. Very many modern examples hereof might be alleged wherein might be showed how many peaces concluded and how many promises made have been violated and broken by the infidelity of princes, and ordinarily things have best succeeded with him that hath been nearest the fox in condition. But it is necessary to understand how to set a good color upon this disposition, and to be able to fain and dissemble thoroughly. And men are so simple, and yield so much to the present necessities, that he who hath a mind to deceive shall always find another that will be deceived.

3I will not conceal any one of the examples that have been of late. Alexander the sixth never did anything else than deceive men and never meant otherwise, and always found whom to work upon. Yet never was there man would protest more effectually nor aver anything with more solemn oaths and observe them less than he. Nevertheless, his cozenages all thrived well with him, for he knew how to play this part cunningly. Therefore is there no necessity for a prince to be endowed with all these above-written qualities, but it behoves well that he seem to be so. Or rather I will boldly say this, that having these qualities and always regulating himself by them, they are hurtful, but seeming to have them, they are advantageous. As to seem pitiful, faithful, mild, religious, and of integrity and indeed to be so, provided withal thou beest of such a composition that if need require thee to use the contrary, thou canst and knowest how to apply thy self thereto. And it suffices to conceive this, that a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things for which men are held good, he being often forced for the maintenance of his state to do contrary to his faith, charity, humanity, and religion. And therefore, it behoves him to have a mind so disposed as to turn and take the advantage of all winds and fortunes, and, as formerly I said, not forsake the good while he can, but to know how to make use of the evil upon necessity. A prince, then, ought to have a special care that he never let fall any words but what are all seasoned with the five above-written qualities, and let him seem to him that sees and hears him, all pity, all faith, all integrity, all humanity, all religion. Nor is there anything more necessary for him to seem to have than this last quality, for all men in general judge thereof rather by the sight than by the touch. For every man may come to the sight of him, few come to the touch and feeling of him; every man may come to see what thou seemest, few come to perceive and understand what thou art; and those few dare not oppose the opinion of many, who have the majesty of state to protect them. And in all men's actions, especially those of princes wherein there is no judgment to appeal unto, men forbear to give their censures till the events and ends of things. Let a prince therefore take the surest courses he can to maintain his life and state. The means shall always be thought honorable and commended by everyone, for the vulgar is overtaken with the appearance and event of a thing. And for the most part of people, they are but the vulgar. The others that are but few, take place where the vulgar have no subsistence. A prince there is in these days, whom I shall not do well to name, that preaches nothing else but peace and faith, but had he kept the one and the other, several times had they taken from him his state and reputation.