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You can divide The Prince into four basic parts.

The first part, Chapters 1 to 11, catalogues the different types of principalities, or monarchical governments, and the ways in which they may be established and maintained.

The second part, Chapters 12 to 14, describes the role military power plays in safeguarding a prince's, or monarch's, power.

The third part, Chapters 15 to 23, lists the general characteristics and personal qualities needed to be an effective ruler.

The fourth part, Chapters 24 to 26, is both a historical glimpse of the political climate of Italy in Machiavelli's time, and an emotional appeal by Machiavelli for a future ruler (Lorenzo de' Medici, in Machiavelli's mind) who can unite the forces of Italy and liberate the country from foreign rule.

Machiavelli states that his aims in writing The Prince are to describe standards of political behavior, to help the reader to understand these standards, and to explain new political strategies that will assist rulers in maintaining power. In keeping with these goals, The Prince is a collection of concrete maxims-warnings and injunctions voiced in regard to specific points of policy, rules of conduct for different types of emergencies, and explanations of tactical moves and countermoves.

You may consider The Prince a political pamphlet, written to educate and instruct readers in the general nature of the proper rules of political conduct, political strategy, and the political process. Or, you may regard it as a "laudatory treatise," a flattering expression of praise dedicated to a well-known personality. You might even look upon it as an essay-though a rather long and detailed one-that discusses different aspects of one theme in separate chapters. That one theme is, of course, how to rule.

Some readers find it helpful to think of The Prince as a series of long letters written as if to a friend and intended to share personal confidences and mutual concerns. If you view the book in this way, you will be less troubled by its abrupt transitions, scattered thoughts, and lack of chronological order. Remember, though, that the book was written hastily, and is famous more for the ideas it contains than for its style.

The events, historical figures, and examples that Machiavelli cites in The Prince were well known to him. In many instances he is merely recording what he saw, heard, or experienced in his political travels abroad. Having considerable personal knowledge of Italian politics during the turbulent years he describes, Machiavelli can also be considered a historian, one who is personally acquainted with many of the historical facts he is recalling for the reader.

Although, in the strictest sense, Machiavelli was not a political philosopher, he did attempt to discover an order in the political process. He examined politics the way a scientist might research a cure for cancer: by analyzing data, reviewing past histories, testing hypotheses, and maintaining detailed records. This spirit of scientific objectivity was characteristic of the Renaissance approach to critical inquiry.

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