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Julian Meynell's Books

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A Machiavellian RomCom

Mandragola (Biblioteca Italiana Zanichelli) (Italian Edition) - Niccolò Machiavelli

This is a comedic play by Machiavelli.  The plot is straight forward and Machiavellian.  A young man and his acquaintances concoct a scheme to seduce the young and beautiful wife of a rich fool.  It is a useful disproof to some new kinder-gentler interpretations of Machiavelli.  It is in the scheming protagonist school of romantic comedies, which are my favorite.  The plot is straight forward and the scheme is not really ever set back.  It is quite dirty at times, but the 16th century was more sexually explicit than anytime until the 20th century.

It is the kind of play that can attract labels of sexism, I suppose quite fairly, but to me a sophisticated reader should be able to handle it without a problem.  I am not a big fan of just dismissing works because they fail to love up to twentieth century morality.  More importantly, it is thoroughly Machiavellian.   Every one in the play looks after their own interests at the expense of everyone else.  The heroes of the play are the ones that scheme the best.  Everyone is trying to deceive everyone else.  The figures of fun in the play are not either the bad people or the good people, but the ones who scheme the worst.  Hence the elderly husband is a person who has married for an heir and to get a hot wife, but in his own ruthlessness goes to extreme lengths to get himself cuckolded.  Its a very cynical play, but also very light and socially satirical.  It has a completely amoral Friar who is a confessor and there are bits and pieces around the confessional, which are surprising in how far they go.

The comedy shows the lighter more humane side of Machiavelli.  It puts his philosophy naturally into a stream of romantic comedy that was at its height in the Restoration period and in the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s.  Interesting and worth reading.