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Characteristics Of A Machiavel In The Spanish Tragedy And Hamlet

1190 words - 5 pages

Characteristics of a Machiavel in The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet  

To understand a renaissance machiavel as portrayed in The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet, it is necessary to find characters from both works that exhibit the characteristics of a machiavel (Plotting, secrecy and eventually murder). This is the difficult part, as most of the major characters in both plays exhibit some, if not all of these characteristics - while neither Heironimo nor Hamlet are villains, they both rely upon machiavellian tactics; they both feign madness to seem unthreatening, then proceed to strike when least expected:

I will revenge his death!

But how? Not as the vulgar wits of men,

With open, but inevitable ills,

As by secret, yet certain mean,

Which under kindship will be cloaked best.

The Spanish Tragedy III xiii 20-24

This behaviour is echoed by Hamlet following his meeting with his father's ghost. This insanity, this posturing and preparation for revenge, though for a good reason, is undoubtedly machiavellian. It is arguably the case that the insanity that both characters experience is not entirely faked, as both undergo extreme mental stress. This very real insanity is reflected by the disjointed and heavily end-stopped verse both Hamlet and Heironimo use when delivering soliloquies:

O most pernicious woman!

O villain, villain, smiling damned villain!

My tables. Meet it is I set it down

That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain -

At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark.

So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word.

It is "adieu, adieu, remember me."

I have sworn't

Hamlet I v 105-112

It is not the case, however, that machiavellian behaviour is restricted to the lead characters, indeed not just restricted to the men. In The Spanish Tragedy, it is Bel-Imperia that provides the stimulus (the letter that falls from the sky, written in red ink) that transforms Heironimo from being just a malcontent into an avenger. This is not the only example of machiavellianism on her part; she takes advantage of Balthazar's and Lorenzo's preoccupation with their own intelligence and cunning to fool them into believing she is harmless - as Heironimo pretends to be mad, she pretends to be stupid:

Brother, you are become an orator -

I know not, I, by what experience -

Too politic for me, past all compare,

Since last I saw you; but content yourself,

The prince is meditating higher things.

The Spanish Tragedy III x 82-86

In essence, she convinces them both that she, being a woman, and women traditionally being rather passive members of the revenge tragedy, is in no need of further imprisonment. Indeed, she goes so far as to say that she is too stupid to understand what they are trying to do to her:

To love and fear, and both at once, my lord,

In my conceit, are things of more import

Than women's wits are to busied with.

The Spanish Tragedy III x 93-95
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