Shakespeare’s links to Machiavelli and Montaigne: Constructing intellectual modernity in early modern Europe
In the famous “To the Reader” of the first and all subsequent editions of the Essais, Michel de Montaigne specifies:
This book was written in good faith, reader. It warns you from the outset that in it I have set myself no goal but a domestic and private one . . . Thus, reader, I am myself the matter of my book; you would be unreasonable to spend your leisure on so frivolous and vain a subject. (Montaigne 2)
With this bit of characteristic indirection, Montaigne announces himself as one of the key pioneers of an epochal shift in Western culture productive of new ways of constituting and thinking about the private, the domestic, and the subjective-a shift that is now commonly seen as one of the crucial characteristics of an emerging modernity in the Renaissance.1
To be sure, it took perhaps two or three centuries before Montaigne’s audacity and constitutional relation to the cultivation of modern subjectivity was appreciated. Although Montaigne was praised by many of his contemporaries, it was largely as a “French Seneca,” a wise philosopher of Stoic sensibility, that he was celebrated (Frame 310-23). His ground-breaking treatment of subjectivity was generally seen as an eccentric weakness by his contemporaries (Frame 311-12) , and the classical absolutists of the immediately following generations found this quality largely incomprehensible, as have many readers and commentators since.
The present climate of Anglophone early modern studies, however, with its revived interest in the origins of modernity and its poststructuralist-inspired attempts to overcome the subject-object split associated with post-Cartesian philosophy, seems to me particularly propitious for an appreciation of the very qualities of Montaigne that seemed scandalous to his own age, and even more so to subsequent absolutists and positivists of every persuasion. I am surprised that he has not been more central in the rewriting of the Renaissance that has been so vigorously undertaken since about 1980 in an English studies now more open than ever to the contributions of comparative literature. In what follows I want to contribute to a project of redefining Montaigne’s place in the reconfigured disciplinary map of early modern culture produced by new historicists, cultural materialists, and feminists by examining his kinship to several of the themes and modes of thought attributed by such critics to William Shakespeare.2 This operation in turn can help illuminate aspects of Shakespeare that I believe have been ill-defined by some of the pioneering practitioners of the new historicism and cultural materialism in Shakespeare studies. The case of Richard II will serve here as an instance of a more general situation. In what follows, I argue that, because neither King Richard nor Montaigne completely fits certain key aspects of the paradigms of subjectivity that currently dominate English Renaissance studies, we must rethink those models accordingly.
My way into this revaluation will be oblique, however; it will require a side journey into some of the famous, or infamous, concepts of another seminal Renaissance initiator of modernity, Niccolo Machiavelli, whose work, or its widely disseminated ideas, I will argue, constituted an intellectual crisis for both Montaigne and Shakespeare that was one of the starting points of their meditations on modern subjectivity. In the confluence of these three celebrated Renaissance authors, then, we can witness a significant episode in the development of intellectual modernity.
In fact, no work has been more consequential for the classic post-Enlightenment practice of seeing in the Renaissance the beginnings of a modernity still in force than Machiavelli’s The Prince, and the literature on this topic is hundreds of years old, multidisciplinary, and extensive.3 Likewise, one of the most venerable but discontinuous traditions of Shakespeare studies has been the view that Machiavellian ideas were a prime ingredient in the Elizabethan theater, particularly for Marlowe and Shakespeare.4 Similarly, of course, Montaigne has long been discussed as a possible source for a number of Shakespeare’s ideas, with a similar lack of consensus, much of the problem revolving around the difficulty of identifying any unequivocal verbal echoes of Montaigne by Shakespeare until The Tempest. Here I will be assuming that such influences traveled discursively and need not have been direct to be meaningful. With that assumed, I will argue that Shakespeare’s plays indeed display a multivalent reaction to both Montaignean and Machiavellian themes. In particular, Shakespeare’s plays go beyond the logic of The Prince to critique certain of its premises and to explore the cultural crisis of meaning that its logic creates. In Richard II, to take the work at issue here, Machiavellianism produces a crisis because, on the one hand, Machiavellianism is successful, while, on the other, it creates the characteristic ethical void of instrumental reason within modernity. From this Machiavellian crisis emerges what is perhaps Shakespeare’s first consistent representation of “modern” subjectivity-a subjectivity that in turn, I will argue, demands a “supplementation” of Machiavelli with Montaigne, since Shakespeare’s concept of Richard’s subjectivity veers from the ideas of The Prince into those of Montaigne’s seminal texts. Shakespeare goes beyond Machiavelli and borrows from or recreates Montaigne in depicting subjectivity as something of a dialectical negation of power, not a mere effect of its operations; as an orientation to multiple potential selves or identities, not merely the production of a unitary one; as a mental space critically distanced from, and not entirely defined by, circulating ideologies and discourses of institutions of power. In making these distinctions, of course, I am suggesting that the Foucauldian power orientation of much new historicism needs a Montaignean modification-that new historicists, in effect, have been too Machiavellian, and not Montaignean enough.
Machiavelli and Instrumental Reason
Since Max Horkheimer’s pioneering argument that both Machiavellian politics and Renaissance science embodied a new attitude of mastery and domination that would become crucial to the Western project of modernity (Horkheimer), the value-free instrumental rationality of The Prince has been one of its most thematized features. Machiavelli has been seen, for example, as “the first modern analyst of power” (Lerner xxvi) in that he made the crucial division between facts and values (which is also constitutive of instrumentalization in Weber– influenced Frankfurt School theory). Similarly, he has frequently been hailed as the father of true social science for the same reason, and it seems to me that no one contemplating some of the most crucial and notorious passages of this little handbook could completely disagree. What else are we to make, for example, of the following famous passage which opens Chapter 15?
But my intention being to write something of use to those who understand, it appears to me more proper to go to the real truth of the matter than to its imagination; and many have imagined republics and principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality; for how we line is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin than his preservation. A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good. Therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case. (Machiavelli 56)
In recent years revolutions in literary studies have opened up The Prince, among other similar documents, to the close readings of poststructuralist-influenced critical methods, with the result that the textual complexities of this classic have now been much more adequately defined than was the case when it was read primarily for its positivist intimations of modernity (see Rebhorn; Ascoli and Kahn; and Kahn) . Much of the recent writing, and the impressive work of Victoria Kahn in particular, has concentrated on the relation of Machiavelli’s political works to the norms of an Italian Renaissance humanism which it both exemplifies and rejects.
Kahn’s Machiavellian Rhetoric is crucial here since her work identifies precisely the “instrumentalizing” qualities of Machiavelli that differentiate him from other, more Ciceronian, Renaissance humanists. However, Kahn never uses the term “instrumentalize” (nor the Frankfurt School theory of instrumental reason), instead choosing to characterize this quality as an aspect of the larger “rhetorical” qualities of Machiavellian discourse. Of course, rhetoric, as Socrates famously asserted, is profoundly instrumental in its operations, but the very familiarity and normalcy of the term rhetoric tends to conceal the specific qualities of Machiavellian instrumentality I am emphasizing here. So while Kahn clearly recognizes Machiavelli’s use of instrumental reason, she doesn’t thematize the instrumentality in itself, asserting instead that Machiavelli’s main difference from the humanist tradition is his denial that what is efficacious and prudent is also necessarily good: “In rejecting the Ciceronian and humanist equation between honestas and uti.litas, the faith that practical reason or prudence is inseparable from moral virtue, Machiavelli thus turns prudence into what the humanists (and their detractors) always feared it would become-the amoral skill of versutia or mere cleverness, which in turn implies the ethically unrestrained use of force– in short, virtu” (Kahn, “Virtu” 198).
As recent commentators have emphasized, however, the instrumentalization of reason in The Prince is never total or final, and the text of The Prince, instead of being value-free, is honeycombed with contradictory cultural attitudes based on passionately advocated values of one sort or the next (Rebhorn 16-26; Kahn, Machiavellian 237-41). In some passages, we can intuit a moral subtext that seems to condemn the world of political power for its corruption and vanity.5 In others, Machiavelli’s multidimensional celebration of a polysemic virtu emerges as a moment in which the pleasures of masculine self dramatization as an end in itself are at least as important as political efficacy.6 And there are moments (for example, ch. 35) when the text seems to celebrate and crystallize the ability of instrumental reason to subordinate historical fatality and contingency to some measure of human will and control, creating a kind of realm of (partial) freedom from what had hitherto been fortune and fatality (see Pitkin 138-69). This last attitude in fact exists as a subtext throughout The Prince, and it was central in the book’s extraordinary reception by such readers as Queen Mary’s Catholic Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, who produced an unpublished treatise incorporating large, unacknowledged tracts from Machiavelli’s Prince and Discourses and other works deriving from it (Gardiner).
In short, one of the great appeals of The Prince, despite its aggressive secularity and ironic evocations of religion as a mere facade to conceal cruelty used well, was that its very instrumentality made its methods suitable for adaptation to any cause whatsoever, Catholic, Protestant, or atheist. Wherever values or interests were deemed to be so great or absolute as to justify any means, the instrumental logic of power described by The Prince could (and often did) come into play.
What do I mean in claiming that the logic of power is instrumental in the Frankfurt School sense of this term? One of the great paradoxes of instrumental reason like that of (one central strand of) The Prince is that while it works to magnify and enhance the power of its user, it also entraps that very user because its logic works independently of any purely subjective intentions (see Grady, Shakespeare’s Universal Wolf 52-53, 67-68, 102). Macbeth intuited this in his famous remark that “I am in blood/Stepp’d so far that, should I wade no more,/ Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (3.5.135-37). That is, the logic of power is a reified logic to which the prince must, qua prince, ultimately submit even while appearing to be utilizing it as his instrument. Power, as Horkheimer and Adorno argued trenchantly, ultimately becomes its own end, corrosive of any other values or intent. Ultimately, then, as not only Horkheimer and Adorno, but also Milton and Shakespeare came to see, the instrumentality of this form of rationality undermines its subordination to any end whatsoever and creates a reified logic of power for its own sake. Underneath the apparent neutrality of instrumental reason is a will-to-power that results from its very status as efficacious instrument. That is, instrumental reason creates, or amounts to, self– perpetuating power.
Because of their instrumental, all-serving qualities, the topics and paradoxes of The Prince infiltrated the writings of numerous Renaissance political thinkers, including many who denounced them. Not only was Machiavelli condemned and caricatured in print and on the stage (see, for example, Stoll 345-46 and Maus 35-71), he was also studied and recommended both by policy-makers like Raleigh and Bacon for his wise political insights and by rhetoricians for his humanist method of studying politics through numerous examples from ancient and modern history. By the Civil War, Machiavellian topics and methodology permeated the political discourse on both sides. In this, however, the Puritans and Cavaliers were in effect following Shakespeare’s example. Instrumental reason and its relation to political power is a theme central to Shakespeare’s tragedies, histories, and several of the comedies (Grady, Shakespeare’s Universal Wolf 55-56). Moreover, a common interest in and reaction to Machiavellian themes is, I believe, something Montaigne and Shakespeare share.
In some ways, of course, Shakespeare’s first historical tetralogy-and above all its climax, Richard III-is the logical place to look for Shakespeare’s earliest treatment of Machiavellian themes, themes that he probably became acquainted with by a study of Christopher Marlowe’s audacious Machiavellian characters in plays like Dr. Faustus, Tamburlaine, and The Jew of Malta. Shakespeare’s only explicit reference to Machiavelli, after all, is a line by Richard of Gloucester in 3 Henry VI:
I can add colors to the chameleon,
Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,
And set the murtherous Machevil to school. (3.2.191-93)
If by Machiavellian we mean something like E.E. Stoll’s treatment of the dramatic figure of the Machiavel, a doctrine which promulgates a false facade of virtue covering over an interiority of malevolent power-seeking, then La Pucelle and Richard III are certainly Machiavellian characters of the same mettle as Marlowe’s Barabas. However, I am pursuing a different sense of the protean term Machiavellian in what follows. The sense in which Richard III is Machiavellian is a sense that implies a condemnation of the doctrine with which the character is associated, inasmuch as the play is constructed to generate successive frissons of horror in an audience privileged to be aware of Richard’s hypocritical exterior and diabolic interior. Such a thematization of Machiavellianism ultimately works to discredit itself, a certain fascinating allure notwithstanding. In the plays of The Henriad, however, as has been pointed out by several previous Shakespeareans, we can discern, as a part of a kind of implied intellectual framework, a much less lurid Machiavellianism, one which the plays often explore as an attractive and explanatory philosophy of history and politics: Machiavellianism from the inside, as it were, a Machiavellianism encompassing the political wisdom and experience of The Discourses as well as that of The Prince, but one not shying away from some of the latter’s most shocking doctrines. Almost all the plays that exhibit this more sympathetic relation to Machiavellianism date from the period 1595 to 1600: Richard I (1595), King John (1596), 1 Henry TV(1596-97), 2 Henry/ A(1597– 98), Henry V (1598-99), Julius Caesar (1599), and Hamlet (1600-01).7 The fact that these themes predominate in a compact five-year period in Shakespeare’s career of course suggests that there might be some external influence on this pattern. The most likely explanation-which for reasons of space cannot be developed here-is that Shakespeare and company were somehow in this period influenced by the intellectual milieu of the Essex faction, with its Machiavellian practitioners Anthony and Francis Bacon. But since this connection is necessarily speculative, I want to work primarily at the level of discourses and concepts shared by these dramatic texts and Machiavelli’s several treaties. First, however, I need to turn attention to the second Renaissance intellectual closely connected with the treatment of subjectivity in all of these plays-a treatment that represents subjectivity as both a means of, and refuge from, Machiavellian power. That figure is, of course, Michel de Montaigne.
Montaigne and the Machiavellian
If Machiavelli is important because he defines for Renaissance political culture forms of instrumentality that are central to modernity and crucial to understanding many of the social and political dislocations of the era, then Montaigne, I believe, shows us a strategy of resistance to the series of reifications epitomized by Machiavelli, a resistance peculiarly attractive to Shakespeare and a series of successors, who found in the protean possibilities of new forms of subjectivity a means of resistance to power. For many readers the idea of a Montaigne– Shakespeare connection, discussed off and on for the last hundred years or more without consensus, is probably less questionable than a Montaigne-Machiavelli connection. But if we examine the themes and terms of two of the very earliest versions of Montaigne’s essays,8 it is clear that he did not immediately arrive at his famous determination to retreat from the world and contemplate the workings of his own subjectivity. Instead, we find a fascinating similarity in method and subject matter with Machiavelli (cf. Frame 144), particularly the more humanist Machiavelli of the Discourses, but also at times the Machiavelli of The Prince.
These two “Machiavellian” essays are “Whether the Governor of a Besieged Place Should (io Out to Parley” and “Parley Time is Dangerous” (chapters 5 and 6 of Book One), and they share Machiavelli’s fascination with the gap between political power and morality. He explores his theme, like his Florentine predecessor, with one anecdote after another, drawn (again as in Machiavelli) from both his reading of the classics and his own experience of contemporary politics and warfare.9 In the first of these short pieces, Montaigne surveys the conflicting opinions among the ancients over whether trickery in warfare should be praised or condemned and then shifts to contemporary times. Characteristically, however, he adds his own quite value-laden judgments concerning the value-free dynamics of power and treachery:
But the philosopher Chrysippus would not have been of that opinion, and I just as little. For he used to say that those who run a race should indeed employ their whole strength for speed but that, nevertheless, it was not in the least permissible for them to lay a hand on their adversary to stop him, or to stick out a leg to make him fall. (Montaigne 19; bk. 1, ch. 6)
That is, Montaigne reverts to the Ciceronian-humanist practice of subjecting the useful to the criteria of the honest, even while paying his respects to the Machiavellian observation that the two may not, in fact, coincide.
In Book Two, Chapter 17 (“Of Presumption”) he returns to the Machiavellian challenge to values. Again we see an ambivalence, a simultaneous attraction to Machiavelli’s cool analytics and a revulsion at their ethical neutrality. He is left radically dissatisfied:
Machiavelli’s arguments, for example, were solid enough for the subject, yet it was very easy to combat them; and those who did so left it no less easy to combat theirs. In such an argument there would always be matter for answers, rejoinders, replications, triplications, quadruplications, and that infinite web of disputes that our pettifoggers have spun out as far as they could in favor of lawsuits. (Montaigne 497; bk. 2, ch. 17)
It is this rhetorical instability that leads him directly to the advocacy of political stability discussed below. For the moment, I wish simply to note that for Montaigne Machiavelli’s truth takes its place in a larger, swirling, and finally incoherent truth that also contains its opposite: “the diversity of human events offers us infinite examples in all sorts of forms” (Montaigne 497; bk. 2, ch. 17).
In the first chapter of Book Three, which Montaigne composed for the 1588 edition and which for many commentators represents the culmination of the art and philosophy of the Essais, Montaigne returns once more to the challenge to Ciceronian humanism represented by The Prince and its followers, de facto and de jure. The essay itself has a Ciceronian title: “De futile et de l’honneste” (“Of the useful and the honorable”). Its solution, however, is neither Ciceronian nor Machiavellian.
In this essay Montaigne grants more to Machiavellian logic than he had previously conceded. He argues that in nature, in the individual, and in society, the apparently imperfect vices such as envy, jealousy, or cruelty serve a useful purpose, and “Whoever should remove the seeds of these qualities from man would destroy the fundamental conditions of our life” (Montaigne 600; bk. 3, ch. 1). The same is true, crucially, at a social level:
Likewise in every government there are necessary offices which are not only abject but also vicious. Vices find their place in it and are employed for sewing our society together, as are poisons for the preservation of our health. If they become excusable, inasmuch as we need them and the common necessity effaces their true quality, cve still must let this part be played by the more vigorous and less fearful citizens, who sacrifice their honor and their conscience, as those ancients sacrificed their life, for the good of their country. We who are weaker, let us take parts that are both easier and less hazardous. The public welfare requires that a man betray and Lie and massacre; let us resign this commission to more obedient and suppler people. (Montaigne 600; bk. 3, ch. 1 )
Precisely where sarcasm and irony leave off and world-weary resignation begins in this passage is difficult to say. But that there is some mixture of both in this complex passage seems clear. The logic is no longer Ciceronian, inasmuch as it concedes the Machiavellian proposition that “it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case” (Machiavelli 56; ch. 15). But neither is it fully Machiavellian, for the language pins on to these necessary acts the negative moral judgments of the words “vices,” “honor,” and “conscience,” creating an effect much more discordant than any of Machiavelli’s own moral oxymorons at similar junctures in his argument. And of course these words are counterpoised by the equally strong judgments implied in the language of sacrifice and patriotism-unless we interpret these as hopelessly undermined by the context. Truly, this crux seems undecidable. But a later passage helps us to see that Montaigne is not simply trying to demolish Machiavellian logic through irony: “I do not want to deprive deceit of its proper place; that would be misunderstanding the world. I know that it has often served profitably and that it maintains and feeds most of men’s occupations. There are lawful vices, as there are many either good or excusable actions that are unlawful” (Montaigne 604; bk. 3, ch. 1). And he is scrupulous to stipulate that ends can justify illicit means for reasons of state: “No private utility is worthy of our doing this violence to our conscience; the public utility, yes, when it is very apparent and very important” (Montaigne 607; bk. 3, ch. 1).
As Montaigne’s argument develops, however, this third attempt to take a position on Machiavellian logic in the Essais takes a new direction-not new for the Essais themselves, for it is one of their central leitmotifs-but new in this context. Montaigne opts for a policy of individual abstentionism, even if the end involved in a dubious action is public:
If there should be a prince with so tender a conscience that no cure seemed to him worth so onerous a remedy, I would not esteem him the less. He could not ruin himself more excusably or becomingly. (Montaigne 607; bk. 3, ch. 1)
And the chapter ends with an analogy that would perhaps be strange for one so wedded as has been Montaigne throughout the Essais to a notion of the naturalness and desirability of sexual pleasure, except that it apparently contains just the logical structure he needed: marriage, he writes, is clearly “the most necessary and useful action of human society. Yet the council of saints finds the contrary way more honorable, and excludes from marriage the most venerable vocation of men, as we assign to stud those horses which are of least value” (Montaigne 610; bk. 3, ch. 1).
This argument neither answers nor acquiesces to the disturbing questions raised by Machiavellian logic. It rather grants their cogency, then dissents from them as a matter of private, and higher, principle. The solution to the sad necessities of the world, in short, is privacy. If the public is irremediably implicated in the paradox of private vices for public good, one can try to abstain personally from such dilemmas. In short, Montaigne has here produced the public-private split endemic to the societies of modernity. And, as we will see below, he has also plunged us mid-stream into central thematics of Richard 11. Montaigne produces within his essays a dynamic between a Machiavellian value-free space and a compensating subjectivity of value judgments-a dynamic that will become basic both to a developing modernity and to Shakespeare, whether the latter appropriated it from a reading of Montaigne or developed it separately.
In trying to contextualize Montaigne’s withdrawal to privacy and focus on his own self as subject for his work, it is hard to avoid suspecting that these choices involved a kind of “Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” relinquishment of a public sphere irremediably compromised by the exigencies of power (cf. Regosin, Matter ofMy Book 36). Certainly the France of the second half of the sixteenth century, with its massacres, atrocities, political assassinations and betrayals, presents a particularly vivid canvas of human depravity in the political realm.
The most infamous of these atrocities, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which involved the treacherous slaying of thousands of leading Huguenots in Paris and elsewhere throughout France, including Montaigne’s Bordeaux, occurred in August 1572, a year and a half after Montaigne’s withdrawal to his namesake estate. Such events could only have deepened Montaigne’s desire for private life and the extraordinary intellectual project with which he began to fill it, and they likewise seem to have colored the later additions to the essays. In one of the passages quoted above for example-“The public welfare requires that a man betray and lie and massacre” (Montaigne 600; bk. 3, ch. 1)-the word massacre was added only in the last additions before Montaigne’s death. But Montaigne’s withdrawal was never complete or unequivocal; he continued a desultory public service as mayor of Bordeaux and as a kind of diplomat among the warring religious-dynastic factions. What is certain is that the intellectual project of the Essais never returned again to the univocal stress on political prudence and fascination with Realpolitik evidenced in the early “Machiavellian” essays– except in passages that form part of larger meditations. Rather, Montaigne turned to the same realm as would Richard II in his prison-cell: the flux of subjectivity and its potential for “re-peopling” a world apparently bereft of human values through the evacuations of Machiavellian politics and rhetoric.
To be sure, Montaigne’s meditations are considerably less dramatic than Richard’s-or than those of any other Shakespearean character we might mention-but that is only to be expected. In addition, readers in our own time are sometimes impatient with Montaigne’s equivocal relationship to power, a characteristic double-edged position that could be called “urbane accommodation.” On the one hand, for Montaigne every idea is open to doubt and skepticism: . . .each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice; for indeed it seems we have no other test of truth and reason than the example and pattern of the opinions and customs of the country we live in. There is always the perfect religion, the perfect government, the perfect and accomplished manners in all things. (Montaigne 152; bk. 1, ch. 31 )
On the other hand, the very uncertainty of human knowledge and the unreliability of reason are themselves warrants for extreme caution in undertaking social change of any sort, especially, as Montaigne famously argued in “The Apology for Raymond Sebond,” in matters of religion, since the antiquity of the authority of the Catholic Church more than counters whatever rationality can be found in Protestant arguments against it. Thus, Montaigne at times sounds extraordinarily conservative:
And therefore, to my mind, in public affairs there is no course so bad, provided it is old and stable, that it is not better than change and commotion. Our morals are extremely corrupt, and lean with a remarkable inclination toward the worse; of our laws and customs, many are barbarous and monstrous; however, because of the difficulty of improving our condition and the danger of everything crumbling into bits, if I could put a spoke in our wheel and top it at this point, I would do so with all my heart. (Montaigne 497-98; bk. 2, ch. 17)
In this double attitude we are apt to find dissimulation, or at least wasted intellectual effort: all things are criticized, only to be affirmed.
However, in an important article Timothy J. Reiss sees this contradiction as the key to a necessarily new reading of the relation of power and the self in Montaigne. It is only in the domain of private reason and a private self-which, Reiss argues, is always in flux, not really a subject at all because it cannot fix itself-that Montaigne’s skepticism obtains. The “public” self is on the contrary a conventional “subject” in the double sense of intentional agent and of dutiful follower of a monarch. Only through the fixed system of a divinely sanctioned public state is the self permitted to act in the public world-otherwise, anarchy results.
This thesis certainly helps explain why Montaigne was able to act in the world as a whole-hearted Catholic and supporter of normal royal succession. But in doing so it underestimates the importance of Montaigne’s dialogue with Machiavelli. If Reiss is right that Montaigne’s public actions resulted from a sincere belief in the ideology of moderate Catholic politics, then Montaigne must have been a very naive reader of Machiavelli-and there is textual evidence, as I have shown, that this was not the case. Reiss’s is a reading based squarely in a “hermeneutics of belief” that never questions the way these ideas work as an ideology. Or rather, to be more precise, Reiss assumes that these ideas are of course ideological but that Montaigne could not have been conscious of this, or that his text cannot signal its own ideological status. But if we read instead through a “hermeneutics of suspicion,” a different picture of the relation of public and private reason emerges. I would rather put it in something like the terms Jonathan Dollimore employed for the transgressive tendencies of the English Jacobean theater: in a culture where a frontal assault on many of the intellectual pillars of its power arrangements is impossible, due to the repressive functions of Church and State, it is still possible to plant doubts, raise questions, and encourage critical rationality.10
Of course, many twentieth-century studies of Montaigne-preeminently Donald Frames’s-have been at pains to underline the numerous protestations, in the Essais and in contemporaneous reports, of Montaigne’s orthodox Catholic beliefs (see Popkin 54-55). But the nature of belief is a vexed question, and, as several more recent critics have noted, the evidence can as easily be assimilated to a view that Montaigne simply concluded that, because Catholicism represented the best chance for peace and stability, it behooved him to take a public stance as a moderate Catholic, keeping any religious skepticism to himself (cf. Popkin 55, and Lesmechelle 192). He certainly stands out in his time as a proponent of broadmindedness in relation to other cultures and beliefs, particularly, as Frame pointed out in his biography, in the case of Jews-an attitude reflecting, perhaps, the Jewish ancestry of his mother, whose family were marranos, or converted Spanish Jews (Frame 16-28). And in any case, as all commentators agree, his acceptance (at whatever level) of Catholicism underwrites his skepticism: publicly accepting a higher, supra-rational truth, allows him to investigate the mutability, uncertainty, and protean nature of human rationality without fear of censorship or persecution.11 “[A]Il wisdom is foolish that does not adapt itself to the common folly” (Montaigne 622; bk. 3, ch. 3), he remarked in a late addition to the essay “Three kinds of Association,” and that remark may have application in this context as well.
It is of course his skepticism, not his Catholicism, that makes Montaigne such an interesting figure to study in our own time. His work is one of the major cultural outcomes of that brief window between a theocentric medieval mentality and the later theo- and logo-centrisms of the seventeenth century (see, for example, Popkin, Toulmin, and Engels 8-9). Reiss, in the article discussed above, likewise argues that Montaigne plays a transitional role in a major epistemological rupture by producing two related concepts of the subject: a “public” subject, constituted as such in submission to an absolutist social order and the figure of the king who personifies it12; and, one much nearer to my own idea of Montaigne’s notion, a “private,” even withdrawn, mental flux, which is unfixed and undefined -barely a subject at all in some of the key traditional senses of the word, since it is not an agent in the world.13 Here, I want to investigate Montaigne’s production and analysis of this kind of early modern subjectivity as one of the defining moments of early modern reactions to a profound Renaissance-Reformation crisis of value (cf. Popkin 42-65).
All parties to the dispute would acknowledge that Montaigne’s ideas on subjectivity are complex, multivalent, and, as he cheerfully and proudly acknowledges, contradictory. We can get at some of this contradictoriness through one of his many remarks on sexual attraction:
It is madness to fasten all our thoughts upon it and to become involved in a furious and reckless passion. But on the other hand, to go into it without love and without binding our will, like actors, to play the standard role of our age and customs and put into it nothing of our own but the words, that is indeed providing for our safety, but in cowardly fashion, like a man who would abandon his honor, his profit, or his pleasure for fear of danger. For it is certain that from such a relationship those who form it can hope for no fruit that will please or satisfy a noble soul. We must have really desired what we expect to get real pleasure from enjoying. (Montaigne 626; bk. 3, ch. 3)
Here, as in the mock addresses to a penis in “Of the Power of the Imagination” (bk. 1, ch. 21), Montaigne posits a complex, layered interiority.14 There is a dynamic of sexual attraction which is largely autonomous from other aspects of the self, but which can be modified, magnified, or lessened through acts of will -and these acts of the will imply an intentional subject or agent, separate from desire. There is in addition an external self, an image for others, potentially a mere actor playing “the standard role of our age and customs” but which also can be created or produced “with nothing of our own but the words.” And there is an ethical (perhaps here epicurean) ideal of harmony among these aspects of the self: the subject of (autonomous) desire and the subject of prudent reasoning should agree on their object in order to obtain both pleasure and nobility of soul.
It is worth recalling for purposes of comparison the Machiavellian self mentioned briefly above. In a Machiavellian dynamics, there is a being-for-others, an outward appearance, that is theatrical, manipulated by the subject in order to manipulate others; and there is an inner self, occluded, but reducible in some sense to the desire for power and/or pleasure that generates the outer appearance. All the complicated middle elements in Montaigne’s descriptions are eliminated through a kind of brutal Occam’s razor. Now Montaigne is blind neither to the desires for power and pleasure nor to the possibilities of an outward appearance that can mask an inner reality; these functions certainly exist in his view, but so also do ethical rationality, degrees and depths of desires, and ideals valuing outer appearances that express rather than disguise the implied, nonverbal judgments that are emotions. Here the self is something that is observed and experienced, something that acts and performs, and something that feels and judges. It is both in the world and withdrawn from the world. In short, Montaigne presents in his essays an approach to subjectivity far more complex and adequate than Machiavelli’s, and he is thus of paradigmatic importance for those of us in search of alternatives to the self of French poststructuralism and its adherents– a self that is in the context of my argument here much more Machiavellian than Montaignean.
In addition, and famously, Montaigne’s self is in constant flux:
I cannot keep my subject still. It goes along befuddled and staggering, with a natural drunkenness. I take it in this condition, just as it is at the moment I give my attention to it. I do not portray being; I portray passing. Not the passing from one age to another, or, as the people say, from seven years to seven years, but from day to day, from minute to minute. I may presently change, not only by chance, but also by intention. (Montaigne 610-11; bk. 3, ch. 2)
This passage from the beginning of “Of Repentance” is perhaps the most important one in all the Essais for Postmodernist and post-structuralist inspired readings, which tend to find in the Renaissance examples of pre-Enlightenment decentered selves that parallel the decentered selves of the post-Enlightenment. Here Montaigne encapsulates a fluidity and flux that is constantly enacted in the celebrated free-form, chaotic order of his essays and that testifies to a sense of subjectivity impossible to contain or fix. As such, it is a passage that comes as close as any in the Essais to defining the unfixed subjectivity that is the crucial “invention,” as it were, of Montaigne’s oeuvre (cf. Greenblatt 252-53 and Reiss 132-43).
In the same essay, however, Montaigne speaks of a certain stability in the self, a certain habitual structure:
There is no one who, if he listens to himself, does not discover in himself a pattern all his own, a ruling pattern [forme maitresse], which struggles against education and against the tempest of the passions that oppose it. For my part, I do not feel much sudden agitation; I am nearly always in place, like heavy and inert bodies. (Montaigne 615; bk. 3, ch. 2)
In this passage, at least, he appears much less assimilable to Postmodernist claims for a consistent early modern anti-essentialism.15 Here, as elsewhere, Montaigne’s essays do indeed provide “a record of various and changeable occurrences, and of irresolute and, when it so befalls, contradictory ideas” (Montaigne 611; bk. 3, ch. 2). In a sense the very contradictoriness of these passages returns us to the theme of flux which they had seemed to deny.
Thus, while Montaigne seems at moments to have held the age’s commonplace ideas on a fixed individual human nature or virtue-at times sounding more like the conventional Roderigo of Othello (“It is not in my virtue to amend it”) than the subversive machiavel Iago (“Virtue? a fig! ’tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners”) (Shakespeare, Othello 1.3.318-21; see Grady, Shakespeare’s Universal Wolf 98– 109)-at other moments (for instance, in the very next chapter, “Of Three Kinds of Association”) he asserts that the apparent limits of our individual humors and tendencies can be overcome by application:
We must not nail ourselves down so firmly to our humors and dispositions. Our principal talent is the ability to apply ourselves to various practices. It is existing, but not living, to keep ourselves bound and obliged by necessity to a single course. The fairest souls are those that have the most variety and adaptability. . . If it were up to me to train myself in my own fashion, there is no way so good that I should want to be fixed in it and unable to break loose. Life is uneven, irregular, and multiform movement. We are not friends to ourselves, and still less masters, we are slaves, if we follow ourselves incessantly and are so caught in our inclinations that we cannot depart from them or twist them about. (Montaigne 621; bk. 3, ch. 3)
Montaigne’s Links to Shakespeare
Montaigne’s approach to Machiavellian logic, to the complex mixtures of critique and accommodation that a prudent man should take to his age’s ideology, to the nature of the self, and to the positive qualities of critical rationality seem to me, as they have to a number of previous critics, remarkably similar to many of Shakespeare’s key themes.16 In particular, Montaigne’s fascination with his own subjectivity and his valorization of that subjectivity as a response to the dilemmas of early modern decentering, desacralization, and instrumentalization closely resemble the characteristic dialectic in Shakespeare between desacralization and subjectivity in the histories and tragedies. Of course, Montaigne never undergoes-at least according to the account of the Essais-the kind of radical identity crisis that overtakes Richard II, Prince Hal, Hamlet, Othello, Lear, Timon, and so on. He likewise never dramatizes a cultural crisis of meaning as a kind of descent into nothingness, madness, and absurdity. But his skeptical practice produces a similar desacralization, a radical differentiation between an imperfect, always agnostic human rationality and a transcendent, non-human religious certainty-a certainty that, to judge by the myriad examples of the Essais, has a very limited relevance to everyday life in the human world, in which the imperfect judgments of subjectivity, predicated on a fallible but inevitably value-laden construction of the real, are of much greater import. Montaigne was thus among the first modern champions of a purely secular ethical or practical rationality, grounded in an ungrounded subjective flux.17 The elimination of intrinsic values through instrumental, value-free rationality, a la Machiavelli, does not mean, as Montaigne insists in his own terms, that we should do without values; it reveals rather that the source of value is other than a unified, mythopoeic, God-saturated universe (which for Montaigne is beyond our merely human capacities). This source is a subjectivity that is itself impermanent, in flux, and open to all the myriad possibilities of human nature already revealed in the sobering texts that make up humanist history. Montaigne, like Shakespeare, delivers us into a world of permanent moral crisis, but one in which life, perception, and evaluation (in an unfixed subjectivity) continue nevertheless-a condition the cultures of modernity continue to express and explore (cf. Starobinski 86) .
The fascination with the flux of subjectivity that Montaigne and Shakespeare display is an index of the dilemma in which early modernity finds itself entrapped and defined. Subjectivity continues to represent and interpret the world, to display it in all the complex colorations of prudence, judgments of value and beauty which obtained in premodern societies. Only it does so in the absence of the certainties and beliefs in nature and the intrinsic through which the various forms of premodern mythology and cosmology had constituted the world (cf. Dollimore 19-21). Shakespeare and Montaigne, I argue, give a common answer to the Machiavellian reduction that had robbed the world of value and enchantment. But they cannot return the certainties, the vanished floor under the mythopoeic rug that modernity had so unceremoniously removed. Yes, there are values, there is beauty, there are ethics. But they cannot be grounded within the general nature of things nor the will of a mysterious and absent God. Instead, Montaigne and Shakespeare can only contrast them with the world that obtains without them– and perhaps posit a utopian hope for an inter-subjectively constructed world more receptive to them.
Machiavelli and Montaigne in Richard II
In conclusion, I want to pursue this thesis in one of several Shakespearean plays that are fully immersed within this problematic of modernity. Richard II, we will see, discloses a world ruled by the Machiavellian reduction, and projects an alternative whose inefficaciousness within the reality of the play is balanced by its potency within the imaginations of its viewers and readers: the flux of subjectivity.
The “Machiavellian” strand of the play is its political one, and it dominates the action until the celebrated mirror scene, to which I will turn in a moment. When Richard II opens, the world depicted in the play is already a fully fallen, Machiavellian world, with two powerful members of the nobility, Harry Bullingbrook, Duke of Herford (the future Henry IV) and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, locked in a high-stakes struggle in which each accuses the other of treason and offers a fight to the death to settle the question. One of them has to be lying, but it is essential to the epistemology of this understated play that the audience can never be certain who it is. Certainly one of the most extraordinary qualities of this play-especially compared with its predecessor Richard III-is its complete and strategic silence concerning Bullingbrook’s interiority-and hence his intentionality and possible hypocrisy. In contrast, after his defeat, Richard becomes a paradigm of interiority, especially in his extraordinary soliloquy in Act V. But in respect to the actions of princes as princes, Richard II follows an ironclad and Machiavellian rule: appearances are the very essence of politics; and they constitute all we ever learn about Bullingbrook in this play. Richard II coolly depicts Bullingbrook’s sensational story-his quarrel with Mowbray, his exile, his bold return and coronation as Henry IV-with an even-handedness and lack of any choric commentary that bespeaks the play’s essentially Machiavellian approach to politics-“Machiavellian” in the second sense of the term I discussed above: disinterested, value-free, analytic.18
In this play both Richard and Bullingbrook seem to me to be Machiavellians (in the sense of instrumental power seekers), and even more clearly Machiavelli’s is the standard against which they are implicitly measured. It soon becomes clear that Richard is a deficient Machiavellian who needs to study the details of his Prince much more closely. When he seizes the estate of the dead John of Gaunt and prevents the passing on of the hereditary rights of the Duke of Lancaster to their legal heir Bullingbrook, he violates one of that book’s essential tenets:
. . . but above all he [the Prince] must abstain from taking the property of others, for men forget more easily the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. (Machiavelli 62; ch. 17)
His ineptness climaxes as he returns from Ireland and finds himself outmaneuvered at every juncture by Bullingbrook and his allies, and he finally enacts a doctrine the very opposite of that of Machiavelli’s Prince: rather than the realities of power, he seems to believe in symbols of the divine power of the cosmic order, relying on them to protect him against the impetuous, opportunistic, and consummately skillful Bullingbrook.
It is of course the latter who undertakes a series of highly efficacious political stratagems that could have been taken directly from The Prince. “Nothing,” Machiavelli writes, “causes a prince to be so much esteemed as great enterprises and giving proof of prowess” (81; ch. 21). Bullingbrook proves the truth of this observation with his bold, decree-breaking return to England in Richard’s absence, his skillful organization of military support of his cause, his neutralization of the Lord Regent York, and his peremptory arrest and execution of Richard’s advisors Bushy and Green. In contrast, Richard does almost everything wrong– most particularly in his unwise choice of his critic and Bullingbrook sympathizer, the Duke of York, as regent in his absence. And in scenes that come as close to choric commentary as anything in this beautifully understated, tough-minded and clear-eyed drama, Richard’s tax policies and alienation of both the commons and the nobility are thematically underscored.
When Bullingbrook’s triumph is completed by Richard’s abdication, however, the play enters territory about which Machiavelli is completely silent. Leaving the new Henry IV’s political situation for later dramatic development, Shakespeare instead switches this play’s dramatic focus from the exterior political events it had been chronicling to the subjectivity of the deposed Richard. We move from a dissection of Machiavellian power to a look at the dynamics of Montaignean subjectivity. And the two are presented as dialectically linked. The changeover occurs during the play’s extraordinary mirror scene.
Richard, immediately after naming himself as “a traitor with the rest” (4.1.247) , and after he has declaimed on the loss of his name and identity, calls for a mirror to be brought, “That it may show me what a face I have/Since it is bankrout of his majesty” (266-67). Richard shatters the glass to prove that his “face” is as “brittle” as was his glory (287-88), and Bullingbrook, ever the deprecator of mere symbols, replies: “The shadow of your sorrow hath destroy’d/The shadow of your face” (292-93). Behind this positing and questioning of the efficacy of the king’s image, as a number of critics have noted, lies the late medieval and Renaissance legal doctrine of the “king’s two bodies,” classically defined by Ernst H. Kantorowicz forty years ago in a still relevant, much cited study of this play (2441 ). The doctrine, which drew on theological conceptions of the two natures of Christ, distinguished the king’s natural, physical body from his “body politic,” a mystical fiction which embodied the king’s divinely constituted authority. Here, the shattering of the glass alludes to the destruction of Richard’s body politic through his abdication, and in that context Bullingbrook’s reply is a Machiavellian allusion to the unreality of this concept, which is but “a shadow.”
But this powerful stage image of breaking glass is overdetermined with other significations as well. Richard also breaks the glass because he is distraught that his “body natural” has shown no change since his abdication. His ruling illusion in the early stages of the struggle with Bullingbrook was of course that his being was exhausted in his function as king-that there was no distinction, as it were, between his two “bodies.” But in breaking the mirror he also accuses the mirror of betrayal and falsity in not adequately capturing his own inner experience of change-that shock to his inner sense of self, which is different from the legal authority symbolized in the concept of the body politic:
No deeper wrinkles yet? Hath sorrow struck
So many blows upon this face of mine,
And made no deeper wounds? O flatt’ring glass,
Like to my followers in prosperity,
Thou dolt beguile me! (276-81)
And he apparently interprets Bullingbrook’s cynical remarks on the twin insubstantialities (shadows) of Richard’s emotion and his image in his own way:
‘Tis very true, my grief lies all within,
And these external manners of laments
Are merely shadows to the unseen grief
That swells with silence in the tortur’d soul.
There lies the substance. (295-99)
This remarkable bit of stage business is suggestive in many ways of Montaignean theories of the self. The distinction implied by the survival within Richard of one sense of selfhood after the destruction of another through his abdication evokes the Montaignean themes of fluid subjectivity and multiple components of subjectivity. What is left of Richard after the destruction of his identity are emotions, those pre-linguistic, semi-autonomous registers of perceptions and values that are notoriously less open to the manipulations of rationalization than are our linguistically coded representations or analogues of them (see Solomon). The inner self arrived at here bears the same relation to Richard’s gestures and words as does his natural face to its image in a mirror: he values it as a “substance” over those words and gestures that are mere “shadows.” Deprived of his social being and identity through his deposition, Richard clings desperately to what he feels is all that remains to him, the flux of his own emotional experience (cf. Iser 10214). This stream of consciousness, “unfixed” from the traditional order of social life and self identity, with its paradoxical properties of continuing to evaluate, feel, and reproduce a sense of the real even when one’s entire identity and conceptual framework have been shattered, constitutes Shakespeare’s version of a Montaignean unfixed, modern subjectivity. It is central to the ending of Richard II, and it is of course quite similar to the experiments with self that Montaigne describes throughout his essays.
The implications of the mirror scene moment reach a new level of conceptualization in the celebrated soliloquy performed by Richard in prison. Here, Richard decides to investigate the interior world that is the remainder of his subjectivity after his “unfixing.” Richard’s unfixed subjectivity follows the procedures of rhetoric enshrined in the Ciceronian stage of inventio, with an emphasis on dialectics (Kahn, Machiavellian Rhetoric 114-15):
I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live unto the world;
And for because the world is populous,
And here is not a creature but myself,
I cannot do it; yet I’ll hammer it out.
My brain I’ll prove the female to my soul,
My soul the father, and these two beget
A generation of still-breeding thoughts. (5. 5. 1-8)
Richard’s rhetoric here mirrors within the sphere of subjectivity the Machiavellian rhetoric within the sphere of politics: both of them display the dynamics of purposeless purposefulness, but within radically different arenas, productive of radically disparate discourses. In the intersubjective network of power a relationship among men and women is constituted through which society is organized to accomplish social tasks of every sort, although by its nature power is in itself as indifferent to the concrete tasks undertaken as it is to the human costs of its implementation. It is a technology, a means to any end whatever, and as such its ultimate goal can only be to sustain and augment itself.19
Within the radically diminished realm constituted by Richard’s isolated mental life, however, the same dynamic produces a quite disparate result. The play of free thought in unfixed subjectivity displays the dynamics of Montaignean desire: an endless deferral of satisfaction as the mind flits from one desired (mental) object to another:
And these same thoughts people this little world,
In humors like the people of this world:
For no thought is contented. (9-11)
Taken a few steps further, such “purposeless purposiveness” within the mental sphere, as Kant would argue, produces the basis not only of what we are calling subjectivity, but also of what Frankfurt School theorist Theodor Adorno would term modern art, now no longer integrated into the relatively more holistic cosmologies and religious mythologies of pre-modern cultures, but autonomous, ungrounded in larger myths, and capable of critical reflection on the society that produces it.20 Within the cleared space of this new kind of subjectivity, desire continues to conceptualize a “real” and work within it as well:
Thoughts tending to ambition, they do plot
Unlikely wonders: how these vain weak nails
May tear a passage thorough the flinty ribs
Of this hard world, my ragged prison walls. (18-21)
The subjective is not a simple solipsism. While it has the potentiality to become purely “aesthetic,” it is also oriented to the-ordinary world. Such orientations to sociality help to explain why Richard would, in his profound isolation, still strive to “people this little world,/In humors like the people of this world.” Within the flux of his unfixed subjectivity, deprived of any anchoring identity in the lifeworld, he still constitutes a world of social relations. At the same time, the site of this scene of the discovery of modern subjectivity is a prison; and this association is appropriate to the extent that such subjectivity is now alienated from a world in which it had previously been dispersed within the collective constructions of the ideology of divinely constituted monarchy as a link in a universe understood as simultaneously symbolic and empirical. Now (and henceforth) meaning will be confined to a subject seeking fruitlessly to find itself among the instrumentalized objects of a disenchanted nature and society.
One crucial difference, however, between Richard’s “unfixed” and alienated subjectivity and that of an “anchored,” identity-bound relation to society is that the unfixed subjectivity has easier access to resources of imaginary compensation when desire runs up against its limits, and fantasies of escape “die in their own pride” (22) . In such cases, Richard argues, it is possible to identify imaginatively with a host of fellow sufferers and in that reflection “find a kind of ease” (28). And this last thought leads him to a remarkable (and Montaignesque) view of the possibilities of multiple identities within subjectivity:
Thus play I in one person many people,
And none contented. Sometimes am I king;
Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar,
And so I am. Then crushing penury
Persuades me I was better when a king;
Then am I king’d again, and by and by
Think that I am unking’d by Bullingbrook,
And straight am nothing. But what e’er I be,
Nor I, nor any man that but man is,
With nothing shall be pleas’d, till he be eas’d
With being nothing. (31-41)
Music then sounds, and Richard leaves the imaginary and brings his thoughts back to time, Bullingbrook, and “this all-hating world” (66). His murder follows shortly after.
In the privileged moments before his death, Richard thus conceptualizes and exemplifies one of the characteristic outcomes of the desacralized world of modernity. He unties his social identity-or more accurately, has his social identity untied-from the Symbolic order into which he was born, that chain of significations in which he had been one of the master signifiers as a king holding through his office divine authority.
That chain being broken through his abdication or deposing-and the Machiavellian reductions that preceded it-he is thrown into a virtual abyss, and he employs a rhetoric of nothingness to describe it: he is, as we saw above, “straight . . . nothing” (38); and he longs for a time of ease when he grows “eas’d/ With being nothing” (40-41).
This rhetoric will of course be repeated to even greater effect and dramatic intensity in a play that shares many of the themes and concerns of this one, King Lear. Both plays enact the disastrous abdication of a king, who then becomes separated from his social identity and the Symbolic order generally, while his kingdom falls under the sway of subjects of Machiavellian power. And both explore the experience of nothingness-of separation from the Symbolic order and imaginative explorations of alternative identities and values-through Richard’s soliloquy in Richard II and through the metamorphoses of Edgar, Lear and the other exiles in King Lear.21 And in both of these treatments “nothing” turns out to have a suggestive positive coloration, once the initial disorientation of the identity crises in question are overcome-briefly, at the very end of Richard’s soliloquy, much more extensively in the “redemptions” of Lear and Edgar.
Machiavellian rhetoric, we have seen in the first part of this article, reconceptualized the human world as a realm of naturalistic power-struggles in which men only appeared to be battling for values and visions: through the cool analytics of Machiavellian theory, these values and visions in turn were reduced to so many versions of mere appearance, empty counters that the Prince knew were essential in order to influence the actions of the many, but that he himself could not afford to absolutize or surrender to.
This is one version-certainly among the most important in the Renaissance– of that larger movement of the massive cultural disenchantment of nature, that undermining of the received, meaning-giving mythologies of religion and custom, which the Western world undertook in the long production of the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment world we now inhabit (see C. Taylor) . Contrary to a central strand of Horkheimer and Adorno’s indispensable Dialectic of Enlightenment, enlightenment as a process of disenchantment meaningfully commences in the Renaissance, with the intertwined productions of mutually anathematizing Christian polemics between Catholics and Protestants, the rise of secular modes of thinking through “rediscovery” of the classics and the beginnings of the scientific method, the development of mercantile capitalist economies with their corrosive processes of the commodification of daily life, and, as I have emphasized here, the unfolding of consciousness of Machiavellian power as an unmistakable dynamic of international and civil politics and war (see Grady, Shakespeare’s Universal Wolf 15-57, 219-23 passim; and Bruster). One of the cultural corollaries of this process was the much discussed crisis of meaning that pervades the literature and philosophy of Renaissance England and that is arguably the precondition for Shakespeare’s dramatic art and the secret of its continuing relevance within a world experiencing a still unfolding modernity.
The notion that the Renaissance inaugurated a continuing “modernity” stems in Large part from Burckhardt, who was in turn reproducing central notions of the Hegelian philosophical tradition. Of course, this view has been vigorously contested by scholars who see either the medieval or the Enlightenment rather than the Renaissance as the beginning of the “modern.” I review and discuss the debate in Grade. “Renewing Modernity.”
Within French studies the ground has already been laid; see the several relevant articles in Defaux; Starobinski, whose Geneva school phenomenological study shades into deconstruction; and Regosin, Moutaigne’s Unruly Brood, which explores the theme of children and offspring as a figure for the writing and textuality of the Essais. In English studies see particularly Reiss, who argues that there are two different and complexly interrelated “subjects” in Montaigne; and Susan Wells, 221-60, who asserts that the Essais define avant la lettre the limits of the disciplinary projects produced by the differentiated rationalities of modernity.
3 A recent introduction with an up-to-date list of suggested further readings is provided in Mansfield and Tarcov. See also the essays and other materials in Adams’s edition; Pocock; Raab 30-76; Strauss; Berlin; and-for an approach influenced by literary theory-Rebhorn. Pitkin provides a pioneering feminist analysis. However, for my purposes the most crucial analysis is Kahn’s,
4 For a nineteenth-century treatment see Meyer, who argues that The Prince was probably known more through Gentillet’s demonizing Contre-Machiavel than through direct acquaintance. More recent scholarship has tended to find a widespread first-hand knowledge of Machiavelli in England. See Praz; Campbell, 321-26; and Raab, 30-76.
For example, “. . . a prince who wishes to maintain the state is often forced to do evil, for when that party, whether populace, soldiery, or nobles, whichever it be that you consider necessary to you for keeping your position, is corrupt, you must follow its humour and satisfy it, and in that case good works will be inimical to you” (Machiavelli 71-2; ch. 19).
Such is the case, I would argue, for the famous “For fortune is a woman” passage (Machiavelli 94; ch. 25), but the celebration of virility is almost always closely intertwined in The Pr-incewith the praise of a politically beneficial virtu, so that it is difficult to judge where virility leaves off and political acumen begins. See Pitkin 285-306 passim for a detailed investigation of the ways in which Machiavelli’s cultural misogyny undercuts other aspects of his argument.
I have taken these dates from Wells and Taylor 117-23.
” Montaigne’s essays were composed in a complex, layered process. The earliest edition of the Essais was published in two volumes in 1580. This was in turn the basis for an augmented edition, with substantial additions to many of the original essays, and a third volume of brand-new essays, in 1588. All modern editions are based on the so-called Bordeaux copy of the 1588 edition, with new passages in Montaigne’s handwriting. Thus there were three chief “strata” in the composition of the Essai.is, and these are distinguished in scholarly French editions and in the well-known English translation by Donald Frame, used here for all subsequent Montaigne quotations. Neither the French text nor the admirable Renaissance English translation apparently used by Shakespeare (John Florio’s) is directly relevant to my purposes, which assume general intellectual similarities rather than similarities in specific wording.
“For a quite different reading of these two neglected early essays, see Greene, who reads the theme of a besieged town or fortress as a metaphor for inferiority besieged by the distractions of the world, concluding that “these apprentice essays seem to condone indirectly their author’s choice to withdraw from a parliament into his tower bastion” ( 12).
“‘ See Dollimore 15-22 for a short treatment of Montaigne. Dollimore finds Montaigne’s skepticism counter-balanced by his repeated affirmations of the importance of the laws and customs under which one is born.
” Montaigne did have an unsolicited encounter with Vatican censors when his books were confiscated and examined (according to Frame a standard procedure for all visitors) during his fivemonth stay in Rome in 1580-1, and a copy of the Essais returned to him with some “corrections.” However, he was told to make only those changes he wished and was asked to help the Church with his eloquence (Frame 217-18).
‘= My objection to Reiss’s argument is not that there are not notions of submission to authority in Montaigne-then are a major theme of the Essai..s. However, I think it is just as plausible to see these themes as a politic submission which grants legitimacy to the more skeptical side of Montaigne’s writings.
’13 Greenblatt emphasizes Montaigne’s idea that subjectivity is a process rather than a substance and compares these notions (rightly, I believe) to Shakespeare’s (252-53). Dollimore, on the other hand, characteristically argues that Montaignean skepticism amounts to an early form of ideologycritique, thus avoiding any direct comment on subjectivity as such (15-19).
” Wells shows parallels between the conception of the self in “Of the Power of the Imagination” and Lacanian psychoanalytic themes-“The uncertain boundaries of the self, its subjection to an uncontrollable desire, the blurred division between mind and body, and the uncontainable replication and splitting of the self. . .” (228)-and links these qualities in turn to Montaigne’s self-enacting skepticism through which his texts refuse to guarantee their own truth. Lacan in fact invoked Montaigne as a precursor of his theory of a radically split subject; see Lacan 223-24. And see RaglandSullivan 7-10 for an elaboration of Montaigne’s key place in the history of the concept of the subject in a Lacanian reading of the history of French literature.
” Reiss, on the other hand, argues that this passage is contradicted by later references to the idea of a decentered self, rather than to a Cartesian intentional self. For Reiss the idea of a centered self in Montaigne exists only as a desire and absence (133-34). In a more debunking vein, Todorov discusses this and related passages in the third section of his essay (which is devoted to three aspects of the self in Montaigne) and finds the idea of a ruling pattern and its apparent opposite (the theme of a subject in constant flux) to recapitulate what he thinks is a recurring, monotonous pattern of opposing, absolutized oppositions throughout the Essaas which ultimately serve ideological ends.
(Capell (2:63) identified a key parallel as early as 1783: the now well-known link between Gonzalo’s speech on a perfect commonwealth in The Tempest (2.1.148-68) and a passage in Montaigne’s “Of Cannibals.” Robertson cites two mid-nineteenth-century articles-Philarete Chasles,Journal des Debats, Nov. 7, 1846 (rpt. in L Angleterre au seizieme siecle, 1879), cited in Robertson 34-35; andJohn Sterling, London and Westminster Review (July 1838): 321, cited in Robertson 32-both ofwhich note a relation between Montaigne’s ideas and both the character Hamlet and, more generally, the tragedies Othello and Coriolanus. Two German scholars, Stedefeld and Feis, separately took up the question of the relationship between Shakespeare and Montaigne Later in the century; both of them felt Shakespeare was critical of Montaignean scepticism. J.M. Robertson, the self educated iconoclast better known
for his disintegrating approach to Shakespeare textual studies, wrote on the issue in a series of magazine articles (1896), which he later developed into two editions (1st ed. 1897) of the book cited here; Robertson argued that Montaigne had a profound, philosophical influence on Shakespeare, using both verbal and thematic parallels in support of his thesis. G. Taylor’s is perhaps the most systematic of the studies arguing for a Montaignean influence on Shakespeare as evidenced by verbal parallels. During the first half or so of the twentieth century, however, this general argument was criticized by several scholars: first, by Collins, Hooker, and the celebrated Montaigne scholar Pierre Villey; and later by the American critics Harmon and Hodgen. Ellrodt’s 1975 article once more made the possibility of strong thematic connections between Montaigne and Shakespeare a prominent feature of English studies. For many details of this selective critical history I have drawn on Jourdan’s survey and argument for a pronounced thematic debt to Montaigne by Shakespeare.
” Cf. Friedrich: “In the recognition that the self is a continuous process the visible aspects of which tell only part of the tale while the whole retreats or can be traced only by lining up its randomly comprehensible movements-in this recognition Montaigne is superior to all studies of man from antiquity and post-antiquity” (211). See, also, Ellrodt 42-47.
18 For a helpful discussion of various critical assessments of Machiavellian elements in Shakespeare’s histories, see Rackin 40-46.
The characterizations of power are from Foucault 92-98. The analysis of technical or instrumental reason as self perpetuating and dominating is from Horkheimer and Adorno 3-42 passim. I discuss the connections between these two approaches in Shakespeare’s L%niversal Wolf 47-55.
zz The term autonomous here does not mean that art has no connection with the social realm of which it is a product; for Adorno, art bears within itself the birthmarks of its production within a class-based and reified society. The term autonomous denotes what Adorno saw as the post-Enlightenment production of a historically new, specialized, secular category-art-linked historically to, but logically different from, more totalizing cultural productions such as, say, Greek epic or Dante’s Divine Comedy, which were (Adorno argued) much more integrated with, and less critical of, the surrounding cultures that produced them. As I have suggested, the Renaissance seems to me to begin in many ways processes that Adorno assigned to the Enlightenment, and I am arguing that Shakespeare’s plays (among others) are very early examples of modern art in Adorno’s sense.
2′ This connection was first suggested to me by passages in Eagleton 77; I develop its implications in Shakes are’s Universal Wolf 137-80.
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