As the title indicates, this is a course centered on reading Machiavelli. Little needs to be said about why such a course is worthwhile for a student of political theory, Italian or English literature, social theory, or the early modern period. The fact that the same person could be dubbed (to name but a few) a teacher of evil, a republican, a democrat, a proto-feminist, and the murderous Machiavel –not to mention the devilish nickname Old Nick -means there is something interesting about his thought. Few thinkers have had such pronounced influence on subsequent political thought, and few thinkers have achieved as much fame – or infamy, deserved or not.
But the title itself is ambiguous, and it is meant to point in two directions. First, we will be reading Machiavelli in roughly chronological order – his major works (The Prince and The Discourses), along with some of the less frequently studied works (The Art of War, Mandragola, Clizia, and The Life of Castruccio Castracani). Second, we will be exploring different ways of reading Machiavelli – Straussian, Cambridge School, democratic, feminist, aesthetic, and so forth.
The course serves four main purposes. First and foremost, we will be studying several of the works of one of the most important political theorists. Second, we will be studying different ways of reading Machiavelli and, in doing so, explore how it is that we actually go about the business of being political theorists. Third, we will explore the strengths and weaknesses of different methodological and substantive approaches to Machiavelli. Fourth, and certainly not least, participants in this seminar will produce scholarly papers of their own, developing their own readings of Machiavelli and engaging Machiavelli scholarship.