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Machiavelli's Obsession With Violence In His Works

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In Machiavelli's various works, he propagates the usage of violence in them. So much so that it is impossible not to think of violence when you think of him. He utilises the The Prince to convey messages of mass killings and near genocides as a means of maintaining power as a ruler. It is evident that he advocates for its necessity. In his short story Belfagor, he writes about how this demon violently possess women and mob chasings. Machiavelli is an obsessive, and is an ardent supporter of violence, as proven by his various works.

Throughout Machiavelli's most famous work, The Prince. The theme of violence is mentioned either literally or figuratively. Violence is not only a theme in the prince, but it is also a central theme. Calkivik in his article writes that violence in the prince is “central”(Calkivik, pg.1). One could argue that without violence the prince would be an empty book, and would not be the masterpiece it is without it. Upon reading the book, it is impossible not to consider violence being important, there would be no substance in the book without it. In order to be a good prince, Lorenzo de Medici needs to be violent directly, or indirectly using violence through proxies. Machiavelli says that he will teach Lorenzo how to consolidate and gain power(Scarci), these promises that Machiavelli made to Lorenzo in the dedicatory letter can only be achieved through violent means. In the book, Machiavelli takes Lorenzo through a step by step process on how to use violence, when to use violence, and what type of violent forces to use. Calkivik states that the brutal honesty that Machiavelli writes about violence and political consolidation in the prince is what makes the prince intolerable(Calkivik,pg.1). A prince would not be feared by his foes, could not consolidate and keep his power, or gain any power without using violence.

Chapter 5 of the prince is the first part of the book where Machiavelli mentions the use of violence, specifically how to use it effectively. In this chapter, Machivaelli states that there are three ways to keep citizens who lived in democracies at bay(Scarci). The prince can use military force to kill them all, use military force and occupy them, or create a tax system(Scarci). Another mention of violence is in chapter ten of the prince, where he states that in order for a prince to inspire the people in his principality to defend the state, the prince must convince his subjects that fighting will give way to glory(Scarci). Fighting for the principality will bear fruit later. However, a prince must first convince his subjects that acting violently is the right course of action, not just sit there and let an attack happen(Scarci). A prince must instill the violent mindset in his proxies so they can do his bidding, and do so obediently and right. Hutchings and Frazer address Machiavellis violence in their article. They say that a prince must be organised in order to keep the peace in the city and need to keep composure in war(Frazer, Hutchings. Pg. 2). They also say that military disorganization cannot happen and it is important that a prince be organized militarily(Frazer, Hutchings. Pg.2). Further proof that the prince needs to completely be in the violent mindset. They say that military competence and valour are prevalent themes in the book(Frazer, Hutchings. Pg.2), both are violent themes.

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In chapter fourteen, Machiavelli states that a prince must be interested in war and must be knowledgeable in the mechanisms of war in order to be a good leader(Scarci). What Machiavelli means in this chapter is that the only acceptable action that a prince should be concerned with is war(Scarci). A prince needs to study everything about war, the various battles throughout history, learn more about potential attackers use of infantrymen, cavalry, or mercenaries, even the terrain the armies will fight on. Machiavelli states that the prince must even train himself physically for the rigors of war by doing physical activity in the wilderness(Scarci). A prince constantly needs to be in the violent mindset to be able to reach his full potential.

Furthermore, in chapter 12 of the prince Machiavelli expands on the idea of violence when he turns his attention towards the military, specifically its soldiers. In The Prince, Machiavelli talks about the types of militaries a state can have, his own, auxiliaries which are another states military and mercenaries, who are paid soldiers(Scarci). This chapter is evidence for violence by proxy, as Lorezno is not explicitly being violent, but is still indirectly being violent. In this chapter, Machiavelli is teaching Lorenzo how to be a good prince by teaching how to successfully implement violence, and how to use it(Scarci). In chapter 12, he talks about the downfalls of having mercenary armies and auxiliary armies and how one must have a citizen army(Scarci). Mercenary armies are a terrible option because their sole purpose for fighting is for financial reasons, and for that reason they cannot be trusted(Scarci). The commander of a mercenary army is not any better, it is a lose lose situation with a mercenary commander. He can either be competent, which indicates that he has ambitions bigger than just winning the war, which the prince should be concerned with(Scarci). However, he could also be incompetent and lose you the war(Scarci). Machiavelli uses the case of Francesco Sforza, a mercenary who became the Duke of Milan after betraying the royalty of Milan, a state he was paid to fight for(Scarci). He switched allegiances to the Viennese and turned the milanese army against the king(Scarci). The stanford encyclopedia of philosophy similarly writes ”the liberty of the state is contingent upon the military preparedness of its subjects”(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Pg. 6). Auxiliary troops are a bad idea as well due to the fact that it sends a message to the princes enemies that the principality is weak and cannot defend itself(Scarci). That is evident by the prince borrowing troops from a more powerful principalities army(Scarci). Auxiliary troops should also be met with great suspicion since their loyalties are to a different prince(Scarci).

The theme of violence is not only a theme in the prince, but is also a theme in his short story the devil takes a wife. Similarly to Machiavelli's authorship in the prince, . The short story revolves around an archdevil named Belfagor who is residing in hell(Scarci). He is tasked by a committee of devils to gather information on what life is like up above, on the earth(Scarci). Belfagor takes on the identity of a man named Roderigo and marries a woman named Onesta, someone who he actually falls in love with(Scarci). He chooses to reside in Florence due to the high amount of loan sharks in the state(Scarci). Another reason why Belfagor decides to reside in Florence is because his earthly occupation will be a loan shark(Scarci). Unfortunately due to Onesta being a heavy spender, Belfagor loses all his money to the loan sharks and is soon indebted to them(Scarci). As he is chased out of Florence by the angry mob he is forced to hide in manure to save his life(Scarci). Later on in the second part of the short story belfagor spends his time doing adventuring and makes an agreement with Gianmatteo the peasant(Scarci). In the second part of the short story, the plot revolves around Belfagors violence around women, this is portrayed by him possessing women(Scarci). Belfagor possessing women was done so Gianmatteo can exercise the women for pay(Scarci). When Gianmatteo exercises the women Belfagor leaves the women's bodies and makes it seem like Gianmatteo was the reason for them being cured(Scarci). A final act of violence is seen in the last part of the short story, where Gianmatteo cannot exercise the King of Frances daughter successfully(Scarci). Belfagor simply refused to leave her as he was not indebted to Gianmatteo anymore(Scarci). It was not direct violence like the possession of the women at the beginning of the second half of the short story, or the mob chasing in the first part. It was indirect violence, more specifically the successful use of the threat of violence. Gianmatteo says to Belfagor that his wife Onesta will be arriving shortly and that she is mad(Scarci). Scared at the thought of encountering his angry wife, Belfagor leaves the child and goes back to hell(Scarci). In this short story, the theme of violence is evident. Violence is the main characteristic of the titular character Belfagor, his wife Onesta, the setting, Florence and the people. Machiavelli describes Florence as filled the loan sharks, violent people, that is the perfect setting for a devil. The reason why Belfagor has chosen Florence as his place of residence was that he wanted to stay a violent individual and found that Florence was the ideal place for him to be himself. It was a place that he can be the most like himself, he would not have to try as hard to fit in since it is already an evil place. This is proof that Florence in the devil takes a wife is an inherently violent, if a devil can see the city and its people as a place that he can easily fit in, the reputation of the city must be questionable at best.

In summary, it is evident that Machiavelli's obsession with violence can be seen in his various works such as the prince and the devil takes a wife. In the prince he advocates for the killing of people, and teaches Lorenzo de Medici how to use violence directly and directly in various chapters in order for him to be a good prince. Furthermore, even in his fictional writing the devil takes a wife, it is seen that Machiavelli is an obsessive of violence by writing about mob chasings and the violent possession of women, and with the ultimate conclusion being resolved by violence it further proves that Machiavelli is an inherent fan of violence, and that is something crucial to his identity.


  1. Machiavelli Niccolò, and Peter E. Bondanella. Prince (Oxford Worlds Classics). Oxford University Press, 2005.
  2. Machiavelli, Niccol. The Divell a Married Man. Or The Divell Hath Met with His Match. Publisher Not Identified, 1647.
  3. Scarci, Manuela. “ITA198H The Prince - The Dedication,Ch.1-Ch.5.ppt.” ITA198H. University of Toronto. Lecture.
  4. Scarci, Manuela. “ITA198H - The Prince - Ch.8-Ch.11,pptx.” ITA198H. University of Toronto. Lecture.
  5. Scarci, Manuela. “ITA198H - The Prince - Ch.12-Ch.18.pptx.” ITA198H. University of Toronto. Lecture.
  6. Scarci, Manuela, “ITA198H - Belfagor,pptx.” ITA198H. University of Toronto. Lecture.
  7. Nederman, Cary. “Niccolò Machiavelli.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 28 May 2019,
  8. “Welcome to My.access -- Please Choose How You Will Connect.” My.access - University of Toronto Libraries Portal,
  9. Frazer, Elizabeth, and Kimberly Hutchings. “Virtuous Violence and the Politics of Statecraft in Machiavelli, Clausewitz and Weber - Elizabeth Frazer, Kimberly Hutchings, 2011.” SAGE Journals,
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