Shakespeare & Machiavelli Attract a New Audience

Tory Glerum

Guests at the first lecture of this year’s Humanities Colloquium Series got a taste of the Renaissance as Richard Mackenney, Professor of History at SUNY Binghamton, presented “The Shakesperean Moment: Machievelli finds an audience, circa 1600.” The colloquium took place at 4:10 p.m. in the Ho Lecture Room and was attended by students and professors in various departments of the humanities and social sciences, particularly English and History.?Refreshments were provided.

Joscelyn Godwin, Professor of Music and Medieval and Renaissance Studies, invited Mackenney to speak at the colloquium, which was co-sponsored by the Medieval and Renaissance Studies program.

“We are glad to have been able to bring somebody in at this busy time of the term,” Godwin said. “The colloquiums are a great way to gather people together from across the disciplines.”

Alan Cooper, Associate Professor of History, introduced Mackenney as a friend and a former teacher of his in Edinburgh. ?

“Professor Mackenney came to Colgate as a visiting Professor in the fall of 2003,” Cooper said. “He is a scholar of many subjects, including Venice, the early Renaissance and Shakespeare.”

Cooper also mentioned that Mackenney has published several articles and books. The topic of the colloquium was an expansion on a subject discussed in his text entitled Renaissances: The Culture of Italy 1300-1600.? ?

Mackenney began the lecture by introducing the term “resonances” and explaining how he would point out causal connections between Renaissance ideas, particularly those of Machiavelli, and Shakespeare’s plays. He referred to the Renaissance as a time of “white male elites,” and discussed, how in the 1590s, the once-confined interest in ancient cultures and religion sprang up amongst reason and secularization.

“There was a sudden revelation in a world of religious authoritarianism,” Mackenney said.

Mackenney presented three major points regarding Renaissance tendencies. He discussed the proliferation in political interest and idea of the state from 1500-1600, the scientific similarity between Machiavelli and Shakespeare and their shared idea that the realism of politics was an illusion.

“The idea of masks and appearances being key to political success transferred directly to the stage,” Mackenney said.

According to Mackenney, the Machiavellian “message” descended from the ideas of ancient paganism discussed by the philosopher Epicurus, which were then written about by the Roman poet Lucretius.? Machiavelli transcribed Lucretius’ text.

Mackenney then went from describing the “message” to the “medium:” Shakesperean theatre. He talked briefly about the Globe Theatre and the experience of attending a play during the Rennaissance. He concluded his lecture by referencing and quoting specific Shakespeare texts that contain Machiavellian ideas. He discussed the specific Shakesperean characters of Henry IV, Henry VI, Julius Caesar, Brutus, Macbeth, King Lear and Hamlet: all either failed Machiavellians or figures in which Machiavellian ideas resonate. In several cases, Mackenney quoted extended literary passages, adding voice inflection and gesture to create a theater-like experience for the audience.?

Audience members were provided with a list of the textual references Mackenney made so they could pursue further research on the subject if they chose to.???

Senior history major Sarah Gilman said Mackenney’s lecture was one of the best she had ever heard.

“He was a clear and captivating speaker, and the subject matter interested me,”

Gilman said. “It was a well-balanced speech. Everything he said really made sense.”