Volume: 1 Issue: 1

Leadership and the Humanities

Machiavelli's people and Shakespeare's prophet: the early modern afterlife of Caius Martius Coriolanus *

Peter Iver Kaufman *

Keywords: ‘Coriolanus’, faction, Livy, Machiavelli, plebeians, Plutarch, republic, Shakespeare, tribunes


Both Machiavelli and Shakespeare were drawn to Livy's and Plutarch's stories of the legendary field commander turned political inept, Caius Martius, who was honored with the name Coriolanus after sacking the city of Corioles. The sixteenth-century ‘coriolanists’ are usually paired as advocates of participatory regimes and said to have used Coriolanus's virulent opposition to power-sharing in early republican Rome as an occasion to put plebeian interests in a favorable light. This article objects to that characterization, distinguishing Machiavelli's deployment of Coriolanus in his Principe and Discorsi from Shakespeare's depiction of Coriolanus and his critics on stage. The essay that follows puts Machiavelli's and Shakespeare's comments on Caius Martius in the context of the ‘factious practices’ they deplored in late medieval Italy and Elizabethan and early Stuart England, respectively.

Author Notes

I thank Professor J. Thomas Wren for his comments on an earlier draft of this essay. And, with abiding friendship and respect, I dedicate it to Tom on the occasion of his retirement from our faculty at the University of Richmond's Jepson School and with appreciation for this journal, an endeavor he and his colleagues have just launched.

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