The Journal of Politics

Research Article

LA MANDRAGOLA: An Interpretation

Theodore A. Sumberga1

a1 New York City

Machiavelli's play, La Mandragola, opened in the 1520's. It is a ribald spoof of marital fidelity that seems odd to have come from the pen of a philosopher. The usual explanation is that Machiavelli was pressed for a few ducats after his discharge from public office and so filled his idle time throwing off something to please the corrupt taste of his day. The prologue asks the audience to forgive the author for wasting his time on trifles. This essay aims to show instead that the play is very serious, written at the top of Machiavelli's form, and part and parcel of his political teaching. It is a guide on how to carry out a conspiracy against a corrupt regime. It is hence two plays in one: one light and frivolous, the other serious and even didactic. Machiavelli thus earns his ducats hiding the philosopher he never ceased to be.

Theodore A. Sumberg, who holds the Ph.D. degree from the New School for Social Research, is an Economic Advisor to the Organization of American States. He has contributed to professional journals in the areas of economics, philosophy of history and international organization.