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The Prince Discussion Questions

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Machiavelli's ''The Prince'' is one of the most famous and controversial political treatises in history. These questions can help your students navigate this book, its main ideas, and its application.

The Prince

Few people have achieved as lasting a reputation for political theories as the 16th-century Italian writer Niccolò Machiavelli. The Prince, Machiavelli's most famous work, was written around 1513 but published in 1532. It was both popular and controversial and has remained so to this day. The Prince is a political treatise on government, and as such, is packed with some dense ideas (despite Machiavelli's relatively straightforward manner of presentation). Considering this, and the book's longstanding influence, it will likely be very useful for students to discuss Machiavelli's main ideas and themes as a class, building up a deeper understanding of them.

Questions about Content and Structure

  • In your own words, what is The Prince about? What is the purpose of this book? What is its central goal? What is its thesis or central argument? Try to explain all of this in an ''elevator pitch'' format, meaning roughly 1-2 sentences at maximum.
  • How does Machiavelli structure The Prince? What are the main sections of the book? What does each section focus on?
  • What does Machiavelli present as the main types of principalities? How are principalities established or expanded? According to Machiavelli, what are the strengths and weaknesses of each? What are the different ways that a prince can come into, and keep, power?
  • What does Machiavelli describe as the role of armies in a principality? What is the role of the prince in relationship to the military? What does a good state need, in terms of military? Why? How do you think this connects to the types of principalities explored by Machiavelli?
  • How does Machiavelli define the ideal prince? What are the traits that he sees as good? What are the traits he sees as bad? Is there a clear line between good and bad? Is Machiavelli's ideal prince concerned with pure moral distinctions like good and bad? What is this prince concerned with? What motivates this prince? What is the moral compass that guides this prince?
  • Why does Machiavelli discuss the types of principalities and types of armies before talking about the traits of the ideal prince? How do these ideas connect? How do these ideas connect to Italy's political situation, according to Machiavelli in chapters 24-26?
  • What do the introduction and conclusion of The Prince tell us about Machiavelli's reasons for writing this? Who is the book dedicated to?
  • Throughout The Prince, what sort of evidence does Machiavelli use to support his arguments? How does he use historical and biblical examples? What historical examples does he use? What does this tell us about his worldview? What does this show us about his central argument and reason for writing this book?

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