Machiavelli’s Half-Blood Prince

by B.J. Texan

Throughout all of Book 6, Harry, Ron and Hermione refer to the Half-Blood Prince by the simple nickname “the Prince.”

“…and stop talking about ‘the Prince’ as if it’s his title, I bet it’s just a stupid nickname, and it doesn’t seem as though he was a very nice person to me!” 
-Hermione (pg.241)

“You know I wouldn’t have used a spell like that, not even on Malfoy, but you can’t blame the Prince, he hadn’t written ‘try this out, it’s really good’ — he was just making notes for himself, wasn’t he, not for anyone else…” 
-Harry (pg. 530)

“He was a genius, the Prince. Anyway… without his bezoar tip…”
-Ron (pg. 539)

“The Prince” was firmly ensconced as the Half-Blood Prince’s (and thus Snape’s) nickname. We know the degree to which J.K. Rowling has studied classical, medieval, and Renaissance literature and loves to reference them in her books, so I think it is quite easy to see that she is drawing a distinct parallel between Snape and the ideas put forth in Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince.

Now most people have heard of The Prince and know what it is generally about, but for the younger readers I’m going to give some general background on the book. All you older readers feel free to let your attention wander for a paragraph.

Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince to the prince Lorenzo de’ Medici, who employed him as a minister/scribe. The whole basis of this book was to layout advice on what a prince should and should not do in order to either gain power or to keep the power he already had. It is most well known for its blasé treatment of morality. Basically, Machiavelli says that a prince should do whatever it takes, lie, cheat, steal, plunder, murder, or act piously, honestly, and with honor, in order to maintain his power and keep stability for his people.

It is this willingness to do whatever it takes to gain power, good or evil, that relates Machiavelli’s ideal prince to our Half-Blood Prince, Severus Snape.

“And let it here be noted that men are either to be kindly treated, or utterly crushed, since they can revenge lighter injuries, but not graver. Wherefore the injury we do to a man should be of a sort to leave no fear of reprisals.” 
(Machiavelli pg. 4)“He who is the cause of another’s greatness is himself undone.” 
(Machiavelli pg. 8)

These two quotations relate to how Snape has handled his role as a double agent for both Dumbledore and the Dark Lord.

First, Snape never gives greatness to either of his masters. Snape keeps them constantly striving against each other and never gives either of them the upper hand. In this fashion, Snape ensures that neither of them can achieve total victory and thus they both still need him more than he needs them.

Next, Snape does not act against either of his masters until he can ensure total destruction. To begin with, the Dark Lord begins to hunt down the Potters on Snape’s information and, possibly at Snape’s request, gives Lily a chance to live and then “dies” because of it. Now many people have suggested that Snape might have requested the Dark Lord to spare Lily because of a secret love for her; however, I suggest a scenario that fits right in with Machiavelli’s ideal prince. What if Snape asked LV to spare Lily because Snape respects the power of Love, that the Dark Lord knows not, and knew it would rebound and incapacitate LV? This would allow Snape’s other master, Dumbledore, to train the one that would finally defeat LV for good and clear the road for Snape’s rise to power. Next, Snape never shows any aggression towards Dumbledore until he has fulfilled his purpose of training and preparing Harry, and then after years of treating him nicely, Snape automatically kills Dumbledore when he has the chance, leaving no fear of reprisals. In this way, Snape kills Dumbledore but does not give LV the upper hand, because instead of having to worry about Dumbledore, LV must now worry about a fully trained and prepared Harry that is on a mission to kill him. Thus, Snape removes one major obstacle on his path to power, Dumbledore, but manages to maintain the status quo through Harry which makes sure he is not the cause for LV’s greatness which would undo his own greatness.

By using the two pieces of advice above, Snape has played the two most powerful wizards in the world like they were pawns, and advanced his path closer to absolute power. What makes Snape more powerful than these two wizards that are obviously more powerful, magically, than him? The answer is given in this next quotation from Machiavelli:

“It is essential, therefore, for a prince who desires to maintain his position, to have learned how to be other than good, and to use or not to use his goodness as necessity requires.” 
(Machiavelli pg. 40)

This is what sets Snape apart from both Dumbledore and the Dark Lord. Dumbledore is not willing to be other than good and devotes himself entirely to love and justice. LV is not willing to ever be good and devotes himself entirely to hatred and fear. Snape, however, is completely willing to be good when it is necessary, like being a teacher for 16 years, and completely willing to be evil when it is necessary, like murdering Dumbledore.

Now this willingness to do good or bad is what most people have been referring to when they call Snape a “gray” character. However, I would say this “gray” characteristic makes him more dangerous than Voldemort and more evil, since he knows the powers of love and has rejected them, unlike Voldemort who has never known them.

Even though I say Snape is willing to do both good and evil, we see throughout all six books that Snape definitely seems to be leaning towards a more evil and angry disposition than a lovable one. Machiavelli touches on this characteristic in his book also:

“It is far safer to be feared than loved… Returning to the question of being loved or feared, I sum up by saying, that since his being loved depends upon his subjects, while his being feared depends upon himself, a wise prince should build on what is his own, and not on what rests with others.”
(Machiavelli pgs. 43, 45)

It is Snape’s streak as a loner, of only depending on himself and his own cunning, that sways him into choosing a path based more on LV’s fear than on Dumbledore’s love. However, his ability to use both when necessary sets him apart from both his masters, no matter what leanings he might have in either direction.

So far, all of my evidence that links Snape and Machiavelli’s prince together has been based on similar personality characteristics between the two characters. However, there is a much stronger connection between Snape and The Prince. In The Prince, Machiavelli gives an example from history of the perfect use of fear and cunning in order to rise to power. The example was a Roman general who made himself emperor. His name was Severus. This story was mentioned a few editorials ago as the struggle between Severus, Albinus and Niger, but the story was not explained very well. So I am going to give my last round of Machiavelli quotations and try and summarize this story afterwards.

“But since a prince should know how to use the beast’s nature wisely, he ought of beasts to choose both the lion and the fox… he who was best known to play the fox has had the best success.” 
(Machiavelli pg. 46)“When we turn to consider the characters of Commodus, Severus, and Caracalla, we find them all to have been most cruel and rapacious princes… And all of them, except Severus, came to a bad end. But in Severus there was such strength of character… he was able… to reign on prosperously to the last.” 
(Machiavelli pgs. 51-52)

“Whoever, therefore, examines carefully the actions of this emperor, will find in him all the fierceness of the lion and all the craft of the fox.” 
(Machiavelli pg. 52)

Thus, through these quotations we learn that Severus was cruel, fierce (like a lion), but most of all cunning (like a fox). In between all these quotations, Machiavelli gives the story of Severus’ rise to power, but since I didn’t want to quote an entire page of the book, I will summarize it for you here.

The current emperor of the Roman empire is Julianus, whose three main generals were Albinus, Severus, and Niger. Severus senses the weakness of the emperor and secretly marches his army from their post to Rome. By the time anyone realizes that Severus has left his post, he is already in Rome where he immediately forces the Senate to elect him Emperor and execute Julianus. Now that he is emperor, Severus knows that he has two main rivals to contend with, Albinus and Niger, his fellow generals. He also knows that he cannot possibly defeat both of them at once. To fix this situation, he immediately sends a letter to Albinus saying he would love to have a joint emperorship with him. After Albinus agrees, Severus sets out and defeats Niger’s army and executes Niger. After this is done, however, he immediately turns around and attacks Albinus and kills him. This leaves Severus the sole emperor of the Roman Empire.

From this story, we see all of Severus’ ferocity and cunning. Additionally, the way this situation mirrors the situation of Severus Snape is quite eerie. Snape also has two main rivals, Albus (=Albinus) and LV (=Niger or black/evil). Also, we know Snape offered Albus friendship by turning to the Order and then sent LV to his “death” on his information on the prophecy. Then, just like the historical Severus, Snape betrays the trust of Albus/Albinus and murders him.

By comparing these two stories, I believe it can be deduced that Snape had no secret agreements with Dumbledore and murdered him for his own personal gain. I believe Snape is a selfish, power-hungry character that is more evil than Voldemort and that Snape has no thoughts of redemption in Book 7.

For more support of this theory, I present the symbol of the fox. Machiavelli tells us that Severus had “all the craft of the fox” and J.K. Rowling puts us constantly in awe of the amount of cunning and cleverness in which Severus Snape operates, even as a teenager with his potions book full of clever spells. With this in mind, I am 100% sure that Snape’s patronus is the fox. I believe we haven’t learned this information yet because it would give too much away, because it is Machiavelli’s symbol of the cunning fox that would clue us in to Snape’s true cunning nature. And remember the animal that Bellatrix and Narcissa meet just outside of Snape’s house in “Spinner’s End”: “‘Just a fox,’ said a woman’s voice dismissively from under the hood. ‘I thought perhaps an Auror — Cissy, wait!'” (HBP pg. 20)

I don’t think this random episode of meeting a fox just outside Snape’s house can serve any other purpose other than to point us in the direction of Snape’s true nature as an ideal Machiavellian prince with the cunning of a fox.

All this evidence points to Snape having a huge role in Book 7 as an extremely evil antagonist to Harry. With all of the Machiavellian references in mind, I predict that the climax of Book 7 will not be the showdown between Harry and LV, but the showdown between Harry and Snape. After Harry defeats LV, Snape will immediately rise to power as a new Dark Lord that is at once cleverer and more dangerous than the previous one, since Snape can respect and understand, and thus protect against, the powers of love. I do not know if Harry or Snape will prevail in this fight, but we saw what Snape could deal with Harry at the end of HBP.

In conclusion, through truly Machiavellian measures of deceit, using the advantages of both good and evil characteristics, and immeasurable cunning, Snape will rise to an all powerful Machiavellian prince in the form of the new Dark Lord in Book 7.