Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Professor Norma Bouchard, Professor Andrea Celli

Field of Study

Literatures, Cultures & Languages


Master of Arts

Open Access

Open Access


Machiavelli and Ariosto, the two contemporary giants and ideological opposites of the Italian Renaissance, diverge on the realm of power’s operation. For Machiavelli, power operates within society; here, one wields power over, or else cedes it to, others. By contrast, for Ariosto the locus of power is one’s own mind, where mighty forces swirl and sometimes overtake the individual from within. Whereas in Machiavelli’s view, power is asserted over others, the Ariostan view posits dizzying internal passions over which the individual is often powerless.

Against such a background, I anatomize two sets of linguistic details, and show that they in fact encapsulate the philosophical divide between Machiavelli and Ariosto. First, within the details of pronoun choice and collocation lie the fundaments of both authors’ respective philosophies of power. Machiavelli invests pronoun choice (the formal voi vs. the informal tu) with the weight of military-style maneuvering in the achievement of power and control. In a completely different vein, Ariosto deploys clusters of minimally-differentiated first- and second-person pronouns—miti, ti mi, mi. . . teco, ti. . . meco—to render psychological portraits, distinguishing the narcissist from the would-be narcissist, and focusing on the power of this psychological disorder.

Second, in addition to such pronominal distinctions and combinations, Machiavelli and Ariosto also approach the question of language variety as a means of enacting their divergent philosophies of power. Machiavelli imposes his native language, modern Florentine, as the vehicle of literary production, thus placing himself in the linguistic center of power. When Machiavelli does switch to other language varieties, whether Latin or dialectal volgare, the switch is made for the express purpose of assuming and maintaining power. Ariosto on the other hand declares his opposition to Machiavelli’s power-based philosophy via his ongoing linguistic revision of the three editions of the Orlando furioso, rendering prolific changes both into and out of literary Tuscan.

These data, spanning many years of the works of both authors, are embedded within the overarching questione della lingua, which directly debates the language variety to be employed for literary purposes. Furthermore, the same close textual analysis that reveals these patterns with respect to pronominal use and language variety also brings to light another language phenomenon concerning the two authors, namely, the precisely calculated “missing Machiavelli” in the literary lineup of the Furioso’s last canto. Indeed, Niccolò Machiavelli’s having been lasciato indreto was intentional, systematic, and based on linguistic grounds. As an “absent presence” woven into the exordium’s laudatory Bembian octave, the “missing Machiavelli” also encapsulates the strategically waged war of words between the two masters of the cinquecento, the basis of which ultimately turns on divergent conceptions of power as encoded in language.

Major Advisor

Professor Franco Masciandaro