Must-Read Books on Renaissance Masculinity

On September 10, 2016 by Josh Vandiver

Renaissance masculinity


Renaissance masculinity was shaped by writers and artists like Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Shakespeare who awoke to the politics of sex.


The Prince (1513) and Discourses on Livy (c. 1517)

Renaissance masculinityNiccolo Machiavelli’s Prince picked up the classical and medieval genre of “handbooks for princes” on how to educate young (and not so young) rulers and took took it—and Renaissance masculinity—to an entirely new, darker and more “Machiavellian,” level. His Discourse is a magisterial exploration of Roman politics famous, among many other things, for the story of the noblewoman Caterina Sforza. When the enemies besieging the city she ruled held her children hostage and threatened to kill them if she did not surrender the city, she lifted her robes, exploding her private parts, and declared, “I have the means to make new ones!” Renaissance masculinity was not confined to men alone.

The Education of a Christian Prince (1516)

Desiderius Erasmus wrote the definitive handbook for how to be a good Christian ruler. It is in many ways the polar opposite of Machiavelli’s sinister teachings and provided a Christian alternative to the Renaissance masculinity espoused by Machiavelli—and his many followers—which revived the hard virtues and even ruthlessness of the ancient world.

The Tempest (1611)

Shakespeare’s play superbly crystalizes how Renaissance masculinity emerges in relation not only to the Greek, Roman, medieval, and Christian worlds but also to the New World, empire, and race.

Leviathan (1651)

Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan is the single best book on the modern state. Unfortunately for Renaissance masculinity, which in many forms valued honor and war, the new state Leviathan would be the total master of honor and would control all war. The Leviathan in many ways represents an attack on Renaissance masculinity.