Mandragola by Machiavelli (commentary)

Madonna Lucrezia

          To be honest, but not trying to offend anyone, this play does not seem like a comedy to me at all. I do not even know why some people find it funny because reading the play, I only got exposed to the ugly realities of the world that I am deliberately avoiding my focus on. And I admit that I am a pretty serious person, because I really pitied Messer Nicia for being made a fool by everyone around him. This is a masterpiece, as most people say, but I find Peace by Aristophanes funnier because of its vulgarity, disgusting elements (like poo or dung beetles), sexual jokes, and lots of idiotic characters. It was just so crazy. Mandragola is a comedy because it ended happily, but maybe it just hit an open sore in me because I am a pretty jealous person and I loathe infidelity in all forms. But it’s good nonetheless; it’s just that this is not my type.

Again, I cannot help but notice the sexism in this play. It was normal during Machiavelli’s time, so I will just state them and say a few things but not put any hateful comments. Also, I think that it’s interesting to see women in men’s point of view, especially during the time of this play wherein men were not yet hushed by feminists.

Maybe men just have a need for dominance or leadership, needing women to aid them fulfill their desires, as Callimaco said, “…I would rather not be married if I couldn’t persuade my wife to do what I wanted,” and Nicia, “I’ve done everything your way, now I want you to do it my way. If I thought I wasn’t going to have children, I would rather have married a peasant girl than you.” Also, these men think of women as really inferior to them, less intelligent, burdens, and are only existent because of their duty to men. Siro’s statement, “Women can usually be sweet-talked into anything,” seems like an insult to women’s intelligence, as if they were dummies and flattery is the sacred secret into manipulating them, but women are just emotional creatures and they love anything sweet, loving, and beautiful. Furthermore, Friar Timoteo explicitly commented on women’s brains: “And in the end, women don’t have much of a brain; and if there’s one who knows how to put two words together, it’s broadcast at once, because in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.” It saddens me how feminine demeanor automatically equates to being an idiot and how some women need to act masculine in order to be recognized as capable or intelligent.

Another thing that fuels women oppression is using the Bible to justify sexist deeds. The Bible is a pretty patriarchal book, and I very much doubt that everything that’s written there are pure truths. I know that Jesus would not like the concept of women subordination either. As Friar Timoteo was consoling Lucrezia and persuading her to have sex with a stranger, he said this:  “Besides this, you have to consider the purpose in all these things. And your purpose is to fill a seat in paradise and make your husband happy,” – and he even used the example of daughters of Lot having sex with him because they thought they were the only women left in the world. Also, nowhere does it say in the play or in the Bible that it’s a duty of a man to please his wife; and yet a woman is obliged to obey or please her husband like a servant. In addition, Sostrata, Lucrezia’s mother, told her, “Let yourself be persuaded, my girl. Can’t you see that a woman without children has no home? When her husband dies, she is left like an animal, abandoned by everybody.” It puts women in permanent dependence on men and it can be seen that women are “mostly” valued for their reproductive abilities, like pleasuring men during a sexual intercourse and conceiving children.

However, Friar Timoteo said something about women that pleased me:

“Women are the most charitable people in the world, and the most annoying. If you brush them off, you banish both annoyance and advantage. If you entertain them, you end up with annoyance and advantage together. And the truth is that where there’s honey there’s flies.”

As shallow as it may sound, I like how the word “honey” was used to pertain to women. Nevermind the flies, but to know that the female species bring sunshine and sweetness to life is enough for me to appreciate my own sex. Women are said to be very contradictory, but everything else also is. Everything. However, I think that women’s contradictory-ness is more obvious because for thousands of years, we have been trained to be suppressive to appear virtuous and feminine in order to cater to the needs of men. Sometimes our true selves just resurface because it’s exhausting to pretend to be a happy beauty queen twenty-four hours a day. We are just humans.

I only commented about the feminist aspects of the play because for me it is the most obvious – but to sum it all up, this play is mostly about fraud. Fraud in every aspect of life, especially in the Church. Religious authorities mostly have the darkest and ugliest secrets underneath their saint-like personas. For many years, human lives were governed by laws and religious commandments that set the standards for what is acceptable behavior and what is not – that is why most of us resort to underhanded techniques like manipulation, lies, and disguises because we cannot directly get what we want. For entertainment value, I like Peace more; but for moral value, this play wins. 


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