Our protagonist is a young orphan living in the streets. He learnt necessity from youth & his virtues do not seem to have hardened him to his fellowmen. He steals with justice, for his own benefit & for others’. When the laws try to destroy him, he learns that punishment & justice may vary, because the laws are too conventional & not reasonable enough.
The king, however, adopts this boy & thus admits superior prudence must guide the laws. At first, it seems this boy is prince by convention of adoption whereas the other two are born princes. But they have no mother, so we cannot know. They are all princes because the king says so. But is spontaneous virtue more natural or the accident of birth? – The boy learns legitimacy hides ugly beginnings, but that it is necessary to the ruler who wants to add his prudence to the laws.
The death of the king comes after the princes conquer a city against his will. It is hard to have warrior princes without wars; & if wars are to be fought, better that they be conquests than otherwise. They had been sent to war against one enemy & fought a neutral city, which was rich & at hand.
That the king is poisoned suggests the kingdom is failing. Also, the king organizes his rule such that he receives gifts upon conquest, even conquests he ostensibly does not desire. He does not make gifts to any of the princes except by taking away from them. It is likely that he gave no scope to the princes’ ambition & that was the cause of his downfall. This is tied up with his piety, which the princes do not share. They may obey orders, but they do not believe the city they attack is sacred. They obey their elder, but the younger fight among themselves. Their elder wants a city of his own.
The king claims his rule is based on brotherhood. His own brother, however, hates him. The king himself poisons his three sons by forcing them to compete. It is doubtful that ambitious men will be satisfied to serve if service is not rewarded to suit their ambitions, if that is possible. It is essential to a kingdom then that those close to the king be bound to him. Without great fear, how will they not act to ruin him?
The arts of deception are also necessary, as the question of legitimacy suggested. However, the honorable dare not see their defects. An exterior perspective is necessary, which examines the uses of honor, not merely its authority. This perspective reveals that honor should be mercenary & used to one’s own advantage.
For fans of action-adventures & Jake Gyllenhaal