It is quite tempting, to say the least (and perhaps the most), to consider the Huxtable narrative as offering—however directly; however implicitly—something of an allegory of European Renaissance politics and theology. While this codex has, indeed, often explored the various ways in which the Huxtable narrative reflects some of Shakespeare’s greatest character/psychic creations—I have argued, time and again, that Cliff Huxtable serves as a Postmodern, ironic reflection of Hamlet, Lear and Macbeth alike (and he also, it must be noted, develops into both an Iagoesque and Falstaffian figure later in the Huxtable narrative)—this project has yet to consider how the Huxtable narrative negotiates, reflects upon, revises and critiques two other titanic forces in Renaissance political, psychological and theological thought: Nicollo Machiavelli and Martin Luther.
At the outset of the Huxtable narrative, Claire Huxtable seems to operating in accordance with the political principles put forth by Nicollo Machiavelli in The Prince. As the ostensible ruler of the Huxtable home, Claire presides over her family—and, by effect, enforces the principles of the Huxtable hegemony—with a veritable iron fist. Claire is clearly a political tyrant, a Machiavellian cynic and realist. She is willing and able to lie, manipulate, deceived and threaten her subjects—consider her rather brutal treatment of Vanessa and Rudy, in particular, over the course of the series—regards any attempt at flattery or worship with doubt, and makes use of her cunning intellect and ability to engage in duplicity in order to enforce her rule (Claire is, after all, an attorney). In this respect Claire can be conceptualized as both a Machiavellian and as something of a Lady Macbeth figure, for she manipulates her husband through mockery and sexual enticement, harbors a barely repressed desire to engage in infanticide (Claire, often, seems to despise her children and wish to harm them, as she does when she twice throws Theo out of the house), surrenders to Satanic forces, and engages in and orchestrates grand political and psychological manipulations (see, for example, Claire’s role in brainwashing Theo into accepting the principles of the Huxtable hegemony in “Theo’s Holiday,” 2.22). Claire is presented to us, then, a something of a Machiavellian figure that is ultimately corrupted by the political and cultural power she wields and her rather brutal abuse of such. While she seems to possess only the most noble of intentions at the start of the Huxtable narrative, Claire evolves into a tyrant who governs her subjects through manipulation, lies, and fear over the course of the next five seasons, only to find herself completely bereft of agency and power and lacking in any semblance of political agency by the later seasons on the narrative. In that respect, the Huxtable narrative can be seen as evolving from a decidedly Machiavellian perspective that celebrates Claire’s tyrannical rule over her family into something of an anti-Machiavellian tract that reworks the core argument of Frederick the Great’s famous Anti-Machiavelli essay. By the later seasons of the Huxtable narrative, Claire’s tyrannical rule gives way and her subjects—just as Frederick the Great predicted all subjects under the rule of a Machiavellian tyrannical ruler would—rebel against her by turning her own princely machinations against her.
At first glance, the 16th century theologian Martin Luther and the 20th century upper-middle class, African-American adolescent Theo Huxtable would seem to have next to nothing in common with one another. In fact, the two would seem to be polar opposites of the other (in fact, Theo makes no reference to Luther or Lutheranism throughout the Huxtable narrative and seems only to allude once or twice to the Reformation). However, a close comparative psycho-biographical study of the two men—the two forces, really—reveals the extent to which the two are connected and suggests that Theo is, in fact, at least to some measured modeled upon Martin Luther. A close consideration of the lives of the two men reveal a number of striking similarities: both Luther and Theo had complicated, tortured relationships with their fathers, fathers who pushed them both to succeed beyond their limits (a comparative reading of Luther’s father Hans Luder and Cliff Huxtable is all but begging to be written, but is sadly outside the scope of this particular critical analysis); both possessed unrealistic ambitions as young men to sore into the heavens; both struggled against standardized curriculums in school; and bother endured life-altering events as young men which transformed their psyches at a fundamental level (Luther was nearly struck by lightning and had two close friends die in quick succession; Theo was not allowed to appear on Dance Fever and endured the sudden disappearance of Cockroach). These traumatic events lead both Luther and Theo to disparage their fathers and their childhoods and dedicate themselves to academic study and questioning of tyrannical, greedy earthly authorities. Furthermore, upon attacking the fundamental principles upon which the hegemonies they resided within, both Luther and Theo boldly faced abjection, objection and trial (in fact, Theo’s numerous “trials” before the Huxtable hegemony ((see “Theo and the Joint,” 1.17, “Theo and Cockroach,” 2.15, “Theo’s Holiday,” 2.22, and “Theogate,” 4.2)), recall the Diet of Worms faced by Luther in 1521), and decided to launch extended revolutionary campaigns that served to revolutionize the respective hegemonies under which they lived.
One of the main tensions, then, that can be located in the Huxtable narrative is between the Machiavellian Claire Huxtable and the Lutheran Theo Huxtable. A proper conception of the political strife which underlines so much of the Huxtable narrative depends upon a keen recognition of the ways in which the Huxtable narrative allegorizes these two particularly potent—and neither similar nor ideologically disconnected—strains of Renaissance political thought. What the Huxtable narrative ultimately asserts, then, is a rejection of the principles of realpolitik in favor of something of a politically moderate—and decidedly Theocratic—revolution against tyranny.