The Court Lady in The Book of The Courtier Essay

This essay has a total of 1914 words and 8 pages.


The Court Lady in The Book of The Courtier






As a ship is without a sail or a king with no castle, so too is a courtier without a Court
lady. In "The Book of the Courtier" Baldesar Castiglione not only included a perfect
courtier, he also molded his female equivalent, a Court lady. "The Courtier" itself was a
step by step guide intended to instruct the young, affluent and upwardly mobile in areas
of manners, learning, sport and conduct. It was published in 1528, at a high point of
humanistic thought and antiquarian chivalric interest in Renaissance Italy. Often
overlooked or undervalued is the discussion of the ideal Court lady, described in eloquent
and perfect detail by the characters of Caesar and Magnifico, who was assigned by the
Duchess to create "such a woman that these adversaries of ours [Gaspare and Ottaviano]
will be ashamed to deny that she is equal in worth to the courtier."

The discussion on the Court lady began from an argument over the proper way to tell a joke
to a woman. Ottaviano and Gaspare took the position that women are morally weak and less
virtuous than men, setting off a heated exchange that ended with the Duchess's request of
Magnifico.

Magnifico set out to construct the Court lady in a very similar way to the courtier, "with
all the perfections proper to women and virtues of the recently created courtier." Most
similar between the two were their mental and personality qualities and attributes.
Maginifico wanted her to have prudence, continence, and magnanimity, to "shun
affectation," be graceful and well mannered, modest, clever, never jealous or slanderous,
loyal and in good repute with her mistress and skilled at activities becoming of a women.
For her more than for the courtier it was important to have good looks and to appear
chaste at all times so as to avoid suspicions of immodest behaviour, which would be very
harmful to her reputation. She was also to have all the qualities common to women, like
goodness, discretion, and good nature, as well as being a competent house keeper, care
giver and mother. Socially she was expected to be charming, honest, and witty. Most
important for the Court lady was to achieve a proper balance between modesty and charm.
She was especially advised to avoid any immodest conversation, such as gossip, in order to
avoid being thought of as unchaste by the men of the Court. She was to be knowledgeable
in a variety of subjects and be able to discern between the ranks of the people she spoke
with in order to have a suitable conversation topic for each. The Court lady was to have
be a good judge of character, be able to both joke and be serious, and avoid conversation
topics she was not familiar with, while being active in those she was. In all
conversation she was recommended to avoid affectation, or giving false impressions.

Central to the character of the Court lady, much more than the courtier, was the
importance of being graceful in everything. Because of this she was supposed to avoid any
activity considered remotely masculine, especially strenuous physical activities, and
"should in no way resemble a man as regards her ways, manners, words, gestures and
bearing." She was instead expected to be soft, tender, sweet and gentle and to
participate in more graceful things like dancing and painting. Along with grace,
effortlessness was also an important quality for her, especially in dress and appearance,
in which she was to appear immaculate but give the impression she went to no trouble.
Effortlessness is also mentioned as an important attribute for the courtier, but with more
emphasis on actions, rather than in appearance.

Another highly recommended quality of the Court lady was virtue. Virtue for her meant
maintaining chastity, purity and moral excellence. This quality of virtue was also
discussed for the courtier but in a different sense and of much less importance. Virtue
was to be sacred for the Court lady, and she was to do all she could to protect it from
falsehoods, rumors and ill repute, for without her virtue, she could achieve nothing and
have no honour. To help her protect her virtue, Magnifico gave her various attributes
like, continence, magnanimity, temperance, fortitude of spirt and prudence.

The Court lady's areas of knowledge were to be similar to the courtier's. She was to know
the humanities, Greek, Latin, the poets, orators and historians, and even things that she
herself did not practice, like sport, to help her be a better judge of the gentlemen of
the Court. It was also expected that she would be skilled in painting, literature, and
the activities of the Court, like dancing and games.

Essentially, the Court lady and courtier were very much alike, only differing slightly
with regards to the ideas of virtue, chastity, femininity, gracefulness and modesty. The
prescribed social expectations, mannerisms, and areas of knowledge were virtually
identical for both. Magnifico hoped that by endowing his Court lady with so many valuable
traits and characteristics "she will be not only loved but also revered by all and perhaps
worthy to stand comparison with our courtier."

Although cut from essentially the same mold, there was an interesting and at times heated
debate between the characters in "The Courtier" regarding the equality between the Court
lady and the courtier. Following the traditional pro and contra style, Gaspare and
Ottaviano viciously attacked the characteristics of women and claimed they were inferior
to men while Magnifico and Caesar played the part of the defenders and glorifiers of
women. Gaspare argued that being a women was a defect of Nature, like a kind of disease
and also that women actually instinctively desired to be men. He also suggested that
Magnifico's Court lady was an impossibility because no women could ever possess the same
qualities as the male courtier. Magnifico in turn, valiantly refuted Gaspare, arguing
that "just as one stone cannot be more perfectly stone than another stone, the male cannot
be more perfect than the female, since both are included under the species man." He goes
on to say that men and women are equally important because in that together they work
towards the highest purposes of life, especially procreation. He also gives numerous
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