Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

"The Ende Therfore of a Perfect Courtier" in Baldassare Castiglione's the Courtier

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

"The Ende Therfore of a Perfect Courtier" in Baldassare Castiglione's the Courtier

Article excerpt

Modern critics have attempted to fit Baldassare Castiglione's Il Cortegiano into a single classification or genre.(1) Wayne Rebhorn has argued very persuasively that: "Ultimately, Castiglione's book lives not in its ideas, but in the complex dialectical play of ideas and reality, precept and example, an imagined ideal and real men replete with their petty vices, defects and limited points of view."(2) He urges us to recognize that "Castiglione's Cortegiano ... declares itself from the start to be neither a treatise nor a handbook, but a dialogue, a symposium; and its essential unity derives from the utter consistency with which Castiglione maintains the distinctive form and the distinctive fiction of this work" (197-98). There are two difficulties with such a view of The Courtier. First, it does not allow for the variety of perceptions that in fact occurred, and second, there is the closely related problem that early modern texts are often not so single-minded as earlier twentieth century critics would like them to be.

While The Courtier is widely praised in England throughout the last half of the century, it is praised for different reasons and used to support divergent positions.(3) Roger Ascham in The Schoolmaster (1570) would rather the English youth read The Courtier than travel to Italy. Ascham has supported the traditional ideals of learning, virtue, and service to the commonweal as the proper functions of the gentry. He enlists Castiglione in his cause when he says,

To join learning with comely exercises, Conte Baldassare Castiglione in his book Cortegiano doth trimly teach; which book, advisedly read and diligently followed, but one year at home in England, would do a young gentleman more good, iwis, than three years' travel abroad spent in Italy.(4)

A quite different reference is made to Castiglione in a little book called Cyuile and vncyuile life. A discourse very profitable, pleasant, and fit to bee read of all Nobilitie and Gentlemen, published in London by Richard Jones in 1579. Jones uses Castiglione as the source of a detailed knowledge of court life which he says he will leave to "Earle Baldazar, whose Booke translated by Sir Thomas Hobby I think you have, or ought to have reade."(5) William Segar in The Booke of Honor and Armes (1590), offers a third perspective and seeks the support of Castiglione for the importance of honor and the dueling code which supports it.(6) There can be little doubt that the book was widely known and frequently invoked, but apparently for different purposes.

Even the question of form is open to differing interpretations. While the dialogue is clearly the containing form of the book, one should not overlook the assimilative tendencies of early modern writers and readers. There is evidence that admirers, followers, and imitators of Castiglione apparently saw The Courtier as a handbook as well as a dialogue. In succeeding editions the text accumulated paratext, that is marginal glosses, tables, summaries, etc. As Peter Burke points out "the paratext helped transform the Courtier from an open dialogue, probably designed to be read aloud, into a closed treatise, an instruction manual, or one might even say a `recipe-book.'"(7)

Sir Thomas Hoby's 1561 translation of The Courtier provides at the conclusion of the text "A breef rehersall of the chief conditions and qualities in a courtier."(8) A similar list is then given for the gentlewoman. Other help includes marginal references and a table of contents to identify topics. The Newberry Library copy of Hoby's translation includes the handwritten notes of Gabriel Harvey, Cambridge scholar and friend of Edmund Spenser. Harvey's notes are largely summaries of the content, as when he reinforces the printed marginal comment on Book Four. The marginal comment of the edition says "The ende of a Courtier" opposite the text's "The ende therefore ..." (sig. Mmiiii). Harvey writes in: "The supplement of the former discourses of the Courtier his souerain ende" (sig. …

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