What are the characteristics of the courtier that are most prized in The Book of the Courtier?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The courtier to which Castiglione refers is the typical king's or queen's daily visitor or attendant. These are people whom the monarch trusts and interacts with on a daily basis. The monarch may use a courtier to confide a personal problem, to send secret messages, or to plan battles and wars. 

Courtiers visit the court (hence, their name) so often that they should already know how to behave gracefully, as people whose job is mainly to please the King. Also, courtiers could come from a range of backgrounds including the military, the clergy, or the nobility.

All this being said, imagine yourself visiting the Queen of England at her palace everyday. You will have to follow protocol, know what your place is, and also know what ticks or tickles Her Majesty. If you are a proper courtier nobody would have to tell you what to do, and you will shine bright. If you are not a proper courtier you may turn into the laughing stock of the palace.

To us, people who are not related to any nobility, the concept of the courtier may seem almost ridiculous. However, Castiglione is writing in a time and place where courtiers were equivalent of today's celebrities or politicians.

Therefore, according to the text, the courtier must demonstrate

  • a) decorum, or appropriate protocol behavior.
  • b) extreme discretion
  • c) trustworthiness
  • d) a comely shape of person and countenance
  • e) gracefulness

The courtier should also have a great sense of athleticism and sportsmanship. He should be versed in all sports such as swimming, jumping, running, and casting stones. Tennis and horseback riding are of similar importance. The implication of being capable of all of this is that the courtier has the physical strength and endurance to do it all. Therefore, the courtier is not only good looking, strong and interesting but also athletic and versed in many topics.

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