What are the characteristics of the courtier that are most prized in The Book of the Courtier?
The Book of the Courtier by Baldassare Castiglione serves to determine what qualities the perfect courtier would have. In several different sections, people examine different aspects of a person's character that determine whether a person would be a perfect courtier. Ultimately, the perfect courtier possesses characteristics that enable him to both serve his lord and make his lord appear even better than he would without the courtier.
Castiglione explains the perfect courtier, saying the form of courtiership is one "by which he may have the ability and knowledge perfectly to serve them in every reasonable thing, winning from them favour, and praise from other men." The perfect courtier has these qualities not for his own pleasure but for the pleasure of the one he serves.
Other qualities that Castiglione's characters find important include:
- Gentle birth
- Affection and curiosity
They discuss whether a courtier needs to appreciate things like art and determine that the perfect courtier would indeed understand and appreciate art, literature, and music. He should also be healthy and athletic enough to serve his lord and engage in activities that bring them both favor. He should play games like dice but not only for money—and should be a good sport when he loses.
When they discuss how the courtier speaks, attention is paid to both the sound of his voice and the words he chooses. His voice should be neither rough nor too feminine. He should have a strong grasp of language and an ability to use it to charm and convince other people of his meaning.
The term grace is used often to describe how the courtier should act. One of the characters says:
Besides his noble birth, then, I would have the Courtier favoured in this regard also, and endowed by nature not only with talent and beauty of person and feature, but with a certain grace and (as we say) air that shall make him at first sight pleasing and agreeable to all who see him; and I would have this an ornament that should dispose and unite all his actions, and in his outward aspect, give promise of whatever is worthy the society and favour of every great lord.
Grace is a very important aspect for courtiers to have, as it seems to help display their other good qualities.
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.