The Book of the Courtier

by Baldassare Castiglione

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What is the function of Women in the book of The Book of The Courtier? please refer to parts of the book that I an look up

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On one hand, Castiglione has a fairly conventional view of women. They must by all means retain their femininity; they must be pleasing to the (male) eye, agreeable, and charming in conversation. Just as the male courtiers must never give the appearance of artifice, women should also always have an almost effortless air of femininity about them. Being feminine should come naturally to a woman.

At the same time, the characters in The Book of the Courtier often show a high regard for women, especially in relation to their intellectual capacities:

I say that everything men can understand, women can too and where a man's intellect can penetrate, so along with it, can a woman's. (Book 3, Section 12, p.214).

High intellect is acceptable in a woman. It makes her a more agreeable companion to men. It is to be valued, then, not in itself, but to the extent that it satisfies the needs and desires of the male species. A lady should, however, refrain from certain sports and activities that must remain the exclusive preserve of men, such as tennis and the playing of loud musical instruments. To do otherwise would most certainly not be feminine. In Castiglione's ideal of what a woman should be, we can detect close parallels with the feisty heroines of Shakespeare and Jane Austen.

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The role of women in The Book of the Courtier is somewhat ambiguous. Generally, women are viewed as foils for gallant, cultured courtiers, and in the course of the conversation (sparked, interestingly enough, by a woman, Lady Elisabetta Gonzaga) two different roles for women emerge. One, articulated by Lord Julian, suggests that a courtly woman should be at least somewhat educated, for the purpose of maintaining interesting conversation. In this formulation, women needed to be able to dance, to have a certain familiarity with literature and the arts, and other finer things. They should also not, he asserts, engage in the habits traditionally assigned to women, particularly gossip. The other view, held by Lord Gaspar, is that women, as the weaker and inferior sex, should not worry themselves with education, but rather with being virtuous wives and mothers. Neither suggest that women should be anything other than the objects of men's affection, or that they should have any identity independent of that of men. Lord Julian even says that women married to an abusive, ugly, or unfaithful husband have no right to seek a lover:

If this mishap chance to the woman of the palace, that the hatred of her husband or the love of another bendeth her to love, I will have her to grant her lover nothing else but the mind; not at any time to make him any certain token of love, neither in word nor gesture, nor any other way that he may be fully assured of it.

Generally speaking, then, women are not their own agents. Men should learn to dance and sing in order to amuse them, but women had no right to seek out knowledge and wisdom for its own sake. Ultimately, The Courtier is reflective of a certain masculinity, and women are defined in opposition to it. On the other hand, there are strong women depicted in The Courtier, particularly Emilia Pia, and the picture of women's roles that emerges is not an unproblematic one. Count Gaspar is marginalized for his views, which are viewed as far too reactionary.

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