The Book of the Courtier

by Baldassare Castiglione
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 466

Lady Elisabeta Gonzaga
The characters in The Book of the Courtier spend four evenings at Urbino in March, 1507, debating what makes the ideal courtier. The discussion is hosted by Lady Elisabeta Gonzaga, the duchess of Urbino, while the duke is on his deathbed. In spite of this circumstance, she's viewed as a genial, accommodating hostess.

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Count Lewis of Canossa
Count Lewis of Canossa, a visiting diplomat, kicks things off on the first evening. He believes that the perfect courtier is smart, friendly, athletic, a gifted dancer, and of noble birth. These are qualities with which most of the rest of the party agrees.

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Sir Frederick Fregoso and Bernard Bibinea
On the second evening, the discussion is led by Sir Frederick Fregoso, who shares his ideas on speech and behavior. A courtier himself (in addition to being a diplomat and a soldier), Sir Frederick feels that courtiers should be well-spoken, but should speak little and be humble. With regards to behavior, Sir Frederick urges courtiers to be self-aware; certain aspects of their performance, like singing, for example, should be reserved for the young. Also in attendance is Bernard Bibinea, a courtier and writer. He has a sharp wit and serves as the group's expert on humor.

Lord Julian de Medicis, Lady Emilia Pia, and Lord Gaspar Pallavicin
The third evening of discourse focuses on the role of women at court, and it's led not by a woman, but by Lord Julian de Medicis, who is living in temporary exile at Urbino. He thinks a "separate, but equal" policy is best when it comes to the sexes. Of all the women present, Lady Emilia Pia, the duchess' best friend and the widow of the ailing duke's bastard brother is the most outspoken. She's the first to defend women, and clashes with the party's resident pessimist, Lord Gaspar Pallavicin. Originally from Lombardy, Lord Gaspar is young, but sickly, and particularly cynical about women. While Lady Emilia fails to change his attitudes about the woman's role at court, she does cause him to clam up after the third evening.

Lord Octavian Fregoso and Pietro Bembo
The fourth and final evening of discussion covers two disparate topics: government and love. Lord Octavian Fregoso, originally of Genoa, is also living in temporary exile at Urbino. He believes the courtier's role as an adviser to his prince is often complicated by a prince's pride. The courtier, therefore, should deftly nudge his prince toward solid moral values. Poet and courtier Pietro Bembo then brings the four-day discussion to its conclusion by talking at length about the idea of Platonic love. He believes that passion is the pursuit of the young; mature courtiers should seek to understand the concept of beauty itself. If they can do that, they can reach an elevated state of consciousness and become closer to God.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 601

Lady Elisabeta Gonzaga

Lady Elisabeta Gonzaga (eh-leez-ah-BEHT-ah gon-ZAH-gah), who became duchess of Urbino when she married Duke Guidobaldo in 1488. She organizes the activities at her court during four evenings in March, 1507; discussions begin and end when she says so. Although her husband is on his deathbed and they have no children, she is a gracious hostess, idealized as the model of female virtue and paid many compliments.

Lady Emilia Pia

Lady Emilia Pia (PEE-ah), the widow of the duke’s illegitimate brother and the confidante of the duchess. She is the first to speak in defense of women and has the shrewdest tongue of all the women present.

Count Lewis

Count Lewis (Ludovico) of Canossa, a relative and friend of the author. A diplomat visiting Urbino, he leads the discussion on the first evening, during which he and others try to determine the qualities and speech of the ideal courtier.

Sir Frederick

Sir Frederick (Federico) Fregoso, a courtier, soldier, and diplomat; brother of Lord Octavian. A student of languages and the friend of literary figures such as the author, he leads the discussion on the second evening, explaining how a courtier should behave and speak.

Lord Octavian Fregoso

Lord Octavian Fregoso, a native of Genoa, where he was elected doge in 1513. Living in temporary exile at Urbino, he leads the fourth evening’s debate about the relationship of the courtier to the prince and about the ideal form of government.

Lord Julian (Giuliano) de Medicis

Lord Julian (Giuliano) de Medicis (MEH-dee-chees), the youngest child of Lorenzo de Medici. Like Lord Octavian, he is living in temporary exile at Urbino. He is asked to begin the discussion on the third evening. His subject is the ideal woman at court but extends to the relative merits of women in general. He takes a “separate but equal” view of men and women, wanting to be manly and women to be womanly and seeing equal potential for virtue in both.

Bernard Bibiena

Bernard Bibiena (bee-bee-EH-nah), a courtier (whose true name is Bernardo Dovizi) in the service of Lord Julian’s older brother Giovanni de Medici (soon to become Pope Leo X). He is a writer and a friend of the author as well as a patron of Raphael. A great wit, he serves as an authority on humor during the discussion on the second evening, telling many funny stories.

Gaspar Pallavicin

Gaspar Pallavicin (pahl-lah-vee-cheen), or Pallavacino Gaspare, a native of Lombardy. He is young and sickly. He is the cynic in the group and is especially cynical about women. His comments on the second evening lead to a delightful exchange with Lady Emilia and to the decision that the third evening should be devoted to the qualities desirable in a woman at court. He does not change his opinion, but his opinions are pushed so far to the side that he hardly dares to speak after the third evening.

Pietro Bembo

Pietro Bembo (pee-EH-troh), a poet and courtier associated with the courtly circle at Urbino from 1506 until 1512. Bembo admires the literary style of Petrarch and Boccaccio and delivers the most famous speech in the text. As the fourth evening draws to an end, he describes the ideal of Platonic love.

Francesco Maria della Rovere

Francesco Maria della Rovere (roh-VEH-reh), who was appointed prefect of Rome in 1504. He ruled Urbino as a papal fief from 1508, when Duke Guidobaldo died, until 1516, when driven out by the troops of Pope Leo X. He was the author’s patron during these years and is described in kind terms, though he does not have a major role in the text.

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