Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Urbino. City in central Italy that was the center of the duchy of Urbino, in whose court Castiglione’s dialogues are set. The duchy is a small state whose court is among the most splendid in central Italy during the period in which the dialogues are set. The Montefeltro family had ruled the city and its hinterland since 1374. Urbino’s small size and isolated location meant that its dukes derived at least part of their income from mercenary military service. The famous portrait of Federico da Montefeltro, father of the last Montefeltro duke, in which he sits in his simple study reading a large book while dressed in armor, sums up the family’s combination of the martial with the humanistic. Both his court and Castiglione’s participants reflect this dual ethic, one not unusual at similar courts of its time.

When Federico died his young son was but ten years old, thus unable to sign contracts for military service, and proved to be sickly. Castiglione sets the conversation in 1507, the year before the young duke’s untimely death. Thus, the last Montefeltro duke was still alive, though absent, and his court in decline. Early on, Castiglione touches on the theme of nostalgia for better days. The air in the mid-fifteenth century palace is rarefied, demanding both the expectation and provision of courtesy and fine manners. The group is essentially discussing who it is that belongs in their very select company. The isolation of the court from the surrounding world allows for the idealism on which the conversation is built and ensures that few practicalities intrude...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Burke, Peter. The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Recognition of Castiglione’s Cortegiano. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995. Burke uses the European reception of Castiglione’s The Courtier to illustratre historical and cultural shifts, particularly in the century following its first publication.

Castiglione, Baldassare. The Book of the Courtier. Translated and with an introduction by George Bull. New York: Penguin Books, 1967. Renders the Italian names more faithfully than Sir Thomas Hoby’s classic translation. Includes a lively introduction, useful notes, and an index.

Finucci, Valeria. The Lady Vanishes: Subjectivity and Representation in Castiglione and Ariosto. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992. A feminist and psychoanalytic perspective. Includes separate chapters on the discourse, the women, and the jokes in The Book of the Courtier. Draws comparisons to a popular epic of the same era.

Frye, Northrop. Myth and Metaphor: Selected Essays, 1974-1988. Edited by Robert D. Denham. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990. Contains a lucid account of Castiglione’s importance in Renaissance literature, written by one of the twentieth century’s most influential literary critics.

Hanning, Robert W., and David Rosand, eds. Castiglione: The Ideal and the Real in Renaissance Culture. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983. Includes a chronology of Castiglione’s life and essays on language, women, and humanism and an essay on Renaissance portraiture.

Rebhorn, Wayne A. Courtly Performances: Masking and Festivity in Castiglione’s “Book of the Courtier.” Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1978. Considers Castiglione’s book in the light of courtly customs and entertainments.

Woodhouse, John Robert. Baldesar Castiglione: A Reassessment of “The Courtier.” Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1978. A new appraisal of Castiglione’s work, emphasizing the artistic creation rather than the historical account.