The Courtesan

by Pietro Aretino

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Characters Discussed

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Messer Maco

Messer Maco (MAH-koh), a wealthy fool who is in Rome to become a cardinal. He is deluded into the notion that he must first become a courtier.

Maestro Andrea

Maestro Andrea (ahn-DRAY-ah), a charlatan. Hoping to fleece Messer Maco, he promises to transform him into a courtier and gives him lessons in blaspheming, gambling, slandering, and related arts.

Signor Parabolano

Signor Parabolano (pah-rah-boh-LAH-noh), a nobleman enamored of the virtuous matron Livia.


Valerio (vah-LEH-ree-oh), Parabolano’s loyal chamberlain, who defends his master against the jeers of the groom Rosso.


Rosso (ROHS-soh), Parabolano’s groom, a rascal and the sworn enemy of Valerio. He plots to pander to his master’s lust, win his favor, and thus take revenge on Valerio.


Alvigia (ahl-VEE-jee-ah), a procuress in league with Rosso to secure Livia for Parabolano.


Togna (TOH-nyah), a baker’s wife substituted for the inaccessible Livia in a nocturnal assignation with Parabolano. She steals away to the tryst in her husband’s clothes.


Arcolano (ahr-koh-LAH-noh), a baker, the husband of Togna. He catches his wife in her disguise and follows her, dressed in her clothes, to the house of the procuress, where Parabolano discovers the ruse.


Livia (LEE-vee-ah), a virtuous matron and the object of Parabolano’s lust.


Camilla (kah-MEEL-lah), a courtesan beloved by Messer Maco and used by Andrea to make a fool of him.


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Chubb, Thomas C. Aretino: Scourge of Princes. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1940. Comprehensive, scholarly life study of the courtier and author. Discusses the composition of Aretino’s writings, including The Courtesan. Stresses the libertine character of Aretino’s life and works.

Cleugh, James. The Divine Aretino. New York: Stein and Day, 1966. Highly readable biography of the statesman and writer. Comments on Aretino’s prose style in The Courtesan and other writings, explaining how he used his experience to vivify his creative works.

Hutton, Edward. Pietro Aretino: The Scourge of Princes. London: Constable & Co., 1922. Biographical study of the writer, examining the myths surrounding his licentious lifestyle. A separate chapter discusses his writings, citing examples from The Courtesan to highlight Aretino’s ability to recreate the life he saw around him.

Roeder, Ralph. The Man of the Renaissance: Four Lawgivers. New York: Viking, 1933. Excellent summary of the life and accomplishments of this key figure of the late Renaissance. Highlights the popularity of his writings and examines biographical influences.

Symonds, J. A. Renaissance in Italy. Vol. 2. New York: Modern Libraries, 1935. A chapter on Aretino sketches his influence on Italian politics and letters and offers detailed commentary on his contemporaries. Especially helpful for gaining an appreciation of the author’s style.

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