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The Book of the Courtier

3.60  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,590 Ratings  ·  92 Reviews
Widely acknowledged as the sixteenth century's most significant handbook on leadership, The Book of the Courtier offers an insider's view of court life and culture during the Renaissance. Set in 1507, when the author himself was an attaché to the Duke of Urbino, the book consists of a series of fictional conversations between members of the Duke's retinue. All aspects of l ...more
Paperback, 470 pages
Published May 2nd 2003 by Dover Publications (first published 1528)
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Lucia Sofia Abonandi One of my best readings! A way to explore history through details and 'good manners'.
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Community Reviews

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Mar 02, 2009 A.J. rated it liked it
Shelves: history-politics
This is a book for people without the stomach for Machiavelli. It's a nice window into early renaissance court life––it'll give you an idea about some of what Shakespeare's plays include, people like Henry VIII, etc. Is the read as pleasant as a bagful of kittens? No, not really. It's long, often tedious, and for those of you who have absolutely no interest in history, a root canal might be preferable.

But you see, a guy...like...me (a freak)––who has an appreciation for politics and history––wo
Aug 19, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it
The first section discusses the qualities of the ideal courtier, and focuses on accomplishments such as dancing, fencing, etc. There is an extensive discussion of the types of humor, with many examples of jokes and tricks. The essence of humor is incongruence.

The sections that follow spend quite a bit of time discussing the qualities of an excellent court lady. This leads to many debates about courtly and corporeal love, with extensive debate about whether a woman should be allowed as much righ
Joey Warner
Sep 04, 2007 Joey Warner rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Medieval history enthusiasts
The edition I am reading is actually Daniel Javitch's Norton Critical edition (2002). There is a curiously high number of people on this site who claim to have read this work, yet who refrain from writing a review of it. I'll get us started with a few modest comments:

Javitch has been studying the Courtier for decades, and the more he does, the less he see reason to compare it to the "hard-nosed assessment of political realities that Machiavelli provided in the Prince." This is because, although
Mary Catelli
A book to read to learn about the Renaissance and how they thought.

It features conversation among courtiers discussing what the ideal courtier should be like. How, ideally, he should be noble birth; others dispute that many marvelous courtiers have risen from humble stations, but the original speaker maintains that since they are of course discussing the ideal, noble birth will help him in many respects. What he should study. Eloquence and avoiding affectation. What the ideal lady should be like
Jo Walton
If anything ever deserved to be judged by the standards of its time, this is it. By the standards of its time, obviously it's adorable.
Apr 02, 2016 Ubiquitousbastard rated it really liked it
Shelves: classic, history, europe
I don't get why anyone would dislike this. Well, okay, maybe why terrible people would. I was actually surprised when I was reading this, of how deep Castiglione was. His metaphor for aging and changing perceptions was insanely on point in my opinion. I was also surprised by his apparent proto-feminist outlook, in that there is a clear emphasis on the "right" characters believing in women's innate equality with men. Gaspar is shown to be closed-off and extremely prejudiced on the subject, and hi ...more
Jul 23, 2011 Yann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Au début du 16ème siècle, dans une cour italienne, une compagnies de nobles et de dames devisent pour tenter de définir ce que doit être un parfait courtisan. Pour peu que l'on fasse abstraction de la mauvaise réputation attachée à ce nom (surtout au féminin), on découvre un idéal qui prend ses racines dans l'antiquité, chez Platon, Aristote, Quintilien pour édifier des âmes fortes et délicates ayant l'épée dans une main et la plume dans l'autre. Toutes les perfections dont ils se parent n'ayant ...more
May 18, 2013 JP rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Several centuries ago, writing was simpler and more direct. Even though the sentences were longer, the word choice and meaning were always precise. This book is a Socratic exploration about greatness, framed as the recollection of a discussion held at court sometime in the early 1400's. Various characters discuss what traits are most important for those who would comprise a prince's court. Included in these virtues are grace, health, knowledge of arms, candor, trust, and beauty. All of these are ...more
Jan 17, 2016 Alex rated it liked it
Book 3 was the best...interesting book! Also love the author's name!
Mar 11, 2014 awgusteen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, owned
This book is surprising and entirely charming. Similar to Machiavelli's The Prince, the characters in The Book of the Courtier discuss, in the form of Platonic dialogue, the ideal member of a court. It's intelligent, funny, and even beautiful at times. Certainly an odd book, but I found it compelling and absorbing.

However, it will probably be of little to no interest to anyone not interested in the time period, but if the Italian Renaissance floats your boat (as it does mine, clearly) this is ab
Mar 12, 2013 Inge rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Read up until 50 pages, skimmed up until 88 pages, collected the information I needed for my Italian paper and thought, "No way in hell am I reading the rest of this book."

Jan 03, 2016 Marie rated it it was ok
It's useful but it's way too archaic to keep the reader engaged. The structure of dialogues is reminisccent of The Decameron. But the conversation goes on forever and ever. Instead of being a monologue of Castiglione making explicit the things he expects of courtiers, of ladies of the court, and of the role of courtiers before princes, he makes his characters go on and on forever about it.

Since the Duke is ill, they propose a game, which the Duchess will command, and in a number of nights they'
Jan 11, 2012 Omri rated it really liked it
An important, very educating read about one of the most important periods in the history of the English literature, culture, and development.

This is THE book on how to be courtier, for courtiers of a period in which the idea of the courtier is already past. Or in other words - a How To for aristocrats and courtier-wannabes. If you want to be counted as something, back then, you had to read this book, follow it, live by its code, and appreciate it. Although, this book, was written about a period
Sean Muhlstein
Dec 03, 2008 Sean Muhlstein rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoyed THE PRINCE
The Italian answer/precursor to Machiavelli's The Prince. Four nights of dialogue amongst a coterie of early 16th century Italian nobles and courtiers forms the strcuture of this debate over the characteristics and virtues of the "Ideal Courtier."

sprezzatura is the italian word for "ease" or rather, "effortlessness" - the quality required of any would be successful courtier. Dancing, fighting, badinage, sport; these activities must be accomplished with seeming effortlessness, with an internaliz
I got the idea to read this after reading Hilary Mantel's two novels featuring Thomas Cromwell -- Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Castiglione is referenced as are Machiavelli and Masiglio of Padua as providing guidance to people at court in how they and their princes should behave. I had read Machiavelli and some sections of The Book of the Courtier, but Mantel's novels got me to revisit it to see how it guided her depiction of Cromwell.

It is a worthwhile book but a bit difficult to access bo
Sherwood Smith
This first came out in 1526, and for those of us who can't read it in the original, there are various translations. The style is the old rhetorical conversation, which takes place in an ideal court scene of a small polity in Renaissance Italy.

It's a how-to for courtiers. Of course, it's not meant for just anybody. First of all, it's aimed at men, and second, Castiglione warns sternly, "I deem it necessary for him to be of noble birth."

This is a book of manners, and as such, gained wide popularit
Mar 30, 2016 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Renaissance is so much fun to study. The Book of the Courtier is a book on courtly etiquette and romantic love. The rules apply to a courtier who must follow these rules:
1. The courtier must be physically and emotionally fit.
2. He must be educated in art, music, war, and dancing.
3. The courtier must be sincere in everything he says and does.
4. He must know how to dress on certain occasions.
There is more. The book goes on about how to treat women and women must've elegant and graceful as wel
Aug 16, 2014 Nicky rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
For a book that’s only 189 pages long, it took a really, really long time to get through this one. Partly because it’s very dense, and partly because it was originally written in the early 1500’s, so much of the book drags in elegant language that tends to lose my twenty-first century attention span. It picked up in the middle where the dialogue gets heated, but it still took me close to two hours to get through twenty pages. In short, it’s not a book that lends itself well to casual reading.

Czarny Pies
Aug 30, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it liked it
Recommends it for: History Undergraduates
Recommended to Czarny by: Norman Davies
Shelves: political-theory
Baldassar Castiglione's is best read as a companion piece to Niccole Machiavelli's Prince which appeared 10 years earlier.

In the Book of the Courtisan Castiglionne explains that the art of being a successful advisor to a political leader is a skill that must be learned and the correct methods be always be applied. Castiglionne in other words offers the corollary to Machiavelli whose great argument is that successful political leaders are those who have taken the time to learn the skills required
Silvio Curtis
May 10, 2015 Silvio Curtis rated it it was amazing
A dialogue on the perfect courtier, written by a courtier, set at the court of Urbino in 1507 and written I think ten or fifteen years later. The tone's more more serious than The Flower of Friendship, and Castiglione explicitly cites as his models Plato's Republic on the perfect state, Xenophon's Cyropaedia on the perfect ruler, and Cicero's On the Orator on the perfect orator. All the characters are real historical people. The dialogue lasts four nights, one per book, organized more or less li ...more
Apr 10, 2014 Carla rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Castiglione writes about the characteristics that make a perfect courtier (man of court who serves royalty)in the Renaissance era. He does this in the form of a fictional conversation between members of court that lasts 4 evenings, hence the 4 sections. Its a bit dry, but I think history buffs would enjoy it, as it serves as a window into court life by revealing the ideals and views of the nobility at the time.

The first section was a bit boring, a summary being that the courtier should be good a
Mar 05, 2014 Lynda rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, classics
You could take a courtier and place him in Washington, DC or any other seat of power and he would not only fit in, but dominate.
James Violand
Jun 27, 2014 James Violand rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
If you want to learn a personal view of life during the Italian Renaissance, this book is for you. A primer for sycophants, Castiglione offers a guide to the intelligent, though for the most part unemployable, person with little talent.
Osric Lecourtier
As an aspiring courtier myself, I found this guide gave me valuable lessons on my deportment. I hope to use all I have learned in it if (or when) I am chosen to work in the Danish court of King Claudius and Queen Gertrude of Denmark.
Emily Carroll
Dec 30, 2014 Emily Carroll rated it it was amazing
Shelves: renaissance, classic
The Book of the Courtier joins the renaissance theme of guide books for life at the time it was written. Castiglione's book focuses on how a courtier, as well as court lady, should be, how they should act and what their overall life was expected to be like. This book keeps your attention because its fun to read. It takes place at nightly court discussions in the form of a game, he uses humor, with a sense of audacity to get his ideas into the publics view and to make sure he is not one sided in ...more
May 07, 2014 hpboy13 rated it it was ok
Considering this was one of the classics I had to trudge through for a class, it was tolerable. I fail to see why anyone would suffer through it of their own accord, but as far as Renaissance books go, at least I could finish it. It’s an instruction manual for a courtier that is mostly drivel – “be honest unless you must lie, talk about yourself but don’t be self-centered, etc.” There is an entire 100 pages on women, all of which is devoted to their chastity. I don’t think I’ve read so much abou ...more
Nick Bond
Apr 10, 2013 Nick Bond rated it liked it
While courtesy literature is far from being the rage in the 21st century, it turns out that the 16th century equivalent to the Idiot's Guide to Etiquette was among the most popular books of its time. Called The Book of the Courtier, by Baldesar Castiglione, it merged practical philosophy (a la Cicero of Ancient Greece) with contemporary Renaissance culture in an effort to describe what might be considered the perfect denizen of a prince's court. The book is most notable for its detailed descript ...more
Oct 31, 2014 Kelly rated it really liked it
A set of dialogues in which the characters discuss the perfect Renaissance courtier. I found this fascinating because as rulers become autocratic, rhetoric becomes less open and direct. Interesting contrast with ancient western rhetoric. Interesting parallels with Han Fei Tzu and his piece The Difficulties of Persuasion, another piece on using rhetoric when a ruler is absolute.
Michael Tabb
Jun 03, 2014 Michael Tabb rated it liked it
Momentous, surprisingly transgressive and illustrative of an era, the Book of the Courtier is admittedly a slog, but one that captures the self-stylization of the Renaissance, sprezzatura and all, in a way that might only be equalled by Sidney's hilariously over-the-top poetry.
Nov 09, 2015 Jan rated it liked it
A pleasant read into the lives of the courtesans of the 1500s. Maybe the Scarlet Pimpernel read this book to get ideas. "Sink me, your tailors have betrayed you." This book is about the best way people should act among themselves.
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Count Baldassare (of) Castiglione was an Italian courtier, diplomat, soldier and a prominent Renaissance author.
More about Baldassare Castiglione...

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“Practise in everything a certain nonchalance that shall conceal design and show that what is done and said is done without effort and almost without thought.” 11 likes
“Outward beauty is a true sign of inner goodness. This loveliness, indeed, is impressed upon the body in varying degrees as a token by which the soul can be recognized for what it is, just as with trees the beauty of the blossom testifies to the goodness of the fruit.” 10 likes
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