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The Book of the Courtier

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  2,286 ratings  ·  133 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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When I opened this book today to attempt to review it, a bookmark fell out. It isn't a real bookmark but simply a leaflet I picked up in a gallery when I was in Northern Italy last September. Reviewing the book now feels like finally closing the chapter on that trip.

I had set out for Italy with three books in my bag, one of which was this one. Although it is three months since I returned home, and although the other two books have been finished and reviewed months ago, this book has hung on, if
Elle (ellexamines)
how in god’s name do you rate a book you read for a class in two days when you haven’t read a whole book in two weeks

I think what I found interesting about this is the parallelism between today and later; ideals and mistakes and the desire for perfection. Through his set of Renaissance-era conversations in Book of the Courtier, Castiglione suggests an ideal - the one way to be a man, the one way to be a woman, imitation of man after man after man. It is perhaps important to view Courtier as a wo
Jan 20, 2009 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 (a freak)––who has an appreciation for politics and history––wo
Jul 06, 2014 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
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.
The book also shows how to treat women and women must be elegant and graceful as well
I read it a few m
Joey Warner
Sep 04, 2007 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
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
What a beautiful introduction written by Surrey Sutton!
"In the words of Castiglione’s English biographer: ‘The noble brow and broad forehead, the fine eyes, with their clear intense blue and vivid brightness, give the impression of intellectual power and refinement, tinged with a shade of habitual melancholy. All the spiritual charm and distinction of Castiglione’s nature, all the truth and loyalty of his character, are reflected in this incomparable work, which is a living example of the ideal
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.
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
Nov 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, classic, 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
May 18, 2013 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
Mar 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, favourites
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
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Heavy sledding here, but well worth the slog. Gone are the days when people sit around for weeks discoursing on the nature of manhood - and yet, this is exactly the conversation we're having at the moment with the Me, Too movement. Castiglione's Courtier, like Machiavelli's Prince, is all about male power and how to use it correctly. The conversations about women really struck home - so little has changed in this department.
Dec 19, 2013 rated it it was ok
Fictionalised conversations by historic characters at the court of Urbino, Italy, 1507. The author his hiding behind these characters. Central focus on "grazia": amiable conduct, apparent carelessness, but with the purpose to flatter the lord. Interesting as an historic document, but rather dull to read.
Jan 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Book 3 was the best...interesting book! Also love the author's name!
Jan 28, 2020 marked it as did-not-finish
Let's be real. I'm never going to finish this. It's lingered half-read for over a decade at this point. Time to let it go.
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
Liss Carmody
Feb 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Excellent discussion of what the ideal courtier would look like, circa 1510 or so, from the perspective of a lot of Italian gentlemen and women who entertain themselves of an evening with this sort of thought-provoking speculation and debate. Although fictionalized, the characters who undertake this discussion are all based on actual court figures with whom Castiglione was familiar, and the entirety reads more as a sort of philosophical treatise than actual fiction, however much the individual a ...more
Dec 31, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: renaissance, history
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'
Czarny Pies
Aug 22, 2014 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
Sean Muhlstein
May 13, 2008 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
Dec 01, 2011 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
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
Aug 01, 2014 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.

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.
James Violand
Jun 27, 2014 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.
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mar 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book, but I'll be honest: It is at times a difficult read.

This book is, if I could say so, a self-improvement guide, an ethical guide and also a philosophical dialogue. Now, the first two roles are where it shines. The third role is however refreshing in its exposition, so it is by no means a failure.

With regards to self improvement, this book can easily replace some of the current additions to the genre. While not benefiting from the psychological research of the last years,
An urbane and searching discussion of many of the Great Ideas, all by way of presenting the qualities of the ideal courtier and the ideal lady-in-waiting. Castiglione was himself a courtier, and his book presents a series of discussions that take place over the course of 4 evenings in the chambers of the duchess of Urbino in 1507. Every evening the gentlemen and ladies of the court gather in the duchess's parlor to dance, sing, and play games. One evening the game is for the gentlemen to describ ...more
Nikolay Genchev
Jul 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely mind-blowing how much wisdom and relevance Castiglione's book contains. Almost all of the qualities named for the perfect courtier could be adapted to our current society in order to promote a more sophisticated and charismatic generation of men. I'm so glad I wrote all of them down and will certainly give my best to implement them. Also, from a historical perspective, this incredible piece of literature will provide its readers with a deep insight on the early 16th century Italian no ...more
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Count Baldassarre (of) Castiglione was an Italian courtier, diplomat, soldier and a prominent Renaissance author.

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