Cromwell stands on a boat crossing the Channel with King Henry’s bastard son, Fitzroy. By way of an insulting compliment to Cromwell, Fitzroy references The Courtier.
Because it is said in the book called The Courtier that in men of base degree we often see high gifts of nature. (page 327)
Cromwell deftly presents his own insult that is not perceived as such by asking if Fitzroy reads Italian – the boy doesn’t; parts of the book have been translated into English for him. Cromwell recommends that his people translate more of the book for him, especially the parts about gentlewomen and their qualities.
The next section piqued my interest about the author of The Courtier – Castiglione.
Castiglione says that everything that can be understood by men can be understood by women, that their apprehension is the same, their faculties, no doubt their loves and hates. Castiglione was in love with his wife, Ippolita, but she died when he had only had her four years. He wrote a poem for her, an elegy, but he wrote it as if Ippolita was writing: the dead women speaking to him. (page 328)
So I looked him up. Baldassare Castiglione (1479 – 1529) was a prominent Renaissance author. During his many travels he met the duke of Urbino and was soon invited to take up residence at his court. The Urbino court was very literary and filled with intellectuals who would make appearances in Castiglione’s plays and The Courtier.
He married Ippolita in 1516. Apparently two deeply passionate letters he wrote to her remain. After she died in 1520, he began an ecclesiastical career.
Castiglione had a pretty famous friend – Raphael – who painted the portrait to the left.
The Courtier is a dialogue on the ideal traits of a courtier. His courtier embodies the Ciceronian humanist ideal of the perfect orator. Sprezzatura is also valued: it is the ability to accomplish something without any apparent effort, a courtly gracefulness and nonchalance.
Now I have something else I want to read. See, this experiment is good for me. If I hadn’t set a limit of $25 per paycheck I would have ordered this book already and put it on my shelf to be read who knows when.
Oh, and Summa de Arithmetica as well! That would be the second book I’d buy with The Courtier to get the free shipping. I must restrain myself! Time to go read Wolf Hall.