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The Book of the Courtier was written by Baldassare Castiglione, an Italian soldier, diplomat, and prominent Renaissance author, between 1513 and 1527. The most educational book takes place in the Italian court of Urbino in 1507 throughout four nights. The courtiers entertain themselves by discussing individual morals, behavior, and etiquette, particularly in situations involving royalty, as well as the characteristics of the ideal courtier.

A dedication letter to Don Michel de Silva, the Bishop of Viseu, opens the book. Castiglione lauds the Urbino courtiers and explains that he is speeding up the release of The Book of the Courtier due to the numerous unauthorized versions that are already in circulation. The Urbino court, where Castiglione spent the most significant years of his life, was noted for its cultural splendor in the letter.

Each of the four books tells the story of a fictional evening's conversations. Count Ludovico di Canossa leads a discussion on the first night about what makes a good courtier, starting with physical and moral characteristics. The Duke of Urbino suggests that the courtier comes from a noble family and lists several sports in which he should be skilled. He says that the ideal courtier should be able to sing and paint and that learning the classics should be done with clarity.

A critique of nostalgia serves as the book's opening paragraph. The courtiers repeat the discussion from the previous evening and declare that the courtier must have sound judgment. The courtiers discuss the dress code and explain that the ideal courtier should dress in a dignified manner and choose wisely his friends because his reputation is at stake. Federico Fregoso, the evening's keynote speaker, outlines some general guidelines: The courtier should show his virtues naturally and flawlessly, earning the respect of his lord without making his peers jealous. The ideal courtier should also always be very aware of his audience, give his full attention to his Prince, and guide him to virtue.

When the Prefect asks Pietro Bembo, a Venetian poet, and scholar, how the courtier can best entertain, Pietro identifies three types of humor: quips, anecdotes, and practical jokes Even though they should avoid making crude jokes, courtiers should still use sarcastic metaphors and wordplay. Jokes that mock religion should be avoided, but disparities and simulacrums can be amusing. Joking at a woman's expense is unethical, and courtiers ought to be sincere in love. Bembo delights the court with his amusing practical jokes, which should be amicable. The next night will be devoted to identifying the ideal court lady, and the courtiers decide.

The third book opens with even more praise for Urbino's court. The Magnifico of Giuliano de' Medici begins to describe the ideal female courtesan. She shouldn't look like a man, but she should be noble, elegant, and polite like the male courtier. She should be a good mother and not engage in gossip, sport, or stridency. The Magnifico disputes Signor Gaspare's claim that women are flawed because the human race would end without them. Magnifico argues that women are simply more empathetic, while Gaspare maintains that men are superior. He gives Alexandra, Epicharis, and Camma examples of virtuous women. The Magnifico responds to Gaspare's argument that all of these are from the past with a series of contemporary examples.

Gaspare rejects Magnifico's examples and continues to argue that women are flawed. The Magnifico asserts that a true lady of the court must exercise caution when it comes to love affairs, rejecting suitors to determine who truly loves her. Unmarried women should only encourage virtue in their suitors, while married women should not stray. Love ought to be kept secret and shown through actions rather than words. Gaspare begins to respond, but the conflict between the sexes is put on hold so that more time can be spent discussing the ideal courtier.     

The fourth book begins with a reflection on the illustrious careers of those present at these discussions and a remembrance of the deceased courtiers. Ottaviano Fregoso, Federico Fregoso's brother, continues to define the ideal courtier, stating that one should avoid effeminacy and falsity and be an example of virtue. True knowledge prevents vice, and temperance prevents the formation of enemies, so courtiers should cultivate moral qualities.

The discussion moves on to look at various forms of government. Signor Gaspare inquires about the viability of a republic or a prince. A prince, the head of the body politic, answers Ottaviano. Ottaviano acknowledges that tyranny is the worst form of government, and Bembo believes that a republic provides greater freedom. Judicious men, on the other hand, do best when ruled by a monarch, who is like a god and has the authority to give orders.

Bembo discusses Platonic love at the book's conclusion. He says that in love, which he defines as the desire to possess beauty, the courtier should not cause any displeasure. He differentiates spiritual beauty from sensual beauty. The two types of beauty can be brought together by the courtly lady kissing her lover. The lover must contemplate universal beauty and overcome suffering. Bembo prays at the end of his tirade. The courtiers conclude their meeting and part ways after he finishes. 


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