Prince and the Courtier Two Term Paper

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A significant aspect of court pageantry of the time was the performance known as masking, in which the courtiers themselves assumes other roles while wearing masks. The anonymity of the performance permitted them to engage in behavior that might otherwise be considered inappropriate. However, the custom of masking also gave concrete form to Castiglione's metaphor of the courtier as one who was continually playing a role. As Federico states in Book II of the Courtier,

But if a Courtier who is accustomed to handling affairs of importance should happen to be in private with his lord, he must become another person [lit., put on another mask], and lay aside grave matters for another time and place, and engage in conversation that will be amusing and pleasant to his lord, so as not to prevent him from gaining such relaxation.

In this situation, the courtier is not only, once again, assuming another role, but he is representing, in microcosm, the function of the larger ceremonials. While designed to project a "mask" of power, large pageants, like the intimate, but relaxed interlude between the courtier and his lord were designed to divert as much as to display. Thus, in participating in entertainments, the courtier was fulfilling a duel role - assisting his master in the exercise of power by helping him to visually display that power, while also helping to relax from the cares of that power. Through graceful relaxation, both master and courtier could be refreshed, and return again to the stage of state renewed and reinvigorated. For in public, even when engaged in sport or play, the courtier is careful to maintain his art. Everything, even the grand public spectacles of the courtiers amusing themselves is done with an eye toward correct performance and artistic flare. As Federico says in Book II,

Whereas, if he happens to engage in arms in some public show -- such as jousts, tourneys, stick-throwing, or any other bodily exercise -- mindful of the place where he is and in whose presence, he will strive to be as elegant and handsome in the exercise of arms as he is adroit, and to feed his spectators' eyes with all those things that he thinks may give him added grace....

As art blends seamlessly with physical skill and creative talent, so too does the public merge with the private. The entertainments of the court are the awesome spectacles of the populace. They convince subjects and visitors alike of the power, wealth, and magnanimity of the prince and his court.

In short, Niccolo Machiavelli and Baldesar Castiglione are both concerned with the exercise of power and influence at court. The court was the center of government and society in Renaissance Italy, much as certain social groups lead either politics or culture today. Machiavelli emphasized primarily the skills needed for the actual exercise and maintenance of power by the prince - the ruler. He made politics into something like a true science, emphasizing rational means of investigation, and undertaking logical courses of action. Good government would lead to loyalty on the part of the people, and to prosperity in the state. Yet, Machiavelli also gave to the prince a great deal of leeway in preserving his rule. The prince could break faith if it served his purposes. This too was justified on the grounds of rational expedient. Castiglione, in contrast, wrote primarily of the characteristics and accomplishments required by those who made up the court that surrounded the ruler. Artistic, well-educated, and adept at assuming whatever role was demanded - the ideal court was above all graceful and elegant. His performance was an effortless display of art and cultivation that concealed possibly years of training and conscious effort. Castiglione conceived of a world in which the government governed essentially by being the most civilized force in society. Necessarily, civilization adapted itself where necessary, much as the courtier assumed countless roles while always maintaining his innate superiority and polished demeanor. The two approaches of Machiavelli and Castiglione, though derived from the conditions of Renaissance Italy, still serve to inspire today, given modern political scientists, educators, and cultural leaders ideas to think about, and timeless underlying notions of state and society to consider.

Works Cited

Machiavelli, Niccol. The Prince. Trans. Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa. Ed. Peter Bondanella. Oxford: Oxford University, 1998.


Rebhorn, Wayne a. Courtly Performances: Masking and Festivity in Castiglione's Book of the Courtier. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1978.


Richards, Jennifer. "Assumed Simplicity and the Critique of Nobility: Or, How Castiglione Read Cicero." Renaissance Quarterly 54.2 (2001): 460>.


Niccolo Machiavelli, the Prince, trans. Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa, ed. Peter Bondanella (Oxford: Oxford University, 1998) 10.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the Prince, trans. Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa, ed. Peter Bondanella (Oxford: Oxford University, 1998) 82.

Niccol Machiavelli, the Prince, trans. Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa, ed. Peter Bondanella (Oxford: Oxford University, 1998) 58-59.

Jennifer Richards, "Assumed Simplicity and the Critique of Nobility: Or, How Castiglione Read Cicero," Renaissance Quarterly 54.2 (2001): 460.

Wayne a. Rebhorn, Courtly Performances: Masking and Festivity in Castiglione's Book of the Courtier (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1978) 25.

Wayne a. Rebhorn, Courtly Performances: Masking and Festivity in Castiglione's Book of the Courtier (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1978) 24.[continue]

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