The Book of the Courtier Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Il libro del cortegiano, 1528 (English translation, 1561)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Didactic

Time of work: March, 1507

Locale: Italy

Characters DiscussedLady Elisabeta Gonzaga

Lady Book of the Courtier, TheElisabeta Gonzaga (eh-leez-ah-BEHT-ah gon-ZAH-gah), who became duchess of Urbino when she married Duke Guidobaldo in 1488. She organizes the activities at her court during four evenings in March, 1507; discussions begin and end when she says so. Although her husband is on his deathbed and they have no children, she is a gracious hostess, idealized as the model of female virtue and paid many compliments.

Lady Emilia Pia

Lady Emilia Pia (PEE-ah), the widow of the duke’s illegitimate brother and the confidante of the duchess. She is the first to speak in defense of women and has the shrewdest tongue of all the women present.

Count Lewis

Count Lewis (Ludovico) of Canossa, a relative and friend of the author. A diplomat visiting Urbino, he leads the discussion on the first evening, during which he and others try to determine the qualities and speech of the ideal courtier.

Sir Frederick

Sir Frederick (Federico) Fregoso, a courtier, soldier, and diplomat; brother of Lord Octavian. A student of languages and the friend of literary figures such as the author, he leads the discussion on the second evening, explaining how a courtier should behave and speak.

Lord Octavian Fregoso

Lord Octavian Fregoso, a native of Genoa, where he was elected doge in 1513. Living in temporary exile at Urbino, he leads the fourth evening’s debate about the relationship of the courtier to the prince and about the ideal form of government.

Lord Julian (Giuliano) de Medicis

Lord Julian (Giuliano) de Medicis(MEH-dee-chees), the youngest child of Lorenzo de Medici. Like Lord Octavian, he is living in temporary exile at Urbino. He is asked to begin the discussion on the third evening. His subject is the ideal woman at court but extends to the relative merits of women in general. He takes a “separate but equal” view of men and women, wanting to be manly and women to be womanly and seeing equal potential for virtue in both.

Bernard Bibiena

Bernard Bibiena (bee-bee-EH-nah), a courtier (whose true name is Bernardo Dovizi) in the service of Lord Julian’s older brother Giovanni de Medici (soon to become Pope Leo X). He is a writer and a friend of the author as well as a patron of Raphael. A great wit, he serves as an authority on humor during the discussion on the second evening, telling many funny stories.

Gaspar Pallavicin

Gaspar Pallavicin (pahl-lah-vee-cheen), or Pallavacino Gaspare, a native of Lombardy. He is young and sickly. He is the cynic in the group and is especially cynical about women. His comments on the second evening lead to a delightful exchange with Lady Emilia and to the decision that the third evening should be devoted to the qualities desirable in a woman at court. He does not change his opinion, but his opinions are pushed so far to the side that he hardly dares to speak after the third evening.

Pietro Bembo

Pietro Bembo (pee-EH-troh), a poet and courtier associated with the courtly circle at Urbino from 1506 until 1512. Bembo admires the literary style of Petrarch and Boccaccio and delivers the most famous speech in the text. As the fourth evening draws to an end, he describes the ideal of Platonic love.

Francesco Maria della Rovere

Francesco Maria della Rovere (roh-VEH-reh), who was appointed prefect of Rome in 1504. He ruled Urbino as a papal fief from 1508, when Duke Guidobaldo died, until 1516, when driven out by the troops of Pope Leo X. He was the author’s patron during these years and is described in kind terms, though he does not have a major role in the text.

BibliographyBurke, Peter. The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Recognition of Castiglione’s Cortegiano. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995. Burke uses the European reception of Castiglione’s The Courtier to illustratre historical and cultural shifts, particularly in the century following its first publication.Castiglione, Baldassare. The Book of the Courtier. Translated and with an introduction by George Bull. New York: Penguin Books, 1967. Renders the Italian names more faithfully than Sir Thomas Hoby’s classic translation. Includes a lively introduction, useful notes, and an index.Finucci, Valeria. The Lady Vanishes: Subjectivity and Representation in Castiglione and Ariosto. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992. A feminist and psychoanalytic perspective. Includes separate chapters on the discourse, the women, and the jokes in The Book of the Courtier. Draws comparisons to a popular epic of the same era.Frye, Northrop. Myth and Metaphor: Selected Essays, 1974-1988. Edited by Robert D. Denham. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990. Contains a lucid account of Castiglione’s importance in Renaissance literature, written by one of the twentieth century’s most influential literary critics.Hanning, Robert W., and David Rosand, eds. Castiglione: The Ideal and the Real in Renaissance Culture. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983. Includes a chronology of Castiglione’s life and essays on language, women, and humanism and an essay on Renaissance portraiture.Rebhorn, Wayne A. Courtly Performances: Masking and Festivity in Castiglione’s “Book of the Courtier.” Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1978. Considers Castiglione’s book in the light of courtly customs and entertainments.Woodhouse, John Robert. Baldesar Castiglione: A Reassessment of “The Courtier.” Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1978. A new appraisal of Castiglione’s work, emphasizing the artistic creation rather than the historical account.
Categories: Characters