THE BOOK OF THE COURTIER


Renaissance men had various views of women that often were in conflict. In the following two excerpts these ideals are expounded by Baldesar Castiglione (1478-1529).


The Magnifico: Although some qualities are common to both and are as necessary for a man as for a woman, there are yet others that befit a woman more than a man, and others that befit as man to which a woman ought to be a complete stranger. I say this of bodily exercises; in her ways, manners, words, gestures, and bearing, a woman ought to be very unlike a man; it is seemly for a woman to have a soft delicate tenderness,. . . . And I do think that beauty is more necessary to her than to the Courtier, for truly that woman lacks much who lacks beauty. . . .

Gasparo: Women are imperfect creatures, and consequently have less dignity than men, and that they are not capable of the virtues that men are capable of. . . . Very learned men have written that, since nature always intends and plans to make things most perfect, she would constantly bring forth men if she could; and that when a woman is born, it is a defect or mistake of nature, and contrary to what she would wish to do: . . . Thus, a woman can be said to be a creature produced by chance and accident. Nevertheless, since these defects in women are the fault of nature that made them so, we ought not on that account to despise them, or fail to show them the respect which is their due. But to esteem them to be more than what they are seems a manifest error to me.


Source: Baldesar Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, trans. George Bull (Baltimore; Penguin, 1967).

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