In the sixteenth century, the ideal was inseparable from the ruling class: it was a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, the aristocracy establishing itself as the ideal while simultaneously defining the ideal. The members of the nobility lived in tightly-monitored roles. Idealism was not about the individual but about the preservation of the entire image, for this image of power and money subordinated the lower classes. A role is an expectation, a state of identity foreclosure, and individuality is lost in the midst of societal expectation. These lords and ladies, courtiers and princes, idolized for their fortune and influence, were secretly stripped of any freedom, of any choice, for the sake of the whole. It would be decades before the very essence of humanity, free will, would be remembered in both literature and society. Baldesar Castiglione realizes the necessity of roles in European life during this period.
[...] From an education in painting, dance and music to the art of rhetoric and letters, more is required of the courtier than seems humanly possible unless every aspect of the courtier's life is dedicated to this eternal pursuit of the ideal. Idealism is utopian in nature. As John William Miller states, term ‘utopia' connotes the impractical,” and as such, idealism refers to plan that is inherently impossible of accomplishment” (Miller, 19). Many of these indispensable talents appear ultimately contradictory, the finesse and grace of dance coupled with the brutal strength of wrestling, as if Pygmalion and Odysseus could be forged into a single body. [...]
[...] If the courtier is to deny his role, acting for an interest other than the ideal, then he “enters a labyrinth [and] he multiplies a thousandfold dangers which life brings with it in any case, not the least of which is that no one can see how and where he loses his way, becomes lonely, and is torn piecemeal by some minotaur of conscience” (40-41). In a broad sense, it is the choice of the courtier to be a member of the court, that if he truly desires he can leave the aristocracy behind. [...]
[...] Only the nobility may attempt these affairs, and according to Capellanus, even though the courtier must “above all things be careful not to let [his affair] be known to any outsider” less he be forced to forfeit his marriage, those who refrain from ever practicing this art of courtly love are punished in the afterlife (Capellanus 151). The fulfillment of this role of an adulterer is expected of the courtier: as a man, he must pursue a love interest, courting her with the same fear of rejection as he exhibited in wooing his wife. [...]
[...] The role of the courtier is strictly to serve the ideal, to ensure its survival and prevent any shame or embarrassment that the lower classes may interpret as a weakness in the power of the ruling class. Idealism itself is a institution created by the ideal, a perpetual image of itself that the aristocracy produces to subordinate the lower classes and quell any hope of rebellion. To fulfill his role successfully, the courtier must forfeit his free will, the very nature of his humanity that emphasizes his own happiness. [...]
[...] One of the more devastating sacrifices a courtier must make to fulfill his role successfully is that of any moral reasoning at all, a condition not as explicitly detailed in The Book of the Courtier as class relations or marriage arrangements but a condition nonetheless with the power to completely redefine his very being. Courtiers are forced to be amoral, a state of moral reasoning that literally means moral,” and must be “indifferent to . the standard moral codes of society” (Angeles 8). [...]
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