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To Run and Leap with Peasants: Idealism and Stereotype Formation in The Book of the Courtier

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  1. Introduction
  2. The role of the courtier as a choice
  3. Free will within the confines of expectation
  4. The portrayal of the upper class as slaves to their own idealism
    1. The creation of the courtier
    2. The first and most severe restriction placed on the courtier
    3. The courtier's role
    4. The image of the court lady
  5. Conclusion
  6. Works cited

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. [...]

[...] As Count Lodovico imparts once the conversation in The Book of the Courtier moves to the topic of sports and games, the courtier ?must always be sure to give variety to the way lives by doing different things . although he should never fail to behave in a commendable manner and should rule all his actions with that good judgment which will not allow him to take part in any foolishness? (Castiglione 64). His opinion does not matter: the ruling class alone defines foolishness. [...]

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