Reflecting the Concept of Social Rank in Courtly Texts: Methods and Strategies. Essay
Updated: Jan 14th, 2020
Defining the specifics of social relationships and analyzing the principles in accordance with which these relationships develop is, perhaps, one of the most complicated tasks for a writer of courtly texts.
Because of a large variety of factors, starting with the complexity of the leadership model adopted by the head of the state, up to the structure of the society in question and the traditions of the time, the means of defining social ranks turns into a major problem.
However, with the help of an array of literary tools, the authors of some of the most famous courtly texts, Benvenuto Cellini with his Vita and Baldesar Castiglione in his The Book of the Courtier manage to nail down the specifics of social relationships in a very accurate manner.
One of the most famous representatives of courtly texts writers, Castiglione used assorted methods of introducing his idea of social ranks in court.
Although his concept of social ranks was also largely based on the idea of masculinity, Castiglione used different tools in order to convince the reader in the necessity to follow the principles of gender profiling. The examples of gender based social ranking within the court system can be found throughout the text: “I bear to women as these ladies think, but for my own good”1.
However, some researchers argue that Castiglione was, in fact, the first to suggest that the courtly relationships between men and women should be based on the principles of chivalry, along with the ideas of “kindness and noble courtesy”2.
Therefore, apart from masculinity, nobility principles should be mentioned as the elements required for the court social rankings to base on, Castiglione explained3. Castiglione’s text is a perfect example of humanist principles working their way into the society of the XV century.
Another peculiar concept that Castiglione seems to cling to concerns the phenomenon that Bernard4 defined as rhetoric of exemplification. Not only does it allow envisioning the court system in motion, but also link the actual reader and the internal reader.
In contrast to Castiglione, Cellini uses more obvious methods to define social ranks. In fact, Cellini disregards the idea of incorporating more subtle literary devices and shifts the emphasis from a slight mimicry of social relationships in his work, as Castiglione suggests, to downright instructing on the principles that social relationships must be based on.
When it comes to defining the specifics of Cellini’s writing style, one must give him credit for using the imagery created throughout his work to his advantage. Not only does he mold characters efficiently, but also knows how to use them to make an impression on the reader.
One of the most obvious “instructions” concerns the way in which Cellini envisions male – female relationships. Cellini obviously insists on male superiority, nearly comparing women to objects at some point of his work: “As a background to the women, there was spread an espalier of natural jasmines in full beauty”5.
The given objectification of women often occurs on Cellini’s reminiscences, and is in most cases made by the narrator: “Now I must make you understand that the woman is mine”6.
Another tool used by Cellini in his attempt to describe the system of social ranking within the court system, the transition from an artisan to an artist also deserves a proper mentioning7. In fact, Cellini reinvented the entire concept of being a courtier, stressing the significance of art as the means to separate the position of a courtier and any other position that a civilian may possibly take.
Finally, such tool as self-representation deserves a thorough scrutiny. Indeed, when considering the approach that Benvenuto Cellini uses to describe the principles of social relationships and the concept of social rank, one will inevitably realize that the author does not analyze the environment that already exists but, instead, molds it in accordance with his vision of society.
As a result, Cellini resorts to the methods that can be defined as mimesis. When taking a closer look at his work, one will eventually note that Cellini creates a model of social behavior for people to comply with and, therefore, defines the existing social ranks instead of providing his commentary on the already existing ones.
Though hardly being a literary device, self-representation still makes the structure of social rank seem more palatable, since it allows defining the leader and, therefore, tracing the course of the directions that shape the society and grant its members with particular social ranks.
According to Gardner, the given model adds an artistic touch to the strategy chosen by Cellini; she states explicitly that Cellini’s Viva broke new grounds as “an example of an individual’s attempt to mold his own reputation and historical legacy through a cohesive literary representation of his personality and his art”8.
One should give Cellini credit for his idea of using masculinity as the key tool for defining the principles of social ranking. The given tool works rather well in the context of the text, yet hardly seems efficient on its own.
Another tool that serves its purpose of defining the specifics of the social stratification of the era and at the same time convinces the audience is a careful stylization of the text.
It is remarkable that the choice of vocabulary made by the author has stood the test of time successfully: “the autobiography makes things easy by addressing the reader in a comfortable, if stylized, English […]. A measure of the status of these translations has been the fact that no one ties to replace them with fresh, modern ones”9.
Thus, the use of masculinity principles defines the roles that men and women are supposed to take within the court by stressing the necessity for the former to participate within the system, and for the latter to remain a part of the background.
It is quite peculiar that the process of objectification of women is practically described in Cellini’s book as he mentions the process of sculpting a lily, which serves as the metonymy for Gismondo’s wife (whose name is actually never mentioned in the book): “I promised the jewel should be twice as good as the model.”10
Correspondingly, Cellini assumes that women are not supposed to take active part in court meetings, as well as they must not offer and, worse yet, defend their point of view in court; on the contrary, women are viewed as damsels, the pretty faces that are not expected to have any significance of the court processes and course of events.
Consequently, the manifestation of the artistic autonomy seems like the next obvious stem in Cellini’s design of social structure within the court. Apart from making it clear that a member of the court has to undergo a transformation from an artisan into an artist, Cellini states that the latter is supposed to enjoy artistic autonomy for his actions to have a tangible effect on the artist’s subjects.
It is worth stressing that Cellini uses a hyperbole to prove his point by claiming that artistic leaders “made a crown of artistic glory for their city above anything the world had seen”11, which shows that his means of reflecting the social rank were rather harsh and straightforward.
The differences in the methods chosen by the authors in question are defined largely by the goals that these authors pursued in writing their books.
While Castiglione was clearly trying to shed some light on the events of the epoch and provide a fairly decent account of the latter, Cellini was obviously trying to strengthen his power over the nation even more. As a result, the representation of the social rank in two texts did not quite match, Cellini’s one being more focused on the subordination issue
When it comes to defining the differences in the way that Cellini and Castiglione described the social ranks of their time period, it should be mentioned that Castiglione used a wide range of tools that served their own unique purpose and were to reflect the true state of the society.
It is obvious that Cellini’s take on the representation of the social ranking in his courtly autobiography is more than obvious – it is a straightforward, in your face manifestation of Cellini’s viewpoint, which is far from being democratic.
The author clearly puts his stake on the expressivity of his arguments and the convincingness of his speech, which can be easily traced in the numerous reiterations of certain elements of his argument.
The aforementioned masculinity, therefore, ousts the very idea of democratic relationships, as well as democratic attitudes towards women; quite on the opposite, masculinity serves as the means to subdue women to the dominance of men and to subdue any attempts of resistance against it.
In many ways, Cellini’s self-representation defines the manner in which social ranks were depicted in courtly texts of the time.
Castiglione, on the opposite, prefers to express his idea of the court members’ social roles and the position of men and women in court in a more discrete manner12. In addition, Castiglione does not seem to rely on his authority among readers when defining the key principles of social ranking in court.
Instead, the author decides to integrate the principle of masculinity, which still remains the key to arranging court’s social ranks, together with the idea of introducing gentlemanly manners, as Hinz defined Castiglione’s strategy13.
The given method works rather well with the target audience, even though it lacks the persistence that Cellini’s work has. Cavallo, in her turn, makes it obvious that Castiglione uses portrait as the key tool in his representation of social ranks in court.
In contrast to Cellini, Castiglione adopts – or, at the very least, pretends to adopt – an objective viewpoint by having several narrators in his story and, therefore, drawing a portrait of a courtier by using what is supposed to be several opinions.
The efficacy of the given method is amplified by the fact that the narrators do not seem to agree on their visions of a courtier: “the critics have uncovered tensions on various forms which threaten to disrupt the game and to expose deep rifts under the elegant courtly veneer”14.
Defined as the engagement of both the actual reader and the internal reader into the argument, the given method works quite well and is much more subtle than the one that was chosen by Cellini. According to Bernard, “Hence from the vantage point of the author the limited, indeed parochial, perspective of his text’s interlocutors stands in contrast to his own hard-won prudential knowledge” (Bernard 34).
However, the aforementioned does not mean that Castiglione disregards the idea of using masculinity in his writing. There are evident traces of the chauvinist concepts in his work as well, which signify that the court was still organized in accordance with the idea of male dominance.
Nevertheless, Castiglione uses other tools apart from masculinity principle in his work, which can be explained by his lack of certainty regarding the efficacy of masculinity in his persuasion.
It should be noted, though, that the given authors were not the only ones who resorted to the integration of masculinity ideas into the principles that the court was guided by; as recent researches show, a number of theorists considered masculinity and the dominance of men in the court as the only legitimate principle that the latter could be organized by.
Apart from the concept of masculinity and the gender issue in general, the authors make efficient use of a range of literary devices, including hyperbole and reiterations of the argument throughout the work. However, compared to the aforementioned distinctive feature of both works, the given devices can be seen as minor ones.
It would be wrong to assume that the methods of reasoning used by the two authors are impeccable; more to the point, they are rarely objective. However, what one cannot deny these authors with their methods is the efficacy of the latter.
Although the emphasis on masculinity as the necessary feature of court social relationships is being stressed by both authors, Cellini seems to be more persistent with his chauvinist concepts, while Castiglione clearly attempts at introducing the elements of chivalry into the courtly relationships between men and women.
In addition, Cellini, being obsessed with the idea of power, sees the social ranking system as the means to reinforce his influence among the representatives of the court, thus, stating blatantly that he needs to use the existing court system to his advantage.
While the given principle works bizarrely well on the target audience of Cellini, Castiglione understandably avoids black-and-white judgments, preferring to introduce the principles of courtesy into his system of social rankings.
Each work clearly serving its purpose, it can be assumed that the tools used by both writers to represent the concept of social ranking within the court system are fully justified, though not quite appropriate in the XXI century. A product of their time, the given tools perform their social function well enough for their authors to be credited as innovators.
Bernard, John, ‘Formiamo un Cortegian’: Castiglione and the Aims of Writing,’ MLN 115 (2000), pp. 34–63.
Castiglione, Baldesar, Ct. ‘Book of the Courtier,’ in Project Gutenberg. Web.
Cavallo, Joan, ‘Joking Matters: Politics and Dissimilation in Castiglione’s Book of the Courier,’ Renaissance Quarterly 53 (2000), pp. 402–424.
Cellini, Benvenuto, ‘Autobiography,’ trans. By John Addington Symmons, in Project Gutenberg. Web.
Creighton, Gilbert, ‘Cellini’s Other Medium: His Writings and Their Reception,’ Studies in the Decorative Art 14 (2006–2007), pp. 19–25.
Gardner, Victoria, ‘Homines non Nascuntur, Sed Figuntur: Benvenuto Cellini’s Vita and Self-Presentation of the Renaissance Artist,’ The Sixteenth century Journal 28 (1997), pp. 447–465.
Hinz, Manfred, ‘Castiglione, Gracián, and the Foundation of Gentlemanly Manners in Early Modern Europe,’ in Dietmar Schloss, ed. Civilizing America: Manners and Civility in American Literature and Culture (Heidelberg, Germany: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2009), pp. 2-18
Richards, Jennifer, ‘Assumed Simplicity and the Critique of Nobility: Or, How Castiglione Read Cicero,’ Renaissance Quarterly 54 (2001), pp. 460-486.
Saccone, Eduardo, ‘The Portrait of the Courtier in Castiglione,’ Italica 64 (1987), pp. 1–18.
1 Castiglione, Baldesar, Ct. ‘Book of the Courtier,’ in Project Gutenberg.
2 Castiglione, Baldesar, Ct. ‘Book of the Courtier,’ in Project Gutenberg.
3 Richards, Jennifer, ‘Assumed Simplicity and the Critique of Nobility: Or, How Castiglione Read Cicero,’ Renaissance Quarterly 54 (2001), pp. 460-486 (p. 462).
4 John Bernard, ‘Formiamo un Cortegian’: Castiglione and the Aims of Writing,’ MLN 115 (2000), pp. 34–63 (p. 35).
5 Cellini, Benvenuto, ‘Autobiography,’ trans. By John Addington Symmons, in Project Gutenberg.
6 Cellini, Benvenuto, ‘Autobiography,’ trans. By John Addington Symmons, in Project Gutenberg.
7 Gardner, Victoria, ‘Homines non Nascuntur, Sed Figuntur: Benvenuto Cellini’s Vita and Self-Presentation of the Renaissance Artist,’ The Sixteenth century Journal, 28 (1997), pp. 447–465.
8 Gardner, Victoria, ‘Homines non Nascuntur, Sed Figuntur: Benvenuto Cellini’s Vita and Self-Presentation of the Renaissance Artist,’ The Sixteenth century Journal, 28 (1997), pp. 447–465 (p. 447).
9 Creighton, Gilbert, ‘Cellini’s Other Medium: His Writings and Their Reception,’ Studies in the Decorative Art 14 (2006–2007), pp. 19–25 (p. 19).
10 Cellini, Benvenuto, ‘Autobiography,’ trans. By John Addington Symmons, in Project Gutenberg.
11 Cellini, Benvenuto, ‘Autobiography,’ trans. By John Addington Symmons, in Project Gutenberg.
12 Saccone, Eduardo, ‘The Portrait of the Courtier in Castiglione,’ Italica, 64 (1987), pp. 1–18 (p. 1).
13 Hinz, Manfred, ‘Castiglione, Gracián, and the Foundation of Gentlemanly Manners in Early Modern Europe,’ in Dietmar Schloss, ed. Civilizing America: Manners and Civility in American Literature and Culture (Heidelberg, Germany: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2009), pp. 2-18 (p.2).
14 Cavallo, Joan, ‘Joking Matters: Politics and Dissimilation in Castiglione’s Book of the Courier,’ Renaissance Quarterly 53 (2000), pp. 402–424 (p. 402).
This essay on Reflecting the Concept of Social Rank in Courtly Texts: Methods and Strategies. was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Updated: Jun 9th, 2020 Introduction Throughout the 20th century’s second half, the explicitly and implicitly themes of feminism have been finding their way into children’s books to an ever larger […]
Updated: Apr 23rd, 2019 The modern day and age offers rights and freedoms that people have not experienced some time before and the majority of official rulings have acknowledged that […]
Updated: Oct 10th, 2018 The poems “A fine, A private Place” by Diane Ackerman and “Play-by-Play” by Joan Murray are both concerned with the theme of female sexuality. “A Fine, […]
Updated: Jun 20th, 2021 Introduction Does it leave one wondering whether Emily Grierson, in ‘A Rose for Emily,’ should be blamed for her solitude and isolation from the rest of […]
Updated: May 28th, 2018 Each work of poetry has a specific poetic voice. It is not only the author’s style or message of the work, it is the voice of […]
Updated: Aug 29th, 2020 James Joyce cites that, Eveline Hill is a young woman who is around nineteen years. She sits alongside her window as she waits to leave her […]
Updated: May 30th, 2020 In the ever-memorable epic of a woman in Russian society, trying to achieve self-will, Anna Karenina, is an exemplification of conflicts between the accepted and unaccepted […]
Updated: Jun 24th, 2019 Literary realism refers to a style that faithfully portrays life and interprets the actualities of all the aspects of reality. The literary style emerged as a […]
Updated: Apr 29th, 2019 Analysis of the key features of each, finding the elements of the authors’ signature styles and deducing the influence of modernism in the given works The […]
Updated: Jan 14th, 2020 Analysis Defining the specifics of social relationships and analyzing the principles in accordance with which these relationships develop is, perhaps, one of the most complicated tasks […]