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Baldesar Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier and Francois Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel

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Baldesar Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier and Francois Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel are two fundamentally different books. Both texts describe sixteenth century lives in a different manner and both address the issues of love, marriage, sexuality, women’s position in society and gender equality. Castiglione uses plain narrative and a series of conversations between his characters to address these subjects while Rabelais uses satire and grotesque and, therefore, his book requires a greater amount of interpretation. Castiglione wrote his book between 1515 and 1528.

He intended his book to be read by the aristocracy, which, during the early sixteenth century, was in crisis because of the new politics of the centralization of power. For this reason, his book became a manual for courtiers and court ladies. In The Courtier, the Renaissance notion of individualism is very clear. In addition to Castiglione’s image of the ideal courtier, he also tries to present a picture of the perfect woman, not any woman, but an aristocrat, while Rabelais’s description of the role of women is more general.

The reader of Gargantua and Pantagruel learns about gender issues through the stories of the main characters in the book. The issues of women, marriage, sexuality and equality are especially visible in Book III of both Castiglione’s and Rabelais’s books. Some historians explain this coincidence by claiming that Rabelais’s third book is, in part, a satire of Castiglione’s Courtier. Castiglione dedicates the entire third book of his work to the portrayal of a perfect dona di palazza and, through this description, he clarifies the role of women in the court.

On the other hand, in the third book of Gargantua and Pantagruel the author addresses the issues of women, sexuality and marriage through the character Panurge and his dilemma whether to marry or not. Through a series of conversations about marriage and the nature of cuckoldry, the author uses Panurge to presents his views about women’s role in society. In The Courtier, issues concerning gender differences are brought up in conversation between the members of the Court at Urbino, for whom describing the perfect courtier and court lady is a game, played during their free time.

The pattern of conversation between the courtiers tells the reader a lot about the role of men and women at Court. As David Quint suggests, ladies had little to say about the qualities of the dona di palazza, because men were the main participants of discussion; this pattern reflects the “general subordination of women in the patriarchal culture in Renaissance Italy. ” 1 Castiglione’s participants in the discussion about women can generally be divided into two camps: those who defend women (Cesare Gonzage and Magnificio Guliano de’ Medici) and their opponents (Niccolo Frisio, Ottaviano Fregos and Gasparo).

In reading The Courtier, it is easy to see that majority of those who participate in the discussion are rather critical of women’s nature. Nevertheless, Castiglione allows signor Magnifico and Gonzaga to defend women and to assign them many positive virtues. Castiglione gives his dona di palazza, many virtues that are equivalent to those of a man. “She has the same virtues of mind as he and her education is symmetrical with his. “2 Castiglione’s court lady is supposed to receive a humanistic education according with the idea of studia humanitas.

On the other hand, Castiglione makes a clear distinction between men and women. Contrary to the courtier, the court lady is not supposed to participate in bodily exercises “such as riding, handling weapons and wrestling” and “ought to be a complete stranger” to them. 3 The role of the dona di palazza is very straightforward. “Grace” is her main occupation because, by her grace and charm, she should be able to move the courtier, who, influenced by these virtues, would please her and perform a variety of brave and chivalrous deeds.

Women’s charm, according to David Quint, is also important because it makes men adorn and seduce women, and, in this light, charm is a means of civilizing and pacifying a noble man. 4 Castiglione does not leave any doubts that charm and grace should be the main occupations of a court lady. Even signor Magnifico, a defender of women, states: “a woman ought to be very unlike a man, (… ) so it is seemly for a woman to have a soft and delicate tenderness, with an air of womanly sweetness in her every movement.

Accordingly with the idea that women should be charming, all of the activities that Castiglione allows women are subordinated to charm. Therefore, Castiglione writes that women should not play the drums, trumpets, that their dress should not appear frivolous and that, while dancing, they should not make any energetic and violent movements. In addition to charm, Castiglione emphasizes that women should be of gentle birth. He also underlines that beauty is an important characteristic of women, since “that woman lacks much who lacks beauty.

” In Gargantua and Pantagruel, issues concerning women and their role in the society are especially portrayed in Panrge’s struggle to decide whether to marry or not and in his conversations with other characters. Such descriptions underline the gender differences present in Gargantua and Pantagruel. Rabelais, unlike Castiglione, does not see charm as the major characteristic that a woman should possess. In one of the chapters of Rabelais’s book, the main character, Pantagruel, tries to explain the idea behind the law which allows newly married men avoid going to war.

His explanation tells the reader a lot about the role of women in society. He explains that the purpose of such a law is to see whether a woman is fertile or not. From this, the reader can deduce that the main role of Rabelais’s women was to provide their husbands with heirs and also with “domestic comfort and good housekeeping. ” 7 This notion is also underlined in other parts of the book. For example, in the chapter entitled “How Panurge consulted Pantagruel as to whether he should marry” , Panurge holds that women ought to take care of their husbands and provide them with children: “unmarried (… if I happened to fall ill, I should not be at all well looked after. (… ) there’s no other way of getting legitimate sons and daughters , by whom I can hope to perpetuate my name.

“8 Similarly to Castiglione, Rabelais also underlines the importance of beauty and charm for women. This notion is especially visible in Panurge’s dream. In his dream, Rabelais’s character had a “young and charming wife, a perfect beauty, who treated [him] kindly, and made as much fuss of [him] as [he] was her darling fancy-boy. 9 This passage indicates that beauty and charm are indeed important. Nevertheless, these two traits do not seem to be as important for Rabelais as they are for Castigione. Later in the book, Rabelais’s characters express their belief that a woman should cherish her husband, do everything she can to please him and also to conform to his way of life.

This is perfectly expressed in the words of Hippothadeus, the theologian, who advises Panurge saying that: “a woman is commanded to cleave to her husband alone, to cherish him, serve him, and love him entirely next to God. 10 Also, similarly to Castiglione, Rabelais’s characters emphasize the importance of good birth as a guarantee of a good and faithless wife.

The Courtier and Gargantua and Pantagruel both perceive the role and position of women differently. In both texts women seem subordinate to men, but not to the same degree. In Castiglione’s book, women are subordinate to men by not having equal opportunities and by being denied certain activities. On the other hand, women in Rabelais’s text are totally subordinate to man and their role is limited to providing and rising children and to serving their husbands in every aspect of life.

In both Castiglione’s and Rabelais’s texts there are certain notions of women and men being not equal. In Castiglione’s texts such characters like Niccoli Frisio, Ottaviano Fregos and, especially, signor Gasparo see women as “lesser men. ” On the other hand, these arguments are rejected by Cesare Gonzaga and Magnificio de Medici. In Castiglione’s book, signor Gasparo seems to be the biggest conservative, one who holds that women are not equal to men. Together with signor Ottavio, he seems to think that women are “imperfect creatures, incapable of any virtuous actions” and that they are a mistake of nature.

He also supports the idea of man “as the form and woman as the matter; and therefore, just as the form is more perfect than the matter, (… ) man is far more perfect than woman. “12 Also, Niccoli Frisio seems to hold similar ideas. He blames women for seducing the first man to sin and bringing death, misery and sorrow on the human race. All of these ideas bring up the notion of women’s inferiority which the reader can get from Castiglione’s text. However, these notions of women’s inequality are rejected by the claims of Magnifico Giuliano to whom Castiglione seems to give much stronger arguments than he gives to the detractors of women.

Magnifico rejects the notion of women’s inferiority by claiming that women are not a mistake of nature because nature does not prefer man over woman. He also claims that many women are more able in mind than men and that women are crucial for the preservation of the species of man. He also claims that women brought man much greater gains than, the biblical Eve brought, miseries. Magnifico also rejects the idea of women’s inferiority by contemporary, as well as by past examples, of brave and courageous women like “many Pisan women, who in defense of their city against the Florentines showed (… generous courage, without any fear whatever of death, which the most unconquerable spirits that ever lived on earth might have shown. “13 Generally speaking, Castiglione’s book presents two very different ideas about gender equality.

One, represented by people like Gasparo, who perceives women as inferior and made, by nature, unequal to man. On the other hand, characters like Magnifico represent the notion that women are “not a whit inferior to man. “14 It seems to me that Castiglione gives Magnifico and Cesare Gonzaga stronger arguments, but it does not necessarily make Castiglione’s dona di palazza equal to the courtier.

As Joan Kelly-Gadol suggests, the “Renaissance lady may play aesthetically significant role in Castiglione’s idealized Court (… ) but even he clearly removed her from that equal, to say nothing of superior position in social discourse. ” 15 As in The Courtier, in Rabelais’s book women are also described as unequal to men. Rabelais went even further than Castiglione, reducing women’s role to that of providing children, raising them and cherishing their husbands. Moreover, Rabelais, expresses the notion of women as a frail sex that can be easily moved.

This is especially visible in Panurge’s conversation with Rondibilis, the physician, who declares women the weaker sex: “When I say women, I speak of a sex so frail, so variable, so easily moved, so inconstant and imperfect… “16 According to the said physician, this is because women have a animal in their body that does not allow them to think rationally. This notion if inferiority and weakness of mind is also visible in Ponocrates tale, in which the pope entrusts a group of nuns a secret box. The nuns obviously open the box, which indicates the weakness of women’s nature.

In short, Rabelais’s book does not make women unequal to the same degree as The Courtier does; in contrast, it perceives as women not only as unequal, but as inferior to men, as beings created by nature for the aid and pleasure of men. For both Castiglione and Rabelais, the issues of seduction, love and marriage seem to be prominent. In Castiglione’s book, as David Quint suggests, most of the qualities acquired by the courtier are a means by which to seduce women and the role of the courtier is reduced to that of “a cynical seducer. 17 Quint’s observation is conformed by conversation between the court members.

They all seem to agree with the idea that serving and adoring the ladies is an important part of court life. Even Signor Magnifico, the most moderate of Castiglione’s characters, does not seem to oppose this view. In The Book of the Courtier, Castiglione holds that the courtier “employs [all of the] noble exercises, the elegance of dress and the fine manners (… ) as a means of gaining the favor of women. ” 18 Castiglione’s courtier adores the ladies just as he adores the prince. He tries to impress his lady at every occasion.

It sometimes implies a certain hypocrisy. For example, one of Castiglione’s characters believes that men, knowing that they are watched by women, should even risk their lives in battle in a display of extraordinary courage in order to win a lady’s appreciation. The lady from the Courtier, is constantly seduced so much so that she cannot “awaken at night without hearing music, or at least that restless soul moving about the walls of the house with sighs and plaints. “19 As a response to the man’s attempt at seduction, Castiglione’s dona di palazza should act modestly.

She should not be open in conversation about love and should restrain from giving any signs of affection, but she should give her admirer other incentives to adore her. Also love and marriage seem to be important issues in the Courtier. As Joan Kelly-Gadol suggests, “Castiglione established in The Courtier a fateful bond between love and marriage [so that love] in the usual emotional and sexual sense must lead to marriage. “20 All of Castiglione’s characters agree that a lady should only love the person whom she can marry.

This suggests that the author sees love and marriage as interconnected and that love is a force that should lead to marriage. Discussing the issues of love and marriage, signor Magnifico makes a distinction between proper and improper love. According to him, love is proper only for unmarried women and in such love a woman is allowed to show his lover her affection. On the other hand, he sees love that cannot lead to marriage as improper and in such love the court lady is “bound to feel remorse and sting (… ) [and can] give her lover spiritual love only; nor must she ever give him any sure sign of her love, either by word or gesture.

According to the author of The Courtier, love should be a secret between lovers, who should avoid revealing their affections in public. Castiglione’s love implies marriage, which is seen as an institution that provides symbiotic benefits between man and woman and their children. This idea is perfectly expressed by the following passage: “For by means of the union of male and female she produces children, who return their benefits received in childhood by maintaining their parents when they are old. ” 22 Unlike Castiglione, Rabelais does not seem to spend much of his book on the issues of seduction and love.

One of his main characters, Panurge, wants to get married, but neither has a specific woman whom he loves nor tries to seduce her. He thinks about getting married for rational and egoistic reasons. He wants to find a woman who would love him, be faithful to him and provide him with heirs and comfort. Unlike for Castiglione, love for Rabelais is not the major reason for getting married. In explaining the reasons for marriage, Panurge tells his friend, Pantagruel that a single man “has never the comforts that (… ) married people have. “23 This suggests the rational approach taken by Panurge, in which love recedes into the background.

Marriage for him implies conjugal love, a love which is a guarantee that his wife would take care of him in his time of need. In Rabelais’s book there is no place for Castiglione’s notion of love and that it leads to marriage. What leads Rabelais’s character to marriage is common sense and the desire of having legitimate sons and daughters. Both Castiglione and Rabelais also undertake the issue of sexuality, which is addressed differently. As Kelly’s article suggests, Castiglione introduces the double standard of sexuality, in which “man make the rules permitting themselves and not women sexual freedom.

This double standard permits men to change bedmates, while women like Elisabetta Gonzaga have to restrain themselves from such behavior, even if their husbands are impotents. Castiglione’s double standard is based on the idea that women should hold the virtue of chastity, “without which there would be uncertainty about offspring. “25 Through the voice of his characters, Castiglione underlines the importance of chastity for women, claiming that without this virtue women would be little esteemed.

By introducing the double standard, Castiglione also points out the sexual weaknesses of the female sex. According to this view, women are weak in restraining their sexual appetites and the only force that moves women to practice the virtue of chastity is the fear of punishment. Similarly to Castiglione, Rabelais also underlines the importance of chastity. The importance of this virtues is shown by the importance it has for the character of Panurge, for whom the chastity of his future wife becomes an obsession.

Panurge fears that he might be cuckolded and the uses faithfulness as a requirement by which his judges his potential future wife. For this reason, he seeks council in trying to predict the future, in order to see whether he will become a cuckold or not. Like Castiglione, Rabelais sees fault with the weakness of women, who are often unable to restrain themselves. However, the author of Gargantua and Pantagruel sees the reason for women’s unfaithfulness in both the weakness of female sex and in the husband’s inability to satisfy his wife.

Women’s weakness is depicted in Rabelais’s story about the nun who was raped in the dormitory, but who did not cry for help because the dormitory is a place of silence. This grotesque tale suggests that this nun did not really want to be helped, which indicates the weakness of the female sex.

On the other hand, the other reasoning is also addressed in the conversation between Panurge and Pantagruel in which Panurge states: For the lack of stiffness in the operative defect, the sole cause that makes husbands cuckolds. (… What makes the wolf leave the forest? Shortage of meat. ” 26 Unlike Castiglione, Rabelais underlines the importance of sexual life. For Rabelais, sexuality is not necessarily connected with spiritual love. One of his characters, Panurge, claims that sex life, not love, is important: “My future wife should be as ravenous for bedtime sports as was Messalina, or the Winchester of England, I beg you to believe me that I’ve sufficient supplies to satisfy her. “27 Similarly to Castiglione, Rabelais sees women as weak in restraining their sexual appetite.

It is not only uneasy for them to be faithful, but they also have an insatiable sex drive. For this reason, it becomes very important for Rabelais’s characters to be able to satisfy their women, in order to make them faithful wives. These ideas are especially visible in the following conversation between Friar John and Panurge, in which Panurge says: “Aristotle has declared (… ) the nature of women is in itself insatiable. But I should like to be known that I should have an indefatigable instrument of the same caliber. ”

Castiglione’s The Courtier and Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel are not only different in their treatment of sexuality, gender equality and marriage but also in the depiction of the human body and in the way in which both authors present men and women as physical beings. The differences between these two books could be compared to the Renaissance idea of struggle between carnival and lent. In such a comparison, Castiglione’s book would certainly represent lent. This is because Castiglione has a very rigid idea about the appearance and behavior of his courtier and court lady.

Through The Courtier, Castiglione’s characters describe an ideal of man and woman. They create these two beings who are beautiful, elegant, educated, “naturally graceful (… ) mannerly, clever, prudent, not arrogant, not envious, not slanderous, not vain, not contentious, not vain,” and of “gentle birth. “29 Castiglione’s characters assign so many positive virtues to their courtier and court lady that they do not leave any room for inappropriate behavior. Castiglione’s courtier knows what the word “proper” means because propriety and manners are what distinguishes him or her from the peasants.

On the other hand, in Rabelais’s book this propriety, nonchalance and spezzatura, is almost nonexistent. Because of the use of the grotesque, Rabelais’s image of the body and of the man’s physique could be compared to the Renaissance carnival, in which the world turned upside-down. Rabelais’s vision of the human body is distant from the classical image seen in Castiglione’s book. As during the carnival, excess accompanies Rabelais’s characters in every aspect of their physical lives.

This is especially visible in the description of fasts, which make their participants: “belching, farting-both noisy and silent-shitting, pissing, sneezing, crying, coughing, spitting, vomiting, yawning, snotting, breathing, inhaling, exhaling, snoring, and excretions from the john-thomas; and countless other rare advantages. ” 30 The excess in eating and drinking described by Rabelais emphasizes the physiological functions of the body. The body described by Rabelais is the body that consumes, digests and excretes.

Using this grotesque, Rabelais describes a body that is ugly and disgusting in its physique. This picture contradicts completely with Castiglione’s ideas about the body. Castiglione’s body is harmonious. Those natural, but disgusting functions never occur. According to signor Federico the perfect courtier should not “be a great eater or drinker, or be dissolute in any bad habit, or be vile or disorderly in his way of life, or have certain peasant ways that bespeak the hoe and plow a thousand miles away. ” 31 Castiglione’s Courtier and Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel are two very different books.

They both present the issues of gender equality, love sexuality, seduction, marriage and human physique, but in a very dissimilar light. In many instances, these issues seem to be interconnected and represent the general relationship between men and women. Both Castiglione and Rabelais make a very clear distinction between men and women and their roles. Castiglione sees women as subordinated to men, but nevertheless, assigns them many good qualities. Rabelais also sees women as inferior, but he reduces their role to house-keeping and providing children.

Unlike Castiglione, he does not make them the object of men’s desires and seduction, instead, Rabelais sees women as the source of man’s comfort and pleasure. In contrast to Castiglione, Rabelais does not make a bond between love and marriage. Instead, he proposes the idea of marriage out of common sense. For both authors, chastity seems to be very important as the guarantee to having legitimate heirs. For Castiglione, chastity is just another virtue of the court lady, while for Rabelais it is a virtue that should be guarded by the husband, since women are by nature weak and imperfect.

Both authors also undertake the issue of sexuality very differently. Castiglione’s does this by introducing a double-standard of sexuality, while Rabelais underlines the importance of a good sexual life between man and woman, as a guarantee of the woman’s faithfulness. Even the physiques of men and women are seen differently by the authors. Castiglione’s book and his image of physicality seem to express the triumph of harmony and propriety over chaos, while Rabelais’s grotesque world is turned upside-down and is the exact opposite of Castiglione’s propriety.

Castiglione and Rabelais both use the issues of love, marriage, seduction and sexuality to represent the relationships between men and women. In both texts, these relationships are characterized by discrimination towards the female sex. Castiglione introduces the model in which women are seen as unequal to men, but nevertheless as a very important part of the court. In Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel, this relationship is portrayed differently. This book expresses the total subordination of women to men, in which women are only useful for procreation and housekeeping.

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