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Merit in Courtly Literature: Castiglione, Rabelais, Marguerite de Navarre, and Le Caron

  • Ullrich Langer (a1)


Spesse volte mi viene un dubbio, s'é dato dal nascimento (come nell'altre cose ancora) ch'i Principi siano propitii & favorevoli verso questi, iniqui & crudeli verso quegli altri, o se pure è posto nella industria nostra…. (Francesco Sansovino, Propositioni in materia di cose di Stato, Vinegia, 1583, fol. 110)

Castiglione's Libro del cortegiano (1528) and Renaissance courtesy literature in general chart an uneven course between the description of an illustrious courtly ideal never fully incarnate and the establishment of a set of rules enabling courtly practice and prescription. These two intentions, one roughly Platonic and the other roughly Aristotelian, are in the end contradictory, for the more substantial the ideal becomes, the less can it accommodate varying experience and therefore practice. The impulse to set forth an ideal as something outside of variety through which experience is to be judged is incompatible with the production of that ideal through the experiential mean of varying extremes.



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* The composition of this essay was much assisted by a summer research grant from the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I also wish to thank C. Stephen Jaeger and an anonymous reader for this journal for their useful suggestions. All errors and infelicities remain my own.

1 II Cortegiano del conte Baldesar Castiglione, ed. by Vittorio Cian (Florence, 1894) 1,25. All quotations are taken from this edition. On the difficulties of the Cortegiano's dual insistence on the technical and the ideal, and its “discursive” consequences, see Esposito, Roberto, Ordine e conflitto: Machiavelli e la letteratura politka del Rinascimento italiano (Naples, 1984) 97108.

2 See Cicero, , Deoratore, I, 22 ; III, 21, etc.;Quintilian, Institutiooratoria, X, 2, and passim. On the difference between Cicero and Castiglione, see Javitch, Daniel, Poetry and Courtliness in Renaissance England (Princeton, 1978) 2149 . On the influence of the Nicomachean Ethics, cf. Eduardo Saccone, “Grazia, Sprezzatura, Affettazione in the Courtier,” in Harming, Robert W. and Rosand, David, eds., Castiglione: The Ideal and the Real in Renaissance Culture (New Haven, 1983) 4567.

3 See Daniel Javitch, “II Cortegiano and the Constraints of Despotism,” in Harming and Rosand, 17-28. Javitch usefully relates behavior of the courtier to the ever-present power of the sovereign; my own discussion is indebted to his reorientation of the study of the Cortegiano; I attempt to elaborate and deepen discussion of the relationship between esthetics and power through the use of contemporary nominalist distinctions concerning the gratuitousness of reward.

4 Obviously Bembo's Neoplatonic rapture at the end of the Cortegiano represents a conflation of Christianity and Platonism; however, his speech hardly presents adequate solutions to the various problems indicated in the first three books, and is only one of several points of view.

5 See, on this problem, the suggestive analysis in Whigham, Frank, Ambition and Privilege: The Social Tropes of Elizabethan Courtesy Theory (Berkeley, 1984) 3335.

6 Heiko A. Oberman argues for at least a parallelism between the nominalist emphasis on the autonomy of man and Neoplatonic individualism in “Some Notes on the Theology of Nominalism With Attention to its Relation to the Renaissance,” Harvard Theological Review, 53 (io6o):47∼76. See the critique of this study by Charles Trinkaus in In Our Image and Likeness: Humanity and Divinity in Italian Humanist Thought (London, 1970) 1:59-60. In spite of Oberman's rather too brief treatment of humanist texts, the conceptual parallels are important and, as I hope to show in a further study, even more pervasive and structural.

7 See Landgraf, Artur Michael, Dogmengeschichte der Frühscholastik (Regensbmg, 1952) 1:1:249-80, on antecedents to condign and congruous merit. Petrus Cantor names seven types of merit (269-70), for example.

8 For discussions of this distinction, see Seeberg, Reinhold, Lehrhuch der Dogmengeschichte, 3 (Darmstadt, 1959): 459-62; Pelikan, Jaroslav, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Dogma, 4 (Chicago, 1984):145-46; Ozment, Steven, The Age of Reform (1250-1550): An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven, 1980) 233-36; finally, a succinct set of definitions is found in Johannes Altensteig, Vocabularius theologie (first ed. 1517, rev. ed. by Johannes Tytz 1617, repr. Hildesheim, 1974). Luther criticizes this distinction: see E. G. Rupp et a'., eds., Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation: Erasmus, De Libero Arbitrio; Luther, De Servo Arbitrio, The Library of Christian Classics, 17 (Philadelphia, 1969), 309-12, 321. In the same vein, cf. the Augsburg Confession, Article V (90, 19). Gabriel Biel nearly conflates the distinction: see Oberman, Heiko A., The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism (Cambridge, MA, 1963) 169-74.

9 “Merimm ex condigno est meritum pro quo exigitur praemium ex debito… . Meritum condigni sive de condigno, est actus à voluntate elicitus vel libere procedens ad praemium alicui secundum debitum iustitiae retribuendum. Consistit autem iustitia ilia in quadam proportione meriti ad praemium & aequalitate… .” (Altensteig 546).

10 “Meritum de congruo est actus libere elicitus, acceptatus ad aliquid retribuendum non ex debito iustitiae, sed ex sola acceptantis liberalitate. Et hoc meritum non coexigit aequalitatem dignitatis cum retributo neque in operante, nee in opere, nee in retribuente…. “ (Altensteig 547).

11 This promise is His potentia ordinata, based on Zechariah 1:3: “Si converteris, convertam te,” as opposed to His potentia absoluta which holds that all of God's actions are contingent upon His free will—He does nothing absolutely out of external necessity. See Altensteig 547: “Et licet Deus nullius debitor esse possit ex natura rei, potest tamen se facere debitorem nostrum ex sua libera voluntate, nobis promittendo pro talibus actibus tantum praemium. Sicut homo gratis promittens alicui ex sua libertate donum, se debitorem illi constituit, tenetur enim secundum iustitiam servare promissum.” For an extensive discussion of the distinction in God's powers Francis Oakley, cf., Omnipotence, Covenant, & Order: An Excursion in the History of Ideas from Abelard to Leibniz (Ithaca, 1984) 4859 ; on its relationship to salvation, 62-64.

12 “Si peccator avertit suum liberum arbitrium ab actu peccati, considerando divinam iustitiam damnantem reprobos, & convertit ipsum ad obediendum Deo, & diligendum Deum ex consideratione misericordiae, qua salvat electos, ex primo generatur timor, è secundo spes: hoc faciendo facit quod in se est.” (Altensteig 548).

13 On this double fittingness, Landgraf quotes Guillaume d'Auvergne (De meritis, c. 1): “Similiter et qui orat Deum, ut remittat sibi peccata, quod suum est vel potest lugendo, dolendo, penitendo, lacrimando, congruit divinae bonitati, ut misereatur ipsius, congruit etiam cordi sic para to, ut respiciatur a Deo eique gratiam suam infundat” (274n.25, my italics).

14 Quoted in Ganshof, F. L., Feudalism, trans. Grierson, P. (New York, 1961) 94 ; see also 94-97- For a standard summary of mutual obligations between lord and vassal, see Mitteis, Heinrich, Lehnrecht und Staatsgewalt: Untersuchungen zur mittelalterlichen Verfassungsgeschichte (Weimar, 1933) 531-55 (“Die Rechte und Pflichten aus dem Lehnsverhaltnis im allgemeinen“). Mitteis does point out that the feudal relationship is weighted in favor of the lord, and in this differs from Roman contract.

15 Quoted in Ehalt, Hubert Ch., Ausdrucksformen absolutistischer Herrschaft: Der Wiener Hofim 17. undl 8. Jahrhundert (Munich, 1980) 137 . These formulas are derived, of course, from Roman law and medieval commentators. Although feudal mutual obligation does continue to play a role in the practice of royal power, the tendency is to generalize an absolute concentration of power. Thus court relations begin to supplant feudal relations of homage. This is especially true, in the period I am dealing with, of the French monarchy. See on this question the brief summary in Knecht, R. J., Francis I (Cambridge, 1982) 8998 , and the discussion of the beginnings of absolutist theory (Claude de Seyssel and especially Guillaume Budé), 19-23. For standard studies of the development of absolutism in early modern Europe, see Walther Hubatsch, ed., Absolutismus, Wege der Forschung, 314 (Darmstadt, 1973), especially the articles of Reinhold Koser (1-44) and Leo Just (288-308). A fine work on the role of the court in seventeenth-century monarchy is Jilrgen Freiherr von Krüdener, Die Rolle des Hofes im Absolutismus (Stuttgart, 1973). I realize that there is much debate on how absolutist French monarchy was in practice; the focus of the present essay does not allow elaborate discussion of the political context to the theological-literary questions raised below, so I am glossing over rather many nuances.

16 See above n. 11. This a priori limitlessness of God's power in the nominalist argumentation de potentia Dei absoluta has been discussed, among others, by Vignaux, Paul, in Nominalisme au XlVe sièle (Paris, 1948 ), especially 12-39. The theory of absolutism is similarly based on a positing of the absence of a priori limits to the monarch's power. For an abstract formulation of this idea, see Preston King, The Ideology of Order: A Com-’ parative Analysis of Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes (London, 1974): “Normative absolutism is most fully instanced in recommendations for unlimited concentrations of power. On one level it does not much matter whether power can or cannot in fact be unlimited. For even if we accept that it cannot be unlimited, we are not thereby accepting that the existing limits cannot be extended outwards, nor that there is some a priori way of stipulating an empirical point beyond which such outward extension ceases to be possible. Normative absolutism, defined as a recommendation for an unlimited concentration of power, can always be interpreted practically as a relentless a priori disposition to demand an increasing concentration of power for its own sake” (45). See also Oakley, Omnipotence 93-118.

17 A comparable move from proportionate reward of merit to “adoration” can be noted in IV, 33:” Appresso, come dovesse amare i propinqui di grado in grado, servando tra tutti in certe cose una pare equalità, come nella giustizia e nella libertà; ed in alcune altre una ragionevole inequalità, come nell'esser liberale, nel remunerare, nel distribuir gli onori e dignita secondo la inequalita dei meriti, li quali sempre debbono non avanzare ma esser avanzati dalle remunerazioni; e che in tal modo sarebbe nonché amato ma quasi adorato dai sudditi…. “

18 For a study of the theological overtones of the sovereign's dignitas in medieval political theory, see Kantorowicz, Ernst H., The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (Princeton, 1957) 383409 . In contrast to medieval kingship Renaissance despotism tends to de-emphasize the external, prior constraints to the office of the king or prince, at least as it is reflected in courtesy literature. Despotism implies that adherence to rules or justice is a (mostly pragmatic) choice of the sovereign, not something given. Machiavelli's manual for the prince presents his behavior as a set of alternatives among which the sovereign decides. “Dignity” becomes, then, a functional concept. On his relationship to absolutism, see Couzinet, L., ‘Le Prince’ de Machiavel et la the“orie de I'absolutisme (Paris, 1910 ).

19 On nostalgia in Castiglione, see also Rebhorn, Wayne A., Courtly Performances: Masking and Festivity in Castiglione's Book of the Courtier (Detroit, 1978) 91115.

20 Compare Binswanger, Ludwig, Melancholie und Manie: Phänomenologische Studien (Stuttgart, 1960) 27 : “Hier aber [in the conditional phrases of the melancholic] zieht sich, was freie Möglichkeit ist, zurück in die Vergangenheit.” 21 The sick Duke is no less powerful for being absent and represented by a substitute. Substitutability is at the same time an impoverishment of power and its measure; see, in a different context, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Die Dialektik der Aujklarung (Frankfurt a.M., 1971; 1st ed. 1944): “Wie Vertretbarkeit das Maβ von Herrschaft ist and jener der Mächtigste ist, der sich in den meisten Verrichtungen vertreten lassen kann, so ist Vertretbarkeit das Vehikel des Fortschritts und zugleich der Regression. Unter den gegebenen Verhältnissen bedeutet das Ausgenommensein von Arbeit, nicht bloβ bei Arbeitslosen sondern selbst am sozialen Gegenpol, auch Verstümmelung. Die Oberen erfahren das Dasein, mit dem sie nicht mehr umzugehen brauchen, nur noch als Substrat und erstarren ganz zum kommandierenden Selbst” (34). See also Whigham, , Ambition and Privilege 39 : “Paradoxically, this evacuated authority had an infinite allure….”

22 In “Il Cortegiano and the Choice of a Game,” in Hanning and Rosand, 1 -15. Greene emphasizes the inappropriateness of the other games; that inappropriateness is of course never stated in the text, and the final granting of appropriateness is an apparently unmotivated choice by the Duchess. It is this appearance that counts.

23 The absolute effect of favor or disfavor is a commonplace in court manuals. See de Guevara, Antonio, Aviso de favoriti et dottrina de cortegiani, trans. Mantuano, Vicenzo Bondi (Venice, 1544 ), fol. 16v: “Non è alcun servigio che mai sia cattivo, quando a colui che si serve è grato, e non è alcuno che mai sia buono, quando non è accetto a colui che viene servito. Se quello che serve non si vede nella gratia di colui ch'egli ha da servire, si puo bene affaticarsi e struggersi il corpo, ma non aspettare giamai guidardone nel servigio ch'egli fa.”

24 For a useful survey of this literature, see Smith, Pauline M., The Anti-Courtier Trend in Sixteenth Century French Literature (Geneva, 1966 ); for a more analytical presentation, see Uhlig, Claus, Hojkritik im England des Mittelalters und der Renaissance: Studien zu einetn Gemeinplatz der europaischen Moralistik (Berlin, 1973 ).

25 For a study of the medieval connection between God's power and the king's power, see Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies. In courtesy manuals the most striking analogy I have found between God's inexplicable grace and the sovereign's inexplicable favor is in Chappuis, Claude, Discours de la court (Paris, 1543) 5456 . This analogy is occasioned by the arbitrary gesture of the prince, another commonplace of courtesy literature. See, other than the Cortegiano, Antonio de Guevara, Le Favori de court, trans. Jaques de Rochemore (Anvers, 1557), fol. 137.

26 I have used Francois Rabelais, Oeuvres complètes, ed. Jacques Boulenger and Lucien Scheler, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (Paris, 1965). Already this reward is in no direct way linked to Frère Jean's merit; Gargantua's reward depends totally on his own generosity (“Si bon vous semble…“). Similarly, when Grandgousier wants to reward the monk sinfor having captured Touquedillon, in chapter XLVI, Frère Jean refuses any money, saying that “cela ne me mene pas.” His non-monetary motivation underlines the disproportion, or heterogeneity, between his service and his reward, for Grandgousier goes on to give him the fabulous sum of 62,000 “saluz” (an English gold coin from the fifteenth century). The courtier's modesty is of course here the basic strategy, but modesty or understatement only underline the fact that a certain power relationship necessitates that modesty, that the gesture of reward originates entirely in the prince and is not already contained within the work of service.

27 This “aguillon” recalls the “stimulo” in the Cortegiano (I, 14) which, through fear of infamia and hope of praise, spurs nobility on to virtuous acts. For an interpretation that equates the “aguillon” with synderesis, or the incitement to do good that is within fallen man (a counterpart to the “femes peccati“), see H. D. Saffrey, “ ‘Cy n'entrez pas, hypocrites…': Thélème, une nouvelle académie? [Rabelais, Gargantua, chap. LII (LIV)],” Revue des sciences philosophiques et téologiques, 55.4 (October 1971):593-614. However, the incitement of well-born persons to virtue is a commonplace justification of nobility; see for example Josse Clichtove, Le traicte de la vraye noblesse translate nouvellement de latin enfrancoys (Paris, 1529), chap. 6: children from noble families can profit so well from their heritage “que par la contemplation de la vertu & gloire paternelle ilz soient stimulez et incitez a lensuyvre” (fol. 5v).

28 Similarly, all men dress like the women, and all women dress the same, by their “franc vouloir” (chapter LVI).

29 For recent discussions of this literary autonomy, see Eugenio Donato, “ ‘Per selve e boscherecci labirinti': Desire and Narrative Structure in Ariosto's Orlando furioso,” in Literary Theory /Renaissance Texts, ed. by P. Parker and D. Quint (Baltimore, 1986) 33- 62, and Ullrich Langer, “Hypothetical Necessity and Fiction in the Early Renaissance,” Modern Language Notes (January 1987):55-75

30 “Ma per ció che le cose che sono senza modo non possono lungamente durare, io che cominciatrice fui de’ ragionamenti da’ quali questa cosf bella compagnia è stata fatta, pensando al continuar della nostra letizia, estimo che di necessità sia, convenire esser tra noi alcun principiale, il quale noi ed onoriamo ed ubidiamo,” Giovanni Boccaccio, II Decameron ed. by Charles Singleton ([Bari], 1966) 24.

31 All quotations from the ed. Michel François (Paris, 1967). Page numbers are in parentheses.

32 For a suggestive discussion of the expression of royal power in the Heptaméron, see Brockmeier, Peter, Lust und Herrschaft: Studien ubergesellschafiliche Aspekte der Novellistik: Boccaccio, Sacchetti, Margarete von Navarra, Cervantes (Stuttgart, 1972) 5482 , who insists on the pre-absolutist tendencies of the collection.

33 Paris:JeanLongis, 1556. See also the recent edition by Joan A. Buhlmann and Donald Gilman (Geneva, 1986) which appeared after my own work on Le Caron.

34 The Protean nature of the courtier is of course another commonplace of the anticourt tradition. Cf. Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, De curialium miseriis (comp. 1444), ed. Wilfred P. Mustard (Baltimore, 1928) 52; for a more contemporary example, de Vienne, Philibert, Le Philosophe de court (Lyons: Jean de Toumes, 1547) 99 : “II ne fault point donques blasmer ceste facilité d'esprit, qui fait que l'homme selon le plaisir des autres, se change & transforme.”

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Merit in Courtly Literature: Castiglione, Rabelais, Marguerite de Navarre, and Le Caron

  • Ullrich Langer (a1)


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