‘A Gentlewoman of the Courte’: Introducing and Translating the Court Lady

Lisa Tagliaferri


A bestseller of the Renaissance period, Baldassarre Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier and its subsequent English translation by Thomas Hoby treat the subject of the Court Lady, cultivate a female readership, and claim to have been written and published due to the intervention of ladies. However, the introductory materials written by the authors render the role of the Court Lady to be divergent and unclear; an ideal that is impossible to achieve, much like the ideal of the Courtier himself. As the Courtier is ultimately a vassal of the Prince, and as he intends to gain power by persuasion, so too do the books have an interconnected power relationship with the women behind their respective publications. Through this feminine grounding—that is, the yielding of accountability for the works—both Castiglione and Hoby are able to appeal to Ladies and instruct them within the bodies of their books, simultaneously affording them power and tempering it. By implicit suggestion leading to action and the mix of inflated commendation and ever-so-slight disparagement, Castiglione and Hoby are able to convey a complicated relationship between two disenfranchised groups trying to mitigate authority for themselves by both granting and withdrawing power from the other.


courtier; translation; italian; english; baldassare castiglione; vittoria colonna; thomas hoby; gender studies; feminist studies; renaissance; early modern; literature

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