ITAL30260 Politics and Morals in Renaissance Italy

Academic Year 2020/2021

When does the Renaissance begin and end? Which is the difference between the ‘Renaissance’ and the ‘Early Modern period’? What do we mean by the notions of ‘Humanism’ and ‘Classicism’? This module primarily aims to enable students to develop an informed understanding of these concepts, their meanings and (different) periodizations. It then introduces the fundamental topic of the relationship between politics and morals, which was at the core of Renaissance thought. Students will engage with this topic through the study of two masterpieces of Italian Renaissance literature: that is, Niccolò Machiavelli’s Il Principe (The Prince, 1513), considered as the first political text in the history of European culture, and Baldassar Castiglione’s Il Libro del Cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier, 1528), which embodies the very essence of courtly life in the Renaissance. Through the investigation of the significant proposed case studies, students will be introduced to some core themes, such as: courtly life and political thought; the structures of and differences between Italian courts; the role of women in Renaissance societies; the debate about the vernacular and the difference between written and spoken language; education in Early Modern Italy.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:
- analyse the proposed Renaissance texts in terms of both form and content through providing a detailed critical reading of them;
- demonstrate familiarity with the structure and function of Italian courts in the light of Renaissance history and politics;
- develop an awareness of the complexities surrounding definitions of ‘Renaissance’, ‘Early modern period’, ‘Humanism’, and ‘Classicism’;
- engage effectively in class and tutorial discussions, presenting personal ideas or critical readings orally;
- complete written assignements, focusing on content, structure, style of the analysed texts.

Indicative Module Content:

Reading of the following books (in Italian):
Niccolò Machiavelli, Il principe,
Baldassarre Castiglione, Il libro del cortegiano

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours




Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
All classes will take place online, and are scheduled according to the university timetable.
Active participation in these classes is required.
In addition to that, full engagement with material and tasks made accessible in Brightspace is expected every week. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Additional Information:
The knowledge of Italian language.

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Examination: Two online timed essays/commentaries on Castiglione's Il libro del Cortegiano 2 hour End of Trimester Exam Yes Graded No


Class Test: Online timed essay on Machiavelli's Il principe. Week 7 n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn Yes - 2 Hour
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Students will receive an individual feedback after the mid-term assessment (that is, an online classtest on Machiavelli's il principe, in week 7). The feedback will normally be given after two teaching weeks.


Niccolò Machiavelli, Il principe, ed. by G. Inglese (Turin: Einaudi, 2014; or other Italian edition)

Baldassarre Castiglione, Il libro del cortegiano, ed. by A. Quondam (Milan: Garzanti, 2000; or other Italian edition)


Skinner, Q., Machiavelli: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)

Woodhouse, J. R., Baldesar Castiglione: A Reassessment of the Courtier (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1978)


On Machiavelli:
• N. Machiavelli, Letter to Francesco Vettori (1513);
• N. Machiavelli’s Descrizione del modo tenuto dal duca Valentino nello ammazzare Vitellozzo Vitelli...;
• Advice to rulers before Machiavelli;
• Anthologies of texts on Machiavelli’s reception;
• F. Bausi, «L’aureo libro moral». Circolazione e fortuna del Principe prima della stampa (1516-1531), in Machiavelli Cinquecento. Mezzo millennio del Principe, a cura di G.M. Anselmi, R. Caporali, C. Galli (Milan-Udine: Mimesis, 2015), pp. 25-41;
• R. Blake, The Prince: Message and Meaning, in Blake, Machiavelli (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 99-126;
• W. Connell, The Puzzle of The Prince, in Connell, The Prince with Related Documents (Boston: Bedford, 2015), pp. 1-34.

On Castiglione
• Scheme on the “Questione della lingua”;
• Model of the structure of a Renaissance court;
• H. Berger Jr, Sprezzatura and the Absence of Grace, in B. Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, ed. by D. Javitch (London: Norton and Co, 2002), pp. 295-307;
• P. Burke, The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Reception of Castiglione’s Cortegiano (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), pp. 19-54;
• V. Cox, Castiglione’s Cortegiano: The Dialogues as a Drama of Doubt, in B. Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, ed. by D. Javitch (London: Norton and Co, 2002), pp. 307-319;
• V. Finucci, Cutting and Sewing: The Representation of the Court Lady, in Finucci, The Lady Vanishes (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 49-73;
• J. Hankins, Renaissance Philosophy and Book IV of Il Cortegiano, in B. Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, ed. by D. Javitch (London: Norton and Co, 2002), pp. 377-388;
• D. Javitch, Il Cortegiano and the Constraints of Despotism, in B. Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, ed. by D. Javitch (London: Norton and Co, 2002), pp. 319-328;
• W. Rebhorn, The Nostalgic Courtier, in Rebhorn, Courtly Performances: Masking and Festivity in Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1978), pp. 91-115.
Name Role
Assoc Professor Paolo Acquaviva Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Assoc Professor Ursula Fanning Lecturer / Co-Lecturer