Dramatic Dialogues as a Genre
Students of Hoby's translation of Castiglioni's Il Cortegiano are faced with a perplexing genre question. A bunch of people are talking to each other about the qualities of the ideal courtier, but the dialogue has no single thesis like that which might give coherence to an academic essay. Those who also have read Plato's Socratic dialogues will have an easier time of it because they'll know that the "thesis" of a dialogue can be found in the play of ideas, themselves, and in the eventual triumph of an identifiable line of inquiry. The Norton editors have followed this dialogue "reader rule" when choosing their excerpts, giving us the conversations which reveal Count Canossa's reasoning about sprezzatura (the illusion of unstudied excellence acquired by studying many masters) and Pietro Bembo's reasoning about the "stair of love" (leading from earthly erotic attraction to perception of the source of all beauty in the Eternal Divine). Those who scoff or challenge their thinking represent commonplace but faulty versions of the more successful reasoning which reaches more subtle and profound conclusions.
Most of Plato's dialogues have Socrates talking to a single interlocutor, for whom the dialogue is named ("Ion," "Laches," etc.), but one, in particular involves a roomful of people who talk in turn and sometimes interrupt or answer each other. "The Symposium" is dedicated to the question "what is love?" Can you see how Castiglioni has simultaneously alluded to and possibly surpassed Plato in The Courtier?