Outline: Sprezzatura (Essay is below.)

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OUTLINE: Sprezzatura

(Essay is below.)


  1. Castiglione’s The Courtier (15??)-“artful artlessness”

  2. Thesis: Extended definition includes twenty-first century American men and women who lead everyday lives.


First Interior Paragraph-writing-common people can have sprezzatura

  1. Russell Baker’s Growing Up

  2. Charles Frazier-Cold Mountain-1st sentence. At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring.

  1. Toni Morrison

Second Interior Paragraph-sports-common people can have sprezzatura

  1. Athletics-NY Times article-Magic Johnson-hands, height, smile

  2. Figure Skating

Interior Paragraph 3-Demeanor-People whom I respect

  1. Mario Cuomo

  2. Phyllis

Counterargument-masquerade? Window dressing? Phoney?


(See essay below.)

Mrs. Glucksman (Your name) Glucksman 1

Mrs. Glucksman (Teacher’s name) DRAFT POSTED 11/21/15:


English 3 Honors Periods 3, 4, 6 IDEAS IN TOPIC SENTENCES, SPECIFIC


January 9, 2015
Baldessarre Castiglione coined the term sprezzatura in The Courtier (1528), an

instruction manual for the proper behavior and activities of A knight of a court. A courtier

whose allegiance was to the duke of Urbino in the early sixteenth century, Castiglione framed his directions in a fictitious conversation among courtiers, who discussed ways to honor their sovereign: statesmanship, physical prowess (fencing and horsemanship), suitable dress, decorum, scholarship, and eloquence of style in all of these areas. Castiglione opined that best courtiers—the most gifted of men—exhibit sprezzatura, “artful artlessness”: they execute difficult tasks with ease and grace. While Castiglione directed his remarks to men of elevated station in the early Renaissance, men and women in the democratic United States in the twenty-first century can exhibit sprezzatura as well.

Writers whose words and ideas engage the public follow the spirit of Castiglione’s sprezzatura. Growing Up, Russell Baker’s autobiography about becoming a writer, for example, begins with a sentence about his mother’s onset of senile psychosis: “At the age of eighty my mother had her last bad fall, and after that her mind wandered free through time” (1). This gentle, respectful poetically descriptive statement downplays a difficult, terminal condition as well as infers Baker’s ensuing responsibility for his mother, a woman who had reared her children by herself. Castiglione would also approve of the writing style in Charles Frazier’s Cold

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Mountain, a novel about a Confederate soldier who is absent without leave (AWOL) to go home. As Inman learns about life on his trek, so does the reader. And, the book’s writing shows real art. It begins, “At the first gesture of morning, flies came swarming” (1). This sentence craftily expresses both hope—“morning”—and despair--“flies.” Surely, Frazier alludes to the hell that is to come (as in Beelzebub). The comparison of sunrise to a gesture also alludes to Homer’s The Odyssey, which refers to dawn as being “rosy-fingered.” This first, well-crafted sentence prepares the reader for the plot: an odyssey—a long trek home. Moreover, the wisdom of the rural folk on Cold Mountain rings true: “Marrying a woman for her beauty makes no more sense than eating a bird for its singing. But it's a common mistake nonetheless.”  In each case, the writer is a “common” American who understands basic truths in life and communicates them in skillful ways.

Just as Castiglione’s was courageous and artful in battle and sport, both men and women today can capture this quality, too. Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a long-time player for the Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball team, wore a smile as he dominated the court, palming the ball and dunking it into the basket. True, at six feet nine inches tall and 229 pounds, Johnson was built for the game, but practice, skill, coaching, and love for the sport prompted the champion’s confident grace and smile. Figure skaters also perform their physical feats with great aplomb. To qualify for national and world competitions, young male and female skaters practice many hours a day for many years: their daily routines—as well as that of their parents—focus on their sport and exclude other activities and many personal relationships. Over the years, they undoubtedly have fallen and suffered injuries while learning and refining jumps and routines. Yet what we see in these world contests is smiling faces and graceful movements. A bold and graceful performance conceals each skater’s concentration, innate and practiced skill, and direction from a coach. The traits—a nobility

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of carriage and an excellence in execution of the sport—contribute both to “winning” a game or a competition and to earning the fans’ esteem.

Like Renaissance courtiers, modern Americans have conducted their public and private lives with sprezzatura. Mario Cuomo, the son of Italian immigrants who owned a store in Queens, New York, not only went to college and law school and achieved the American dream, but his intelligence, skill in writing and oratory, and involvement in public affairs and issues as a liberal Democrat led to his becoming a governor of the state of New York (1984 to 1993). He was a man of action who could convince legislators to expand business and education in New York State, among other improvements for New Yorkers, by negotiating his goals and convincing the electorate to vote for his visionary improvements. Indeed, Cuomo’s supporters in his state and across the country considered him to be a “prince” and were disappointed when he rejected a run for the presidency. This decision may add to the definition of sprezzatura: achieving control via grace and polish in an area and understanding where it will be effective. On an individual level, Phyllis Sorkin, my sister-in-law, lived her life with sprezzatura. It was not her intent to suffer. She would not have chosen to lose the father of her two children when they were two and five years old. She kept her job, teaching English. It was not her intent to require heart surgery and cancer treatment. Yet in spite of her candor about what she needed to do—alone—for her children and her health, she traveled when she could; she read the news and novels and led book groups; she enjoyed going to plays and concerts with friends; she generously hosted gatherings for friends and family; she spoiled her grandchildren. Both Governor Cuomo and Phyllis Sorkin focused their goals outside of themselves, and their societies—large and small—admired their brand of sprezzatura: energy, altruism,

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Of course, people who misunderstand the populist possibilities of citizens having sprezzatura in contemporary America may charge that sprezzatura is window dressing, a masquerade, and pretentiousness. To this denial of the art and grace that can be part of all endeavors and activities, the response is that it should be universal, but only some people have it. For example, we expect that our dentists and surgeons are knowledgeable and skillful, but we all would appreciate their work inside our mouths and bodies to be artful, too. After all, no one really wants gold-capped teeth, and no one feels comfortable with a healed facial scar—or one that everyone can see. Furthermore, some might say that eloquent rhetoric is “just talk.” Let us remember the unintended problems that politicians like Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Joseph Biden caused because of their clumsiness of public decorum or facility with the English language.

Thus, sprezzatura not only is getting a job done right, but it is performing a job or a task, completing a work of art, or living one’s life in a way that honors the endeavor and wins admiration. It may not matter if the goal or the behavior is selfish or pecuniary—dentists and surgeons want to earn a living, after all. The point is that sprezzatura requires that finest efforts and skills of human beings, and it inspires others’ admiration for the achievement. Clearly, Castiglione’s grace after much hard work applies to public and private lives of contemporary Americans. We Americans respect it—and require it—of all citizens as much as Castiglione did a small cadre of men.

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