Short courses


Introduction to Renaissance Italy: Machiavelli and Castiglione

  • Wednesdays (6pm to 8pm)
  • 5 weeks


This online evening course examines the works of two fundamental figures of the Italian Renaissance, Baldassare Castiglione (1478 to 1529) and Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 to 1527).

The court was the lifeblood of Renaissance Italy. This course will study the court from the perspective of courtiers and their rulers by looking at the most famous works of Machiavelli and Castiglione.

This course also provides an introduction to Italian Renaissance studies. By studying the works of fundamental figures of the Italian Renaissance, you'll learn about key strands of early modern thought.

The course will also help you develop the critical skills required to assess and analyse early modern texts, and engage in critical discussions.       

This course is run by the UCL Italian Department. It's part of the 'Made in Italy' series which offers a uniquely comprehensive approach to learning the about the culture and history of Italy.

Who this course is for

This course is for anyone who is curious or passionate about Italian culture.

You don’t need any previous knowledge of the subject. Basic knowledge of Italian would be beneficial but is not essential.

Course content

The first two seminars will examine Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier (1528), a handbook for courtiers in Renaissance Italy. You'll consider the following topics:

  • What was the purpose of a courtier at a Renaissance court?
  • How was a courtier supposed to look and act? What was he supposed to know?
  • Castiglione's concept of sprezzatura (studied nonchalance): what was it, and how was the courtier supposed to deploy it?
  • What role did women play at court?

The third and fourth seminars will examine the principal themes of Machiavelli’s The Prince (1532). Topics will include:

  • What we can learn by studying the actions of great historical figures
  • What type of army a ruler should have
  • Whether the ends justify the means
  • How Machiavellian Machiavelli actually was

The final seminar will include material from UCL Special Collections. You'll study 16th- and 17th-century editions of Machiavelli’s and Castiglione’s works, and how early modern readers annotated them.

Structure and teaching

Classes are held on Zoom on Wednesday evenings, from 6pm to 8pm (UK time), over five weeks in the summer term.

In each class, you'll:

  • listen to a lecture-style overview of the week’s topic or work
  • take part in a group discussion of the themes raised

To prepare for the discussion sessions, you'll need to read a series of extracts before each class (approximately 50 pages each week). All texts studied will be in English, or available in English translation.

You'll be sent details of the main texts and recommended editions when you register for the course.

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course, you'll have:

  • a thorough knowledge of the texts studied in the course
  • a greater understanding of the historical contexts in which ideas are developed, in particular those of the Renaissance
  • developed the critical skills required to assess and analyse early modern texts
  • greater confidence in engaging in critical discussions of the topics covered

Course team

Andrew Campbell

Andrew Campbell

Andrew is a Lecturer (Teaching) in the Department of Italian at UCL. He teaches a variety of courses and language classes. His doctoral research focuses on the life and works of the Carmelite friar Paolo Antonio Foscarini (c. 1562 to 1616). His other research interests include the Renaissance disputation, encyclopedism, and weather forecasting in southern Italy at the turn of the 17th century.

Course information last modified: 30 Nov 2022, 16:00