Bookmark to Stumbleupon. Give it a thumb StumbleUpon


If you are new to this series, please read the introduction.


Play the Perfect Courtier

The perfect courtier thrives in a world where everything revolves around power and political dexterity. He has mastered the art of indirection; he flatters, yields to superiors, and asserts power over others in the most oblique and graceful manner. Learn and apply the laws of courtiership and there will be no limit to how far you can rise in the court.
A man, who knows the court, is master of his gestures, of his eyes and of his face; he is profound, impenetrable; he dissimulates bad offices, smiles at his enemies, controls his irritation, hides his passions, belies his heart, speaks and acts against his feelings. Jean de La Bruyere, 1645-1696

Avoid ostentation. It is never prudent to prattle on about yourself, or call too much attention to your actions. The more you talk about your deeds, the more suspicion you cause. You also stir up envy among your peers to induce treachery and backstabbing.

Practice nonchalance. Never seem to be working too hard. Your talent must appear to flow naturally, with an ease, which makes you look like a genius, not a workoholic. It is better for others to marvel how easily you have achieved your goal, than to question why it took so much effort.

Be frugal with flattery. It may seem that your superiors can not get enough flattery, but too much of anything loses value. Learn to flatter indirectly - by downplaying your contribution, for example, to make your superior look better.

It is a wise thing to be polite; consequently, it is a stupid thing to be rude. To make enemies by unnecessary and willful incivility is just as insane a proceeding, as to set your house on fire. For politeness is like a counter - an avowedly false coin, with which it is foolish to be stingy. A sensible man will be generous in the use of it.
Wax, a substance naturally hard and brittle, can be made soft by the application of a little warmth, so that it will take any shape you please. In the same way, by being polite and friendly, you can make people pliable and obliging, even though they are apt to be crabbed and malevolent. Hence, politeness is to human nature is what warmth is to wax. Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860

Arrange to be noticed. There is a paradox: You can not display yourself too brazenly, but you also must get yourself noticed. You have no chance of rising, if the ruler does not notice you among the courtiers. This requires much art. It is often a matter of being seen, in the literal sense. Pay attention to your physical appearance and create a subtly distinctive image.

Alter your style and language to the person, with whom you are dealing. The pseudo-belief in equality - the idea that talking and acting the same with everyone, no matter their position, , makes you a paragon of civilization - is a terrible mistake. Those below you will take it for condescension, and those above will be offended. You must change your style and manner of speaking to suit each person. This is acting and acting is an art.

Never be the bearer of bad news. It may be a cliché that the king kills the messenger, who brings bad news, but there is truth in it. You must struggle to ensure the the task of being the bearer of bad news falls on a colleague, never on you.

Never affect friendliness and intimacy with your master. He does not want a friend for a subordinate, he wants a subordinate. Never approach him in an easy friendly manner, or act as if you are on the best of terms - that is hisoption.

Never directly criticize those above you. This may seem obvious, but there are often times when some sort of criticism seems necessary - to say nothing, or to give no advice, would open you to risks of another sort. You must learn to state your criticism and advice as indirectly and as politely as possible.

Be frugal in asking those above you for favors. Nothing irritates a master more than needing to reject someone's request. It stirs up guilt and resentment. Ask for favors, as rarely as possible, and know when to stop. Most important... do not ask for favors on an other person's behalf, least of all a friend's.

Never joke about appearance or taste. A lively wit and humorous disposition are essential qualities and there are times when vulgarity is appropriate and engaging. But avoid any kind of joke about appearance or taste, too highly sensitive areas, especially with those above you.

Do not be the court cynic. Express admiration for the good work of others. If you constantly criticise your equals or subordinates, some of that criticism will hover over you like a gray cloud that follows you. People will groan at each new cynical comment, and you will irritate them. By expressing modest admiration for other people's achievements,you paradoxically call attention to your own.

Be self-observant. The mirror is a miraculous invention; without it you would commit great errors against beauty and decorum. You also need a mirror for your actions. This can sometimes come from other people telling you what they see in you, but this is not the most trustworthy method: You must be the mirror, training your mind to see yourself, as others see you. Be observant about yourself.

Master you emotions. As an actor in a great play, you must learn to cry and laugh on command and when it is appropriate. You must be able to disquise your anger and fake contentment. You must be the master of your own face.

Fit the spirit of the times. A slight affectation of a past era can be charming, as long as you choose a period at least twenty years back. Wearing the clothes of ten years back does not serve you. Your spirit and way of thinking must keep up with the times, even if the times offend your sensibilities. Be too forward thinking, however, and none will understand you.

Be a source of pleasure. It is an obvious law of human nature that we will flee what is unpleasant, while charm and the promise of delight will draw us like moths to a flame. There are degrees to this: Not everyone can play the role of favorite, for not everyone is blessed with charm and wit. But, we can all contol our unpleasant qualities, or obscure them when necessary.

Any questions??

If you found this essay useful, please give it a thumb, on