Game On: Renaissance Dating Strategies vs. the Pick-Up Artists

Rembrandt's portrait of Baldassare Castiglione
Rembrandt's portrait of Baldassare Castiglione

By Jesse VanDusen

Prologue: Rules of the Game
There was a time when the way to a woman's heart was across the jacket you'd draped over a treacherous puddle. It was a time of men, with names like Sir Walter Raleigh or the Earl of Essex, old-timey romantic types who relied on their moral fortitude and sense of adventure to woo the likes of Queen Elizabeth.

Men have different role models now. In 2005, Neil Strauss's best-selling book, The Game, introduced American men to the "seduction community" and its leaders -- pick-up artists with names like "Mystery" and "LoveDrop." These men taught others, in strange, jargon-filled language, how to "neg" women into feeling like worthless tramps with odd, coded language and claims of hypnotism.

The Craft of Charisma, a year-old start-up, is New York City's latest incarnation of this phenomenon. Chris Luna, a 29-year-old native Californian and current Columbia undergrad is the founder and president of Craft of Charisma. He charges $3,500 for its 13-week courses and up to $250 per hour for private lessons. Luna, who goes by "Coach Charm" on his Craigslist ads, claims to have the power to unleash some inner womanizing carnivore that you never knew existed.

I, a love-starved NYU senior whose college sweetheart recently threw to the curb, had always been more inspired by the likes of William Shakespeare's Romeo.

When Juliet tells Romeo he "kisses by the book," she may have had one particular volume in mind: Italian diplomat Baldassare Castiglione's 16th century tome, The Book of the Courtier. For more than a century, the treatise, originally written in Italian but translated to English by Sir Thomas Hoby, taught the Renaissance gentry how to become the perfect man, and find, of course, the perfect woman. Unlike the macho methods of pick-up artist manuals and Craft of Charisma courses, Castiglione's guide sought to tame a man, refine his sordid interior, and make him the quintessential noble gentleman.

Richard Horwich, a current professor of Shakespeare at NYU and author of a number of critical texts including Shakespeare's Dilemmas, says the book's main strengths are its morality and its emphasis on sprezzatura, an Italian term for 'nonchalance' coined by Castiglione. Unlike everyone's favorite amoral Italian conduct book, Machiavelli's The Prince, Courtier, in the form of conversations between real-life royalty, always insists upon moral purity. These do-gooding crusaders needed to play it cool or risk losing their sprezzatura and looking like rehearsed hacks. In other words, this was a strategy that seemed the exact opposite of what Mystery and Luna were selling.

Baffled by whom to trust, I decided to stage a dating grudge match of the ages. I followed alternately the rules set down by Luna, and the instructions of Castiglione, hoping to find out which worked better for picking up the elusive New York City gal.

I, Peacock

I began the duel on a dreary Friday night at McSorley's Old Ale House, a beloved ancient Irish watering hole on east 7th St. It wasn't much like the expensive rooftop cocktail lounge, 230 Fifth, that Luna favors for his clients to "train," but it worked for me.

Luna says that in every social situation there is a leader, someone who stands out in the crowd as both unique and confident. I needed to be that person. That's why I was wearing an oversized red-knit ski hat at the bar: Luna says donning an outrageous article of clothing is a good way to "peacock," or "show your unique feathers in an overwhelming social situation." (Although, if I had to pick an animal I looked like that night it was a jackass.)

Adequately feathered, I sat with two of my friends at one of the tremendous round wooden tables in the back. The table was jam-packed with strangers pounding back light and dark beers and singing foreign drinking songs. Sandwiched between a rowdy bunch of I-banker types and a conspicuously apathetic herd of East Village hipsters in plaid, two girls in club attire texted endlessly on their Blackberries.

They seemed out of place, and I knew what I had to do.

Tomorrow in Part 2: When peacocks attack!

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