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The one and the many: the tale of the Brigata and Decameron Day Four.

Analyses of the Decameron tend to divide between those which posit an overarching message in the work, and those which suggest that its form not only incidentally precludes but in fact deliberately problematizes the possibility of a univocal message. In that black-and-white scenario, either we can try to identify a coherent message for the whole text, or we posit an irreducible plurality of perspectives that cannot be harnessed to any one master verity or to any interpretative terminus beyond that of multiplicity and contingency. The first pole of this hermeneutic spectrum--a unified message--is I think an illusion, or wishful thinking, precisely because the novellas are so multifarious in their multiple layers of narrating voices and their multiple genres, sources, settings and tones. The second pole--irreducible plurality--is an optical or at least a narrative illusion, since ultimately all these perspectives are deployed by and from one master perspective, that of the camouflaged Historical Author. Between these two poles lies a world of interpretative possibility.

But beyond the single novellas there is another tale in the Decameron, and some excellent recent writing has brought it back into focus in a way that might tip the balance back toward the "coherent message" pole. (1) That tale is of course the story of ten refugees from plague-stricken Florence. It is in the tale of the brigata that we can detect a trajectory: the re-creation of a broken polis and a ruined humanity. However we interpret the symbolic freight of the plague, if we treat the tale of the brigata as mere pretext or stage setting, we bracket what is most innovative and most influential in the Decameron--indeed, what sets it apart structurally from the Novellino. In the frame tale, Day Four is set up as a novelty in the storytelling topics: its king Filostrato requires his companions to tell stories of "coloro li cui amori ebbero infelici fini" (Dec. 3. Conc. 6; "those whose loves [came] to unhappy ends" 240). (2)

After the brigata left the city they decided on a total embargo on tragic news from Florence, on tragic thoughts of their plague-stricken home, on tragic memories of their recent losses. Dioneo had first imposed this condition:

"[...] io non so quello che de' vostri pensieri voi v'intendete di fare: li miei lasciai io dentro dalla porta della citta allora che io con voi poco fa me ne usci' fuori: e per cio o voi a sollazzare e a ridere e a cantare con meco insieme vi disponete (tanto, dico, quanto alla vostra dignita s'appartiene), o voi mi licenziate che io per li miei pensier mi ritorni e steami nella citta tribolata."

(Dec. 1. Intro. 93)

("I do not know what you intend to do with your troubled thoughts, but I left mine inside the city walls which I passed through them in your company a little while ago; and so you must either make up your minds to enjoy yourselves and laugh and sing with me (as much, let me say, as your dignity permits), or you must give me leave to return to my worries and to remain in our troubled city.")


Pampinea, the organizing genius of the retreat from the city, had agreed: "'Dioneo, ottimamente parli: festevolmente viver si vuole, ne altra cagione dalle tristizie ci ha fatte fuggire'" (1. Intro. 94; "Dioneo, what you say is very true: let us live happily, for after all it was unhappiness that made us flee the city" 18). Imposing order and assigning duties and roles, she had reinforced this fiat in the form of an emphatically phrased closing prohibition:

"E ciascuno generalmente, per quanto egli avra cara la nostra grazia, vogliamo e comandiamo che si guardi, dove che egli vada, onde che egli torni, che che egli oda o vegga, ninna novella altra che lieta ci rechi di fuori."

(1. Intro. 101; italics mine)

("And in general, we desire and command each of you, if you value our favor and good graces, to be sure--no matter where you go or come from, no matter what you see or hear --to bring us back nothing but good news.")


This condition, which we can read as "nothing but good news" or "nothing but happy tales," holds throughout the first three days of the Decameron. In those first thirty tales there are some violent deaths and some lovesickness, of course. Alatiel's admirers alone create a bloodbath worthy of a twenty-first-century miniseries, as they yearn and compete for her hyperbolic and (initially) unresponsive beauty (Russo 48-51). The virtuous innocents Madama Beritola, the Count of Anversa, Zinevra, Tedaldo, and Giletta di Nerbona suffer unmerited estrangement and sorrow for long years. Martellino is beaten within an inch of his life, and poor old Ricciardo di Chinzica dies a muttering madman after his wife discovers what sex can be like with a man who doesn't close up shop for every obscure saint's day in the liturgical year. But for lovers and families the endings are mostly happy, and what deaths there are are soon forgotten, and played for comedy anyway. Then along comes morose and punitive Filostrato to rule over Day Four, determined to share his lovesick misery and to inflict vicarious sorrow on the reluctant ladies.

Both for the singularity of its fiera materia (as Fiammetta puts it in Dec. 4.1.2) and for the unprecedented breaking of the frame in its extended Introduction, Day Four has--more often than other giornate--been studied both as a coherent storytelling unit, and as a shift or svolta in the collection. (3) It is with Day Four that the banished material begins to emerge in the literal plot of the tales: death, often accompanied by graphic carnage; unnatural unkindness to kin; an inimical Fortune that even ingegno and amore cannot ward off. In the imagistic content of the tales, what returns is the incomprehensible violence of history, with the concomitant collapse of human compassion even for family. The evasive strategies of the brigata, their denial, cannot last throughout the retreat from Florence; they must turn back to sorrow, calamity, and cruelty to be able to eventually return to their city and reinhabit it. Loves that end tragically are the pretext, but they enable a larger discussion of the broader scope of human loss and failure--in order to effect the recovery, as Teodolinda Barolini puts it, of compassion (526). That recovery is effected not through spiritual reflection or religious practice--which had been shown in the Introduction to fail, or to be vulnerable to the failings of its practitioners--but rather through a humane and immanent ethics of compassion.

Day 4: Between Two Songs

Each day begins with the change of ruler, and in the evening of Day Three that ritual is woven tightly into the brigata''s reaction to Dioneo's tale of Alibech and Rustico. The most vigorously censored Decameron tale in Salviati's 1582 edition, (4) Decameron 3.10 apparently prompts little embarrassment from its inscribed audience: "Mille fiate o piu aveva la novella di Dioneo a rider mosse l'oneste donne, tali e si fatte lor parevan le sue parole" (3. Concl. 1; "Dioneo's story made the virtuous ladies laugh a thousand times or more, so apt and clever were his words" 239). The ladies had reacted much more demurely to Filostrato's tale of Masetto, "della quale erano alcuna volta un poco le donne arrossate e alcun'altra se ne avevan riso" (3.2.2; "some parts of which had made the ladies blush a bit while others moved them to laughter" 171). The Queen of Day Three, Neifile, crowns Filostrato, making a quip about how well a wolf will guide the sheep; this he lobs back at her with interest, bundling in a reference to Rustico and Alibech for good measure: 3 4

"Tosto ci avedremo se i' lupo sapra meglio guidar le pecore che le pecore abbiano i lupi guidati."

Filostrato, udendo questo, disse ridendo: "Se mi fosse stato creduto, i lupi avrebbono alle pecore insegnato rimettere il diavolo in inferno non peggio che Rustico facesse a Alibech; e per cio non ne chiamate lupi, dove voi state pecore non siete: tuttavia, secondo che conceduto mi fia, io reggero il regno commesso.

(3. Concl. 1-2)

("Soon we shall see if the wolves know how to guide the sheep better than the sheep have guided the wolves." Hearing this remark, Filostrato laughed and replied: "If [I had been believed], the wolves would have taught the sheep to put the Devil back into Hell no worse than Rustico did with Alibech; so you shouldn't call us wolves, for you have not acted like sheep; nonetheless, since you have entrusted the kingdom to me, I shall now begin my reign."


Neifile's quip not only notes Filostrato's status as the first King to rule the "piccol popolo" (Dec. 2. Concl. 2) but also recalls Dioneo's earlier acknowledgment, "'Donne, il vostro senno piu che il nostro avvedimento ci ha qui guidati'" (1. Intro. 93; "Ladies, more than our preparations, it was your intelligence that guided us here" 18). Her quizzical query, framed in figurative language, portrays the men as predatory and the ladies as passive; Filostrato, reprising Rustico's disingenuous euphemism for sex, acknowledges that he would gladly be predatory had his opinion prevailed. The intersection of the two figurative planes is disconcerting, as the resulting mental image is unnatural: wolves teaching sheep to put the devil back in hell? Biting back quite sharply, Neifile introduces a third figurative term, of the whistling bones:

"Odi, Filostrato: voi avreste, volendo a noi insegnare, potuto apparar senno come apparo Masetto da Lamporecchio dalle monache e riaver la favella a tale ora che l'ossa senza maestro avrebbono apparato a sufolare."

(3. Concl. 3)

("Listen, Filostrato, you men, hoping to teach us something, could have learned some sense, just as Masetto of Lamporecchio learned from the nuns, and regained your speech when your bones learned to whistle without a teacher.")

Reaching back to Filostrato's tale at the beginning of Day Three--the tale that the primary narrator emphasizes had occasionally made the ladies blush--Neifile associates him with Masetto, who had imagined he could teach the nuns something only to be himself overtaken by their number and their appetite. This small verbal thrust-and-parry ends when Filostrato recognizes that his opponent is at least as well armed as he is; the fourth figurative term is more overtly martial. Filostrato, "[...] conoscendo che falci si trovavan non meno che egli avesse strali [...]" (Dec. 3. Concl. 4; "recognizing that the ladies' sickles were as sharp as his arrows" 240), gives up and settles for organizing the brigata's household arrangements and, with his topic, their emotional landscape. The interaction is verbally playful, but we hear the clash of arms: the ladies' autonomy as well as their chastity, and Filostrato's desire for sexual satisfaction as well as for dominance, are at stake.

After giving his orders to the steward, Filostrato gives an unusually detailed self-portrait of his bleak amorous history, which includes a gloss on his name. (5) Describing himself as a perpetually unhappy lover, and expecting no happy outcome for his love, Filostrato dictates that the new topic will be those whose loves came to an unhappy end. To this lugubrious mandate, arguably a violation of their pact, no immediate reaction is recorded from the brigata--surprisingly, because the topics proposed for Days Two and Three had won their explicit praise, as will the Day Five topic. No more do they react to Filostrato's complaint about his love-suffering, either here or throughout the day. In other words, Day Four is already shaping up to be anomalous.

Despite the beauty of their new location, the rest of the evening comports with the tone now set of conflict and amorous pessimism. Before supper, some of the ladies got involved in some kind of hunt ("i cavriuoli e i conigli e gli altri animali che erano [...] si dierono alcune a seguitare" Dec. 3. Concl. 7; "some of the ladies gave chase to the deer and rabbits and all the other animals in that garden" 240). Dioneo and Fiammetta instead sing of the Lady of Vergy, a tale in which the exposure of secret love leads to the lovers' death, and Filomena and Panfilo challenge each other in chess. After supper, Lauretta's ballad is not only in itself mournful, but is the first in a sequence of five yearning songs ending Days Three through Seven. Filostrato's mandate has already affected the tone of the proceedings.

Lauretta's ballad, the subject of an extensive analysis by Dino Cervigni, is explicitly described as being of her own composition. While she does sing it "con maniera alquanto pietosa" (Dec. 3. Concl. 11; "in a rather melancholy voice" 241), I do not think we can assume that it is supposed to transparently express her own emotions or experience. Medieval lyric poets including Boccaccio wrote vox feminae songs; since Lauretta has composed several songs, she could well have written them for authorial personae. Whether or not she purports to speak for herself in her song, it opens with a refrain that echoes Filostrato's love lament: "Niuna sconsolata [...] lassa inamorata" (241). The first stanza stages the stilnovist trope of the lady whose beauty was created by God to give humanity some hint of celestial beauty, but it concludes with a lament that mortal imperfection cannot appreciate that beauty. The second stanza recalls a happy love, a young man whom she "made worthy" ("fe' degno") of her, but of whom she is now deprived. So far, then, the ballata remains mournful, following the tone of Filostrato's lament if not his content. In the third stanza she regrets having accepted a second lover, presumptuous and harsh, whose unjust jealousy keeps her from inspiring others. She regrets giving up her status as widow in stanza four, and wishes she had never agreed to remarry. In the fifth stanza she addresses her departed love, now in God's presence, and asks him to intercede so that she may join him there.

The brigata's mixed reaction to her song--"notata da tutti, diversamente da diversi [...] intesa" (Dec. 3. Conci. 18; "listened to with care but understood in different ways" 242)--signals its indeterminacy. The literal content is indeed a little perplexing--are ladies supposed to boast of being "vaga, leggiadra, graziosa e bella," of being meant to lead minds heavenward? Are they supposed to take credit for ennobling their lovers and making them worthy? Are they supposed to refer to how lovely and cheerful they used to be in their black mourning clothes? Can she really not forget her lost husband for another man--has she not said that her regret is that she is cut off from all the other men she was created to inspire? These incongruities of decorum and consistency invite the interpretations of the brigata, some of which are down and dirty, some loftier and better and truer ("di piu sublime e migliore e piu vero intelletto" 3.10.18).

As always to date, the singing continues until after midnight, when the king "comando che [...] ciascuno alla sua camera si tornasse" (Dec. 3. Concl. 19; "ordered [...] that each return to his own bedroom"). That the brigata does return "each to his own room" is more marked here than on preceding evenings, and emphasized by the king's command that they should do so; a king unhappy in love might well dictate chaste nights under his reign, particularly since the lady who disappointed him is one of the party (1. Intro. 79). Filostrato had attributed to his longstanding suffering his choice of topic. In the morning we will see how the narrators satisfy his requirement: whether they are inclined to tell tales of lovers who are unhappy in the same way as Filostrato and thus to gratify his sorrowful mood, or whether they will talk about all the other kinds of suffering that may arise from and curtail love, and perhaps chasten or change that mood. The next morning doesn't come immediately, however; what comes instead is the murmured apostrophe "Carissime donne," and it takes a few beats to register that the voice is that of the primary Narrator.

Day Four: Introduction

In the beginning of Day Four, the primary Narrator breaks the frame to articulate and then demolish five obtuse and inapposite objections he claims he has received, to the work--to the world--he is creating. The objections are: he likes women and tries to please them too much; this is unsuitable for his age; he would do better to remain with the Muses in Parnassus, i.e., stick to loftier material; he would do better to devote himself to something more concretely profitable; and the stories didn't happen as he told them (Dec. 4. Intro. 5-7). After laying out these objections, he declares that he will defer defense and argumentation until he has told "non una novella intera [.] ma parte d'una" (4. Intro. 11; "not an entire tale [...] but merely a portion of [one]" 245). (6) In his partial novella, Filippo Balducci brings up his son as a religious recluse in total isolation on a mountaintop. He brings the boy at eighteen to Florence and names for him all the new things they see. Meeting a group of "belle giovani donne e ornate" (4. Intro. 20; "beautiful and elegantly dressed young women" 246), Filippo calls them first "mala cosa" (4. Intro. 21; ["an evil thing"] and then "papere" (23; "goslings") to repress the boy's rising interest, but all the boy wants is a gosling of his own to feed. The father tries to devalue and mystify a desirable thing by assigning to it an off-putting name, demoting human women to the status of birds.

Other versions of this tale are skeletal compared to Boccaccio's development of it, and, as many have noted, Boccaccio changes the tale's purport from misogynous and ascetic to philogynous and naturalistic. (7) To do so he strategically amplifies all components of the simple plot, for example inventing a disproportionately extended insistence on Filippo Balducci's marital bliss: (8)

[...] aveva una sua donna moglie, la quale egli sommamente amava, e ella lui, e insieme in riposata vita si stavano, a niuna altra cosa tanto studio ponendo quanto in piacere interamente l'uno all'altro.

(Dec. 4. Intro. 12)

(he had a wife whom he dearly loved, and she loved him, and together they lived a tranquil life, always trying to please one another [entirely].)


The perfect felicity of Filippo's experience of women, love, and marriage is given so much emphasis that it delegitimizes his hostility and repugnance at the "evil" and vaguely unclean "goslings," and marks him as if anything rather irrational. (9)

The loss of that perfect felicity results in a metaphorical death, a denial of the world, the senses, and bodily impulses: (10)

Costui per la morte della sua donna tanto sconsolato rimase, quanto mai alcuno altro amata cosa perdendo rimanesse; e veggendosi di quella compagnia, la quale egli piu amava, rimaso solo, del tutto si dispose di non volere piu essere al mondo ma di darsi al servigio di Dio e il simigliante fare del suo piccol figliuolo.

(Dec. 4. Intro. 14)

(No man was ever more disheartened by the loss of the thing he loved than Filippo was by the loss of his wife; and seeing himself deprived of that companionship which he most cherished, he decided to renounce this world completely, to devote himself to serving God, and to do the same for his little boy.


Filippo actually prevents his child not only from seeing and experiencing, but even from hearing about, any worldly thing: "[...] sommamente si guardava di non ragionare, la dove egli fosse, d'alcuna temporal cosa ne di lasciarnegli alcuna vedere" (Dec. 4. Intro. 15; "he was careful not to talk about [any worldly thing] or to [let him see any of them]" (246). The boy sees only his own father and the inside of their cell ("[...] mai della cella non lasciandolo uscire ne alcuna altra cosa che se dimostrandogli [...]" 4. Intro. 15). Filippo limits him to spiritual concerns: "[...] sempre della gloria di vita eterna e di Dio e de' santi gli ragionava, nulla altro che sante orazioni insegnandogli" (4. Intro. 15; "he would always praise the glory of God and the eternal life, teaching him nothing but holy prayers" 246).

Filippo's confidence that this ascetic life, "di limosine in digiuni e in orazioni vivendo" (Dec. 4. Intro. 15; "surviving on alms, fasts, and prayers" 246), would keep his son safe from "le cose del mondo" (4. Intro.18; "the things of the world" 246) proves illusory. The son's interest in the parade of all the other desirable novelties he sees is satisfied by knowing their name: "Il padre gliele diceva; e egli, avendolo udito, rimaneva contento e domandava d'un'altra" (4. Intro. 20; "His father told him, and he, once he had heard it, was satisfied and asked about another one" 246); but only the lovely young women arouse his passionate desire, despite the trivializing animal name his father has given them. (11) Upon seeing them, the boy is not satisfied with the name; he wants the thing itself--one of them--to take home and feed. Despite having been brought up in the love of the highest good and "abituato al servigio di Dio" (4. Intro. 18; "used to serving God" 246), the boy finds the lovely young women more beautiful than divine things ("Elle son piu belle che gli agnoli dipinti" 4. Intro. 28).

What would be the end of this novelletta, which the narrator takes care to describe as fragmentary? (12) The Decameron version ends quite decisively enough, really, when Filippo Balducci refuses to give his son a gosling:

"Io non voglio; tu non sai donde elle s'imbeccano!" e senti incontanente piu aver di forza la natura che il suo ingegno; e pentessi d'averlo menato a Firenze.

(Dec. 4. Intro. 29)

("I will not, for you do not know how to feed them!" [you don't know where they feed!] Right then and there the father sensed that Nature had more power than his intelligence, and he was sorry for having brought his son to Florence.")


We have a battuta, a gloss on the tale's lesson, and a description of the father's chagrin: what more is needed for a "sense of an ending"? (13) By emphasizing that he will not tell the ending of his novella, (14) Boccaccio forces us to imagine what a proper Decameron ending would be. (15) What the novelletta is missing is an explicit gloss on how it is that the innate desire for women could trump the innate and, in this case, the nurtured desire for God and divine things (Dec. 4. Intro. 15 and 18) in what Dante would call "l'anima semplicetta che sa nulla" (Purg. 16.88; "the simple little soul that knows nothing"). The Narrator not only declines to gloss this conundrum; he thematizes his refusal to gloss it, leaving the conflation of belle donne and papere uneasily and problematically suspended. This is a thorny enough issue that Boccaccio gives it a good leaving-lone, returning to the expository refutation of the five objections to his work.

It is striking that his refutation, which follows the order in which the accusations were listed, resorts for its authority not to learned auctores but to the realm of poetry itself. (16) The Narrator's defense against the first accusation--that it is wrong for him to like women so much and to try to please them--is that the boy in his story turned immediately and naturally to them (Dec. 4. Intro. 31-32); against the second (he is too old for this nonsense), that he is only following the great love poets, though he could cite many historical examples as well (4. Intro. 33-34). He counters the third criticism (he should stick with the Muses and leave women alone) by saying that we cannot always live with the Muses, and that it is women who have inspired his verse production (4. Intro. 35-36). The fourth criticism, that he should attend to more practical matters, he liquidates on the grounds that literature is more sustaining than pursuing excessive material goods (4. Intro. 37-38). To the fifth accusation, that he is not telling the stories correctly, he says, "bring out the originals and we'll see" (4. Intro. 39)--when in fact Day Four contains six or seven stories with no known antecedent (4.3; 4.4; 4.5; 4.6; 4.7; 48; and perhaps 4.10). His defense is not that "it's just fiction, pastime, unreality"; on the contrary, it is that fiction is something really important, that it has as much evidentiary value as more soberly "authoritative" textuality. The stories he tells are the authority that bolster his defense, as he implies by invoking here Dec. 1.10 (the white head of the leek) and Dec. 5.1 (the uncultivated youth made courtly by love), among others.

Boccaccio began his introduction with an image: the winds of envy battering him even in the lowest valleys (Dec. 4. Intro. 2-4). He then proceeded into an orderly exposition of the criticisms he claims to have received (4. Intro. 5-11). He suspended that expository mode to insert the putatively incomplete narrative that would show rather than tell his basis for refuting those criticisms (12-29). Now he returns to his analytical and systematic demolition of the opposition's case (30-9). It is no surprise, then, that he concludes that demolition with a return to the mode of his opening, the lightness of imagery, rather than remaining in the gravitas of ratiocination (4. Intro. 40-43): he consoles himself that the pounding winds will at least whirl the "minuta polvere" ("fine dust" 249) high into the air, indeed above high palaces and soaring towers, and that it cannot in any case leave it any lower than it was before (4. Intro. 40). He claims that those who, like himself, love the ladies are working in accordance with nature,

alle cui leggi voler contrastare troppo gran forze bisognano, e spesse volte non solamente invano ma con grandissimo danno del faticante s'adoperano.

(4. Intro. 41)

(whose laws cannot be resisted without exceptional strength, and they are often resisted not only in vain but with very great damage to [...] the one who attempts to do so.)


This "great damage" is the outcome of most of the tales of Day Four, as we shall see, where spontaneous love is thwarted by forces either familial, societal, or external. The narrator ends by expressing a whimsical preference to lend to someone else the strength it takes to resist the laws of nature rather than using it himself, (17) and associating his critics with unnatural appetites: "ne' loro diletti, anzi appetiti corrotti standosi, me nel mio [...] lascino stare" (Dec. 4. Intro. 42; "let them live [...] with [...] their own pleasures, or rather with their corrupt desires, and let me go on enjoying my own" 250). The Introduction to Day Four is a tour de force the tenor of which we will meet again in the agile, elastic Author's Conclusion.

The Day's Ten Stories

The "partial" novella of Filippo Balducci bridges the last tale of Day Three and the first tale of Day Four. Both demonstrate the futility of a paternal prohibition against love--whether a prohibition of the Father or the father, whether self-policing or externally policed, whether in a man or in a woman. As Ghismonda proclaims, the laws of youth and love cannot be circumvented by selfish or inflexible fathers, no matter how insistent: "'[...] ricordarti dovevi e dei, quantunque tu ora sia vecchio, chenti e quali e con che forza vengano le leggi della giovanezza'" (Dec. 4. Intro. 33; "'though you are old now, you should have remembered the nature and power of the laws of youth'" 255). The tales all offer a gloss on that power of nature that Filippo had recognized too late (4. Intro. 29). Indeed, it is not only the tales flanking the "metanovellettd' that prove that overpowering natural desire; it recurs throughout the Decameron, and the specific contours of Day Four emerge not as the suffering of unrequited love, but as the tragedies that result from forbidding love. On the one hand, the existing social order depends on channeling and policing desire; on the other, many Decameron tales ask us, explicitly or implicitly, to consider whether lasting harm is done when desire prevails. In portraying the many wives (ladies and not) who deceive their husbands, and husbands who deceive their wives, with no lasting ill effect, Boccaccio often seems to imply, "no harm, no foul"--or at least to ask us to consider that proposition, as the fabliaux do. This is a fairly radical position to take vis a vis that of "official" medieval culture, whether ecclesiastical or societal. The tales of Alatiel and Alibech, vigorously sexual females putatively revirginated for marriage, both suggest, "Bocca basciata non perde ventura, anzi rinnuova come fa la luna" (2.7.122; "A mouth that is kissed loses no flavor, but, like the moon, is renewed" 126). Boccaccio is taking a cue from the unofficial, popular culture attested in the proverb, and it is 11 no accident that these two most overt statements to this effect emerge in settings outside of Christendom and outside of bourgeois society.

Decameron 4.1, 5, and 9: The Scaffolding Tales

With their shared thematic palette and their shared lexicon, tales 1, 5, and 9 have featured in criticism as the scaffolding of Day Four. (18) Their thematic overlap includes forbidden and secret love, obscure familial motivation, violated class categories, bodily mutilation, and anthropophagy (literal, metaphorical, or metonymic); their lexical overlap plays on etyma such as dolore, piangere, triste, crudele, fiero, amore, and cuore. Both thematic and lexical echoes link them tightly across the span of the fourth day, and make them reach backward and forward to the tales of other days such as Dec. 2.7 (Alatiel) and 5.8 (Nastagio); and most vividly, many such echoes link them to the other tales of Day Four. These three tales, discussed here in shorthand, will also recur in discussing the other tales of Day Four.

Michael Sherberg notes that Dec. 4.1, 5, and 9 feature "three types of paterfamilias relations, namely father, brother, spouse, which Aristotle treats in Book VIII of the Ethics'" (Governance 120). Sherberg aligns these relations with "the political models [Aristotle] discusses--monarchy, aristocracy, and timocracy and their negatives, tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy--[which] actually mimic, to his mind, the relationships, functional and dysfunctional respectively, found in families" (Governance 2-3). This is a compelling layering, and Sherberg shows neatly how these models interact with degrees and kinds of love and friendship in the three scaffolding tales. Given the power vested in the patriarch or his proxy, the plots of Day Four are most often framed in terms of masculine prohibition and female resistance (4.8 is the main exception). In 4.1, 5, and 9, the patriarch's bond to female family members is somehow dubious: whether overmotivated, undermotivated, or perverse.

The tales stage, rather than describe, this excessive investment. In Dec. 4.1, for example, there is no need for the narrator Fiammetta to say that Tancredi's "tender" love for his daughter was concretely excessive, unpaternally possessive --in a word, incestuous. Sherberg calls it a "scrambled desire" (Governance 122). A great many critics have had no trouble extrapolating a most unfatherly love from Tancredi's actions and gestures: waiting too long before marrying off his daughter in the first instance; keeping her, once widowed, too close; haunting her bedroom; spying on her lovemaking from a truly horrifying proximity; sneaking silently out of her bedroom afterwards; accusing her jealously; weeping uncontrollably; having her lover executed; sending her Guiscardo's heart in a chalice. (19) There is no specific gloss on this disquieting affection: "the story won't tell, not in any literal, vulgar way," to quote The Turn of the Screw. The Decameron has other strategies than the cudgel; it has, for example, the scalpel. The Day Four stories fan out the thematic and lexical resources of the scaffolding tales, adopting closely parallel scenarios and phrasing only to carve out differences and set them in sharp relief. (20) The remaining Day Four tales dissever themselves from the model of 4.1, 5, and 9 to become part of a metanarrative gloss on them, illuminating their darkness by the lighter strokes of lighter plots and personas, in what Marga Cottino-Jones calls a calculated chiaroscuro. (21)

With the first tale, Day Four breaks from the starting-gate very dark indeed. Tancredi reprises Filippo Balducci's confinement of his son, keeping Ghismonda close to him and far away, he hopes, from a new sexual partner. Because Ghismonda has already known marital love, she is unwilling to renounce it forever; because she is a modest noblewoman, she is unwilling to lobby for it openly either. The naive optimism of both Filippo Balducci and Tancredi is defeated by the powerful and natural pull of desire. Ghismonda sets a pattern for women in Day Four, rebelling against her subordination to father and to reputation; seizing the initiative in selecting a lover for his character and appeal rather than for his status; and finding a way to be intimate with him even in the most private space of the home. But Ghismonda goes beyond merely kicking over the traces when her father isn't looking. She summons her lover to her with a note hidden in a hollow reed, and rehabilitates a long-disused passageway overgrown with brambles that leads Guiscardo repeatedly into and out from her very bedchamber; both spatial constructs are so suggestive that they barely need a gloss. (22) When Tancredi confronts her with what he has seen, and suggests that he already knows what he will do with her partner ("ho io gia meco preso partito che farne" Dec. 4.1.28), Ghismonda casts off her earlier circumspection and proclaims her right as a young and vigorous woman to love and to choose her lover. And because she imagines Guiscardo to be lost already ("avvisando gia esser morto il suo Guiscardo" 4.1.30), Ghismonda launches into a fully fledged oration, though one which is the opposite of persuasive. (23) In this respect Ghismonda, though magisterially eloquent, is no better an advocate for herself and Guiscardo than a character whose speech is not recorded in her tale, like Lisabetta (4.5) or Simona (4.7). Ghismonda's defenses, accusations, and contemptuous dismissal of Tancredi may well be gratifying to articulate, but they goad him into doing the irrevocable. The deliberate parallels between Ghismonda and Madonna Filippa, and between Ghismonda and Andreuola of Decameron 4.6, only heighten the divergences between them, as we shall see in discussing 4.6.

In Decameron 4.5, Lisabetta da Messina is the only daughter of a rich merchant now dead; like Ghismonda, she chooses a lover beneath her in class status and wealth. (24) The narrator Filomena does not stop at mentioning that Lisabetta's three brothers have not yet married her to anyone; she actively thematizes it as unexplained: "[...] avevano una lor sorella chiamata Lisabetta, giovane assai bella e costumata, la quale, che che se ne fosse cagione, ancora maritata non aveano" (Dec. 4.5.4; my italics; "they had a sister called Elisabetta, a very beautiful and accomplished young girl, who for [whatever] reason [they] had not yet married" 279). (25) Lorenzo is similarly young ("giovinetto"), similarly handsome ("assai bello della persona") and similarly attractive ("leggiadro molto"), and the deliberately parallel description of the lovers suggests that they are suited to one another despite any class difference (4.5.5). Lorenzo is not only an appealing figure but an active and vigorous one who conducts the brothers' affairs ("che tutti i lor fatti guidava e faceva") and who has other love interests ("altri innamoramenti") that he sets aside for Lisabetta (4.5.5). They meet to make love on several occasions until Lisabetta, going to Lorenzo's room, is seen by her eldest brother (4.5.6).

Unlike Tancredi, the brothers are not tainted by a hint of excessive or inappropriate love for their sister. Still, subtle elements cast doubt on the brothers as agents, and certainly on the neutrality, rationality, and benevolence of their motivations. They seem to have no independent identity; they are not named, and they act essentially as one character (Fedi 50-51). It is Lorenzo who runs their business. Like Tancredi, the eldest brother sees Lisabetta in a compromising position and says nothing, but slips away. He spends the night thinking about what he has seen; he and his brothers bide their time until they can remove "this shame from their face" ("questa vergogna [...] torre dal viso" Dec. 4.5.7). They keep Lorenzo off guard by their demeanor, "cosi cianciando e ridendo con Lorenzo come usati erano" (4.5.8; "continuing] to joke and laugh with Lorenzo as they always had" 279). Three men who set out to murder an unsuspecting one ("che di cio niuna guardia prendeva" 4.5.8) certainly show little courage or righteousness, and in burying their victim, little dignity. Instead of confronting their sister, they lie to her and bully her when she asks them insistently about Lorenzo (4.5.13), and when she obsessively tends her pot of basil (4.5.20). They may not be barbarous for the same reason as Tancredi, but they are clearly indicted as unworthy heads of family; and when they discover that Lisabetta knows of the murder, they surreptitiously move their business to Naples, leaving their sister behind to weep herself to death. The knowledge of others ("infamia," "vergogna," "che si risapesse" 4.5.22) is what has motivated them all along, rather than what truly deserves shame: the fact that they deceived and murdered Lorenzo, and drove their sister to her death. (26)

Lisabetta, as many have noted, is assigned no direct discourse in the novella, a narrative choice which re-enacts her oppression within the diegesis (Segre 83). Her brothers speak; her beloved Lorenzo speaks in her dream; even the neighbors speak, to comment on her decline. But Lisabetta's words are reported as indirect discourse only, and she stops speaking at all after her brothers' prohibition. In one of the rare appearances in the Decameron of a supernatural event with consequences in the real world, in Lisabetta's dream Lorenzo tells her precisely what happened to him and where he lies buried. Resourceful Lisabetta has the force of will and love to seek out Lorenzo's corpse, cut off his head and carry it back with her, all in silence. (27) Once she has the head safe, Lisabetta weeps over it uncontrollably, kissing it repeatedly--all actions and gestures which recall, by contrast, the perfect control with which Ghismonda wept, deliberately and for a limited time, over Guiscardo's heart. Lisabetta weeps ever more hyperbolically until her brothers steal the pot of basil containing the lover's beloved head. She pleads so insistently for its return that they examine the pot (the testo), find the head, the testa (Segre 84-85), and cravenly sneak away. Lisabetta eventually dies, and she and the dismembered Lorenzo are, by necessity, buried separately, Lorenzo indeed in two places; but they are buried--or, rather, they keep living--in one text, "un testo," the song that Filomena claims was generated by the events of this tale (Dec. 4.5.23-24). Metaphorically at least these two lovers also publicly share a tomb like the lovers of Decameron 4.1 and 4.9.

Filostrato himself narrates Decameron 4.9, the last of the tonally tragic tales of Day Four before Dioneo sweeps in with his signature humor and his privilege of departing from the day's theme. In this third scaffolding tale Boccaccio constructs a claustrophobic scenario in which three principals, though surrounded by servants, seem alone in a starkly symbolic landscape: a castle, a wood, a high window, a tomb.

Filostrato's two knights, as many have premised, are initially fungible; (28) in fact, they have the same first name, though not the same surname. In the opening paragraph, every detail communicated to us about the knights puts them on the same plane, repeating such associative locutions as "ciascuno" (each one) and "l'uno e l'altro" (one and the other). They share the same rank ("due nobili cavalieri, de' quali ciascuno e castella e vassalli aveva sotto di se" Dec. 4.9.4); they fight together in all the same tournaments and jousts ("in costume avean d'andar sempre a ogni torneamento o giostra o altro fatto d'arme insieme" 4.9.5); they wear the same clothing ("vestiti d'una assisa" 4.9.5). They love each other a great deal: although Boccaccio's mature autograph manuscript of the Decameron gives "nell'arme s'armavano assai" (4.9.5), his earlier redaction reads "nell'arme s'amavano insieme assai." (29) In one strand of transmission, then, the knights' affection is foregrounded along with their shared deeds of arms. (30) But as the narrator emphasizes, one falls in love with the other's wife "non obstante l'amista e la compagnia che era tra loro" (4.5.6; "notwithstanding the friendship and brotherhood that existed between them" 298), whereupon the friend and the wife secretly become lovers. This is presented not as a function of competition, usurpation, or envy on Guardastagno's part, nor as acting out the courtly cliche of loving in secret a beautiful and unattainable lady. The complex of textual description suggests that Guardastagno falls in love with his friend's wife to be closer to his friend, even to become him--to confirm that virtual identity between them already established in the tale's opening, as Giuseppe Mazzotta suggests: "Since the two men share so much, Guardastagno's loving his friend's woman appears to be a logical extension of all their other identical pursuits, a way of achieving a fuller identity" (152).

Boccaccio adds to the Provencal and French sources this aspiration on Guardastagno's part to become his friend, to unite with him, in every way possible. In the various versions of Guillem de Cabestaing's vida, the two knights do not share the same first name: the lover is Guillem, the husband Raimondo. In the vidas, too, they are not friends and equals, but rather liege and vassal. (31) With these strategic changes Boccaccio has shifted the initial emotional focus of his novella from the two possible man/woman pairings (husband and wife, lover and wife) to the man/man pairing. The Decameron story is about the two knights, about the love between them, rather than about the desires or fate of the lady, who, unlike Sermonda in the vidas, pointedly has no name. (32) In the vidas and razos the relationship between the men is asymmetrical and vertical, making the bond between them--negotiated by the lady--homosocial rather than affective or homoerotic; in Dec. 4.9, by contrast, the knights' intimate friendship is established as powerful well before Guardastagno falls in love with Rossiglione's unnamed wife.

Though loving his best friend's wife, Guglielmo Guardastagno is not the "traditor" (Dec. 4.9.11) that his friend calls him; and Guglielmo Rossiglione, though the offended party, is shown to be a treacherous and sadistic coward. (33) Again, the story is about the men: who they are, whom they love, how they behave in an emotional crisis given that they "s'amavano assai," when it comes out that the friend and the wife were also in the position of "amandosi forte" (4.9.7). What happens, of course, is that "il grande amore che [Rossiglione] al Guardastagno portava, in mortale odio converti" (4.9.8: "the great love he bore for Guardastagno was transformed into mortal hatred" 298). (34) When Rossiglione sets an elaborate trap for his friend-turned-rival, ignobly ambushing Guardastagno when he is unarmed ("disarmato" 4.9.11) and his men too are unarmed ("disarmati" 4.9.11), Guardastagno dies "senza potere alcuna difesa fare o pur dire una parola" (4.9.12: "unable to defend himself or even to utter a word" 299). In shrieking "'Traditor, tu se' morto'" (4.9.11; "'Traitor, now you are dead!'" 298-99), Rossiglione lashes out against the beloved companion whose betrayal wounds him the most: not his wife, but his friend. The narrative has prepared us for this emotional valence, describing Rossiglione as "having" ("avendo" 4.9.6) a wife, but never hinting that he loved her, or for that matter that she loved him. All occurrences of heterosexual "amore" and its derivatives refer to the emotion binding the lady and Guardastagno, and indeed marriage is a disqualification for love, according to Andreas Capellanus; the husband's love is all for the knight ("il grande amore che al Guardastagno portava" 4.9.8). (35) Too, the wife herself points out that her husband should have resented her betrayal more, and avenged himself on her: "'non egli ma io ne doveva la pena portare'" (4.9.23). But the married couple is not the emotional heart of the novella; the male couple is. (36)

When Rossiglione has tricked his wife into eating the heart, and solicited her opinion of its taste, his bitter jibe, "'io il vi credo, ne me ne maraviglio se morto v'e piaciuto cio che vivo piu che altra cosa vi piacque'" (Dec. 4.9.20; "[I'm sure you did], and I am not surprised that what you liked more than anything else when it was alive, you liked when it was dead" 299-300) (37) echoes the message Tancredi sent to Ghismonda with Guiscardo's heart in a golden cup: "'Il tuo padre ti manda questo per consolarti di quella cosa che tu piu ami, come tu hai lui consolato di cio che egli piu amava'" (4.1.47; "'Your father sends you this to console you for the loss of that which you loved the most, just as you have consoled him for the loss of what he loved the most'" 256). The husband's lurid literalization of the metaphorical heart which his wife loved above all else is well documented and well analyzed. He elides the corporeal and figurative dimensions of the heart: "'Quello che voi avete mangiato e stato veramente il cuore di messer Guglielmo Guardastagno, il qual voi come disleal femina tanto amavate'" (4.9.22; "'What you have eaten was actually the heart of Sir Guglielmo Guardastagno, whom you, treacherous female that you are, loved so much'" 300)--for again, she loved Guardastagno's metaphorical, not his literal, heart. Rossiglione's jibe, moreover, confirms textually the reassignment of couple-identity from the male couple of the beginning to the male-female (if doomed) couple of the end. In manipulating his wife into ingesting the heart, Rossiglione had forced her to reenact imagistically her sexual union with Guardastagno more concretely than Ghismonda had done in deliberately drinking a blend of poison, tears, and (we must imagine) whatever liquid came with the heart (Russo 33). Thus in 4.9 Filostrato's superimposition of the organ she had deliberately taken into her body, over the already overdetermined heart image, is exponentially more violent and more emotionally charged than Fiammetta's in 4.1.

In ingesting the heart, the lady takes her lover into her body for what she swears will be the last time. Not only will she consume no other less noble food after Guardastagno's eaten heart; she will allow no less noble organ to follow upon his. (38) Her speech reduces her husband, who has just called her a "'disleal femina'" (Dec. 4.9.22; "treacherous female" 300), to an unacceptable second in both virility and honor, a "disleale e malvagio cavalier" (4.9.23; "treacherous and wicked knight" 300). Rossiglione has failed to understand his friend's gesture--his scandalous desire to join him in the marriage not to usurp him but to unite with him. Thus the husband, in making his friend forever a part of his own wife, has reconfigured the essential couple from that of two men to that of man and woman, excluding himself from it. As the tale had opened by uniting the male couple in both imagery and phrasing, it closes by uniting the male-female couple, differently, however, from how the tale began:

[...] furono i due corpi ricolti e nella chiesa del castello medesimo della donna in una medesima sepoltura fur posti, e sopr'essa scritti versi significanti chi fosser quegli che dentro sepolti v'erano [...].

(4.9.25; italics mine).

(the two bodies [...] were placed in one and the same tomb in the chapel of the [castle itself of the lady], and on the tombstone were inscribed verses telling who was buried there [...].


The story ends in a bleak, minor key, with engraved verses on the lovers' common tomb recapitulating the story's content, and putatively its own source. Dec. 4.9 blends the public shared tomb of Ghismonda and Guiscardo, and the public shared textual tomb of Lisabetta and Lorenzo.

Decameron 4.9 interrogates assignments of ethical value such as loyalty, treachery, love (marital, "courtly," and homoerotic), honor, and nobility (Mazzotta 152-54; Webb 163). Boccaccio uses this tale to examine the love of male friends, the powerful intensity of which cannot be contained, or explicitly accommodated, within a courtly paradigm predicated, as Holmes suggests, on "'homosocial' bonds between men, bonds cemented by traffic in women" (154). The two knights, both called Guglielmo, cannot realize a homoerotic bond within that courtly paradigm, nor can they share the lady, because she can choose, has chosen, one over the other. The courtly convention of loving an inaccessible lady in secret has been forcibly intersected with the love of male companions, the identity of like minds and like roles. The very impulse that drives Guardastagno's love for Rossiglione's wife--the desire to assimilate to his friend--makes that courtly paradigm impossible. The simultaneous social encouragement and prohibition of such a secret love, where the men are bound by close ties of friendship or kin, is the pattern of Lancelot, Arthur, and Guinevere, or Tristan, Mark, and Iseult. This tale is differentiated from those by the pointed occlusion of the (otherwise very autonomous) lady's name, in favor of the narrative foregrounding of the two knights.

Panning back to the frame tale, Boccaccio has assigned to Filostrato an intriguing choice of novella. By this point in Day Four, Filostrato has been exposed to the tragedies recounted by his companions. Perhaps he has been conditioned by them. He seems to accede to, or at least engage with, the group's demonstration that there are worse ways for loves to come to an unhappy end than the one he keeps brooding over: his own dolore of love unrequited or love betrayed. Love can be thwarted by family or Fortune; the beloved can die or be cruelly killed, his or her body brutally savaged; or the whole world can spin out of control into the massive destruction of plague. With these precedents before him, Filostrato's tale is triggered by a double betrayal, and echoes Dec. 4.1 and 4.5 in its hyperbolic gruesomeness. We can track Filostrato's responses throughout the day to the different scenarios his companions put before him, and consider whether these suggest any change in the character's stance, or reflect any stance of the Primary Narrator or the historical author.

Decameron 4.2, 4.3, 4.4

Both Roberto Mercuri and Roberto Fedi divide the Day Four stories into three triads (Dec. 4.1, 5, 9; 4.2, 3, 4; and 4.6, 7, 8), followed by Dioneo's tale. (39) Although many threads bind the tales into different groupings, this one is a convenient pattern for analysis. It reflects the relationship of the three scaffolding tales to the others: after the histrionic first tale (4.1), Pampinea's comic relief (4.2) and the two action-packed, almost swashbuckling, romances at sea (4.3 and 4.4); after the humbler social scale of Lisabetta and Lorenzo (4.5), the less rarified, less dramatic and less exotic tales set in Brescia and Florence (4.6 and 4.8); after the culminating scaffolding tale of the eaten heart, elevated and extreme (4.9), Dioneo's comic relief (4.10) lightens the spirits of the company, much tested by the tragic tales of the day.

In fact both Pampinea and Dioneo set out to give heart to the company. The stately tone and royal setting of Fiammetta's tale, Decameron 4.1, exaggerate by contrast its unnatural emotional horizon and extravagant gore; Filostrato's only response to it is that Guiscardo was one lucky man, that he himself would gladly change places with him for even half the pleasure Guiscardo had, and that he is "dying a thousand deaths" ("'ogni ora mille morti sento'" 4.2.2). That hyperbole looks accidentally ridiculous whether we compare it to the almost universal death of the plague or to the overwrought slaughter of Fiammetta's tale, and indeed none of the brigata responds to his self-pity. Filostrato, like all lovers legendarily lacking in a sense of proportion, insists that Pampinea continue with the regime that Fiammetta had begun so well, specifying that he wants to hear something similar to his own case of unrequited love: "'[...] voglio che ne' fieri ragionamenti, e a' miei accidenti in parte simili, Pampinea ragionando seguisca'" (4.2.3). The Proem opened by declaring that it is a human quality to have compassion for those who suffer. Yet in ordering stories of those who suffer, Filostrato is seeking to feel not compassion, but relief from his own pain: "'senza dubbio alcuna rugiada cadere sopra il mio fuoco comincero a sentire'" (4.2.3; "'I shall, without a doubt, feel some dewdrops fall upon my own [...] fire'" 259).

It is Pampinea's edict that Filostrato has breached, however, and she is not inclined ("disposta" Dec. 4.2.4) to observe his mandated gloom. (40) Like Decameron 4.1, her tale will contain forbidden love, fear, danger, suffering, separation, and death, but it will have no emotional effect on its listeners beyond laughter at its unsympathetic protagonists. Pampinea returns to the many clerics behaving badly in Days One and Three to give another example of "la ipocresia de' religiosi" (4.2.5; "the hypocrisy of the religious"), canvassed with asperity in her prologue (4.2.5-7). She introduces Berto della Massa as a mini-Cepparello, who purposely changes his spots, name, and habitat to pass for a saintly friar minor in his lifetime: "'[...] di ladrone, di ruffiano, di falsario, d'omicida subitamente fu un gran predicator divenuto'" (4.2.10; "'a thief, pimp, forger, and murderer quickly became a great preacher'" 260). As Frate Alberto, he moves to Venice and meets lovely moron Madonna Lisetta (whose merchant husband is conveniently abroad), and tricks her into a "love" which is mere desire and self-gratification on both sides.

Frate Alberto spins her a yarn as absurd as that of Dom Felice (Dec. 3.4) or Ferondo's abbot (3.8), and which only a vain and credulous idiot could swallow: the Angel Gabriel has fallen in love with her celestial beauty, and borrows the body of the obliging Frate Alberto to visit her. So bumptious is Lisetta that we can't pity her; Pampinea's mocking epithets emphasize her stupidity and conceit, and she cannot resist boasting to a neighbor that the Angel Gabriel comes to make love to her (4.2.41-43). When her husband's relatives, policing his wife's chastity in his absence, put the angel to flight (4.2.45), Madonna Lisetta falls out of the story, so we never do see her realize that she has not stolen the Angel Gabriel's love from the Blessed Virgin Mary after all. Frate Alberto tries a daring escape disguised as a wild man; but betrayed by his Venetian host, he is exposed, punished, and publicly derided before being rescued only to die miserably in the monastery.

Not only is Pampinea's tale not tragic, but her narration of it is deliberately comical. The epithets for the foolish lady (donna mestola, donna zucca al vento, Madonna baderla); the extended inside jokes around the Annunciation and other biblical passages; the intensified figurative language around sex (images of riding and flying abound)--all indicate a narrative voice intent on avoiding pathos. Pampinea has deliberately thwarted Filostrato, preferring to console her company than to satisfy the king; he acknowledges her intent and directs Lauretta to tell a "better" one ("una migliore" Dec. 4.3.2), i.e., one with less humor in it. Lauretta's tale 4.3 tells of three very young and very wealthy girls, two fifteen-year-old twins and a fourteen-year-old sister, and their three suitors. Her prologue (4.3.4-7) warns against the vice of anger,

"la quale niuna altra cosa e che un movimento subito e inconsiderato, da sentita tristizia sospinto, il quale, ogni ragion cacciata e gli occhi della mente avendo di tenebre offuscati, in ferventissimo furore accende l'anima nostra."


("which is nothing other than a sudden and thoughtless impulse, which incited by some unhappiness we feel, drives all reason from us, blinds the eyes of the mind with darkness, and consumes our souls with burning rage.")


She notes that it is especially damaging in women, since fire burns more fiercely in light and soft materials, just as women are more delicate and changeable than men. The origin and consequence of anger as Lauretta describes them are in play throughout most of the Day Four tales, as Vittorio Russo's long discussion of dolore, ira, and vendetta brings out. (41) What is odd is that although Lauretta will talk very insightfully about love and its disappearance, she blames wrath for this story's disastrous events rather than the fickle faithlessness that generates that wrath, the same kind of faithlessness of which Filostrato complains. (42)

Like Decameron 4.2, this tale too begins with a male guardian who is a merchant away on business: N'Arnald Civada, a good man of humble origins and fabulous wealth. His daughters' marriages are already arranged pending his return; they are almost certainly not affianced to the young men they end up with. Restagnone, young and noble but poor, is in love with Ninetta, one of the twins, and when the story opens they are already lovers. Two rich young men fall in love with the other two sisters, and Restagnone cultivates their friendship hoping to allay his poverty (4.3.11-13). He proposes that the two pool their resources and give a third to him, then that all three run away with the three sisters and a great deal of their father's money (4.3.14). When the six young people end up in Crete, Lauretta describes the young men living in luxury and enjoying their loves, "i piu contenti uomini del mondo" (4.3.19; "the happiest men in the world" 271).

The tale offers a very shrewd account of the origins not of anger but of infidelity. With all obstacles to his love removed, Restagnone gets bored:

E in tal maniera dimorando, avvenne, si come noi veggiamo tutto il giorno avvenire che quantunque le cose molto piacciano avendone soperchia copia rincrescono, che a Restagnone, il quale molto amata avea la Ninetta, potendola egli senza alcun sospetto a ogni suo piacere avere, gl'incomincio a rincrescere e per conseguente a mancar verso lei l'amore.


(While they were living in this fashion, one day it happened, as we all know from our everyday experience that too much of a good thing can often [grow wearisome], that Restagnone, who had loved Ninetta very much, and who was now able to have her whenever he liked without arousing any suspicion, began to have regrets, and as a result, his love for her diminished.)


To the reader, prepared by Lauretta's preface for the fury of a woman scorned, this casual insight into the actual cause of the coming disaster is stunning. That earnest preface had never mentioned the effrontery of this penniless operator now living large with his lover's father's money and daring to tire of her. Ninetta's jealousy provokes her into nagging and reproaches which only cement Restagnone's desire for his new love interest, as Lauretta tells us with another casual bulls-eye:

Ma cosi come la copia delle cose genera fastidio, cosi l'essere le disiderate negate multiplica l'appetito: cosi i crucci della Ninetta le fiamme del nuovo amore di Restagnone accrescevano.

(Dec. 4.3.22)

(But just as a surfeit of good things generates disgust, so in like manner the denial of something desired increases our appetite for it; thus, Ninetta's fits of anger increased Restagnone's burning passion for his new love.)


In turn, of course, news of Restagnone's success with his new beloved intensifies Ninetta's rage:

di che ella in tanta tristizia cadde e di quella in tanta ira e per consequente in tanto furor transcorse, che, rivoltato l'amore il quale a Restagnon portava in acerbo odio, (43) acceccata dalla sua ira, s'aviso con la morte di Restagnone l'onta che ricever l'era paruta vendicare.

(4.3.22, italics mine)

(as a result she fell into a state of deep unhappiness and from that into a state of anger, which finally developed into such a furious rage that the love which she had once borne for Restagnone was now transformed into bitter hatred, and blinded by her anger, she decided to avenge all the shame she felt he had caused her by killing Restagnone.)


Each emotion and circumstance lays the foundation for the next, implicitly recalling Filostrato's trajectory: his beloved wearied of him and chose another, generating Filostrato's burning pain and cold fury.

Restagnone's murder topples a series of dominoes, resulting in the murder of Ninetta' twin sister by her lover, the disappearance of both killers, and finally the flight and ignominious death of the last sister with her own lover. Within two pages the young people have gone from high living to utter calamity, and Lauretta concludes, "'Adunque a cosi fatto partito il folle amore di Restagnone e l'ira della Ninetta se condussero e altrui'" (Dec. 4.3.34; italics mine; "Such was the fate which the foolish love of Restagnone and the anger of Ninetta brought upon not only themselves but also upon others" 273). No parental prohibition spurs the daughters' rebellion; Restagnone's manipulations in his own interest generated the sequence of events, so it is not surprising that the brigata's reaction to Lauretta's tale, as to her song, is lively and mixed: "[...] chi con un chi con un altro della sciagura degli amanti si dolea, e chi l'ira della Ninetta biasimava, e chi una cosa e chi altra diceva" (4.4.2; "[...] the members of the group turned to one another lamenting the calamity of the lovers, some blaming Ninetta's anger, [and some saying one thing and some saying another]" 274). They do not, in other words, take Lauretta's prologue explanation as definitive: the root of the catastrophe is subject to debate. Often, what a narrator tells us about his or her story is not what the story itself emphasizes, and the fiction positions us to look at it differently than its teller does.

Decameron 4.4, the third tale in this triad, is linked to 4.3 by both parallel and contrast. Like 4.3, Decameron 4.4 is without a known antecedent. Narrated by Elissa, it shares with 4.3 the abduction theme, the marriage planned for the young girl, and the sea voyage. It shares with the scaffolding tales the familial prohibition, a decapitation, gory violence, rebellious lovers, and a terrible revenge taken on them. It opens with an extravagant courtly conceit that we have seen before in 1.5, and the contested possibility of which is thematized at the outset: that noble hearts can fall in love by hearsay (and in this case, in synchronicity: 4.4.3). It diverges from 4.3 in having a royal rather than a mercantile setting, and clearly the six young people of 4.3 had fallen into a love "dagli occhi acceso" (4.4.3; "kindled by the eyes" 274). The daughter of the King of Tunis has fallen in love by reputation alone with Gerbino, grandson of King William II of Sicily, as he has with her. As in 4.5, the two young lovers' appearance, character, and emotions are described in carefully parallel terms. Gerbino is "bellissimo" and known for his "prodezze" and "cortesia" (4.4.4); the Saracen princess is a singularly "bella creatura," "nobile" and of "grande animo" (4.4.5). She is won by the "magnifica fama delle virtU e della cortesia del Gerbino" (4.4.5); he is won by the "grandissima fama della bellezza parimente e del valor di lei" (4.4.7). The narrator, Elissa, keeps their descriptions exactly specular: "non meno che di lui la giovane infiammata fosse, lui di lei aveva infiammato" (4.4.7). Forms of "ardere" link them: applied first to him ("ardore" 4.4.8), then to her ("ardeva" 4.4.9), then to both lovers ("ardendo d'una parte la giovane e d'altra il Gerbino" 4.4.10). They exchange jewels ("gioie" 4.4.8 and 4.4.9) as tokens of their love.

Despite the lexical and thematic specularity that suggests these lovers are made for each other, as in Dec. 4.5 they are blocked by a paternal prohibition based on both religion and politics. A marriage between a Christian prince and a Saracen princess being clearly unacceptable, and the girl's father intending to marry her to the King of Granada, she and Gerbino plan that he will abduct her as she sails to her bridegroom. While none of the romance tales set on the Mediterranean concern themselves with verisimilitude, this one foregrounds its own improbability. We are told that the girl's father in faraway Tunis has heard of Gerbino's intended abduction but that Gerbino's grandfather has not even heard about the love story of these two young strangers; that the King of Tunis exacts from his own liege lord a promise that his daughter's ship will not be accosted; that Gerbino can place himself at sea at the exact place where he can intercept her ship; and that the princess's escorts will kill her sooner than let Gerbino capture her. I would argue that 4.4 emphasizes these tall tales in order to thematize the influence of romance literature upon the protagonists as well as upon the narrator.

If the two young people's love is impossible primarily because of their religion, the tragic outcome is dictated by the clash between the constraints between the protagonists' royal status and the fictional conventions they embrace. Gerbino is described repeatedly as "il bel Gerbino," which like the courtly convention of amor de lonh assimilates him to a larger-than-life chivalric hero (like Il Bel Gherardino). (44) King William has made a promise of safe conduct for the princess's ship, and given his glove as a token of his pledge. "Il bel Gerbino," seeing the girl on deck even lovelier than he imagined, decides to violate his grandfather's promise; he compounds this gross violation with a feeble jest about needing no glove, given the absence of falcons (Dec. 4.4.21). Since both honor and falconry characterize the nobility, Gerbino's ghastly witticism only emphasizes his renunciation of that status in favor of a romance-hero quality. Royalty requires arranged marriages and a strict word of honor, but a romance hero, goaded by his distant love, (45) turns the universe upside down for love: a man in a fiction sets aside his "real" life to become a fictional hero.

Gerbino attempts to motivate his "valenti uomini" (Dec. 4.4.15; "crew of brave men" 276) to capture the ship with an inflated invocation of the cliche that love inspires bravery: they are so brave that they must be or have been in love, so they will understand his desire (4.4.16). The ship, moreover, is loaded with riches,

"[...] le quali, se valorosi uomini siete, con poca fatica, virilmente combattendo, acquistar possiamo. Della qual vittoria io non cerco che in parte mi venga se non una donna, per lo cui amore i' muovo l'arme: ogni altra cosa sia vostra liberamente infin da ora."

(4.4.17) (46)

("[...] if you are brave and fight like men, with a little effort we can have these riches. I seek as my share only one lady, for whose love I do battle: everything else I freely concede to you from this moment on.")


In the event, however, all this lofty palaver about love and bravery is unnecessary, and highlights the disconnect between Gerbino's romantic cliches and real-world motivations: "'i messinesi che con lui erano, vaghi della rapina, gia con l'animo erano a far quello [...]'" (4.4.28; "his crew from Messina, greedy for plunder, was already fired up to do [that]" (277). When the Saracen crew contemptuously "svenarono" (4.4.23) ("slit the veins of') the unnamed princess, Gerbino retaliates in kind, "svenando" his enemies like a lion killing out of fury sooner than hunger (4.4.24) in true romance-hero fashion. After this ferocity, however, he shows the tenderness of a Lisabetta when he retrieves his beloved's body, acts out the scenario of long weeping, arranges an honorable burial, and mournfully returns home, "piu doloroso che altro uomo" (4.4.25; "more sorrowful than any man could be" 278). King William's honor requires him to execute his grandson, and Gerbino is decapitated, creating another piece of connective tissue to the next tale, 4.5, also set in Sicily. Filomena downshifts to address the tragic love of a lower social station, and the tale that follows hers, 4.6, continues in that more modest sphere.

Decameron 4.6, 4.7, 4.8

Although the principle that "no tale is an island" governs this volume's approach to the Decameron, any single tale can nonetheless act as a microcosm of the whole book--at times as a self-conscious mise-en-abyme. (Here the parallel to the Divine Comedy is strong: we do not imagine that individual cantos are independent, yet we do plumb them deeply in the lectura dantis format, and often find some mise-en-abyme function in them when we do.) Even those inset mirror tales illuminate others, as all the tales do, through analogy and parallel as through divergence and disparity. Although Dec. 4.6 is a kind of intersection of all three of the scaffolding tales of Day Four, the tale of Tancredi and Ghismonda, the day's first fiero ragionamento, is a particularly domineering precedent. The template of 4.6 deliberately echoes 4.1: a noble daughter, a humble lover (husband), a secret liaison, a disappointed father, the death of the lover. But if the template is parallel, its details diverge; indeed, the initial similarities only highlight the divergences from the scaffolding tales and characters. In 4.6, instead of adultery, we have a secret marriage; instead of a possessive and vengeful father, a compassionate and forgiving one; instead of a defiant and punitive daughter, a contrite and affectionate one; instead of nightmares in real life, premonitions in dreams. Boccaccio explores the fiera materia of Day Four not only by the explicit horror of the scaffolding tales, but also by the unlike signs of solicitude, generosity, propriety, and honor which illuminate that horror, and these are amply on display in 4.6.

We have seen that though Boccaccio's sketches (or more properly, his narrators' sketches) of his protagonists are schematic, they are significant. The descriptors he gives of characters are always carefully chosen, and for the unhappy lovers of Day Four he chooses parallel terms, as we have seen with Lisabetta and Lorenzo. Andreuola, already identified as gentile, is described as "giovane e bella assai e senza marito" (Dec. 4.6.8; "a young and very beautiful woman who was not yet married" 283; my emph. throughout); her beloved is described as of opposite standing but similar appeal, a "uomo di bassa condizione ma di laudevoli costumi pieno e della persona bello e piacevole" (4.6.8; "a man of humble origins but endowed with many a good quality, and who was handsome and pleasant" 283). Narrator Panfilo's description of Gabriotto echoes Fiammetta's of Guiscardo, a man similarly low-born whose virtue makes him noble: "uom di nazione assai umile ma per virtU e per costumi nobile, piu che altro le piacque" (4.6.6; "a man of very humble birth but one whose virtues and noble bearing pleased her so much" 251). Young, noble, beautiful, and loved by her father, Andreuola falls in love and takes the initiative to let the lucky man know it (4.6.9). In doing so, she acts like Ghismonda and Lisabetta, but she and her beloved actually marry in secret, to keep anything but death from separating them.

Like some previous tales, this one too emphasizes the function of dreams. Panfilo's balanced discussion of dreams and their relation to reality opens Dec. 4.6. Lisabetta's dream in 4.5 made him choose this tale to tell, he says; he notes no substantial difference between her dream and those of his two lovers, Andreuola and Gabriotto, except that hers referred to the past and theirs to the future (4.6.3). Boccaccio's readers might remember a far more substantial difference, however. Lisabetta's dream was perfectly literal, mimetic, explicit: Lorenzo appears to her precisely as she would later find him, "pallido e tutto rabbuffato e co' panni tutti stracciati e fracidi indosso" (4.6.12; "pale and all unkempt, with his clothes torn and rotting on his body" 280). Her dream featured none of the mystification, elision, or substitution that moderns consider characteristic of dreams, but it did correspond to the medieval category of the visio (Marchesi 174). Its flat literalness becomes unheimlich precisely because in the dream Lorenzo tells Lisabetta what no one but her brothers knew: his death at their hands, and, even more concrete, the location of his shallow grave. The dreams in 4.6 are of quite another order. Andreuola's dream features an indeterminate black mass ("una cosa oscura e terribile, la forma della quale essa non poteva conoscere" 4.6.10); Gabriotto's features a black dog ("una veltra nera come carbone, affamata e spaventevole molto nell'apparenza" 4.6.16), which gnawed out his heart, an interesting detail linking 4.6 to 4.1 and 4.9. Both black presences stand in for his death. (47) His dream also contains the beautiful little white doe, a word which combines their names, Gabriotto and Andreuola, into cavriuola. This is how we moderns think of dreams working, not like a scene transposed from real life into the dreamer's head; and this category of medieval dream is a somnium (Marchesi 174). The dreams of Andreuola and Gabriotto are parallel, and so are the dreamers' reactions on waking--fear and the need to check--though she tends to believe in dreams and he to dismiss them (4.6.13). In his introduction Panfilo had judiciously offered that we cannot conclude that dreams are all true or all bogus, since the evidence is mixed (4.6.6).

Gabriotto penetrates the intimate space of the family garden, as Guiscardo climbs up the disused grotta to enter the intimate space of Ghismonda's bedroom. The lovers' dreams are set in the garden, which is slightly disguised in Gabriotto's version. In the garden they compare their troubling dreams, so similar and so prescient--and it is in the garden that Gabriotto suddenly dies, in a position that blends their two dreams, his head on Andreuola's breast (Dec. 4.6.20-1). (48) Andreuola calls her fante, and they weep over the dead face of Gabriotto ("miseramente insieme alquanto ebber pianto sopra il morto viso di Gabriotto" 4.6.23) as Lisabetta had wept over the head of her Lorenzo in the previous tale (4.5.17). They wrap Gabriotto in a length of fine cloth, as Lisabetta and her fante had wrapped Lorenzo's severed head. At this point the tale flirts with the comic potential of the inconvenient corpse motif, which will recur in 4.8 and (in a fully slapstick version) 4.10. What to do with him? Bury him in the garden? Leave him outside on the street? (4.6.25) Andreuola evades that comic undertow by expressing only somber and honorable reasons for leaving Gabriotto outside his family's door: so that they might mourn him; so that he not be buried clandestinely like a dog (as poor Lorenzo had been); so that she might honor their secret love (4.6.26). Here too, in her emotions and demeanor, Andreuola mirrors the heroines of the scaffolding tales: distraught and tearful like Lisabetta; determined to die but articulate and decisive, like the lady of 4.9 and Ghismonda. When Andreuola is hauled before the podesta for transporting a corpse by night, and he tries to blackmail her into giving in to his desires, she channels Ghismonda even more overtly: "[...] da sdegno accesa e divenuta fortissima, virilmente si difese, lui con villane parole e altiere ributtando indietro" (4.6.35; "Andreuola, however, who burned with indignation, her strength greatly increased, defended herself boldly, pushing him away from her with scornful, haughty words" 287). (49)

It is when Andreuola's father Messer Negro arrives that this tale departs most dramatically from its model in Dec. 4.1 and its parallels 4.5 and 4.9. Weeping, Andreuola accosts her father, already giving a strong suggestion that Messer Negro is no Tancredi:

"'[...] umilmente perdono vi domando del fallo mio [...] non perche la vita mia sia perdonata, ma per morire vostra figliuola e non vostra nimica.'"


("'I humbly beg forgiveness for my sin [...] not [...] in order to spare my life but so that I may die as your daughter and not as your enemy'")


She calls him "caro padre," addresses him as voi, and throws herself at his feet --all marks of affection and respect pointedly absent from Ghismonda's speech to Tancredi. Messer Negro is described with the same adjectives as Tancredi: "antico," "benigno," "tenero," and that, as we know, could conceivably not end well:

Tancredi, principe di Salerno, fu signore assai umano e di benigno ingegno, se egli nello amoroso sangue nella sua vecchiezza non s'avesse le mani bruttate.


(Tancredi, Prince of Salerno, was a most humane lord with a kindly spirit, except that in his old age he stained his hands with lovers' blood.)


But again the parallels mark the divergences, as Messer Negro is precisely the opposite of a Tancredi:

Messer Negro, che antico era oramai e uomo di natura benigno e amorevole, queste parole udendo comincio a piagnere, e piangendo levo la figliuola teneramente in pie.


(Messer Negro, who had a kind and loving nature and who was getting old, began to cry when he heard these words of hers, and still weeping, he raised his daughter gently to her feet.)


What a real father does, in other words--one not pushed off-balance by "scrambled desire"--Messer Negro willingly does. He comforts his daughter, rather than accusing her; he regrets that she did not have faith in him, rather than that she did not keep faith with him; he offers his son-in-law due honor rather than murder and mutilation. He states squarely that while he would have preferred that she marry someone he had approved, still, "'se tu l'avevi tal preso quale egli ti piacea, questo doveva anche a me piacere'" (Dec. 4.6.40; "'if you had chosen for yourself a man who pleased you, he would have necessarily pleased me'" 287). This assurance is a far cry from Tancredi's tearful and accusatory reaction to his daughter's choice of a lowly lover (4.1.27).

When Messer Negro weeps, it is for Andreuola's sorrow, not his own. His paternal solicitude retrospectively recasts Tancredi's possessive love (Dec. 4.1.4 and 4.1.41) in a queasy, greenish light. (50) When Messer Negro promises to honor Gabriotto in death it is a heartfelt gesture made "'per contentarti'" (4.1.41; "'for your sake'" 289), not the guilty restitution of a Tancredi responsible for the young man's death. Indeed, the love of Gabriotto's wife and father-in-law "gentles his condition," so that he

non solamente da lei e dai parenti di lui fu pianto, ma publicamente quasi da tutte le donne della citta e da assai uomini, e non a guisa di plebeio ma di signore [...] sopra gli omeri de' piu nobili cittadini con grandissimo onore fu portato alla sepultura.


(was not only mourned by her and by all his relatives, but [.] was publicly mourned by almost all the women of the town and many of the men [...] not like a commoner but more like a lord, upon the shoulders of the noblest citizens, and carried to his burial place with the greatest honor;)


In 4.1 and 4.9, the lovers are buried together with public acceptance, display, and mourning; Messer Negro's sorrow and pity give Gabriotto a similar status without the tragic double death.

The intrusive, manipulative podesta makes a last appearance, one that confirms his function in the tale. After all, at the level of plot, the story could easily function without him, or at least without his attempt to coerce Andreuola sexually (let alone to explain away that attempt as a test of her constancy; Dec. 4.6.37). In the short coda after the burial the podesta again asks Messer Negro for Andreuola as his wife (4.6.43). Hearing that she prefers to enter a convent, however, Messer Negro respects her wishes, although presumably the podesta would have been a more socially acceptable match for Andreuola than the humble man she had chosen. (51) At the level of plot, the podesta's coercive attempt allows Andreuola to demonstrate the strength and eloquence of a Ghismonda, while his proposals of marriage give Messer Negro the chance to respect his daughter's wishes a second time, confirming him yet again as an anti-Tancredi. At the level of theme, the podesta"s title, role, and actions position him as the threatening shadow of patriarchal power, externalized onto the force of the law--a shadow dissipated by Andreuola's actual father. The deadly black figures in Andreuola and Gabriotto's dreams could well have represented the patriarchal prohibition of Messer Negro, a prohibition indeed fatal to Guiscardo, Lorenzo, and Guardastagno. In the event, however, the paternal love Messer Negro demonstrates is one of altruistic care rather than selfish aggression, and the black figures are the image of a natural, unavoidable death. The women in the scaffolding tales resist or circumvent the patriarch's prerogative at their peril; Messer Negro, by virtue of a genuine benevolence and a genuinely parental solicitude, can carve out the space, first, for his daughter's choice of a husband, and second, for her choice to have no husband at all. The cloister may be a second-best solution, but the author of the Proem knew that for a woman in patriarchy second-best solutions were often the best of a bad lot.

Decameron 4.6 remains a tragedy, then, but one overtly not compounded by the imposition of patriarchal power and prerogative. The parallels and divergences in themes, structures, and lexicon make 4.6 a patch of light against the darker scaffolding tales. Those light patches will recur in Day Five, though the day problematizes the nature of its "happy endings." (52) At the end of 4.6 the primary narrator specifies that Filostrato shows no compassion for Andreuola (4.7.2), as he had shown none for Lisabetta or anyone else for that matter. If these tales are "soothing his burning with dew," as Filostrato had hoped, he is not ready to admit it.

Decameron 4.6 follows 4.1 and 4.5 by depicting a love that crosses lines of social hierarchy, and 4.7 follows 4.1 and 4.9 in concluding with two lovers buried together, this time in the brigata"s own Florence. The love of Simona and Pasquino is blocked by no prohibition and ennobled by no pedigree; it exemplifies, however, the universality and power of love, which can be desired and achieved by poor workers, and which will exalt them beyond their poor circumstances (4.7.4). The tale also echoes 4.6, in staging Pasquino's sudden and mysterious death in a garden in the arms of his beloved. Pasquino's body is marked with swelling and dark blotches that recall the symptoms of the plague, as Best points out (166): "Pasquino non solamente morto ma gia tutto enfiato e pieno d'oscure macchie per lo viso e per lo corpo divenuto" (4.6.14). The insistence on this symptom, mentioned more often than would seem necessary (4.6.15, 4.6.17, and 4.6.24), reinforces the return of what the narrators had agreed to repress. (53)

Narrator Emilia's attitude toward her lovers is ambivalent; she repeatedly describes their condition as "povero" and Pasquino's friends as coarse. Simona herself is a pitiable mess, unable to tell her story when called on to explain Pasquino's death first to his friends (Dec. 4.6.15), next to a judge (4.6.16), and a third time to the judge in the presence of Pasquino's swollen body (4.6.17). At the same time, however, when Simona dies after imitating the gesture that preceded Pasquino's death, Emilia bursts out in an epiphonemic apostrophe of heightened eloquence that ennobles the lovers even as it degrades Pasquino's vulgar friends (4.6.19-20). Without further comment on the lovers' low rank, Emilia closes her tale, which generates no comment at all from the brigata or the (presumably still burning) king Filostrato.

Of the Day Four tales of love across class boundaries, Decameron 4.8 is the only one where the woman is of lower degree, and the only one where a woman blocks the lovers for reasons of class inequality. Neifile opens her tale of Girolamo and Salvestra denouncing the arrogance and stupidity of those who try to oppose not only human opinion but nature itself, the most intransigent manifestation of which is love (4.8.3-4). She thus points back to the Introduction to Day Four as well as to the many characters in the day's tales who have tried to do just that. Neifile closes this triad of tales with one set like 4.7 in Florence, where a wealthy merchant's widow takes on the patriarch role, attempting to cure her son's love for an ineligible young woman. Girolamo's childhood affection for Salvestra matures into a love so overwhelming and mutual (4.8.6) that his mother fears he will marry the girl in secret (4.8.8), as Andreuola had done in 4.6. The unnamed mother has Girolamo sent to Paris both to forget Salvestra and to climb even higher in the social hierarchy. Her emotional propulsion is as great as his, and described in parallel terms: if he is "fieramente inamorato" (4.8.14) she is "fieramente [...] adirata" (4.8.13) at his stubborn resistance to her plan for his social advancement.

After two years in Paris, Girolamo returns more in love than ever (Dec. 4.8.14), but Salvestra has married and quite forgotten him (4.8.15). This young man's sufferings are more like those of Filostrato: his former love is now indifferent, showing little compassion for him and much more solicitude for her husband's peace of mind and her own marital harmony (4.8.19-20). When Girolamo visits Salvestra by night as she lies by her sleeping husband, she rejects him firmly if not unkindly, and he wills himself to die right there in her bed (4.8.23). The resulting dilemma of the inconvenient corpse is resolved with her husband's understanding complicity, and Girolamo is left at his own doorstep (4.8.28).

The tale could have ended there, but like Dec. 4.3 it has something more to tell about the uncontrollable and unpredictable nature of love: "'Maravigliosa cosa e a pensare quanto sieno difficili a investigare le forze d'amore!'" (4.8.32; "How astonishing it is when we consider the difficulties of analyzing the powers of love!" 296). After having treated Girolamo with rational circumspection and her husband with laudable fidelity, now that it is too late Salvestra is reignited with love for Girolamo. With a shriek and in public she dies of pain ("dolore" 4.8.32), just as Girolamo had done in silence and in seclusion (4.8.29). After having fallen out of love through separation and marriage, and back into it through Girolamo's overpowering demonstration of his own devotion, Salvestra joins him in a public burial:

Presa adunque la morta giovane e lei cosi ornata come s'acconciano i corpi morti, sopra quel medesimo letto allato al giovane la posero a giacere, e quivi lungamente pianta, in una medesima sepoltura furono sepelliti amenduni: e loro, li quali amor vivi non aveva potuti congiugnere, la morte congiunse con inseparabile compagnia.


(Once the dead girl had been taken away and dressed in the manner in which we prepare our dead, she was placed beside the young man on the same bier, and after mourning over her for a long time, the two bodies were buried in the same tomb: thus, those whom Love was unable to unite in life were joined by death in inseparable companionship;)


This ritual features the time-honored funerary customs dismantled by the plague: the preparation of the body, the mourning of women, and the public acknowledgment of the deceased's identity. It is enabled by the kindness of Salvestra's good husband, who in his honest grief tells the tale of their deaths that allows that public mourning (4.8.34). Although a humble man, he is not jealous, protective of his good name, or piqued by Salvestra's rekindled love. He is a generous counterpoise to Girolamo's mother, who is mentioned among the women mourning for Girolamo (4.8.29), but not mentioned again. The public funeral that ends this tale links it to 4.6, and its double burial to 4.1, 4.7, and 4.9.

This exquisite tale moves the brigata ladies to compassion (Dec. 4.9.2), but Filostrato, the next narrator, gives no sign that it moves him. On the contrary, his aside--"'poi che cosi degl'infortunati casi d'amore vi duole'" (4.9.3; "'since you are so moved by examples of Love's misfortunes'" 297)--verges on the sarcastic. In any case he promises to deliver a narrative more wrenching than Decameron 4.8 because of the higher social standing and crueler torments ("piu fiero accidente" 4.9.3) of the lovers. We have seen that 4.9 completes the major triad of Day Four, reprising the motifs and themes of 4.1 and 4.5: uneasy familial relations, the patriarchal prohibition on female sexual autonomy, the violation of that prohibition, extreme vengeance, graphic carnage, and cannibalism. Although Filostrato describes his deep sorrow as being caused by his lady's betrayal, of the Day Four lovers only Girolamo and Ninetta suffer precisely as Filostrato does, from lovers who do not keep faith with them. Most of the Day Four lovers, including Filostrato's own protagonists, experience a very different kind of grief connected to love than he does: not betrayal and despair, but loss, death, poverty, or exile. This condition is consistent with the real effect of Day Four in the larger trajectory of the Decameron: to reintroduce to the brigata the material they had agreed to exclude, to recover the "compassion for the afflicted" which the Proem describes as a human quality, but which had gone by the wayside in the cataclysm of the plague.

That recovery of compassion is fulfilled in the first nine stories of Day Four; the members of the brigata do, indeed, feel pity. Not only the ladies but Dioneo himself has suffered under Filostrato's regime of stories about "'le miserie degl'infelici amori'" ("'the sorrowful accounts of unhappy lovers,'" 301) that "'a me hanno gia contristati gli occhi e 'l petto, per che io sommamente disiderato ho che a capo se ne venisse'" (Dec. 4.10.3: "'have so saddened [...] my own [eyes and heart] as well [...] that I have anxiously longed for the end to come'" 301). Like Pampinea in 4.2, Dioneo deliberately sets aside Filostrato's "'dolorosa materia,'" hoping to give a good cue for the next day's topic, "piu lieta e migliore" (4.10.3). Though Dioneo is not bound by Filostrato's topic, 4.10 does, like 4.2, nod toward it. While Ruggieri's apparent death, his enclosure in the coffin-like chest, and his threatened hanging continually invoke the possibility of tragedy, the lovers reunite and reach ever greater heights of pleasure, "'il loro amore e il loro sollazzo sempre continuando di bene in meglio'" (4.10.53: "their love and their pleasure always increasing], getting better and better" 309). Dioneo echoes Filomena (3.3.55) and Fiammetta (3.6.50) in wishing for the same happy outcome for himself. This tale truly is the beginning of Day Five, which will feature happy endings for lovers after "'fieri [.] accidenti'" (4. concl. 6; 4.9.3), and it could fit easily in Day Seven as well.

Decameron 4.10 is like a collage of phrases, motifs, and events already deployed in Day Four and to be re-used later in the Decameron. (54) Dioneo whisks the brigata back to Salerno, where a great surgeon fails--like Ricciardo di Chinzica of Dec. 2.10--to keep his wife happy in bed. Full of initiative and spirit like other ladies of Day Four, "di grande animo" (4.10.6) like Ghismonda, she selects a lover who gladly agrees. Grande animo or not, she remains unnamed; her lover Ruggieri d'Ajeroli is of noble blood, but so depraved and criminal that he has alienated all his allies. If in his habits Ruggieri resembles Frate Alberto of 4.2, when he takes a sleeping potion he becomes a mostly passive victim of Fortune in this tale--left for dead in a chest, bundled about from pillar to post, put to the torture ("martorio," as in 4.3.24), charged with theft, and sentenced to be hanged. Although actually in a deep sleep, Ruggieri appears to be that inconvenient corpse that its discoverers must spirit elsewhere to avoid suspicion or shame, echoing 4.6 and 4.8. The result is a concatenation of coincidence involving many louche characters and parties.

As in Dec. 4.5 and 4.6, the lady and her maid are accomplices in transporting the beloved remains. Their brutal attempts to awaken this "corpse" both recall the gentler efforts of Andreuola, and play entertainingly against the lady's putative tenderness for Ruggieri ("amandolo sopra ogni altra cosa" 4.10.16). The maidservant is willing to take the fall for her lady, as in 7.8, and goes to considerable trouble on her behalf. Her master the doctor uses the phrase "'molto bene il pillicion ti scotesse'" (4.10.46: "'warm your wool for you'" 308), which Dioneo will repeat memorably in the last Decameron tale. Like Andreuola, the maidservant is pressured into sex by the judge (4.10.48), but unlike Andreuola she is not at all unwilling. That the maidservant and her lady are two sides of the same figure is suggested by how each one figures out half of the mystery: the lady, how Ruggieri came to seem dead; the maidservant, how he ended up in the house of the usurers. The mosaic of 4.10, in other words, seems to be made up of tiles borrowed from other tales in this day and other days, and effects the transition from the day of terrible events that end terribly for lovers, to the day dedicated to terrible events that end well for them.


This entertaining tale and its figurative language around the blackmailing judge relieve the ladies of the compassione (Dec. 4. Concl. 1) they had felt; the series of heart-rending events gave them both cause and occasion to recover the "umana cosa" ("human quality") which they had put on hold during the moratorium on any "novella altro che lieta." Filostrato too seems to have recovered his humanity, since he gives the ladies a nicely worded apology for inflicting so harsh a topic on them (4. Concl. 2). In choosing Fiammetta as the new queen best suited to "racconsolar" (4. Concl. 3) the brigata ladies, Filostrato acknowledges that his fiera materia, "la qual fa del non vero, vera rancura nascer" (Purg. 10.133-34) in his hearers, has caused real distress. That the fiera materia has not vanished from the brigata's horizon but has been reintegrated into it is clear from Fiammetta's choice of subject: "'alcuno amante, dopo alcuni fieri o sventurati accidenti, felicemente avvenisse'" (4. Concl. 5: "'lovers who, after unhappy or misfortunate happenings, attained happiness'" 309). Fiammetta's topic, unlike Filostrato's, is approved by all (4. Concl. 6).

One final note of unhappiness remains to be heard, however. Filostrato, commanded to sing now to keep his bleak mood from tainting future days, sings a lyric distillation of the sorrow he had related the previous evening. His ballata passes from lament--over love's joy disappointed, love's faith betrayed--to threnody, a dirge for his own dying self and for a heart in such affliction that death will be a release. This ballata''s lexicon is that of Day Four, harnessed to the lovesickness that generated Filostrato's topic yet featured so little in the day's tales, as demonstrated by his word choice: lagrimando, dolore, core, tradito, martiro, errore, inganno, abbandonato, danno, affanno, valore, pianto, infiammato, ardore, morte, crudele, furore, trista, amara. A sapient polyptoton places a different form of dolere in almost every stanza (dolga, dolente, dolore, doloroso, duol, dolorosa, doglia). "Esser tradito sotto fede" (Dec. 4. Concl. 11, v. 3): the refrain which opens the ballata lays out the precise nexus of weeping, the heart, pain, betrayal, and lament which motivates Filostrato, and which none of the Day Four tales, not even his own, had directly incarnated. But if he tailored his own tale to the brigata's tales, which recalled the potential for far greater tragedy when love is denied, his song gives full voice to the agony of the forsaken lover. He had hoped to receive some solace from tales of suffering, and succeeded only in inflicting suffering on his companions. In the end it was perhaps only Filostrato, after all, who could lay cooling dew on his own burning pain.

The ballata "Lagrimando dimostro" condenses the anguish of an individual; the Decameron's Introduction condenses the anguish of an entire society, a civilization even, when all certainties and structures fall. Between them stands the primary Narrator of the Proem, once burning in anguish and now recollecting that anguish in tranquility. The Decameron is an experiment in reconstruction, both within the tale of the brigata and outside it: a way to carry on after the unthinkable has happened. It is predicated on a calamity that separates now from before, that makes before both irretrievable and insufficient. To this extent Boccaccio does bid farewell to a Middle Ages long framed by modernity as its own opposite--characterized, often caricatured, as the age of faith and even credulity. But to a greater extent Boccaccio's parodic rewritings of the Middle Ages highlight what existed in the Middle Ages all along: the tendency to make mental models of "contrary things" and set them into debate characterizes the medieval period far more than do the grand homogeneous lines that have been attributed to it by our own time. (55) Dissent, heresy, anticlericalism, antifraternalism, and earnest attempts at reform were always part of the "Christian centuries"; misogyny and philogyny coexisted in the "invention of western romantic love"; (56) classical and scriptural legacies both formed the cultural patrimony of a medieval intellectual. (57) Boccaccio concludes this storytelling day as he had opened the Decameron, dissolving the either-or of inadequate explanatory models for the plague, into the both-and-many multiplicity of human reactions to and understandings of it. To the question with which I opened, then--is there a univocal message underlying the Decameron, or only an irreducible plurality of perspectives?--my answer has to be, yes.

The University of Oregon

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(1) A dynamic and nuanced reading of the gender politics of the tale of the brigata as well as of the novelle is Migiel's A Rhetoric of the Decameron, a book that continues to inform my thinking even when I diverge from its interpretations.

(2) All Italian quotations from the Decameron are from Branca's edition. I quote the 1982 edition of Musa and Bondanella's translation, using square brackets to signal where I have modified it. All Decameron citations will be included parenthetically in the text.

(3) Among many others I would mention the following analyses focusing on Day Four: Best; Fedi; Forni, "Forme complesse"; Getto; Mercuri; Sherberg (107-52).

(4) The Alibech story is nearly untraceable, so many words and phrases have been replaced with asterisks. In his marginal note Salviati says, "Si lasciano questi fragmenti per salvare piu parole, e piu modi di favellare che si puo" (197).

(5) The primary Narrator had told us that the ladies' names were pseudonyms, given to preserve their reputations (Dec. 1. Intro. 51), but the men's sobriquets were already their own within the fiction (1. Intro. 79).

(6) The novelletta delle papere has multiple sources, and it seems clear that Boccaccio is indebted primarily to Le Roman de Barlaam et Josaphat, it is also, however, almost certainly part of Boccaccio's dance with the Novellino (Psaki, "Giving Them the Bird.") On this issue Picone concludes, "[...] l'autore del Decameron dialoga esclusivamente col romanzo di Barlaam e Josaphat: all'origine della novella [...] c'e [...] una sola fonte privilegiata" ("Le papere" 178). Frosini has shown that the Ur-Novellino author probably used the Provencal version of Barlaam et Josaphat (23), and Boccaccio the Latin redactions and one Italian version, Ricc. 1422 (33).

(7) See, for example, Ramat (59), Sanguineti (143), and Virgulti (116-17).

(8) Goldin hypothesizes that Boccaccio borrows from Alda the detail of the death of the father's beloved wife, found in none of the sources.

(9) Mazzacurati refers to "la sua reazione squilibrata al dolore" (296). Barolini calls it a "narcissistic overreaction to his grief," and notes the parallel between the confined boy and the confined ladies of the Proem ("Afterword" 815).

(10) Virgulti observes that "with the Balducci tale Boccaccio intended to create a narrative parody of the charges levelled against him by his critics. Filippo's decision to abandon society and its earthly pleasures and to retire to Mount Asinaio mirrors what Boccaccio's critics would have him do: abandon his fair ladies and the worldly subject matter of his novellas, and retreat to Mount Parnassus with the Muses in order to write more worthy literature [...]. For Boccaccio, this suggestion of his critics is as meaningless and futile as the confinement of Filippo's son" (114).

(11) Picone notes that Filippo "riduce l'eterno femminino alla sua componente animalesca, mettendone in evidenza l'irrazionalita e l'insignificanza rispetto all'uomo," positing the female as something "che non si pone allo stesso livello dell'uomo, indegna pertanto di essere conosciuta" ("Le papere" 182). Ramat too observes Filippo's "degradazione animalesca della donna" (58).

(12) Tronci asks: "Che cosa manca, allora, all'apologo delle papere perche esso sia una novella intera e senza difetto?" (97).

(13) Virgulti calls the novelletta "a perfect model of the genre, flawless in its structure, characterization, and motivation" (114). Ramat agrees that in fact the novelletta is not lacking an ending (59), as does Tronci (97).

(14) "Ma avere infino a qui detto della presente novella voglio che mi basti" (Dec. 4. Intro. 30; "But let what I have recounted of this tale up to this point suffice" 247).

(15) For D'Andrea, what is lacking to make this story complete is an epilogue articulating the consequences of the narrated facts, the "ulteriore ed ovvio sviluppo erotico della vicenda" (127-28). For Sanguineti, "la novella resta interrotta perche l'autore puo portarla a termine solo realizzando fino in fondo la propria vocazione poetica con l'intero Decameron" (144).

(16) Ginsberg discussed this dynamic in a paper presented at the International Boccaccio Seminar at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, 30 April-1 May 2010.

(17) This gesture of concretizing the metaphorical or impalpable for use as a trump card in argument will recur, very importantly, in Dec. 6.1.11. On the oscillation between metaphorical and literal see Forni, "Poetics of Realization."

(18) Fedi calls them the "ossatura" of the storytelling day (51); Mercuri the "spina dorsale" (199); and Sherberg, similarly, the "backbone" (Governance 119).

(19) A very short list would include Almansi, Marcus, Forni (Forme complesse); and most emphatically Bailet. This view is not universal, of course; Getto considers Tancredi merely weak and irresolute (108 and passim).

(20) Mercuri refers to these relations as parodic reprises, and links the day's multiplicity of social settings and genres to its establishment of the natural law of love as a universal which cuts across all human distinctions.

(21) While Cottino-Jones's assignments of value (what is chiaro and what is scuro) may perplex, her insights into the effects of darker and lighter tales of Day Four are acute, and her analysis of Dec. 4.9 is minute and revealing.

(22) Bailet (92-94); Almansi (141-42); Marcus 59. By contrast, Getto reads the passage as vital in the tale but without any sexual overtones (103-05).

(23) She could be a poster-child for the claim made by Pampinea and Filomena that in women brief speech is most efficacious, a claim dramatized in many effective battute by Decameron women (e.g., in 1.5, 6.1, 6.3, 6.7).

(24) Il Testo moltiplicato, edited by Mario Lavagetto, offers five readings of this novella from different theoretical perspectives. Although I have benefited from all five, in what follows I am particularly indebted to the analyses of Serpieri and Segre.

(25) Serpieri refers to this as a "vistosa reticenza" (61-62); Grossi calls Fiammetta's an "ammiccante reticenza" (152). Musa and Bondanella's translation, describing Lisabetta as "a very beautiful and accomplished young girl, who for some reason had not yet married" (279), does not convey either the brothers' failure to marry Lisabetta, or the heightened emphasis on the mystery of the cause; "whatever the reason was" would be closer to "che che se ne fosse cagione."

(26) In Grossi's interpretation, by contrast, Boccaccio has Filomena sympathize very much more with the brothers' economic motivations and concerns than with Lisabetta's, and strenuously avoid creating sympathy for her (152, 154-57).

(27) Serpieri calls this "una mutilazione paradossalmente riparativa" (67).

(28) E.g., Cottino-Jones (69-70); Baratto (327-28); and Doueihi (49-50).

(29) Branca and Vitale (89). As Branca notes, the earlier redaction, though not attested in an autograph, is "un testo giovanile garantito verosimilmente dall'autore stesso" ("Prime proposte" 67).

(30) The first redaction reading is retained in some prominent manuscript witnesses: Oxford Bodleian Holkham misc. 49 ("Et percio che luno et laltro era produomo molto nelarme samavano assai" f.74v); London BL Add 10297 ("Epercio che luno elaltro era prodehuomo molto nelarme samavano insieme asai. Eicostumi aveano dandare insieme [...]" ff.76v-77r); and Laurence de Premierfait's French translation in Bodleian MS Douce 213 ("Les deux chevaliers sentramoient par ce que chascun d'eulx estoit fort et preux en armes Ilz avoient de coustume de porter robbes et devises pareilles quant ensemble aloient aux joustes tournois et autres fais darmes" f.111r).

(31) On the grounds that in the P redaction of the razos, the husband and his rival become close friends, providing the affective bond between the two that is missing in the other versions of the tale, Forni argues that Boccaccio used P as a major source (Forme complesse 89-96).

(32) In manuscripts H and R of the vidas, in fact, she is also unnamed.

(33) I disagree with Neuschafer and Di Maio, both of whom suggest that Boccaccio was more generous to Rossiglione, and more harsh to Guardastagno; they emphasize the shadings of characterization whereby the two lovers become more guilty than in the vidas, and the husband less so.

(34) This phrasing is strongly parallel to Ninetta's revulsion of feeling in Dec. 4.3, "rivoltato l'amore il quale a Restagnon portava in acerbo odio" (4.3.22), and the name Restagnone is a curious conflation of the names of the two knights of Dec. 4.9.

(35) For Fedi, Rossiglione "appare legato da un affetto piu che amichevole" to Guardastagno (51).

(36) The love between the two knights need not correspond to an unequivocal homosexual relation in the modern sense; it is in any case a friendship of heightened emotional intensity leading to or bordering on heightened emotional identity. On the nexus of indeterminacy and knightly friendship, seen through the lens of Foucault, see Mancini (esp. 207-10).

(37) The quip does not occur in this form in the Occitan and French sources (the vidas and razos, the Roman du Castelain de Couci, or the Lai d'Ignaure). Boccaccio takes it from Novellino 33 (LXII) and improves it by reversing its sequence from vivo ... morto to morto ... vivo: "Cio non e maraviglia, che Domenico vi piacea vivo, e ora v'e piaciuto morto!" (211).

(38) The overlap of images and meanings here resonates in other tales as well. Cardini reads Federigo degli Alberighi's prize falcon, eaten in a dish, as the figurative uccello of the lover (102), reprising and correcting the same image and function in Dec. 4.9 (95). Sacrificing his falcon, which represents his last shred of virility and autonomy, paradoxically establishes Federigo's manhood for his lady. Cardini reads the falcon as in fact polyvalent (105), "quale metafora dell'amante, dell'amata, dello stesso organo sessuale maschile o femminile, dell'amore o dell'atto d'amore" (96). Serpieri also notes the overdetermined nature of Lorenzo's head in the pot of basil: "testa, figlio, fallo" (67).

(39) For Mercuri, the three tales, Dec. 4.2-3-4, set love in relation to the social, and Dec. 4.6-7-8 set love in relation to mystery (204-05). Fedi notes that Dec. 2-3-4 and Dec. 6-7-8 are the novelle without narratorial commentary at the beginning (50).

(40) "[...] piu disposta a dover alquanto recrear loro che a dovere, fuori che del comandamento solo, il re contentare, a dir una novella, senza uscir del proposto, a ridere si dispose" (Dec. 4.2.4; "more inclined to entertain the group rather than to please the king [...] and so she decided, without straying from his theme, to tell a humorous story" 259).

(41) "Il senso del tragico," especially 13-36.

(42) Very surprisingly, Getto calls Dec. 4.3 the weakest tale in the whole Decameron, essentially a waste of space (122).

(43) The phrasing is similar not only to Dec. 8.1.8 and 8.7.40, but also to 4.9.8: "[...] forte ne sdegno, in tanto che il grande amore che al Guardastagno portava in mortale odio converti" ("[...] the great love he bore for Guardastagno was transformed into mortal hatred" 298).

(44) Branca notes that the epithet "bel Gerbino" in Dec. 4.4.14 and below is probably intended "con il particolare valore insieme fisico e morale (quasi valente, prode) con cui si usava spesso dinanzi ai nomi di eroi, di cavalieri" (4.4.14n12, 520-21).

(45) "[...] ora si parrebbe se cosi valente uomo come si diceva e se cotanto l'amasse quanto piu volte significato l'avea" (4.4.14; "now it would become clear whether he was as courageous a man as people said he was, and whether he loved her as much as he had so often declared he did" 276).

(46) With this promise Gerbino differentiates himself from Restagnone, whose offer to help his two companions abduct their beloveds was contingent on each of them giving up half his wealth.

(47) Best discusses "the inevitable textual reappearance of repressed content" (158) in Day Four: "The references to the plague in the tales of the Fourth Day follow the dream-work model of repression and translation. Although the plague is not 'named' until Day VI, just as a dream tends to represent repressed material through veiled, visual references, the plague appears in Day IV through the visual signs associated with it: death, decomposition, the color black, and [...] swelling and black marks" (166).

(48) In Andreuola's dream she held Gabriotto in her arms as he died; in his dream he held the cavriuola on his breast.

(49) Similar, albeit successful, attempts at sexual coercion occurs in 4.3 and 4.10 as well.

(50) In Dec. 5.4, Messer Lizio da Valbona's love for his daughter, also healthier and more equable love, offers another retrospective critique of Tancredi--though his motivation is colored by his explicit calculation that Caterina's snared nightingale constitutes an advantageous alliance for his family.

(51) Messer Negro will be countered in Dec. 5.9 by Monna Giovanna's domineering brothers who insist that she remarry, despite her strong reluctance.

(52) Fleming points out that in Dec. 5.8 and 5.9 the endings are happy only for the men.

(53) Jones notes how the semantic minimal pair botta and botte work, not unlike testo and testa in Dec. 4.5 (150). The fluidity of these minimal pairs, where each word invokes the other and shape shifts into the other, is consistent with the disguised fashion in which repressed material surfaces.

(54) Getto calls Dec. 4.10 "una vera e propria monellesca parodia delle precedenti novelle" (122); Branca notes its "tessitura tratta dalle novelle precedenti e caricaturata in armonia all'ambiente grossolano ed equivoco" (4.10n5).

(55) See for example the books by Catherine Brown, Contrary Things: Exegesis, Dialectic, and the Poetics of Didacticism (1998) and Michelle Bolduc, The Medieval Poetics of Contraries (2006).

(56) The reference is to R. Howard Bloch, Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love (1991).

(57) A particularly eloquent and erudite exposition of this widely acknowledged dynamic is Veglia's La vita lieta: una lettura del Decameron (2000).
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Author:Psaki, F. Regina
Publication:Annali d'Italianistica
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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