Pietro Aretino won his reputation as “the Scourge of Princes” with his sharp, scurrilous attacks on the important men of his time; he is best known as a writer for his vigorous, witty, often obscene plays and dialogues that show him as a realist and something of an ironist. He was deeply conscious of the moral corruption of his age, but he was for the most part content to portray it vividly without endeavoring to reform it.
The Discourses (Ragionamenti) is based on an underlying premise that sex is the overriding concern of all human beings. Aretino treats the subject with great humor and gusto. He is a gifted storyteller and an acute observer of the mores of society, skillful at painting every detail of a lavish banquet or a lady’s costume.
In this work Aretino has linked together a succession of tales, beast fables, and anecdotes with a narrative framework, using a pattern successfully employed by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio in The Decameron; the tone of his work is close to that of Chaucer’s fabliaux, the tales of the miller, the reeve, the friar, and others of the bawdier pilgrims. Each of the two parts of Aretino’s Discourses consists of three days’ conversation. In Part I, Nanna takes up successively the life of the nun, the wife, and the courtesan. Part II deals with rules for the successful prostitute, the “Betrayals of Men,” and the “art” of the procuress....
(The entire section is 1389 words.)
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