It is difficult to come to an exact definition of the Renaissance novella (pluralnovelle) because of the rapid development of prose fiction in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. The novella is defined as a short, prose narrative, usually realistic and often satiric in tone. Novella is an Italian word deriving from the feminine form of the word for “new.” The quality of newness in the novella is, perhaps, best associated with the subject matter of the storiesnovelle are based on current local events—with a viewpoint that ranges from amorous to humorous and satirical to political or moral. The characters in a novella are placed in a realistic setting, complete with the rhythms of everyday life and conversation. In counterpoint to medieval romances that present an idealized world peopled with noble characters in grand adventures, novelle narrate common incidents in the lives of ordinary townspeople. These incidents become uncommon as they are flavored with exaggeration and caricature, sometimes stretching the limits of the imagination.
Scholars generally agree that the genre of the novella originated in thirteenth century Italy as a brief, well-structured prose narrative. The genre includes stories of action, experience, brief anecdotes, and accounts of clever sayings with plots of amorous intrigue, clerical corruption, and clever tricks. Novelle were often gathered together in collections, using a frame tale to unify the stories with a common theme. While the teller of a novella may claim a moral intention for the story, the underlying purpose of the Renaissance novella is to entertain. The moral intent claimed by some authors or narrators of Renaissance novelle is most often connected to the frame that encloses the collection of novelle.