Discuss the art of storytelling from the perspective of Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron, specifically his "Day 1 story 1" excerpt. How does the story begin, develop, and end to draw the attention of...

Discuss the art of storytelling from the perspective of Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron, specifically his "Day 1 story 1" excerpt. How does the story begin, develop, and end to draw the attention of the audience?

Expert Answers
teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Boccaccio displays the art of storytelling impeccably in The Decameron; written primarily for the female reader of his time, his stories aim to provide necessary diversion for those members of his audience who pine away 'within the narrow confines of their bedchambers.'

The setting for the stories center on Italian life during the Black Plague of 1348. Boccaccio lays the framework for his stories by delineating the adventures of seven young women and three young men who flee plague-ridden Florence for a villa on the outskirts of the city. There, the group plan to wait out the duration of the disease while telling stories and engaging in favorite pastimes.

So, Boccaccio sets up his story skilfully by:

1)Noting the climate of fear the Plague occasioned during its time (he does this in the introduction before the first story on Day 1); his audience is sure to understand and appreciate a reality they will have experienced to some degree.

2)Giving voice to the superstitious beliefs of his readers. Is the plague a judgment sent from God?

3)Starting out the story on Day 1 with a very male and very licentious character. Portraying a man in a patriarchal society in such poor light is a sly stroke of genius, sure to ignite the interest of female readers who are probably more prone to hearing about the moral failings of women.

In other words, Boccaccio knows his audience. Being a successful story teller hinges on this knowledge. So, Boccaccio spends a whole page regaling his readers about 'what sort of a man' our protagonist, Ciappelletto is. He builds interest by portraying a well-rounded character his female readers can invest their emotions in. In all, Ciappelletto appears to be the worst sort of scoundrel a decent woman can encounter in 14th Century Italy. Hence, the charm of it all.

What's more, Ciappelletto is engaged in a mission of the utmost secrecy and violence on behalf of one Musciatto. While on this mission, Ciappelletto falls ill in the home of two Florentine brothers he is lodging with. The brothers are equal parts despairing and incensed when they find out that the unscrupulous Ciappelletto is close to death. They can't throw the rogue out without inviting a reputation for indecency and they know that no self-respecting priest would move to absolve Ciappelletto of his myriad sins. Furthermore, a decent church would more than likely reject the body for burial on their sacred grounds. The brothers reason that Ciappelletto's body would then be thrown into a ditch somewhere, and everyone would blame them for a vulgar display of manners. Either way, few attractive options remain open to the brothers.

At this point, Boccaccio has our interest piqued. What's going to happen to Ciappelletto? Can a man who has lived such an evil life obtain grace in his last moments? Boccaccio answers this question by having his protagonist engage in one last, despicable act of deception. In order to obtain the sacrament of last rites and a proper burial, Ciappelletto weaves a tangled web of tall tales to deceive the gullible friar the Florentine brothers have engaged for their guest's final purpose.

Ciappelleto does such a great job convincing the hapless, old priest of his moral supremacy that the priest (on behalf of the church) consents to accept his body for burial after death. The irony will not be lost on Boccaccio's female audience when they read of how the friar

...preached a sermon about him (Ciappelletto) and his life, coming out with the most wonderful facts about his fasts, his virginity, his simple innocence and holiness...

Whether one becomes indignant or merely amused at hearing about Ciappelletto's false 'integrity and purity,' the response will almost surely be a visceral one. That's how good story-tellers hold the attention of their audience.

In the end, Ciappelletto becomes known as a great saint, who penitents can invoke to come to their aid in time of need.

Many are the miracles, it is said, that God has performed through him and continues to perform for those who devoutly commend themselves to him.

Like a good story-teller, Boccaccio does not leave his readers in doubt about one thing:

...we should recognize the immensity of God's goodness towards us for, regardless of our error, He looks only at the purity of our faith and hears our prayer even when we choose one of His enemies for mediator, mistaking him for a friend of God...

Here, Boccaccio affirms the faith of his readers; he shows respect for the prevailing customs and beliefs of his time. In this, he skilfully joins the ranks of the best story-tellers in the lexicon of world literature.