Discussion Topic

Themes in The Decameron

Summary:

The major themes in The Decameron include love, intelligence, and fortune. The tales explore various facets of love, from romantic to lustful, and highlight human cleverness and wit in overcoming challenges. Additionally, the stories often emphasize the role of fortune and fate in shaping human experiences and outcomes.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme of Day Three in the Decameron?

The theme of day three of the Decameron is erotic desire in various illicit forms. As a backdrop, the stories on this day pick up after a two-day hiatus, during which the group arrives at an estate, rests, and, on Saturday, bathes. The setting provides a perfect backdrop for the erotic, as it filled with sweetly singing birds, fountains, and gardens. Ironically, however, day three is a Sunday—and the day begins with a story of lusty nuns who manage to get their needs satisfied despite their vows of chastity.

In going over these stories, a chief thought that comes to mind is that forbidden fruit is the most desirable. A handsome young man is not satisfied with the girls he can get, but wants to work at a convent, where he can have access to those who are most forbidden to him. A good-looking groom goes to lengths—and takes risks—to sleep with a married queen. A dissatisfied wife, who doesn't think her rich tradesman husband is good enough for her, communicates through her friar to find a lover. And so it goes.

A second thought that occurs is that not much has changed today: we tend to want what we are not supposed to have. Eros and desire are closely connected. We have the strongest erotic wish for what appears out of reach.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme of Day Three in the Decameron?

The main theme of Day Three is the power of lust and its ability to supersede the moral nature. Most of the ten stories deal with human sexuality in some form or other; they highlight the fact that both clergy and commoner alike are susceptible to the dictates of lust. One gets the idea that Boccaccio is satirizing the counterfeit righteousness displayed by Roman Catholic clergy, the merchant classes, and the working classes in everyday life.

For example, in the first story, Masetto pretends to be mute and becomes a gigolo of sorts to a gaggle of nuns and their Abbess. All the women enjoy their nightly trysts with him, and the Abbess eventually makes Masetto the bailiff, retaining his sexual services for a lifetime. In this story, the entire female religious order collaborates to fulfill the dictates of their lusts. 

Another story (the sixth story of Day Three) relates how one man satisfies his lust for a beautiful woman by resorting to trickery. Accordingly, Ricciardo (himself a married man) falls in love with Catella. He wants to bed Catella, but the woman is so infatuated with her husband (Filippello) that she refuses to sleep with him. Ricciardo then resorts to trickery; he informs Catella that her husband is having an affair with his (Ricciardo's) wife. Then, the wily trickster suggests that Filippello intends to take his pleasure with his (Ricciardo's) wife at a bagnio (or brothel). Catella falls for the ruse and ends up sleeping with Ricciardo instead (who she thinks is her husband, Filippello). When she discovers her mistake, Catella is furious. However, Ricciardo calms her down with his sweet words and gentle ways. In the end, Catella decides to continue her extramarital relationship with Ricciardo, "having thus learned how much more savoury were the lover's kisses than those of the husband..."

Yet another story on the third day testifies to the power of lust and its ability to corrupt a once impeccable character. In the tenth story, Alibech is an innocent girl who wishes to know how she can fulfill the dictates of the Christian faith. So, she decides to search for a religious mentor, and in her travels, comes across Rustico, a religious hermit. For his part, Rustico is sexually aroused by the nubile young girl. So he sets out to trick her into losing her virginity by using spiritual language to describe the sexual act as a transformative exorcism of sorts. He calls it "putting the devil (back) in Hell." This story is said to be one of the most bawdy stories in the Decameron. One thing is for sure: It reinforces the power of lust and how even respected figures can fall prey to its power.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme of the first day in The Decameron?

The theme of the first day is the ecclesiastical corruption within the Roman Catholic church and the necessity of turning away from one's sins. Alternatively, one can also say that the theme of the first day is the need to overcome one's moral failings.

The small group enjoys the telling of ten stories on the first day. The first story by Panfilo centers on the corrupt Ciappelletto, who is able to trick a gullible friar into believing that he has lived an exemplary life. On his deathbed, Ciappelleto's inventive tales about his devout life earns him extreme unction, a last rite given only to faithful believers. In this story, Boccaccio satirizes the limitations of a deathbed confession and the arbitrary process of canonization.

The corruption of Church leadership is also the focus of much of the second story. Abraham, a Jew, converts to Christianity after witnessing the depravity of the ecclesiastical order in Rome. Although his actions seem ironic on the surface, he gives a good reason for his decision: despite the clergy's hedonistic lifestyle, the Christian faith continues to flourish. Abraham concludes that the religion must be sustained by God himself and is thus worthy of his loyalty.

The third story is an indirect critique of Catholic doctrine. It proposes that true religion is not limited to any one faith. When Melchizedek, the Jewish money lender, is questioned by Saladin, he proclaims that, just as the loving father cannot decide which of his three sons to bequeath his priceless ring to, neither the Jew, Christian, or Saracen may lay claim to being the only true faith.

In the fourth tale, we are given yet another example of ecclesiastical corruption. As the story goes, an abbot thinks to severely punish a monk for fulfilling his carnal desires with a nubile village girl. However, the wily monk catches the abbot in the same guilty act. He then proceeds to blackmail his superior, and both continue to take turns enjoying sexual pleasure at the expense of the young girl. 

In the fifth tale, we learn how the Marchioness Of Monferrato manages to repel the advances of the King of France. This story highlights the grace and character of a virtuous woman.

The sixth tale gives us yet another example of corruption within the Church. In this story, a friar who works as a religious inquisitor blackmails a wealthy man into parting with his money. He charges the man with being "overheated with wine or excess of mirth" and convinces him to pay up for the sake of his salvation. In the end, the wealthy man has the last laugh: he embarrasses the friar by his clever use of a scriptural verse and manages to free himself from the friar's avaricious grasp.

The seventh and eighth tales also address the sin of avarice or greed. In the seventh tale, Messer Cane della Scala is the Lord of Verona. One day, he decides to hire some entertainers for a performance but neglects to pay them adequately. Bergamino, one of the entertainers, decides to stay behind in the hopes of receiving some compensation for his efforts. Eventually, Bergamino gains an audience with della Scala and by a clever story, is able to get the nobleman to loosen his purse strings. In the eighth tale, Guglielmo is able to convince Messer Ermino de' Grimaldi to change his miserly ways. Both stories reinforce the necessity of forsaking one's sins and making amends for previous infractions.

In the ninth tale, a gentlewoman of Gascony manages to persuade the King of Cyprus to take action on her behalf. After being assaulted by a gang of never-do-wells, she takes her case to the king. However, she is warned that the king is so cowardly that she would never receive justice for her suffering. Undeterred, she approaches the king and censures him gently for his lack of courage. Embarrassed by her words, the king not only avenges the lady, but he also becomes a "very rigorous prosecutor of all who committed aught against the honour of his crown." This tale highlights the nature of cowardice, which some experts maintain is one component of the sin of sloth.

The tenth and last tale of the first day highlights the need to guard against presumption. Master Alberto manages to shame Malgherida for basing her judgment of him on her preconceived notions about older men. In all, the need to overcome one's moral failings, whether one is a member of the clergy or an average citizen, is the theme of the first day.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Decameron, what is the overall theme of day four?

The overall theme of Day Four, under Filostrato, is love stories with unhappy endings. The idea is that love often results in death and sorrow. Before these stories begin, Boccaccio defends his stories, including his inclusion of women in the stories, stating: "Others, making a show of wishing to speak more maturely, have said that it sorteth ill with mine age henceforth to follow after things of this kind, to wit, to discourse of women or to study to please them." In other words, people have criticized Boccaccio for telling stories about women at his advanced age. He tells the tale of Filippo Balducci, whose son does not meet women until age 18 and then becomes obsessed with the opposite gender. This leads Boccaccio to conclude that "nature was stronger than his wit." In other words, nothing can prevent men from loving women. 

One of the most famous stories in The Decameron is Lisabetta's story, the fifth tale on day four. In this tale, Lisabetta's brothers kill her lover, Lorenzo. The slain lover then appears to Lisabetta in a dream dressed in rotting clothing and tells her where he is buried. She disinters him and cuts off his head and wraps it in a cloth and then buries it. She plants basil in a pot over her lover's head, and she weeps over it every day. Her brothers remove the pot from her, and she dies as a result. According to experts (see the link below), the references to the decomposition of Lorenzo's body are an allusion to the plague surrounding Florence at the time. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the main theme of The Decameron?

The Decameron was written by Giovanni Boccaccio, an Italian writer who lived from 1313-1375. It is the story of seven young women and three men who flee the city to go to the countryside to escape the deadly effects of the Black Plague, which was tearing through Italy at that time. While in the country, the ten people decide to tell stories to distract themselves from the horrors of the plague--each person tells ten stories, which equals 100 stories and is how the book came to be called the Decameron (deca meaning 10). The stories range from the funny to the raunchy to the ridiculous. Their purpose was to entertain the ten young people while they were there, but they also gave insight to what it as like to live during that time and what people found to be humorous.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on