(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Wandering the streets late at night with Arrigo and Lucio, the Duke of Milan discussed various affairs of state and talked about his personal life. That day he had been presented with the head of an umbrana, a rare and delicious fish, and he had ordered it sent to Gondarino. More important, he confessed his love for Oriana, a maiden whom he had seen but never spoken with.

Although the Duke’s passion was still a closely guarded secret, the news of the umbrana’s head had spread abroad. It was of particular concern to Lazarillo, a courtier whose consuming passion was food. Every day Lazarillo’s boy scoured the court for information concerning novel dishes to be served at the various tables, and Lazarillo exercised his wits to secure an invitation to share the most appetizing. When Lazarillo learned that umbrana was available, he was beside himself; unfortunately, however, he did not know that the Duke had already given away the fish’s head.

Valore, meanwhile, was doing everything in his power to persuade his sister Oriana not to present herself at court. Because she was only fifteen and had no experience in the world, Valore feared that the temptations of the court would override her good judgment. But Oriana was determined, and, after hearing her brother’s warnings, she set out. Valore, left at loose ends, was glad to see Lazarillo approaching because he could count on being amused by the glutton’s foibles.

Lazarillo quickly declined Valore’s invitation to dine—he was after bigger game. His real business was to ask Valore to present him that morning to the Duke, from whom he hoped to extract in some manner an invitation to dinner. Valore was quite willing to make the presentation, but in order to increase the sport he ordered a professional intelligencer who happened to be at hand to shadow Lazarillo and to report any of his treasonable utterances to Lucio. While Valore was giving the spy these secret instructions, Lazarillo’s boy learned that the fish’s head was now to be found at Gondarino’s house. Agreeing to meet Valore there later, Lazarillo hurried off in pursuit of a dinner invitation.

But Gondarino, having no use for the delicacy, had sent it off to his mercer, to whom he owed money, as a mollification. Gondarino, like Lazarillo, was ruled by one consuming passion, in his case a complete aversion to women. He was horrified, therefore, when a sudden hailstorm caused Oriana to take refuge in his house. He cursed her, reviled her, insulted her, not realizing that Oriana, who knew his reputation as a woman hater, had sought out his house deliberately in order to plague him. She answered his violence only with pleasantries. Oriana was not the only one who had been caught outdoors in the hailstorm, however; before long the Duke, Arrigo, and Lucio also made their way to Gondarino’s house. Gondarino immediately petitioned to have Oriana removed, but the Duke, startled to find Oriana present, began to suspect that she had visited Gondarino for no virtuous purpose and that his host’s bluster was feigned in an attempt to conceal a clandestine love affair. After a prolonged consultation with Arrigo and Lucio, the Duke decided to reserve judgment.

Meanwhile, Valore and Lazarillo also appeared, Lazarillo having sent his boy into the kitchens to inquire after the umbrana’s head. Valore presented Lazarillo to the Duke, who received him cordially and even did him the honor of inviting him to dinner. Lazarillo declined, not wishing to be separated from the delicacy he had his heart set upon. Soon after the Duke’s departure, however, Lazarillo was informed that the head was again missing. Once more he set out to track it down, Valore going with him. Oriana remained...

(The entire section is 1530 words.)