Boccaccio's Decameron

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Boccaccio was an Italian author and poet, an important Renaissance humanist in his own right and author of a number of notable works including On Famous Women, the Decameron and his poems in the vernacular. Boccaccio grew up in Florence, but it was in Naples that Boccaccio began what he considered his true vocation, poetry. Works produced in this period include Filostrato, a later source for Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, Filocolo a prose version of an existing French romance, and La caccia di Diana a poem in octave rhyme listing Neapolitan women. Boccaccio returned to Florence in early 1341, avoiding the plague in that city of 1340. Although discontented with his return to Florence, Boccaccio continued to work, producing Comedia delle ninfe fiorentine, also known as Ameto, a mix of prose and poems in 1341, completing the fifty canto allegorical poem Amorosa visione in 1342, Fiammetta in 1343. In Florence the overthrow of Walter of Brienne brought about the government popolo minuto. The overthrow diminished the power of the nobility and the wealthier merchant classes and assisted in the relative decline of Florence. Further damage occurred in the city in 1348 due to the Black Death, later used in the Decameron, which killed an estimate of three-quarters of the city's population. During the plague Boccaccio spent a significant amount of time in Ravenna, seeking new support, and despite his claims it is not certain he was actually present in plague-ravaged Florence. Boccaccio suffered personal losses during the plague, his stepmother died during the epidemic. Boccaccio's characters are notable for their era in that they are realistic, spirited and clever individuals who are grounded in reality in contradiction to the characters of his contemporaries, who were more concerned with the medieval virtues of Chivalry, Piety and Humility.

The work was largely complete by 1352, becoming Boccaccio's final effort in literature. Boccaccio revised and rewrote the Decameron in 1370-71. This manuscript has survived to the present day. Boccaccio began work on the Decameron around 1349. The Decameron is a collection of 100 novellas; a medieval allegorical work known for its bawdy tales of love, appearing in all its possibilities from the erotic to the tragic. Other topics such as wit and witticism, practical jokes and worldly initiation also form part of the mosaic. Beyond its entertainment and literary popularity it remains an important historical document of life in the 14th century.

Decameron is structured in a frame narrative, or frame tale. Boccaccio begins with a description of the Bubonic Plague specifically the epidemic which hit Florence in 1348 and leads into an introduction of a group of seven young women and three young men who flee from plague-ridden Florence to a villa in the countryside of Fiesole for two weeks. To pass the time, each member of the party tells one story for each one of the nights spent at the villa. Although 14 days pass, two days are set aside; one to do chores and another holy day where no activity must take place. In this manner, 100 stories are told by the end of the ten days. Each of the ten characters is charged as King or Queen of the company for one of the ten days in turn. This charge extends to choosing the theme of the stories for that day, and all but two days have topics assigned: examples of the power of fortune; examples of the power of human will; love tales that end tragically; love tales that end happily; clever replies that save the speaker; tricks that women play on men; tricks that men play on women; examples of virtue. Only Dioneo, who tells the tenth tale each day, has the right to tell a tale on any topic he wishes, due to his wit. Each day also includes a short introduction and conclusion to continue the frame of the tales by describing other daily activities besides story-telling. These frame tale interludes frequently include transcriptions of Italian folk songs....
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