Decameron: Renaissance and Late Middle Ages

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s) : 277
  • Published : June 16, 2005
Open Document
Text Preview
Giovanni Boccaccio's the Decameron, written in the Early Renaissance, is a sharp social commentary that reflected the ideas and themes of the Renaissance and of Renaissance Humanism. His tales of nuns and priests caught in compromising situations, corrupt clergy selling chances to see religious artifacts, and of wives cheating on their husbands show the changing ideals of the time and the corruption that was running rampant within the church and in the lives of the general populace. The Decameron speaks against this corruption and reflects the secular attitude of living as happily as possible, demoting the principals of Christian morality that had ruled daily life in the time before the Renaissance. Another concept that sprung from the Renaissance was capitalism, an aspect that Boccaccio explores. The capitalism of the Renaissance, corruption of the Church clergy and the ideas of humanism are reflected in the Decameron. Boccaccios Decameron reflects Renaissance capitalism and the new attitude of people towards sin and making money. Prior to the Renaissance, it was considered a sin to charge interest on borrowed money. There were very few Christian bankers in the early Middle Ages, and it was not until the late Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance that it became acceptable to start charging interest. As a result, capitalism was able to reach new height in the Renaissance. Despite the changing attitude of those seeking to get rich, usury was still considered a sin. The attitude of the people towards sin began to change, and the Renaissance was characterized by these changing morals. Sin became more acceptable when the benefit of sinning was becoming rich. Capitalism led to materialism, which corrupted the clergy as well as the laity. In the Middle Ages, social classes were very structured, and there was little room for social movement. Yet in the Renaissance, it was not uncommon for people to gain social status, because they could make money. There was a class of popolo grosso, or new rich. Capitalism allowed people who had very little to gain material wealth. The woman in the 10th day 10th story, a peasant is able to move up in social status, by marrying a richer man. It was very possible that this could happen during that time. This social mobility also brought with it a sense of greed and materialism, even within the clergy. In the 6th day, 10th story, Boccaccio tells of Brother Cipolla, a monk who convinces peasants to give him money to see a false relic, a feather from the wing of the angel Gabriel. When the relic is replaced with a piece of coal, the monk is still able to manipulate the peasants into giving him their money, persuading them in the heat of the moment that the charcoal is some other precious religious relic. "In this manner, and with great profit for himself, Brother Cipolla turned the entire population…into crusaders…he happened to rake in for himself all during the following year no less the charcoal had that day"(478).

The spirit of greed that characterized the time period drove even a monk to manipulate his parishioners for personal profit. In the 1st day 2nd story tale of the Jew who goes to Rome and observes how the clergy were acting, the Jew finds that "The more closely he observed them, the more he saw that they were all just avaricious and greedy for money and that they were just as likely to buy and sell human (even Christian) blood as they were to sell religious objects pertaining to the sacraments...and in these commercial ventures they carried on more trade and had more brokers than there were engaged in any other business in Paris"(41).

The attitude of the clergy was worse than that of the laity, as the clergy would have had a clear idea that their greed for profit was a sin. The Decameron clearly reflects the greed and materialism that Renaissance capitalism brought, and new attitude of the people who were no longer as concerned with sinning.

tracking img