Squandering his wealth in an attempt to gain the affection of a beautiful woman, Federigo degli Alberighi is left with only a small farm and a magnificent falcon. Federigo loves Monna Giovanna, a young woman of nobility who is already married and has a son. After her wealthy husband dies, Monna and her son travel to their country estate near the farm where Federigo lives. The boy becomes friends with him and covets the prized falcon.
Soon the boy is sick. He has one request: "Mother, if you can arrange for me to have Federigo's falcon, I think I would get well quickly." (p. 427) Monna is well aware of Federigo's love for her, but she also realizes how attached the man is to the falcon. Monna makes an unannounced visit to Federigo's farm. Before she declares the purpose of her call, he decides to honor Monna with a meal.
Unfortunately, Federigo has nothing to serve her. He catches a glimpse of his falcon on its perch. He breaks its neck and has it roasted on a spit. Monna eats the bird unaware that it is the animal she has come to request for her son. After dining, she asks Federigo for his falcon. All he can do is weep. He then reveals that he sacrificed the creature to provide a meal worthy of Monna. A few days later, her son dies. After a period of sorrow and resentment, she marries Federigo.
Here is a story where two people die and a remarkable animal is sacrificed yet somehow misfortune still culminates in happiness. Students are nearly unanimous in their fondness for this ironic tale even though their sympathies are frequently divided between Federigo, Monna, and especially the falcon. It is, after all, the bird that links Federigo, Monna, and the dying boy. It is the death of the falcon that ultimately catalyzes their futures.
The story illustrates many varieties of love--courtly, maternal, marital, and even human affection for a pet--and highlights the lengths an individual will go in the pursuit of love. How do we