Literature Study GuidesThe DecameronFourth Day Fifth Story Summary

The Decameron | Study Guide

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron | Fourth Day, Fifth Story | Summary

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Summary

Filomena tells a story about Lisabetta and Lorenzo, two young people in love. Lorenzo is a man of lower social standing than Lisabetta, and works for her brothers. One day Lisabetta's eldest brother catches her going into Lorenzo's bedroom. He tells his brothers, and they devise a plan to get Lorenzo out of the city where they murder him and bury his body. When they return, they tell Lisabetta they sent him away on business.

Lorenzo appears to Lisabetta in a dream and tells her what happened to him, and tells her the spot where he is buried. She goes to the place with a serving woman who knew of their relationship, and finds the grave. Lisabetta digs up the body, cuts off the head, and reburies the body. She returns home with the head.

After crying over Lorenzo's head, she plants it in a pot with the finest basil and waters it with her tears. The care she lavishes on the plant causes it to grow lush and full. But her brothers notice her fading beauty and her strange behavior, and they take the pot from her room. She begins to waste away, asking for her pot of basil so frequently her brothers decide to see what's inside it.

They find Lorenzo's head inside the pot. Fearing the murder will be discovered, they bury the head and leave for Naples. Lisabetta cries incessantly for the pot with her lover's head in it and eventually dies.

Analysis

As in the story of Tancredi, social class plays a major role in this story. Lisabetta falls in love with a young man who works for her three brothers. Because of his social status, Lorenzo and Lisabetta keep their love hidden. Once Lisabetta's brothers find out Lorenzo is seeing their sister, they kill him. He stepped out of his place for love, and is punished for it. Lisabetta shames her family (so her brothers think) by falling in love with a man of inferior birth.

Unlike Ghismunda, Lisabetta reacts to her beloved's death in a more passive way. When her brothers kill Lorenzo, she is unaware of it at first. It is only after his ghost visits her and she finds his body that she can take action. But because their relationship was a secret and because she has no recourse—and finding out about both the love affair and the murder could destroy her family's reputation—she must remain silent. The only outlet she has for her grief is to water the plant under which Lorenzo's head is buried with her tears. When this is taken away, Lisabetta dies of grief. Her one outlet is denied her. Tragedy arises when one has to adhere to society's rigid social codes.

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