Literature Study GuidesThe DecameronFourth Day First Story Summary

The Decameron | Study Guide

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron | Fourth Day, First Story | Summary

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Summary

Fiammetta tells the first story of Tancredi, the Prince of Salerno. Tancredi has a daughter, Ghismunda, whom he loves very much. He gave her in marriage to the Duke of Capua, but when the man dies and leaves her a widow, she returns to her father's house. Tancredi has no interest in finding Ghismunda another husband, so she sets about finding herself a lover.

Ghismunda falls deeply in love with her father's valet, Guiscardo, and he returns her love. She passes notes to him in a hollow reed, telling him where they can meet the following day. She remembers a cave accessible by a secret stairway, and contrives to meet Guiscardo, who instead uses a rope to enter the cave.

One day Tancredi stops by Ghismunda's room while she is out with her attendants, and falls asleep at the foot of her bed. Meanwhile, Ghismunda meet and return to her room where Tancredi wakes to spy on the two lovers. He remains quiet and watches, waiting until they go their separate ways before departing.

That night he orders his men to capture Guiscardo as he is leaving the cave. Tancredi confronts Guiscardo about the affair, to which Guiscardo responds, "Love is more powerful than either you or I." Tancredi then goes to his daughter's room and tells her he saw her and Guiscardo, and he can't believe she would sleep with someone so much lower in class than she. He asks her to explain herself.

Ghismunda tells him she does not regret loving Guiscardo, she loves him still and, if possible, will continue to love him after death. She rebukes her father for being angry with her for choosing a lover below her station, telling him to blame fortune for the situation. She goes on to ask her father to look at his nobles and see if they are any better than Guiscardo, when he himself praised the young man so loudly before.

Finally, Ghismunda tells her father she will not beg for her life, and tells him if he feels the need to punish Guiscardo, he needs to punish her as well. Tancredi is impressed with his daughter's fortitude, but still wants to stop her love with a different kind of punishment.

He orders his guards to strangle Guiscardo, then has them remove his heart. The next day, Tancredi sends the heart to Ghismunda in a golden goblet. She had prepared a vial of poison, and after weeping over the contents of the goblet, she pours the poison in with the heart and drinks it. Her serving women fetch Tancredi who arrives too late to save his daughter.

Ghismunda asked that she and Guiscardo be buried together in death since they couldn't be together in life. Tancredi, sorry for his cruelty, honors his daughter's final request.

Analysis

The first story of the first day deals with two major themes: love and class. Ghismunda falls in love with a young man below her station. She was married once before, but when her noble husband died, she returns to her father's house, where she falls in love with a servant. Tancredi's main problem first appears to be his daughter daring to be with someone of lower station, but there is more going on than that.

Tancredi loves his daughter Ghismunda so much he is slow to marry her off the first time. He finally does, only for her husband to die. When she returns home, she expects him to quickly find her a new husband, but Tancredi does not, instead choosing to keep her with him. She is a possession to be doled out, except Tancredi does not wish to part with her anymore. It's no wonder he does not marry her off again. This, however, goes against societal expectations. Daughters were meant to be married off in this time period as a way to cement alliances and unite powerful houses.

Once she and Guiscardo's love is discovered, Ghismunda takes her father to task for his hypocritical notions on class. She tells Tancredi he actually likes Guiscardo, and respects the young man—in fact, his approval of the young valet elevated Guiscardo in her eyes. For Tancredi to claim Guiscardo is not worthy of her is ridiculous.

Ghismunda has a great deal of character in this story, despite being kept under her father's overbearing thumb. She arranges the secret meetings with Guiscardo, and finds the hidden cave. When discovered, she doesn't beg for her life, or try to appeal to her father. She simply tells him she wants to die if Guiscardo does. Then she goes about finding a way to make this happen when it becomes clear her father intends to spare her, but not her lover. It is Tancredi's own fault he does not believe her.

Ghismunda even determines the time and method of her death. Time and again Tancredi tries to control his daughter, but she will not be stifled. When he sends her Guiscardo's heart in the chalice, he is once again attempting to control her behavior. But she upends his control—pouring the poison into the chalice, she uses her own tears to mix it, and then drinks. Ghismunda rejects Tancredi's manipulation and chooses her own path.

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