Literature Study GuidesThe DecameronNinth Day Second Story Summary

The Decameron | Study Guide

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron | Ninth Day, Second Story | Summary

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Summary

Elissa narrates this story. Isabetta is a nun having an affair with a young man. He visits her in her chambers, but one night, he is seen leaving. The nun who saw him tells several other nuns. At first the nun wants to report Isabetta to the abbess, but then they decide it would be better to have the abbess catch Isabetta herself.

The nuns watch for the young man to come back to visit Isabetta, and when he does, one group stays outside Isabetta's room while another goes to get the abbess. The abbess is entertaining her own lover when the nuns knock on her door. The abbess puts on her clothes in the dark, not realizing she grabbed her lover's pants to wear as a veil (a psalter). The other nuns are too excited to notice this, and lead her to Isabetta's cell.

Isabetta and the young man are caught. When the abbess scolds Isabetta in front of the other nuns, Isabetta, aware of what has happened, asks the abbess to tie up her wimple, calling attention to the fact the woman is wearing a man's pair of pants on her head. Knowing she has been discovered and can't deny her own sin in front of all of these women, the abbess then allows men to visit any of the nuns so long as they are discreet.

Analysis

Here is another story using the trope of the corrupt, licentious clergy, this time with a nun and an abbess. Boccaccio knew his audience enjoyed stories that were both titillating and would show the hypocrisy of clergy members. The theme at work here is deception as a young nun meets with her lover in her room. Fortune plays a role in him being seen one night as he is leaving, setting into motion the events of the story as all of the other nuns try to find a way to get Isabetta and her lover in trouble with the abbess.

It just so happens luck is on Isabetta's side, for on the night she is caught, the abbess is being visited by her own lover, a local priest. Not only are two nuns breaking their vows, but a priest as well. Repeatedly, the false idea clergy is somehow better than the common man is turned on its head yet again. They are just as likely to sin as anyone else in these stories.

The abbess's sin is revealed as Isabetta calls attention to the fact that instead of a wimple, the abbess is wearing a pair of men's pants on her head. Aside from being a hilarious visual, it also illustrates not only the hypocrisy of the Mother Superior attempting to dress down Isabetta when she herself was guilty of the same sin, but also Isabetta's intelligence and wit. While not outwardly embarrassing the abbess by calling out the woman, she makes it known she knows what the abbess has been up to. By doing so she gets her way and is able to see her lover without fear of punishment. In this situation everyone wins through a bit of convenient deception.

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