The Decameron | Study Guide

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron | Preface | Summary



Boccaccio opens The Decameron with a brief, and likely fictional, explanation of why he wrote it. Compassion, he writes, is something every person should have and extend to those that need it. He claims he was in need of compassion when he fell passionately in love. He suffered deeply while in its throes, unable to rest while love ruled him. It was through the conversations and diversions with a friend that Boccaccio was able to make it through his hardship alive. When his passion finally faded enough to allow recovery, he felt only the delight at the memories of favors given and received and wishes to express his gratitude.

In this volume he states he seeks to give back, specifically to women, who often have to suffer their affairs of the heart in silence. Unlike men, they cannot distract themselves with more physical pleasures (hunting and hawking), so Boccaccio offers up the stories in The Decameron for their enjoyment. He also hopes to provide "useful counsel" in what to do and what not to do in matters of love to the women reading these stories. He hopes his efforts are successful and love is to be thanked if they are.


The preface is another instance of the frame or nested narrative. In The Decameron there is the author, or the "persona" of the author, the narrator or storyteller, and the tale. The frame consists of the first two—these are where the tales in The Decameron sit. It was common for medieval authors to address their audience in the voice of an authorial persona, rather than in their own voice. The preface (and the introduction to Day Four and epilogue) then is yet another fiction, and its advice should not necessarily be taken at face value. The author is attempting to argue the "validity of the literary genre, narrative prose fiction."

While Boccaccio claims in the preface women need help in affairs of the heart, his tales belie this sentiment. Women are just as likely to act as be acted upon, oftentimes driving the action of the story. They do not need a man's help to see to their sexual needs or to manage their affairs. They are just as likely to use their wits to get out of unfortunate situations as their male counterparts. Even among the brigata, the women hold sway. Boccaccio's tales are egalitarian, and he gives women the same power of their circumstances as the men.

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