Literature Study GuidesThe DecameronTenth Day Tenth Story Summary

The Decameron | Study Guide

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron | Tenth Day, Tenth Story | Summary

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Summary

Dioneo tells the last story. Gualtieri, the marquis of Sanluzzo, has no interest in taking a wife, but his vassals beg him to do so. He tells them since they are basically forcing him to do this, he will be the one to choose his bride, and if they do not treat her well, they will feel his displeasure.

Gualtieri chooses a poor, but virtuous, girl named Griselda from a nearby village, and arranges with her father Giannucole to marry her. Gualtieri then tells his friends he has found the woman he will wed and reminds them of their promise to honor his decision. They assure him they will, and he makes all of the arrangements.

The day for the wedding arrives, and Gualtieri and his retinue go to the village to fetch Griselda. He asks her if she will be obedient and never get angry with him, and she gives him the right answers. He marries her in the presence of all of his lords.

They live happily for some time, Griselda growing in beauty and grace. She gives birth to a daughter, and word of her manners spread. Everyone thinks Gualtieri made an excellent decision to marry Griselda.

However, Gualtieri wishes to test his wife to see how patient and loyal she truly is. He tells her a number of false things, pretends to kill both their daughter and newborn son, and then tells her he is going to set their marriage aside after 13 years together. To all of these trials she shows perfect obedience and restraint. Gualtieri's vassals think him cruel for treating such a compassionate lady this way.

Gualtieri proceeds to tells his wife he has received permission from the pope to set aside their marriage and marry another, and tells her she will leave with what she came with—nothing, not even clothes. She asks for a simple shift dress since she did come to him a virgin dressed plainly in a slip, and Gualtieri allows it. She returns to her father.

Gualtieri leads his vassals to believe he is going to marry the daughter of one of the counts of Panago, but he sends for Griselda. He tells her he is getting remarried, and he wishes her to greet his new bride and make all of the arrangements for her. Griselda does so without complaint.

In the meantime he orders his son and daughter returned to him (he had them raised in secret in Bologna). He passes his daughter off as the woman he plans to marry, and asks Griselda what she thinks of her. Griselda answers the girl appears beautiful and wise, but she begs Gualtieri not to treat the girl as she had been treated, because she is a lady and doesn't know hardship, while Griselda was born a peasant and could endure.

Gualtieri finally reveals his plot, and tells her she convinced him of her true worth. They are reunited in great emotion and love. He honors and treasures her for the rest of his life.

At the end of his day, Panfilo reminds the group they have been away from Florence 15 days, and it is time for their journey to end. They fled the city to get away from all of the death brought on by the plague. He feels they have accomplished their goals, and now it is time for them to return. The rest of the brigata agree, and they make plans to return to the city the next day. They return to the place where they all met, the church of Santa Maria Novella, and go their separate ways in peace.

Analysis

Griselda's tale shares similarities with the biblical trials of Job. Gualtieri wishes to test the obedience of his wife, and sets about devising and putting Griselda through as many tests and torments to see if her obedience to him will falter. It never does, despite the hardships he puts her through. Even when his own vassals begin to question him, Griselda maintains her loyalty and kindness.

The theme of class is also at work in this tale. Griselda is born a peasant. At first, Gualtieri's vassals question her suitability for the position as their lady, but Griselda's patience, kindness, and obedience to their lord impress them all. She rises gracefully to her new social class. Still, Gualtieri does not trust the traits she exhibits are permanent and, like God does to Job, he tests her. The marital relationship mirrors God and his supplicants in some ways, as does the class system. As lord to a peasant, Gualtieri automatically outranks Griselda. As husband to a wife, he again serves as the head of the family, and the one who makes the decisions in medieval life.

Placing it in the context of religion—and seeing Gualtieri as a sort of God—permits the reader to frame this story partly as allegory. Often, marriage in the Middle Ages was compared to the higher/lower relationship between God and the Church everyone at least nominally was part of. With the plague raging throughout the land, it would seem to some God abandoned them to their deaths, despite the Church and their prayers and good deeds. If God is all powerful, why would he make them suffer? The plague was relentless and had no mercy for young or old, rich or the poor, holy or profane. All died, and prayers had no effect. It would be easy to lose faith and denounce God in this kind of situation.

But if framed as a test—much like Griselda's marriage is—the suffering can become understandable. Griselda loses two children to Gualtieri's tests—they are not killed but are raised away from her, although she isn't given to know that until later—much like many mothers would have lost their children during the plague. She is abandoned, cast out, much like people who had been infected were cast out of the house, or left behind when the family fled. And through it all she displays perfect obedience. She never loses faith in her lord. Instead, she becomes an example of faithfulness, patience, and resilience, and never blames Gualtieri for his treatment of her.

Another interpretation is Griselda is not an allegory for how to be patient, and suffer through God's tests, but God is cruel for even requiring this type of test. As Gualtieri's testing of Griselda continues, his own people begin to mutter against him for his harsh and unfair treatment of his much beloved wife. They grow to hate him for it, although they dare not utter such things for fear of his reprisals. This mirrors the mutterings of the populace as the Catholic Church pursued its persecution of heretics and became mired in scandals. Boccaccio already has a narrative of questioning the clergy running through a number of stories, beginning with the "First Day, First Story." In that story Cepparello is a wicked man who got his sainthood through trickery. Griselda is an actual saint for her obedience and loyalty to her husband. As the last story in a tale of stories, especially in light of the narrator (Dioneo) famed for his bawdy and scandalous tales, Griselda's tale seems to hold greater weight and import.

Chaucer drew upon Boccaccio's tale of Griselda and her husband in his own frame story, The Canterbury Tales. "The Clerk's Tale" is a retelling of this Griselda story.

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