The Decameron
by Giovanni Boccaccio
Fourth Day, Fifth Story

LIT 211, Dr. Richie <http://webpage.pace.edu/erichie/211s99.html


 

Group 7

Nadege Borgella
Carmen Bynum
Andrea Lowe
Azmina Walji
 

BOCCACCIO, GIOVANNI
 
 
 

    Born in 1313, Giovanni Boccaccio is one of the greatest figures in Italian Literature. He was born in Paris, France by a French woman who remains unknown, but on many occasion he speaks very highly of her. His father is an Italian; they are part of the middle class. As for their professional status, they were Merchants / Bankers. Although, Bocaccio was born out of wedlock, his father legitimized him and took him to his house, provided him with a family and a good education.
In 1340 Boccaccio moved to Florence where he meets Petrarch in 1350, his mentor. He began study Greek and Roman Classics. During 1339 to 1351 he writes The Decameron one of the most noted and readable book in all literature. It is believed that he completes the first draft of  The Decameron before he met Petrarch in 1350. Somehow the meeting with Petrarch changed Boccaccio’s Literature development. What he admires the most about Petrarch is his scholar and the humanist. With such influence Boccaccio withdraw from writing about romance, and preferably writes in Latin. He was an ambassador to different mission; Boccaccio did some community work while he was intensely involved in literature and his school activity.

    After traveling in different part of Europe, Boccaccio returns to Certaldo where he becomes very sick. In the fall of 1374 he receives the terrible news from Petrach’s son-in-law, to let him know that his best friend passed. He was devastated, became depressed and died the following year.
 
 

SUMMARY OF FOURTH DAY, FIFTH STORY

This love story is about a rich, young girl that falls in love with a young man of a low social status. Ellisabetta is young, beautiful and lives in Messina with her three brothers. Her brothers are young merchants that became very rich after the death of their father. They are merchants of grain with hired help who take their social power very seriously. Lorenzo, one of their lead workers who takes care of their business is the handsome young man that Ellisabetta falls heads over heels for. She and Lorenzo share the same compassion and love for one another and they ignore the social acceptance of their relationship.

Unfortunately, Ellisabetta’s brothers are not in agreement with this love affair and are furious about the disgrace to their family. They are so disturbed about this relationship that they kill Lorenzo. This misfortune, in turn, creates a major change in their sister’s behavior causing her to be unhappy at all times and without any desire to do anything other than cry. Furthermore, one night Ellisabetta has a dream where Lorenzo appears and tells her that her brothers killed him and where they buried him. Ellisabetta, being so blindly in love, went out the next morning to confirm her dream. To her surprise she found Lorenzo’s dead body. Her first reaction was to take him along with her. Since, he was too heavy, she decided to take his head. This behavior reflects a girl’s first and only love that keeps her from forgetting that life goes on. Ellisabetta demonstrates without Lorenzo there is no meaning in life. She could only keep living with a part of him by putting his head in a pot. Ellisabetta buries it with dirt and plants basil over it. This plant becomes her savior or peace that keeps her alive. Her brothers, eventually, find out about the plant and gets rid of it. Therefore, Ellisabetta dies of grief from the loss of her plant and her lover.
 

 
 

HISTORICAL  AND SOCIAL BACKGROUND

 
  At the time of The Decameron, Europe underwent a period of economic and social depression. The wave of the "Black Death" had an immediate and dramatic effect on all aspects of political, social, economic, cultural and intellectual life. Although there was some social and economic continuity during the worst periods of the plague, the loss of one-third of Europe’s population had profound effects on even the most stable people. The result of this series of catastrophes was, however, less a complete collapse than it was the onset of a period of relative stagnation. This provided the merchants with a more energetic consciousness of their capability to survive in the face of grave misfortune. They began to consider themselves more and more as a fundamental part of the social fabric, maintaining, at once, privileged relationships with the aristrocacy and the city nobility.

  In the story, Lisabetta’s brothers are merchants who inherit their fortune from their father. Merchants at this period of time were known as a class that was discriminated against for not contributing to the essential duties, but rather for aiming to get rich themselves. Their pursuit of gain was considered against the laws of God because they were not producers of goods, but rather resalers or usurers. Although medieval society increasingly came to rely upon the merchant’s services in distributing and obtaining items not produced locally, merchants were nonetheless considered parasites and sinners. They were barely tolerated for their questionable contribution to society’s output. The merchant class was also very rich, often intermarrying with impoverished members of the nobility, and they held positions of power in civic government. But they never overcame the general contempt for the way in which they acquired their wealth.

 Reappearance of the Plague

  Lisabetta falls in love with Lorenzo, who is a young Pisan. Her brothers want to get rid of him because he is not of their social status and also they do not want to give away their money for dowry. Therefore, her brothers take Lorenzo outside the city, where they kill and bury him in an unmarked grave. The reappearance of the plague in this story is marked by the presence of Lorenzo’s death which is construed as a reminder of the brigata of possible contamination and death. Lorenzo’s grave is hidden with new dirt and leaves to hide the murder. The anonymous burial in the ground recalls aspects of the plague. Also, Lisabetta’s brothers want to get rid of her lover without dishonor in the same way that the women of the brigata desire to leave Florence with honor. Therefore there are some accounts in this story which are similar to the plague.

 
THE ANALYSIS
 

    The characters in this story are Lorenzo, Lisabetta, and her three brothers. Social indifferences become the downfall of the three characters.

    Lorenzo is a young man who works for Lisabetta’s brothers. In the story, Lorenzo loves women. But, when falling in love with Lisabetta, he puts all of them aside. Unfortunately, he is unable to profess his love for her publicly because he is her inferior. His life and emotions are all put on hold due to his social status. Lorenzo seems to have a decent relationship with the three brothers. It says in the book, "they continued to laugh and joke together" (Boccaccio,279). It is obvious that this is a normal thing for them to do with one another. Lorenzo must have some trust in the three brothers. They catch Lorenzo off guard when killing him. Usually, if a person does not trust the people around them, one is always on their toes. Lorenzo is killed for his only crime, love.

    Lisabetta is a young, lonely girl who falls in love with Lorenzo. Social conditions and class status conflicts with her love for him. Lisabetta is a woman who follows her heart and not her mind. She could put her family to terrible shame with her love affair. But, she does not concern herself with that. In her book, Order from Chaos, Marga Cottino-Jones makes a very good point. She says, "Love became Lisabetta’s life because she had an absence of human compassion and communication" (Cottino-Jones, 67). In these days, women were not allowed to leave their homes very often. They were very isolated from the outside world. When Lisabetta finds her love for Lorenzo, it becomes her lifeline. She does not know anything else. Lisabetta, as Lorenzo, is trapped in her society. She is trapped physically and mentally. She is not able to talk to anyone about the happy feeling she is experiencing because her relationship is not socially acceptable. When her brothers kill Lorenzo, she still cannot express her feelings of hurt and anger towards them. By, Lisabetta, uplifting Lorenzo’s body, she is privately speaking out to her brothers. In her own way, she is showing them not even death could keep her apart from her lover. Unfortunately, Lisabetta let her love for Lorenzo take over her whole life. When the pot with her lover’s head in it is taken away, so was Her reason for living. A quote from the book displays this. It says, When she found it was missing, over and over and she asked for it, and because it was not returned to her, after incessant weeping, she fell ill. (Boccaccio, 28). The taking away of her love, twice, eventually lead to her death.

    The last characters to discuss are the three brothers. There are only three words for them, selfish, selfish, selfish! These men pretend to be protecting their sister, but they are only protecting themselves. Their major concern engulfs their lives so much that they do not bother to communicate with their sister. When the one brother finds out the affair he immediately runs to his brothers. None of them bother to ask Ellisabetta or Lorenzo anything. They take it in their own hands to do what they believe is right. Even after Lorenzo's death, they display no concern for their sister’s distress. As long as their secret is safe from the public, Ellisabetta’s three brothers are fine. It takes a great deal of selfishness and no sense of humanity to take a man’s life. But, they did not just kill Lorenzo. By taking away the pot, they kill their sister too. All of this just to keep a secret that ends up coming out anyway. This just proves the old saying, "What is done in the dark will come to light."

    Cottino-Jones sums up love and the community in this story in her book. She says, "the lovers in this books are constantly faced with violence, death and isolation when their affairs come into conflict with society’s rigid behavior codes "(Cottino-Jones, 79). Lack of communication and social factors made everyone in the story unhappy or dead.
 
 

WORKS CITED

Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Decameron. Translated by Mark Musa & Peter Bondanella. Penguin-Mentor,

1982.

Cottino-James, Marga. Order From Chaos: Social & Aesthetic Harmonies In Boccaccio’s Decameron.

Washington D. C.: University Press, 1982.

Decameron Web. http://www.Brown.edu/Departments/Italian_Studies/dweb/dweb.shtml. (1999, July 6).