Dioneo’s tale makes everyone shake with laughter. Neifile places the crown on Filostrato’s head, joking that it is time to see if the wolves can lead the sheep any better than the sheep led the wolves. Laughing, Filostrato declares that if he had been in charge before, the wolves would already have taught the sheep to put the devil back in Hell. Neifile retorts that if he had, the women would have taken a page from the Young Nuns in his story and exhausted them like Masetto. Realizing that Neifile’s wit matches his own, Filostrato abandons his jibes and turns to business.
Dioneo’s graphic tale meets with approval from all the members of the brigata, belying modern stereotypes of the Middle Ages as a time of religious repression. The flirty conversation between Neifile and Filostrato shows an openness to certain forms of feminine empowerment—if they stay within the bounds of propriety. In other words, it’s okay for Neifile to make sexually suggestive comments as she demonstrates her superior wit and intelligence, but it would not be okay for her to act on her words. But even in this exchange, the extended metaphor, which compares women to sheep and men to wolves, reminds the audience of female vulnerability.
Because he himself has long been enslaved by his love for one of the ladies (who remains unnamed), Filostrato knows all too well that following the rules of love doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Therefore, he proposes that the next day’s theme be “those whose love ended unhappily”—as he expects his own love to end.
Filostrato’s name means “vanquished by love,” and his character demonstrates the intersection of love’s power and fortune’s: although he loves his lady as a refined lover should (following the rules of fin’amors or refined loving), she hasn’t accepted his advances. Notably, only one of the tales on Day 4, which feature unhappy lovers, tells the story of unrequited (unreturned) love. This conflict in the frame narrative—in contrast to the tales, where true love is almost invariably returned—adds a touch of realism, since it shows that not everyone has a fairy-tale happy ending.
The company remains in the delightful garden—some hunting, some singing songs about romances, others playing games—until supper, after which they prepare to enjoy some music. Filostrato asks Lauretta to sing, and she offers one of her own songs with the warning that the only songs she can remember are sad. Her song of lamentation complains about the unhappy fate of a woman whose lover has died and who has been given in marriage to a jealous and unworthy husband.
Lauretta’s song, which previews Day 4’s theme of unhappily ended love affairs, contrasts sharply with the delightful setting of the garden and the joy of the brigata’s aristocratic activities. No matter how excessive the day’s stories become—and the next day will feature some very sad stories indeed—the return to the brigata at the end of each set imagines order being reimposed on a sometimes-chaotic world. It also highlights the status of women as vulnerable to male control, exemplified by the unsuitable marriage and the jealous husband.