The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 3: Second Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The ladies alternately blush and laugh at Filostrato’s tale, and Pampinea is still laughing when she begins her tale. Agilulf, king of Lombardy, is married to the beautiful and virtuous Theodelinda. A certain Groom, who came from a very low-born family, loved her hopelessly. He had the good sense to keep his feelings to himself, although his greatest pleasure was brushing up against the queen’s clothing when she rode her horse.
The groom’s love is hopeless because he is low-born yet he loves a queen—a social difference too great to be bridged.   
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Realizing that the only way to bed Theodelinda would be to deceive her, the Groom looks for a way to impersonate Agilulf. He hides in the palace, where he witnesses Agilulf—wrapped in a cloak and carrying a torch and a big stick—knock on Theodelinda’s door and gain admittance. After some time, he returns to his own room. After the Groom procures a cloak, torch, and stick, he takes a long bath to wash away the smell of the stables. He then hides in the palace.
Pampinea is associated with prudence and her stories and comments are often focused on the importance of intelligence—especially, but not exclusively, in women. It’s thus not surprising that her tale focuses on the clever stratagems deployed by the groom—and later King Agilulf—throughout their cat and mouse game. However, his intention to sleep with Theodelinda under false pretenses—essentially to rape her—is uncomfortable and highlights the vulnerability of women to male trickery just as much as to male violence. The big stick and the torch are obvious phallic symbols, which indicate Agilulf’s sexual prowess. The image of a lustful king entering a woman’s room with his blazing torch is repeated in the later tale of Restituta and Gianni (V, 6).
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon
When everyone has fallen asleep, the Groom wraps himself in the cloak and knocks on Theodelinda’s door. A sleepy maid lets him in, and he climbs into the queen’s bed, where he makes love to her repeatedly. No sooner has the Groom torn himself away than Agilulf himself appears. When Theodelinda expresses surprise that he’s come back for more already, the savvy king realizes what’s happened. But he holds his tongue to avoid upsetting his blameless wife and compromising his own honor.
Theodelinda’s surprise at what she thinks is a second visit from her husband pushes back against the stereotype of oversexed, excessively lustful women that recurs throughout The Decameron. If the Groom demonstrated cleverness, Agilulf’s decision to hold his tongue is an example of true rationality, since it requires him to delay his desire for revenge and to avoid an excessively emotional display of anger. Concerns over female sexuality throughout the book are underwritten by the assumption, made explicit here, that the honor of a man is intimately tied up with the sexual chastity of the women under his authority (whether this is his wife, sister, or daughter).
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon
Quotes
Agilulf goes to the servants’ dormitory, realizing that the adulterous servant’s heart would still be racing after his exertions, and checks everyone’s pulse. The Groom, although afraid for his life, pretends to be asleep to see what the king will do. Agilulf, marking his heartbeat, cuts off a lock of his hair and leaves. Understanding that this will allow the king to single him out for punishment in the daylight, the Groom cuts a lock from the rest of the servants’ hair.
Both smart and calm under pressure, Agilulf is the epitome of wisdom. The Groom, although afraid, is just as smart as his master. Although the two are separated by many rungs of social status, their wits are equally matched.
Themes
Intelligence Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Get the entire The Decameron LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Decameron PDF
The next morning, Agilulf calls all his servants together, but when he begins to inspect them, he realizes they all have the same odd haircut. Realizing that he can’t punish the low-born but clever fellow without revealing the crime, he tells everyone that whoever did it had “better not do it again.” The servants wonder at these strange words, except for the Groom, who never visits Theodelinda again.
The ability of the lowly groom to outwit his master places them on the same level in terms of intelligence, if  not in terms of wealth or social status. The theme of the day’s tales is about getting what one wants after much effort, and for the groom this was sleeping with Theodelinda. But in outsmarting the king, he also achieved a kind of parity between lowly servant and mighty king.
Themes
Intelligence Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon