Fiammetta’s tale describes how an ingenious lover coerces the prudish object of his desire into his embraces. Ricciardo Minutolo loves Catella, the wife of Filippello Sighinolfo. But because she is truly devoted to her husband, all of Minutolo’s efforts fail to win her affection, driving him to distraction.
Fiammetta’s tale fulfills the day’s theme in showing how Ricciardo Minutolo’s dogged persistence allowed him to sleep with Catella, the object of his affections. She also picks up on the theme of intelligence that’s on display in clever deceptions of other lovers in this day’s tales—including Zima in the previous story. However, even in the earliest moments of the tale, it’s clear that Catella isn’t interested in Ricciardo’s advances, and his refusal to respect her wishes speaks to the vulnerability of women in the face of masculine desire.
Catella is jealous of Filippello to the point of fearing that the “very birds flying in the air” might steal him. Eventually, Ricciardo Minutolo realizes he can take advantage of her jealousy. He stops pursuing her to gain her trust, and after cultivating her platonic friendship, he drops hints about her husband’s alleged affair. When Catella presses him for details, he claims that his wife has received advances from Filippello, maybe as revenge for Minutolo’s pursuit of Catella. Minutolo claims to know about it because his wife showed him Filippello’s love messages.
In his manipulation of Catella, Ricciardo demonstrates his cleverness, but also shows that intelligence is neither good nor bad; its value depends on the ends towards which it is used. This tale also has a cautionary moral about excess, since her unhinged jealousy—her fear of the birds flying off with her man obviously isn’t based in reality—leaves her vulnerable to Ricciardo’s suggestions. It’s also notable that in the story Ricciardo tells, his wife demonstrates obedience and faithfulness by telling him about Filippello’s advances. This suggests that he doesn’t want to imagine his own wife cheating on him even as he is busy tricking Catella into cheating on her husband. This strong sexual double standard—where Ricciardo feels his behavior is justified but he wouldn’t accept it in his wife—betrays the tale’s deep roots in antifeminist and misogynist gender stereotypes and fears about female infidelity, notwithstanding its female narrator (Fiammetta). This is one of many moments throughout The Decameron that contradicts Boccaccio’s claims in the Prologue and elsewhere to love and respect women.
But Ricciardo Minutolo claims that when Filippello arranged a secret meeting with his wife at a bath house, he felt the time had come to tell Catella. He suggests that Catella hide herself in his wife’s place in order to surprise her husband when he comes to the meeting. Catella, blinded by her jealousy to Minutolo’s character and motivations, readily agrees to his plan.
Again, Catella’s story offers a warning about excess in all its forms, because of the way it makes a person blind to the facts in front of them. Catella’s jealousy is so overpowering that she can’t see how her former suitor could be manipulating her. It’s also interesting to note that, in a work which consistently worries about women’s faithfulness to their husbands and lovers, Catella’s fidelity to her husband becomes a source of mockery and disdain in this tale; the misogynistic and antifeminist strains in The Decameron allow her to be punished for faithfulness that in other tales would be a credit to her character.
Having laid his trap, Ricciardo Minutolo hides himself in the darkest room of the bath house, where he waits for Catella’s arrival. Her suspicions were confirmed the previous evening when Filippello was less affectionate than usual, and she arrives at the bath house promptly. When Minutolo embraces her, Catella returns his affections enthusiastically, anxious to play the part of the expected lover. Soon they are having sex. Afterwards, she reveals herself to be Catella and proceeds to heap abuse and scorn on the man she thinks is her cheating husband.
Yet again, Catella’s excessive jealousy makes her see things that aren’t there. And although the ostensible moral of the story is that sometimes an ingenious lover must trick a woman into an affair that she will enjoy (suggesting that she’ll come around to Ricciardo in the end), it’s impossible to ignore the fact that he has essentially raped her.
Ricciardo Minutolo enjoys Catella’s speech. When she tells “Filippello” that maybe she should repay him by taking Minutolo as her lover, he reveals himself, telling her that love taught him to obtain by deception that which he could “not achieve by mere wooing.” This revelation upsets Catella. Minutolo warns her that if she tells anyone about his trick, he will say that she came to him freely and that her complaints serve to cover her guilt and save her reputation. Moreover, if Filippello finds out, he and Minutolo will become enemies and one may end up killing the other. Because she isn’t the first or last deceived woman, Minutolo counsels her to accept his humble and sincere love. Although she is sorely annoyed, once Minutolo has applied enough “honeyed endearments,” Catella eventually comes around to his way of thinking, accepting him as her lover from then on.
Catella is understandably upset when Ricciardo reveals his deception. And to add insult to injury, he threatens to destroy her reputation if she complains to anyone about his dishonorable actions. Since women were subjected to male authority, in a contest of his word against hers, he would undoubtedly win. Although he claims to love her humbly and sincerely, the relationship that Ricciardo proposes here is direct extortion, since Catella must continue to have sex with him to avoid anyone finding out that she’s having sex with him. Her eventual capitulation to these “endearments” and acceptance of the relationship is meant to show that Ricciardo has honestly earned her love, although the tale sidesteps the questions raised by the initial trick and the ongoing threats to her honor if she doesn’t give Ricciardo what he wants.