The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 4: Fourth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Elissa offers her tale as evidence against the erroneous belief that love can only strike his victims through their eyes and that no one can fall in love with someone based on their reputation. When William the Second of Sicily’s son dies before him, he raises his grandson, Gerbino, as his heir apparent. Gerbino grows into a handsome man with a reputation for valor and courtesy.
The idea of love striking a victim through the eyes comes directly from medieval conceptions of fin’amors (refined loving), and it is particularly important in the poetry of the “dolce stil novo” group headed by Giovanni Boccaccio’s friend and mentor, Petrarch. However, it’s also possible for a person to fall in love with someone from afar (called “amor du lonh”) by hearing a description of their great beauty or exceptionally worthy character. Other examples in The Decameron include King Philip’s desire for the Marchioness of Montferrat (I, 5) and Lodovico’s love for Madonna Beatrice in (VII, 7). While William the Second was a historical ruler of Sicily, Giovanni Boccaccio has invented his son and grandson. As he often does throughout the tales, he intermingles historically accurate details and names with characters and events of his own creation.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Because her father is a tributary of his grandfather, the Tunisian Princess hears about Gerbino and falls in love with him. Likewise, when tales of her beauty and grace reach Sicily, Gerbino falls no less passionately in love with her. Although he can’t find a reasonable excuse to travel to Tunis, they send messages and gifts through Gerbino’s friends while they wait for fortune to give them an opportunity to meet.
Gerbino and the Tunisian Princess experience classic “amor du lonh” for each other. Their similar social standing, equal physical attractiveness, and equally noble temperaments make them the kind of well-matched couple that usually finds a happy ending in The Decameron. Yet, because their story is told on Day 4, the audience already knows that the gifts they exchange to show their devotion are in vain and that fortune won’t give them the opportunity they desire.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
While they wait, the Tunisian Princess’s father plans to marry her to the King of Grenada, greatly distressing the lovers. Somehow, he knows enough about Gerbino’s devotion to ask King William the Second for assurances that he won’t interfere with the wedding plans. The King sends a glove as a token of peace, catching Gerbino between his grandfather’s promise and his love for the lady. The latter wins.
Like so many other women in the tales, the Tunisian Princess is subject to her father’s authority and is reduced to an object that he has the power to give to another man. Although he has diplomatic ties with Sicily, unfortunately for Gerbino, the king of Tunis plans to give his daughter to another ally as a wife. Just as Gerbino and the Princess exchanged gifts that bound them together, the gift of King William’s glove establishes a promise that neither he nor Gerbino will interfere in the Tunisian king’s affairs. 
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
Gerbino outfits two ships to intercept the Tunisian Princess’s ship, promising all the plunder to his crew. When he announces himself, the officers wave King William the Second’s glove and make it clear that they won’t surrender without a fight. Quipping that the glove is useless without a falcon, Gerbino sets a small boat aflame and rams it into the Princess’s ship. Rather than surrendering, the Tunisian officers kill the Princess and throw her into the sea, saying, “Take her thus…in the form that your treachery deserves.”
The power of love over all other forces, including political alliance and familial duty, induces Gerbino to mock the token his grandfather offered to another ruler as an earnest promise of noninterference. Being murdered by her own guards demonstrates the Tunisian Princess’s value as one of her father’s possessions rather than his child: it’s better to kill her than to allow the wrong man to have her.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
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Gerbino and his pirates clamber aboard for plunder, but their victory is unrewarding. Gerbino retrieves the Tunisian Princess’s body from the sea and buries it in Sicily. When her father hears what has happened, he protests the breach of promise to King William the Second, who arrests Gerbino, sentences him to death, and has him immediately beheaded rather than lose his own reputation for keeping his word.
For Gerbino, love is more important than political alliances or personal honor. But for his grandfather, William, it’s the opposite. Gerbino’s uncontrollable love for the Tunisian Princess, while honorable in the context of fin’amors, is dangerous in the context of intricate political alliances.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon