The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 4: Sixth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Panfilo, inspired by Lisabetta’s dream, prefaces his tale with a few observations about dreams. While everyone has them, people interpret them differently. Because some dreams feel realistic, some people put as much faith in them as in reality. Others refuse to believe that dreams can be prophetic until it’s too late. Panfilo believes that, while not all dreams come true, some do. Those who live virtuously have nothing to fear from bad dreams, but evildoers shouldn’t trust auspicious dreams.
Panfilo’s introduction covers the range of basic beliefs about dreams in medieval culture. Panfilo himself comes down on a moderate position, claiming that while many dreams are meaningless phantasms, some are indeed prophetic. Unfortunately, prophetic dreams are usually proved when they come true—for good or ill.
Themes
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
In Brescia, nobleman Negro da Pontecarraro has an unmarried and very beautiful daughter named Andreuola. She falls in love with her neighbor, Gabriotto, who is handsome and admirable although he is from a lower class. They marry in secret and frequently meet in her father’s garden.
The other unmarried girls in Day 4’s stories rebel against fathers and brothers for their failure to arrange marriages in a timely fashion, but there is no indication that Negro da Pontecarraro has failed in his duty towards his daughter. The only hint of why she might have married Gabriotto in secret lies in their class difference: she is a noble, but he is from a lower class. Nevertheless, his character proves his worth. Unlike many of the day’s other women, Andreuola takes her fate into her own hands while remaining within the bonds of social propriety: although her marriage to Gabriotto is secret, that doesn’t make it any less legal. Like many happy lovers, they spend time in each other’s arms in the idyllic setting of a beautiful garden.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
One night, Andreuola dreams that she and Gabriotto are making love in the garden when a dark shadow comes out of his body, takes ahold of him, and pulls him out of her arms and underground. She’s so terrified when she wakes up that she won’t see Gabriotto the following night. But she can’t keep him away forever, and on the third day they meet in the garden, where red and white roses are blooming.
Andreuola’s dream foreshadows tragedy and very clearly indicates her husband’s impending death—he’s pulled from her arms and underground as if into the grave. But fortune can’t be put off, and her attempts to avoid him are doomed to fail. The garden’s roses represent both enduring love and resurrection in medieval literature, and the fact that they are blooming when she and Gabriotto meet again indicates that her dream will soon come true.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Gabriotto laughs at Andreuola when she tells him her dream, since he thinks it’s silly to believe in dreams. He had a nightmare himself on the same night, in which he captured a pleasant doe while hunting in the woods. He put a gold collar and chain on its neck, but while he was sitting with it, a starving black dog appeared from thin air. It bit him on the left side and gnawed until it reached his heart, which it pulled out and carried away. The dream was so vivid that when he woke up, he had to run his hands over his chest to make sure it hadn’t really happened. But it didn’t stop him from coming to see his wife tonight.
While Andreuola represents Panfilo’s naïve dreamer, Gabriotto represents the foolish person unwilling to listen to the warnings of his dreams. The fact that his dream so clearly parallels Andreuola’s should make him more concerned, not less. In his dream, the tamed white deer represents Andreuola and the dog foreshadows his death. It is an interesting detail that the dog bit out his heart, although neither Gabriotto nor the audience yet have enough information to understand what this signifies.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
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Andreuola is terrified, and as she feared, Gabriotto drops dead after a few minutes. Andreuola tries to revive him to no avail. She fetches a maid, and after they weep for a while, they decide to wrap him in a silk shroud and deliver him to his family’s home. They hope this will preserve Andreuola’s reputation, keep her marriage secret, and ensure that Gabriotto is properly buried.
Both lovers’ dreams come true when Gabriotto dies suddenly in his wife’s arms. Although their marriage was legal, it was secret and may not have had any witnesses (witnesses weren’t necessary for legal Christian marriages until the late 1500s). The concern and control over female sexuality mean that she must handle the situation carefully to protect her own honor. Her concern over ensuring that Gabriotto is both returned to his loving family and properly buried demonstrates the depth and endurance of her love.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
Andreuola places her wedding ring on Gabriotto’s finger, and the two women carry him out of the garden. Unfortunately, they are surprised in the street by two guards. Realizing how suspicious her actions look, Andreuola volunteers to go with them and explain herself to the Magistrate. Doctors examine the body and determine that Gabriotto died of natural causes, namely a burst abscess near his heart. But convinced that Andreuola must be guilty of something—and feeling lustful—he offers to trade her freedom for sex. She refuses, and he tries to rape her, but she successfully defends herself.
The meaning of the black dog in Gabriotto’s dream becomes clear when his autopsy reveals that his heart was to blame. However, fortune isn’t done playing with Andreuola, and when she is sent to the magistrate, he handles her roughly based on misogynistic stereotypes about feminine guilt and his own desire to have sex with her. Women like Andreuola aren’t even safe in the company of officers of the law. But, since she is noble both by birth and because of her character, she successfully defends herself.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
In the morning, Negro da Pontecarraro hurries to the Magistrate’s office. After hearing the whole story, he demands Andreuola’s release. To get ahead of potential rape accusations, the Magistrate praises her chastity, tells her father that he’s fallen deeply in love with her and wants to marry her—even though her first husband had been of such a “lowly condition.”
The magistrate’s attempt to secure himself a noble wife is based in the intersection of ideas about gender and class: he suggests to Negro de Pontecarraro that his daughter is “damaged goods” because her first husband was a poor man from a lower social class than her own, suggesting that this marriage debased her. It’s also a cynical attempt to cover up his own misdeeds since he tried to take advantage of Andreuola when she was vulnerable.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Andreuola falls at Negro da Pontecarraro’s feet, weeping and begging forgiveness for marrying without his permission. She doesn’t ask him to spare her life, but says she wants to die as his “daughter, and not … his enemy.” Her generous and affectionate father bursts into tears, telling her that he always wanted her to marry a worthy man; if she was pleased by Gabriotto, then his wish was granted. He’s sad that she didn’t trust him enough to tell him, but now that he knows about his son-in-law, he intends to honor him with a splendid funeral.
Although Andreuola weeps, it’s not a display of excessive feminine emotion. She doesn’t debase herself by begging her father for special treatment, although she does make sure that he understands she had a legal marriage rather than an illicit affair. His tears match hers and demonstrate the bonds of affection between a good father and his daughter. Unlike the other men in the day’s tale, who fail in their duty to sisters and daughters, Negro da Pontecarraro’s concerns are not over how his daughter’s actions affect him, but over her own happiness. The affection he demonstrates towards his tragically dead son-in-law shows how a person should weigh true value of character against wealth or status.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Gabriotto’s family joins Andreuola’s to mourn the young man’s death, and he is grieved in splendor in the garden before being buried as a nobleman. Although the Magistrate reiterates his proposal, Negro da Pontecarraro supports Andreuola’s decision to enter a convent, where she spends the rest of her life in prayer and service to God.
Although Andreuola’s garden has become a place of tragedy and mourning, it is rehabilitated by Gabriotto’s wake, which both honors a virtuous young man and publicly acknowledges his marriage to Andreuola. And while his death means that Andreuola and Gabriotto fit the day’s theme of unlucky lovers, her reconciliation with her father and his permission for her to enter a convent instead of remarrying—thus remaining faithful to her dead husband’s memory—somewhat soften the story’s tragedy.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon