The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 4: Third Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Filostrato, annoyed that Pampinea told a funny tale, hopes that Lauretta will do better. Despite her feeling that his focus on misery is unkind to lovers, Lauretta nevertheless offers a pitiful tale warning against anger. Anger is a “thoughtless impulse” that “expels all reason” and sets “hearts ablaze,” and it’s most damaging in women, who are more easily angered and whose wrath burns hotter, because they are “more delicate” and “capricious” than men.
Filostrato, who picked the day’s theme evidently hoping to either wallow in his own misery or force his companions to feel some of his pain, is upset that Pampinea has skirted his intent, although he can’t directly fault her since she prudently fulfilled his command and told a story where a love affair ends unluckily. Lauretta’s turn as narrator begins with a lengthy diatribe criticizing women for the vice of anger. The way she describes it, anger is a sin of excess, inherently opposed to rationality and intelligence, so her story will also contribute to The Decameron’s exploration of moderation and imbalance. Lauretta’s explanations for why women are particularly prone to this sin are based both in antifeminist sentiment vilifying women generally and in medieval conceptions of anatomy and physiology, which considered women to be made of lighter, less substantial matter than men. Yet her characterization of women flies in the face of the day’s first tale, where Ghismonda demonstrated masterful self-control and it was her father, Tancredi, who was prone to violent rage and excessive displays of emotion (III, 1).
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
In Marseilles, relatives of N’Arnald Civada have arranged marriages for his daughters, contingent on his return home. Ninetta and Maddalena are twins, and their younger sister is named Bertella. Ninetta loves a poor but noble-born man named Restagnone, and they’ve been carrying on an affair for a while. Meanwhile, two wealthy young men, Folco and Ughetto, are in love with Maddalena and Bertella, respectively.
This tale returns again to the world and concerns of merchants and their families. The three sisters come from wealth but aren’t nobly born. In contrast, Restagnone is noble but poor, reminding the audience that accidents of fortune such as wealth and title are poor indications of a person’s true character or worth.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
When Restagnone learns about the men courting Ninetta’s sisters, he thinks he can repair his own fortune with their wealth. He promises Folco and Ughetto that if they give him one third of their combined wealth, he will help them to carry their ladies far away to live happily. The extremely lovesick young men readily agree and pick Crete as their destination. Once everything is prepared, Ninetta gets her sisters’ agreement and, stealing money and jewels from their father’s stores, they join their lovers and set sail for Crete, where they live “like lords.”
In tying her sisters’ elopement to her own, Ninetta shows that men aren’t the only ones who can callously use women as bargaining objects. The girls’ theft of money and jewels from their father’s coffers parallels their theft of themselves—and the wealth and connections their arranged marriages would have provided—from him. In Crete, they are initially happy since their lovers’ status and wealth can underwrite a lavish lifestyle.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
But, as everyone knows, too much of a good thing often leads to sorrow. Restagnone becomes bored with Ninetta and falls in love with a Cretan girl. Ninetta, “distraught with jealousy,” subjects Restagnone to verbal abuse, but her resentment only confirms Restagnone’s infatuation. Soon, Ninetta’s love has turned to “bitter hatred.” In a “paroxysm of rage” she buys poison from an old crone and serves it to Restagnone.
It is Ninetta’s misfortune that the apparent safety she finds with her lover in Crete eventually bores him so much that he finds a new lover to pursue. While jealousy in the tales (as elsewhere in medieval literature) is usually associated with husbands and male lovers, like Catella (III, 6), Ninetta expresses jealousy, too. And although her jealousy is a reasonable response to Restagnone’s betrayal, the tale leans on antifeminist stereotypes in painting her rage as excessively emotional and unreasonable.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
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The Decameron PDF
When the crone runs afoul of the law, she confesses to her part in Restagnone’s murder, and the Duke of Crete arrests Ninetta. Folco, Ughetto, and their ladies beg leniency for Ninetta. Maddalena goes further and offers to sleep with the Duke, who loves her, if he will release her sister and keep the affair quiet. Pretending that he’s executed Ninetta by drowning, the Duke smuggles Ninetta to her sister in a sack.
If Ninetta was initially unlucky to lose Restagnone’s interest, fortune has worse in store for her when the old crone implicates her in her lover’s murder. Given that jealousy lay at the root of her sister’s misfortune, it is somewhat surprising that Maddalena would risk sleeping with the Duke to free her sister. Her actions could be interpreted through the lens of excessive female lustfulness, or as a shrewd use of the slim power she possesses as a woman in a culture dominated by men. 
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon
But despite Maddalena’s best efforts, Folco discovers Ninetta hidden in their home. Knowing that the Duke of Crete loves Maddalena, Folco immediately suspects what’s happened, and although she desperately tries to spin a believable tale, Maddalena eventually confesses the truth. In a “fit of blazing fury” Falco strikes her dead with his sword, then hurries Ninetta aboard a ship with the promise that he’s taking her to safety. Trusting him and anxious to complete her escape, she goes willingly, but they’re never seen again.
Despite Lauretta’s claim that women are more prone to excessive anger than men, Folco reacts to Maddalena’s infidelity in the exact same way that Ninetta reacted to Restagnone’s unfaithfulness. Moreover, Folco’s disappearance with Ninetta suggests that he's guilty of murdering twice as many people. Interpreting the same behavior more favorably when done by a man than a woman is typical of antifeminist bias.
Themes
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
The next day, the Duke of Crete hears about the discovery of Maddalena’s corpse. He arrests Ughetto and Bertella, torturing them until they confess to being responsible with Falco for her death. They bribe their guards and escape to Rhodes, where they soon die in miserable poverty.
Although Bertella and Ughetto are innocent of the excessive jealousy and anger that destroy the others, they aren’t immune to fortune’s decrees. Despite not deserving it, they also find themselves at the bottom of fortune’s wheel.
Themes
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon