Filostrato begins his tale with a laugh, acknowledging the mockery he’s received from his companions for his sour attitude towards love—especially when he was sovereign on the previous day. To make amends, he promises to tell a happy tale today.
Panfilo and Emilia both began their tales by gently chastising Filostrato for the previous day’s theme. His response to their mockery is good natured and generous, as befits an aristocratic young man and a member of the brigata, which exemplifies moderation and order.
In Romagna, Messer Lizio da Valbona and his wife Madonna Giacomina cherish their daughter (later identified as Caterina), determined to marry her to no one less than a great nobleman. The couple is friendly with a youth named Ricciardo de’ Manardi da Brettinoro, who spends so much time in their home that they think of him as a son. When he and Caterina fall in love, he hatches a plan for them to be together.
Caterina’s noble parents have high aspirations for their daughter’s marriage, which will not only ensure her own wealth and status, but which has the potential to tie them to a “great” nobleman through ties of kinship. The way that daughters created alliances between families through their marriages contributes to the protective attitude towards their sexuality. Although Ricciardio and Caterina are raised more like siblings than neighbors, love asserts its power over them, and (like other childhood playmates in the tales) they fall in love.
Ricciardo de’ Manardi da Brettinoro suggests that Caterina ask for permission to sleep on a balcony overlooking the garden, where he can climb up and join her after dark. Complaining that the late May weather has been too hot for sleeping indoors, Caterina presents the idea to her parents, but her cranky father says no. She spends the next night complaining so loudly that her mother (with whom she shares a room) can’t sleep, and in the morning, Madonna Giacomina insists that Lizio da Valbona allow his daughter to sleep on the balcony so she can hear the nightingales singing in the cool air.
Since gardens are sites of love and happiness in The Decameron and in medieval literature generally, it’s fitting that Ricciardo and Caterina try to arrange their tryst overlooking one. Their plan is foiled by her parents’ initial refusal to let her sleep outdoors, requiring Caterina to annoy her mother into submission. Remembering that the theme of this day is lovers who survive calamities and misfortunes to attain happiness, the slight annoyance and delay that Ricciardo and Caterina face only qualifies through a generous stretch of the imagination. This gives the impression that Filostrato is either mocking happy lovers out of jealousy or that he, like Pampinea on Day 4, is willing to fit only the literal demands of the theme, not its spirit.
Caterina’s bed, with curtains hanging around it, is placed on the balcony. That night, she signals Ricciardo de’ Manardi da Brettinoro, and he climbs up—with some difficulty and danger—to her. Together, they make the nightingales “sing at frequent intervals,” and when they’re tired from their exertions, they fall asleep naked and entwined in each other’s arms. Caterina’s right arm is under Ricciardo’s neck and her left hand cradles “that part of his person which…you ladies are too embarrassed to mention.” They are discovered in this position by Lizio da Valbona just after dawn.
The “trials” Caterina faced in getting her parents to let her sleep outside are matched by the “danger” Ricciardo faces in climbing up the wall. Again, Filostrato seems to be mocking the lovers in his tale. The sexual innuendo of the singing nightingales is based on a strong medieval association between nightingales—since these birds tend to sing during the night—with romance and lovers.
Lizio da Valbona summons Madonna Giacomina to see how Caterina has “succeeded in waylaying” the nightingale and “is holding it in her hand.” Because of the deceitful way that Ricciardo de’ Manardi da Brettinoro has behaved, Madonna Giacomina is about to scream bloody murder, but Lizio restrains her. Brettinoro is a rich young nobleman, and they could find a worse husband for their daughter. When the pair wake up, they’re given an ultimatum: marry immediately or die. Less to save their lives than on account of their love, they happily agree to wed with her parents as witnesses. And after a larger, public wedding celebration, they spend the rest of their lives “caging nightingales by the score.”
The excuse that Caterina gave her parents—her desire to listen to the nightingales singing—is revealed to be a double entendre when her parents discover her in bed with Ricciardo. Giacomina’s initial reaction responds to the loss of honor incurred by Caterina’s act of premarital sex, but her husband wisely keeps his head and looks at the situation rationally. Since it wasn’t until the mid-16th century that the Roman Catholic Church declared that both priest and witnesses were necessary for weddings, the couple’s exchange of vows in the presence of her parents is sufficient to make a binding marriage. And the tale’s final lines, which reference the nightingale again but also point to a mutually satisfying sex life for the pair, emphasize the power and importance of sex in well-matched relationships.