The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 7: Sixth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Pampinea picks up on the idea that jealousy impairs the intellect with a story demonstrating how love can inspire creative thinking. A young Florentine noblewoman (later identified as Madonna Isabella) grows tired of her husband and takes the humbly-born but accomplished Leonetto as her lover. Meanwhile, a nobleman called Lambertuccio falls in love with her and forces her to become his lover by threatening to destroy her reputation should she refuse. 
It’s not surprising that Pampinea offers a tale here about wit and resourcefulness, since almost all of her previous tales (I, 10; II, 3; III, 2; IV, 2; and VI, 2) have dealt with the theme. Isabella’s position demonstrates the vulnerability of women, since she’s tied sexually to two men she doesn’t want: her boring husband and a noble lover who blackmails her into a relationship. The contrast between the two lovers further demonstrates that nobility of character is more important than nobility in title, since the lower-class Leonetto earns Isabella’s love while upper-class Lambertuccio extorts it.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
One summer day, while she’s staying alone in her country villa, Madonna Isabella invites Leonetto to visit. But while they’re together, Lambertuccio (knowing that her husband is out) shows up, too. Madonna Isabella hides Leonetto in her room, afraid to put Lambertuccio off. But while he “bend[s] her to his pleasure,” her husband returns.
The language of the tale makes it clear that Lambertuccio’s time with Isabella is tantamount to rape, pointing to her inferior position as a woman in the relationship.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
With “extraordinary presence of mind,” Madonna Isabella convinces Lambertuccio to take out a dagger and run downstairs waving it like a madman while shouting about catching a certain villain. He follows her directions exactly, running past her husband, mounting his horse, and riding away. She then tells her confused husband that a few minutes before, a stranger being pursued by Lambertuccio had run into the house, and she hid him to prevent his murder. She calls for Leonetto to come out. He says that he has no business with Lambertuccio; the other man must be confused or out of his mind. Madonna Isabella’s husband takes Leonetto home safely, privately speaks to Lambertuccio about his behavior, and is never any the wiser about the trick his wife played on him. 
The husband’s appearance radically equalizes the previously lopsided power dynamic between Isabella and Lambertuccio: they are both vulnerable to censure and possibly even violence at her husband’s hands if he discovers their illicit affair. In seizing the moment to her advantage, Madonna Isabella demonstrates both intelligence and bravery and shows that women are just as capable of self-determination as men, even if their opportunities for it are limited in the tales’ culture and setting. This tale also offers a delicious bonus for the audience: while Isabella certainly plays a trick on her husband (and gets away with it!), she also plays a trick that deprives her of her undesired lover at the same time.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon