The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 7: Third Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Elissa’s tale is set in Siena. Young, handsome Rinaldo (soon to become Friar Rinaldo) has fallen in love with his neighbor’s wife, Madonna Agnesa. He befriends Madonna Agnesa’s Husband and becomes their child’s godfather. After later becoming a monk, he initially repudiates his love. But he eventually resumes his vices and begins to behave like a young nobleman again. In this way, he’s like most friars, who wear beautiful clothes, develop gout from their indulgent appetites for food and wine, and think that laypeople won’t notice their poor example.
According to the medieval standards of consanguinity (the measure of how closely related people were) that determined which relationships were allowable and which were incestuous, godparents were considered blood relatives of a child; for a godparent to have sex with a parent’s child was tantamount to incest. Therefore, while Friar Rinaldo’s plan to get closer to Madonna Agnesa is a good one, it’s also seriously complicated from a romantic standpoint. The unflattering description of his worldliness and sinful inclinations is part of The Decameron’s anticlerical satire. This example goes so far as to claim that the friars’ diets are so rich as to give them gout, a type of arthritis exacerbated or caused by excessive indulgence in alcohol and rich, salty foods.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Faith vs. Religion Theme Icon
Friar Rinaldo resumes his pursuit of Madonna Agnesa, and although she is “itching” to give in, she worries about the special wickedness of having sex with her child’s godfather. Friar Rinaldo points out that she also has sex with the child’s father; since child and father are more closely related than child and godfather, he reasons that it can’t be more sinful for her to sleep with her child’s godfather than her child’s father. Not being a strong logician, she accepts this argument, and they become frequent lovers.
Friar Rinaldo’s argument is ridiculous on its face since it neatly avoids dealing with the fact that husbands and wives (in other words, a legitimate child’s parents) were the only people who should be having sex according to medieval law. His attempt to circumvent the legal and ethical standards by appealing to a false argument, and his skill in doing so, contributes to the anticlerical satire in The Decameron, since he’s using his knowledge of church law and his rhetorical skill to seduce a woman who is already married, rather than to save her soul. And if Rinaldo is an unflattering example of clerical greed, so too is Madonna Agnesa an unflattering example of several misogynistic fears about women. Although she knows it’s wrong to sleep with anyone who isn’t her husband, much less a monk who is her child’s godfather, in “itching” to be convinced that what she wants to do is okay, she demonstrates excessive female lust. In falling prey to Rinaldo’s impressive-sounding but false arguments, she demonstrates her lack of intelligence.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon
Faith vs. Religion Theme Icon
One day, while Friar Rinaldo visits Madonna Agnesa (having sent his fellow friar off to “teach prayers” to her pretty maid), Madonna Agnesa’s Husband returns home unexpectedly. To explain the compromising situation, Agnesa tells him that their son fell ill from worms. Fortunately, Rinaldo was there with some efficacious prayers. Unable to find the child’s father, he sent his companion to the highest point in the house to recite some, while he and she locked themselves in the bedroom to avoid being disturbed so he could pray for the child’s healing.
Despite allowing herself to be convinced that her affair with Friar Rinaldo isn’t too sinful, Madonna Agnesa shows her capacity for cleverness in coming up with the lie that prevents her husband from learning about their affair. Her explanation fits the day’s theme—she plays a trick on her husband and she gets away with it. Her lie is made convincing by Friar Rinaldo’s status as a monk, thus pointing towards the hypocrisy of the clergy, who look holy but act sinfully.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Faith vs. Religion Theme Icon
While Madonna Agnesa talks, Friar Rinaldo puts his habit back on, picks up the boy, and innocently invites Madonna Agnesa’s Husband to come in. He capitalizes on the father’s relief to find his son alive by suggesting a generous donation to the church. Meanwhile, the other friar returns to report that he has taught the pretty maid not just one “Our Father,” but as many as four. Admiring the friar’s stamina, Friar Rinaldo admits that he only managed two prayers. Madonna Agnesa’s husband offers them refreshments, then bids them farewell. 
Madonna Agnesa’s lie also capitalizes on her husband’s love and concern for their child, which Rinaldo (like any good hypocritical, greedy monk) capitalizes on to get a generous donation that will ultimately support the friars’ lavish lifestyles. The return of the second monk dispels any discomfort over this manipulation, which injects blasphemous humor into the tale with its example of medieval locker-room talk, in which the two friars compare their sexual exploits disguised as prayers. In explicitly tying the sinful act of fornication with the holy act of prayer, the tale contributes a memorable example to the book’s ongoing anticlerical satire.
Themes
Faith vs. Religion Theme Icon
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