The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 8: Fifth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Elissa’s tale reminded Filostrato of another anecdote about Maso del Saggio. Florence’s chief magistrates are often “mean-hearted men” who live “frugal and beggarly” lives and act as if they are penniless. Their “inborn miserliness and avarice” inclines them to picking judges and notaries of low character. Niccola da San Lepidio, a man who looks more like a coppersmith than a man of law, is one of these low-quality judges.
This tale takes direct aim at the men involved in governing Florence: the chief magistrates and the judges who helped them enforce the law. They are, this description implies, neither noble in position nor generous in character. The cheapness of the magistrates in turn leads to the appointment of sub-par judges (presumably because they don’t need to be paid as much as good ones). Class consciousness is also on display in the implication that it's possible to know a person’s status by their physical appearance, and that some men look like tradespeople instead of educated lawyers.
Themes
Class and Character Theme Icon
One day, Maso del Saggio is hanging around the courts just to watch (as people often do) when he catches sight of Niccola da San Lepidio’s “curious and witless appearance.” His judge’s cap is dirty, his gown hangs down beneath his robe, and the crotch of his breeches hangs down around his knees. He shows this sight to his equally puckish friends Ribi and Matteuzzo.
The portrait of Niccola da San Lepidio is one of a stereotypical, poor bumpkin. His clothes look so ridiculous it’s hard to believe that he is an educated man, and his greasy filth recalls the description of uncouth servant Guccio Imbratta (IV, 10).
Themes
Class and Character Theme Icon
Realizing that someone could easily conceal himself under Niccola da San Lepidio’s platform and that there’s a hole big enough for a man’s hand beneath his feet, Maso del Saggio suggests that they pull the judge’s pants down. The next day they return to the court, where Matteuzzo crawls under the platform. Maso and Ribi approach the judge from the right and left and grab his robe. They pretend to present him with a civil case in which Maso claims that Ribi stole his boots, and Ribi complains that Maso stole his saddlebag. When the judge stands up, Matteuzzo grabs the seat of his pants and pulls them off—easily due to the judge’s scrawny frame.
Maso del Saggio’s plan, to pants the judge, is calculated to humiliate him, and provide irrefutable proof that he is a fool. He plays into their hands—suggesting that, perhaps, their assessment is correct—when he is easily overwhelmed and confused by the legal “case” Maso and Ribi present to him.
Themes
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Class and Character Theme Icon
Confused, Niccola da San Lepidio tries to cover himself with his robe, but Maso del Saggio and Ribi hold on to it. Eventually, Matteuzzo releases the judge’s pants, and the three pranksters exit the court. Realizing that he’s been tricked, the judge demands to know where they’ve gone, but they are nowhere to be found. The incident angers the chief magistrate until people point out that it was the Florentines’ way to show that they knew his judges were fools.
In the end, this tale suggests that class and intelligence are linked: the poor (or at least poorly dressed) judge is a foolish judge. This aligns with the overall thrust of the tales that a person’s character earns merit rather than their status or wealth. While Niccola looks poor and dingy, he is nevertheless in a position of power—at least until his foolishness is put on display, demonstrating that he doesn’t have the character appropriate for a judge.
Themes
Intelligence Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
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