Neifile’s tale is about a man playing a trick on a woman, although it’s more aptly called a “reprisal” since the victim behaved reprehensibly by offering to have sex in exchange for money. Women who yield to the forces of Love—rather than seeking material gain—deserve leniency for their sexual indiscretions, as illustrated in Filostrato’s tale of Madonna Filippa.
Although Neifile’s tale claims that it will turn the tables on the previous day’s tales (in which women tricked men), it draws on many of the same antifeminist stereotypes on display on Day 7, including excessive female lust and women’s tendency to lie and cheat. But this tale adds love of money when it raises the specter of women who take money for sex—an offense that a previous tale has claimed deserves the death penalty (VI, 7). The Decameron generally depicts love as an overwhelming force in people’s lives, but the idea of trading sex for money implies self-control and scheming. In the book’s worldview, the exchange of money is incompatible with real love and therefore to be condemned rather than praised.
In Milan, a German mercenary named Gulfardo has a reputation for loyalty and scrupulously repaying loans. He loves Madonna Ambruogia, the wife of Guasparruolo Cagastraccio, a wealthy merchant. When Gulfardo asks for Ambruogia’s “sweet reward,” she agrees on two conditions: absolute secrecy, and payment of two hundred gold florins. Her greed reduces Gulfardo’s opinion of her and turns his love into hate. He resolves to teach her a lesson.
It’s notable that Ambruogia doesn’t lose any honor by her willingness to have an extramarital affair, only by her insistence on receiving payment for it. While moral and legal codes considered sexual relationships outside of marriage illicit, as the stories in The Decameron show, extramarital sex (at least in literature!) wasn’t such a big deal. Where this affair goes awry, however, is when Ambruogia asks for money in exchange. While this makes sense in the context of the book’s celebration of the overpowering force of romantic love, it also highlights a gendered double standard: throughout the tales, many women have been objectified and traded between male relatives and husbands. But when a woman places a monetary value on her own sexuality, she is condemned for it. Because it turns honorable Gulfardo’s love into hate, the tale implies that this greed is worthy of the punishment she will receive at his hands.
Gulfardo accepts Madonna Ambruogia’s conditions, excepting a friend who will help conduct the business, and she tells him the dates of Guasparruolo Cagastraccio’s next trading voyage. Gulfardo asks Guasparruolo for a loan of two hundred florins. He subsequently takes these to Ambruogia and asks her to “give it to your husband when he returns” in the presence of his friend. Thinking that the “repayment” is a ploy to cover up the real purpose of the money in his friend’s presence, she promises to do so.
While the friend initially seems like a throwaway detail, it’s important to note that Gulfardo has brought a witness to confirm that he’s handed over the money to Ambruogia. His action hints at a larger plan that has yet to be revealed in full. Borrowing the necessary money from her husband, of all people, further suggests that she is another one of his possessions, rather than belonging to herself.
While Guasparruolo Cagastraccio is away, Madonna Ambruogia frequently puts herself “at [Gulfardo’s] disposal.” When Guasparruolo returns, Gulfardo and his companion call on him to explain that he returned the loaned money to Ambruogia right away. She’s forced to agree, since Gulfardo’s friend witnessed the transaction. Thus, Gulfardo enjoyed the pleasures of Ambruogia’s bed for free.
The lesson that Gulfardo teaches Ambruogia is that love should be free. In the context of The Decameron’s themes, this lesson aligns with the belief in love’s overwhelming power. But because it’s cast as a special victory for Gulfardo, the voided payment suggests that she is being punished for trying to leverage her sexual attractions out of greed.