The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 9: Fifth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Fiammetta returns to the consistently entertaining subject of Calandrino for her next tale. When Niccolò Cornacchini builds a mansion in the country, he commissions Bruno and Buffalmacco to paint its frescoes, and they recruit Nello and Calandrino to help. The only other people in the mansion are an old housekeeper and Niccolò’s son, Bachelor Filippo, who occasionally comes out to entertain a lady.
Fiammetta’s free-choice tale connects with those of her peers in two ways: it centers on Calandrino, Bruno, Buffalmacco, and Nello yet again (these men appear in tales VIII, 3; VIII, 6; VIII, 9; and IX, 3), and it is a tale about the power of love to direct people’s actions.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Quotes
One of Bachelor Filippo’s companions is Niccolosa. Although she is a prostitute employed by a Florentine pimp, she is pretty, polite, and well-spoken. One day, Calandrino encounters her at the well. While she stares at his strange appearance, he mistakes attention for attraction. Staring intently back, he notices her beauty, and after she playfully heaves a few sighs, he falls hopelessly in love. When Calandrino tells Bruno, he claims that Niccolosa is Filippo’s wife and offers to act as a go-between for Calandrino. Calandrino wants the affair kept from Nello; as a relative of his wife (Tessa), he worries Nello would snitch.
This tale’s prank revolves around getting Calandrino to believe that Niccolosa loves him—and part of the humor comes from the fact that it’s very clear that she’s a prostitute. Although the tale describes her as generally classy, the idea that Calandrino thinks that a well-spoken prostitute is a fine lady underlines his ignorance and lack of social refinement. The scene in which Calandrino falls in love with her is a parody of fin’amors (refined loving) as it is portrayed in medieval romances: love invades Calandrino’s consciousness through his eyes as he looks on Niccolosa’s beauty; her sighs make him think that she loves him (since all lovers in romances sigh), and the moment he feels that the attraction is mutual, it is cemented in his mind and consummating it is his only goal.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Quotes
When Calandrino wanders off in search of Niccolosa, Bruno tells Buffalmacco and Nello about his crush and they plan a prank to play on him. Bruno explains the prank to Bachelor Filippo and Niccolosa, who participate so they can have a “merry time at Calandrino’s expense.” Thus, when Calandrino performs “a whole series of curious antics” to impress Niccolosa, she gives him “every encouragement.” When she and Filippo return to the city, Bruno suggests that Calandrino play her love-songs on his rebeck (a stringed instrument). Calandrino, believing her to be a nobleman’s wife, boasts about his magnetism, since she has fallen in love with him so quickly.
Normally, when Bruno and Buffalmacco want to have a merry time at someone’s expense, they mean it literally, as they bilk their marks out of food, wine, and patronage (see VIII, 6; VIII, 9; and IX, 3). In this tale, however, they just mock his extreme ignorance, drawing their wealthy patron’s son into the joke as well. And it works: Calandrino believes Niccolosa loves him. Because in medieval romances, a worthy woman’s attention confers worth on her lover and can even ennoble a rude and uneducated one (see the tale of Cimon in V, 1), Calandrino believes that Niccolosa’s love proves him to be a worthy man, even as his inane actions show him to be a buffoon.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
To make a long story short, Calandrino neglects his work in favor of wooing Niccolosa, Niccolosa encourages him, and Bruno acts as go-between. Occasionally, Bruno and Buffalmacco claim that Niccolosa wants a small present, and in this way, they defraud him of things like daggers and combs. As the work draws to a close, Calandrino becomes desperate. In the final phase of the prank, Bruno offers to make a magic scroll with which Calandrino can control Niccolosa. Calandrino collects the necessary items, although the live bat gives him some difficulty.
As in other stories in The Decameron, Calandrino’s acceptance of magic and the occult makes him susceptible to claims that his friends can work a magic trick on his behalf. Even after they tricked him with another piece of magic meant to expose his pig thief (VIII, 6), he still falls prey to their stories. In general, however, collecting small tokens from him and watching him try to obtain the necessary magic ingredients provide more entertainment for the pranksters than any material gain.
Themes
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Bruno, having made the scroll, tells Calandrino that if he touches Niccolosa with it, she will do whatever he wants. Bruno suggests Calandrino take her to the barn for privacy, where Bachelor Filippo and Buffalmacco are already hiding. Meanwhile, Nello entices Tessa to the estate with the chance to pay Calandrino back for beating her over the magic stones. Tessa rushes to confront her husband. Just before she arrives, Calandrino touches Niccolosa with the scroll, and she immediately follows him to the barn.
The tale leaves an open question about the magic scroll: since Calandrino believes that Niccolosa is in love with him, it’s not entirely clear why he feels he needs magic to seduce her. In any case, the magic scroll appears to turn her into an ultimately obedient and pliable woman who is ready to fulfil his every desire. Meanwhile, Calandrino’s wife Tessa—who has shown herself to be far less pliant towards her husband and who is, in fact, out to revenge herself for a beating he gave her (VIII, 3)—arrives on the scene.
Themes
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In the barn, Niccolosa pushes Calandrino to the ground and then sits astride him, pinning his arms, while Bruno, Buffalmacco, and Bachelor Filippo watch from their secret spot. Just as Calandrino frees his arms and is about to kiss Niccolosa, Tessa forces her way into the barn and attacks her prostrate husband, clawing his face and screaming that someone else is busy “getting him with child this time.” Bruno and Buffalmacco, pretending to stumble on the scene, send Calandrino home with Tessa, who heaps a “torrent of strictures and abuse” on him.
Tessa finds Calandrino and Niccolosa in the same sexual position—woman on top—that he berated her for liking in a previous tale, since he believed the inversion had caused him to get pregnant (IX, 3). She recalls this incident and mocks him when she bursts onto the scene. And while Calandrino, exposed as a fool in love with another woman (a prostitute, in fact), does seem to get his comeuppance, the tale also traffics in antifeminist stereotypes, painting Tessa as a shrewish, abusive wife, whose reaction—while justified in essence—is excessive in nature.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon