The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 9: Third Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Filostrato will tell the Calandrino story he almost used on Day 8. When Calandrino’s aunt dies, she leaves him a two-hundred-pound inheritance with which he plans to buy a farm—at least until he realizes how expensive they are. Bruno and Buffalmacco can’t convince him to spend it on partying, but they and their friend Nello think they can at least “stuff themselves” at his expense.
The connection between Filostrato’s tale and earlier stories is, obviously, through the characters of Calandrino, Bruno, Buffalmacco, and Simone da Villa, all of whom appear in previous tales (VIII, 3; VIII, 6; and VIII, 9). The issue of the inheritance—in addition to providing the narrative impetus for the trick Bruno and Buffalmacco play to either relieve Calandrino of his new money or to benefit from it—also raises the issue of class: trying (and failing) to buy a farm suggests a pretentious attempt to live like a country gentleman on Calandrino’s part.
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The next morning, Nello, Buffalmacco, and Bruno place themselves in Calandrino’s path, and when they say good morning, they each comment on how ill Calandrino looks. Calandrino is “quite certain he [is] ill,” and ready to accept when Bruno recommends that he see a physician. Calandrino takes to his bed and sends a urine sample to Simone da Villa. Bruno offers to fetch the doctor himself—which allows him to explain the prank to Simone.
The friends’ prank on Calandrino takes advantage of his suggestibility. He lacks intelligence and has already shown himself ready and eager to believe what others say about him. Thus it’s not a surprise that his friends’ reactions quickly convince him that he is ill. Diagnosis by urinalysis was common enough in the Middle Ages that chamber pots were a frequent symbol of physicians on signage and in medieval paintings and book illustrations.
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Simone da Villa arrives at Calandrino’s bedside, takes his pulse, and declares that he is pregnant. Howling with dismay, Calandrino complains it’s Tessa’s fault, since she likes to be on top during sex. She leaves, embarrassed by this public disclosure of private behavior, while he continues to complain about her “insatiable lust.” If he felt better, he would beat her for it. Nello, Buffalmacco, and Bruno can barely contain their laughter.
The joke of this tale—that Calandrino can believe himself to be pregnant—rests on two foundations. The first is Calandrino’s lack of intelligence and common sense. Life experience should prove to him that it is impossible for men to get pregnant. Second, it relies on profoundly entrenched gender roles. According to the medieval church, acceptable sex was heterosexual, between married spouses, and with the husband on top, since women were naturally inferior and subject to men. Any deviation from this ideal was, to varying degrees, sinful. Calandrino believes that, by taking the feminine position, he has made himself subject to being treated as a woman by nature and impregnated. It’s also worth noting here that, once again, Calandrino’s wife Tessa suffers ancillary consequences to the prank; in this case it’s the humiliation of having her privacy lost and her (allegedly deviant) sexual desires aired publicly. Further, she’s the butt of antifeminist blame when Calandrino claims that it’s her insatiable lust that has gotten him in trouble.
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Simone da Villa tells Calandrino that the pregnancy can be cured, although the treatment is pricy. Terrified at the prospect of a painful childbirth, Calandrino offers every cent of his inheritance. Simone says he will need some succulent chickens and other ingredients that Bruno will buy with five pounds. Bruno instead buys the chickens and “various other essential delicacies” for the pranksters’ supper while Simone da Villa mixes up a placebo.
Of course, the prank is just Bruno, Buffalmacco, and Nello’s plan to fleece Calandrino of his newfound inheritance to fund their impish lifestyles. And the “cure” doesn’t make sense even by medieval standards of medicine, as can be seen when the shopping list includes both chickens and medicinal ingredients. Calandrino, if he had any intelligence at all, should have been suspicious of the so-called cure. 
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Get the entire The Decameron LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Decameron PDF
Calandrino takes the medicine as directed, and after three days, Simone da Villa declares him restored. Calandrino tells everyone about his miraculously fast and painless miscarriage-inducing treatment; Bruno, Buffalmacco, and Nello congratulate themselves on getting around his avarice; and Tessa, not deceived by the whole affair, complains about it for a long time afterward.
Calandrino’s cure—and his subsequent willingness to brag about it publicly—illustrate his lack of sense and propriety. Tessa isn’t taken in; her more advanced understanding of human anatomy, especially regarding pregnancy, miscarriage, and childbirth, is made possible by a society in which much of women’s healthcare was attended to by other women. Nevertheless, she receives collateral harm from the prank in the form of her sexual proclivities being made public and having her husband display his ignorance to the world. Yet she can do nothing other than complain, illustrating the narrow bounds within which women (even intelligent, sensible ones) were allowed to operate. 
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