The Moral Implications Behind Boccaccio’s Tales of The Decameron With corpses rotting on the street and crime widespread throughout Europe, Boccaccio began writing The Decameron at the peak of the Black Plague in 1350. During this time, people fled their homes, lost faith in their religions, and abandoned their friends and families in order to seek refuge from the physically and mentally depraving reality of the Black Plague. Boccaccio incorporates the reality of his time during the 14th century into the tales of The Decameron.
In his book, seven people seek refuge from he Black Plague in the countryside, where they immerse themselves in song, dance, food, and storytelling for ten days. The stories they tell are simple, but each story consists of a specific moral implication that reflects how society began to disintegrate during the Black Plague, and how morality, the standard code of conduct that society creates to minimize the harm humans can suffer, was questioned in the face of chaos.The first tale of the Decameron is told by Panfllo who presents a character by the name of Ser Cepparello, “…
probably the worst man that ever lived! ” and goes on o show the reader that our beliefs and morals are not as solid as we would like to believe (Dec. , 1. 1.
27)1 . In Panfllo’s tale, while Ser Capparello, also known as Ciappelletto, was on his death bed, he tricks a friar into thinking that his life was pure. The friar goes on to preach about Cepparellds life as a moral example for others to follow, establishing him as a holy man and a saint.With his tale, Panfllo encourages the reader to look beyond appearances and to use intelligence to apprehend the hidden workings of divinity in order to prevent inaccurate notions about them. He expresses this message when he says, “it sometimes happens that, deceived by popular opinion, we choose as an advocate before His majesty one who is sentenced by Him to eternal exile…
He… pays more attention to the purity of one who prays” (Dec. , 1.
1. 25- 26).Panfllo’s words are a reflection of Boccaccio’s thoughts and thus, Boccaccio says that society conforms to ideas and morals without seeing if they are good or bad. Ciappellettds confession sets forth a model of moral excellence despite the fact that it was inauthentic and the townspeople accept it without question. However, can evil be an example of virtue? One would morally believe that something done with evil thought is evil in its aftermath. However, in Panfllo’s tale, an evil action has a virtuous outcome.Hence, Boccaccio presents us with a situation that is a reversal of our morals and leads us to question what morality is and how we come to accept morals presented to us, reflecting the thoughts most people had during the Black Plague. Boccaccio continues to question the strength and truth of our morals on the third day, when Filomena tells a tale about how a young man named Masetto da Lamporecchio pretends to be deaf and mute, and how he obtains gardener’s Job at a convent where eight nuns and one abbess sleep with him behind each other’s backs.
Filomena’s tale reflects upon the stereotype that was common throughout the Middle Ages, that women were more lustful than men. This is shown to us when Masetto says, “l have heard that one cock is enough to satisfy have to satisfy nine of them” (Dec. , 3.
1 . 199). The tale also addresses the fact that desire is natural and how despite a “white veil over her head and a black cowl upon her back, “desire and temptation overrule discipline, as they did when “the Abbess ell victim to the same lustful cravings that had overtaken her nuns” (Dec. , 3. 1 .
93-194, 199). So using this tale, Boccaccio questions if doing something natural, such as satisfying one’s desires, should be considered immoral. Furthermore, this tale also addresses the issue of silence and speech. Masetto uses silence to get what he wants, but when “he realized [sic] that his being mute might do him too much harm if he allowed it to continue any longer,” he speaks (Dec.
, 3. 1. 199). The fact that he uses speech can be seen as a moral implication that without speech, we cannot ommunicate and that as a society we would fall apart.During the Black Plague, people forgot about their spirituality and succumbed to worldly values of desire.
Furthermore, as people shut themselves out from the reality of the Black Plague, all forms of communication between humans were cut off as well. Boccaccio brings these matters into the Decameron and places it in a context where we as readers have to question whether such acts go against our morality, against our humanity. During the 14th century, in Boccaccio’s time, society was already divided between ncient church values and new humanistic ideas.Thus when the Black Plague reared its head, people were forced to question their morals, to question what was right and wrong. Boccaccio addresses these questions in the tales of The Decameron by providing situations that seem simple but have moral implications deeper within their texts.
In merely two stories, Boccaccio questions the truth of what we are told, the strength of our morals, the stereotypes we form as a society, and the devices that connect us in a society. He provides his opinion, but it is up to us to form the answers, if there are any.