ITAL 325: Literature of the Black Death

Learning Goal: I’m working on a literature writing question and need an explanation and answer to help me learn.

A. Identifications. 24 points: 4 points each. Identify the character who is speaking or who is being described in the selected passages below. Write in the name of the character below the citation and then identify the story by number (i.e., VI.6) and by the narrator. Translations are my adaptations from the text of McWilliam.

1. “’ For, in the name of Lucifer, how do you differ from any other miserable whore, apart from having a tolerably pretty face, which in any case a few years henceforth will be covered all over in wrinkles? Yet it was not for lack of trying that you failed to murder a gentleman (as you called me just now), a person who can bring more benefit to humanity in a single day than a hundred thousand women of your sort can bring to it for as long as the world shall last. By suffering as you do now, you will possibly learn what it means to trifle with a man’s affections, and to hold a man of learning up to ridicule; and if you should escape with your life, you will have good cause never to stoop to such madness again.’”

2. “’My lord, I have always known that my poor condition was entirely at odds with your nobility, and that it is to God and yourself that I owe whatever standing I possess. Nor have I ever regarded this as a gift that I might keep and cherish namely as my own, but rather as something I have borrowed. Now that you want me to return it, I must give it back to you with grace. Here is the ring with which you married me: take it. As to your ordering me to take away the dowry that I brought, you will require no accountant, nor will I need a purse or a horse, for this to be done. For it has not escaped my memory that you took me naked as on the day I was born. If you think it proper that the body in which I have borne your children should be seen by all the people, I shall go away naked. But in return for my virginity, which I brought to you and cannot retrieve, I trust you will allow me, at least, in addition to my dowry, to take one shift away with me.’”

3. “However, as I am sure you will know, every man and woman should be equal before the law, and laws must have the consent of those who are affected by them. These conditions are not fulfilled in the present instance, because this law only applies to us poor women, who are much better able than men to bestow our favors liberally. Moreover, when this law was made, no woman gave her consent to it, nor was any woman even so much as consulted. It can therefore justly be described as a very bad law. […] If he has always taken as much of me as he needed and as much as he chose to take, I ask you, Messer Podestà, what am I to do with the surplus? Throw it to the dogs? Is it not far better that I should present it to a gentleman who loves me more dearly than himself, rather than allow it to turn bad or go to waste?”

B. Close readings. 36 points: 12 points each.

Now you must execute a close reading of each of the passages from Part I. That means that you must submit a total of THREE close readings.

For your three close readings, you must accomplish three things. First, you must explain the significance of this passage for the story in which it appears (in other words, provide a very brief plot synopsis with character names, and explain at what point this passage appears). Second, you should explain how this story relates to the theme of the day in which it appears, and draw a connection between this story and another one in the same day. Third, you must draw at least one connection between this story and another story in the Decameron from a different day. In this last case, think broadly of the themes or characterizations that appear in this tale and elsewhere that are either compared or contrasted (i.e., characterizations of women, female eloquence, intelligence, sexuality and desire; patriarchy and domestic dynamics; representations of the mercantile world, etc.). If appropriate, you can further draw connections with the frame narrative. Specificity and insight are key; the more proper names and citations you provide in your readings, the more accomplished they will be. Make sure to provide textual citations as much as possible. Your close readings should be between 150 and 200 words each.

Use the number the passage that was assigned in Part One at the beginning of each short essay response so that I can identify it.

C. Essay questions. 40 points: 20 points each.

Respond fully to both of the following questions. Your responses should be approximately 300 words each, and structured in the following way: thesis paragraph, argument/evidence paragraph, and conclusion paragraph. Thus, your responses should read like a “mini-papers.”

1. Often cited as a proto-feminist text, the Decameron was, according to Boccaccio himself, specifically written for the enjoyment of women. Examine the diverse roles women play in the Decameron. What professions to they hold, how much autonomy are they given, and how they interact with their environment and with others? Try to judge Boccaccio not by today’s standards, but as a man writing in the fourteenth century.

2. Boccaccio’s protagonists often use eloquent speech as a means of persuading others. What rhetorical events (storytelling, debates, speeches, etc.) appear in the Decameron and how successful are they in helping the speaker obtain his/her objective? Is there a correlation between the use of rhetoric in the Decameron and a character’s gender, social status, profession, or origin? And what other forms of communication, both verbal and non-verbal, are used in Boccaccio’s tales? Use specific example from the text to support your observations




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