Renaissance Implications On Morality And Censorship In “The Decameron”

Boccaccio writes in Italy in 14th-century Italy. His historical dilemma is between the blind adherence that permeated Middle Ages Christianity and the new Humanism of Renaissance Italy. Boccaccio prefers to look ahead, as he is open to frivolity and scathing depictions of churchmen. His epilogue addresses the topic of obscenity, anticipating that he will be confronted with moral objections to his stories. Although Boccaccio acknowledges that his stories may be perceived as moral, he eventually argues that the book’s purpose is not to offend. Boccaccio is able to uphold some values in his short stories. They include a personal morality, humor, and the value of trifles.

Boccaccio is basically defending against the accusation that he has committed obscenity. He claims that obscenity instances are minor and don’t make his work moral. He claims that his occasional “trifling indiscretion in speech” is similar to using words with amoral connotations like “mortar” or “sausage.” This is a common practice in speech. He also attacks anyone who might have a problem using his work and calls them “preciousprudes,” saying they are more concerned with appearances than morality. He claims that readers who are offended are people who care more about appearances than true moral action. There are many examples of people who live sinningly private lives and it is easy to see that this attack may be directed at the church. He also uses the analogy of his work to wine or fire or arms, as well as to the bible. These are all good things but they can also cause “manifold mischief,” he says. It’s the same with mine stories, I tell you” (012).

He offers some practical and superficial solutions to the problem. He notes that the stories can be skipped, as they are not connected and independent. “None should be misled. Every one bears on their brows the epitome that it hides inside its bosom” (019). Boccaccio seems to be primarily telling his audience that obscenity doesn’t matter and can easily be avoided.

He shifts his focus to communicate the purpose and claims that his audience is made up of women passing the time. In this moment, there is evidence that his defense of his work is shallow. He does not believe that simply skipping the offending story renders his work inoffensive. Boccaccio can see the epilogue as a formality and an opportunity to name those he believes are immoral. He claims that his work wasn’t meant to be serious nor part of any scholarly study. It is interesting to note that his work is not intended for intellectual purposes and is only meant to be read by women to pass the time. Boccaccio doesn’t mind having his standards lowered, since he doesn’t consider passing time for women to be intellectually insulting or degrading. It is clear that Boccaccio is mocking his work and attempting to make it funny.

“I am of no gravity, but I affirm that I’m light. And considering that friars preach to people about their sins in sermons, they are filled with jests and merry-conceits and drolleries. So I thought it would be good to have similar stories to banish women’s dumps. If they make too much of it, they may be quickly cured of their sins by the Lament of Jeremiah.

Boccaccio also portrays the Church’s members as being potentially immoral in this instance. His comedy and exaggeration feel superficial and there is a possibility that he has not been sincere in his defense. His reversal may suggest that he has some issues with morality. Although Boccaccio says that the work is frivolous, it seems like he might attach some value. This makes it difficult to analyze the stories and see if Boccaccio actually had an appreciation for morality.

First, evidence is found that Boccaccio values a basic morality. This can be seen in the stories. In a number of stories, characters are either punished or rewarded for their morality. These characters are not punished after death, but in their real lives. The Second Tale of the Fourth Day shows a brother named Alberto being humiliated after seducing an angel-like lady.

The Ninth Tale of the Fifth Day is an example of this type of morality that is based upon action. Federigo, a man, falls in love Monna, a wealthy and beautiful woman. He attempts unsuccessfully to court her until he is able to leave the country and return home. Monna Giovanna requests a favor for her sick son by giving her her falcon. Federigo was unaware of the request and had nothing to offer Giovanna but his falcon. Giovanna marries Federigo because of his kindness and unwavering love for her. Federigo shows a strong moral character despite his poor circumstances. He is ultimately rewarded. This morality is not the result of faith and piety but simple ethical action. Giovanna also stated that she would rather marry a man who is poor than one who is wealthy (043). This stratification mirrors Boccaccio’s earlier statements about those who “weigh words instead of deeds” (005), which allow us to assume Boccaccio is indeed a supporter of this kind.

Boccaccio also tends to make many characters who are part of the Church look immoral because of their exploiting of their church status. As previously stated, Brother Alberto uses priesthood to seduce women. His mistress is also convinced that the Archangel Gabriel loves her and is coming through him. To aid him sin, he direct uses figures from the Church. Another example of a sinful, exploitative character is the First Tale of the First Day. Ser Ceperello (a scoundrel) leads a corrupt life and is later praised for his virtue and made a confession. He is then made a saint. Boccaccio claims Ceperello would prefer to be in Hell than Paradise (090), but it seems that Ceperello has not suffered any physical consequences. Ceperello is prayed to daily by those who believe that he is capable of miracles. Boccaccio views the Church’s system as superficial. But, this manipulation also shows that not all Christians are moral. Boccaccio sees morality as not being centered on the Church. It is about the individual.

Yet, Boccaccio does not show his morality in every story. In fact, most stories don’t end in heavy moral retribution as punishments or rewards for bad actions. They are more lighthearted or focus on a trivial aspect. Boccaccio might not find the morality or frivolity mutually exclusive. This is evident in the case of Ceperello’s sainthood or Federigo’s marriage to Giovanna. These ironic conclusion can be viewed as amusing. Some stories depict sexual impropriety that has no moral qualms. This almost leads into disaster, but the story is comically resolved with a rewrite. These stories show that Boccaccio is a entertainer.

Boccaccio’s morality is addressed in The Decameron in two ways. First, he deflects claims that his work violates morality in the epilogue. Second, he gives the impression that he values human actions more than corrupt Church morality. The central issue of the book is not morality. Recognizing the value of frivolity as well as escapism is the main issue. This not only matches his original description, but it also matches what the stories are told within: escapism.

The ten women and men fled the city to escape the plague. The group then tells fictitious stories to escape the waiting. These stories are meant to be funny and entertaining for both the audience and the nine people listening within the context. Boccaccio writes stories that are mostly entertaining, which promotes frivolity and man’s importance. This morality, as well as the humanism-inspired stories, are perfectly in line with Humanism.



Makhi is a 34 yo educational blogger who is passionate about writing and exploring new content ideas. She has a degree in English from the University of Utah and is currently working as a teacher in a public school in Utah. Makhi has been published in numerous online journals and has been featured on national television networks.