The primary objective of this essay is to interpret a Boccaccian novella (in this case, The Tale of the Host’s Wife) in order to develop an informed discussion of the events portrayed therein. Specifically, the objectives are as follows: 1) to discuss the selected tale in terms of its representation of erotic love, fortune, and intelligence; 2) to examine the author’s moral position on those themes; and 3) to make brief comparisons to other tales of the same themes. For this purpose, the essay is divided into several sections. The first three paragraphs discuss the selected tale in terms of its representation of erotic love, fortune, and intelligence. The fourth paragraph examines the author’s moral position on those themes. The fifth paragraph makes a brief comparison to other tales of the same themes.
The Tale of the Host’s Wife certainly presents sex and passion as natural consequences of erotic love. In the story, Pinuccio loses of the need to ultimately temper his desire to engage in fruitful sex with his beloved Niccolosa. The same is also true for Niccolosa. She has grown enamored of him and thus has studied how best to “comfort” him. Pinuccio’s desire to bed her is so intense that he decides to contrive to lodge with her father (in which he succeeds) (Boccaccio 579). When the opportunity came, Pinuccio takes Niccolosa with the solace “of which were most fain” (VI) and receives her with utmost care and pleasure. In Boccaccio’s eyes, all human behavior is conditioned and hence, man, being a creature of instinct, is naturally predisposed to follow his senses. Reason therefore is merely an illusory device by which man uses to make sense of his conscious intellect. Even though Pinuccio knew beforehand the risks which he was about to undertake, he could not temper his passion. He could not, in any way, envisage a future in which the exercise of virtue takes precedence over the need to bed Niccolosa. In Pinuccio’s eyes, such a future would be an improper and “unreasonable” application of moral restraint – a condition in which erotic love is subdued and vanquished.
The Tale of the Host’s Wife (Ninth Day, Sixth Tale), fortune also occupies a preeminent role in shaping and reshaping human affairs. Against the twists and turns of natural forces, Pinuccio succeeds in bedding Niccolosa. It can be argued that following fortune is a matter of accepting the various conditions inexorably established by nature. But uncertainty is a matter of discourse. If the host’s wife did not act reasonably to cover up Pinuccio’s mess, he would have been caught. If the host’s wife failed to lain with Niccolosa, the host would have discovered Pinuccio’s indiscretions. Pinuccio is too lucky to have never been caught, despite the “imperfections” of his plan. At any rate, in Boccaccio’s eyes, fortune is an unruly and often impulsive agency and erratic in its workings. If Pinuccio suffered ill-fortune, the host could have killed him in haste. But then again, the host’s wife saves him from such a misfortune. The timely intervention of the host’s wife has saved the entire household from a great scandal. This too, surprises Pinuccio who was hitherto expecting the host’s wife to back her husband’s claims. If fortune constitutes man’s only protection against the unpredictable vagaries of nature, intelligence assists man in satisfying his natural instincts, particularly love. In most cases, intelligence is regarded primarily as an ally and adjunct of nature that is chiefly designed to serve some particular ends. The predominant selfish application of intelligence is one thing. This is not what Boccaccio was particularly concerned about. Intelligence maybe regarded as the handmaid of instinct, without which, it is impossible to regulate the most violent and erratic passions. In The Tale of the Host’s Wife (Ninth Day, Sixth Tale), Boccaccio introduces two types of intelligence: intelligence that aids man in satisfying his natural instincts and intelligence that secures the rational control of the senses. Pinuccio exhibits the first type of intelligence. Because of his intense desire to bed Niccolosa, Pinuccio devises a plan to accomplish his purpose. His plan is relatively simple. He will contrive to lodge with Niccolosa’s father, pretending to be a comer (with the assistance of Adriano). After everyone has fallen into sleep, Pinuccio will go to the room where his beloved was lying. In this case, intelligence clearly assisted Pinuccio in satisfying his natural instinct – the need to bed her beloved Niccolosa. Pinuccio utilizes his intelligence to accomplish a pre-determined end: to sleep with his beloved Niccolosa. The host’s wife on the other hand exhibits the second type of intelligence – intelligence that secures the rational control of the senses. The host’s wife wakes up, apparently disturbed by her husband’s bellows. Evidently, her husband has heard Pinuccio gallantly muttering about his sexual exploits. Being a discreet and intelligent woman, she stands up and lies beside Niccolosa: “The host’s wife, who thought she was in bed with her husband, remarked to Adriano: ‘Oh dear! Listen to our guests. They seem to have fallen out over something’” (Boccaccio 581). Thereafter, the good woman tells her husband that she is lying beside their daughter all night long and that Pinuccio is probably dreaming. Clearly, she wants to avoid a scandal. Indeed, her wit has saved the day. She is able to secure rational control over her senses and turn a potential disaster into hilarity.
What is Boccaccio’s moral position with respect to desire (erotic love, sex), fortune, and intelligence? Is erotic love completely incompatible with reason? How is fortune related to nature? Does the tale project the notion that women are as intelligent as men? In The Tale of the Host’s Wife (Ninth Day, Sixth Tale), Boccaccio exhibits a liberal and tolerant attitude toward sex and erotic love. Sex can be enjoyed even outside marriage (as was the case between Niccolosa and Pinuccio). Such an enjoyment however can only be properly exercised by free choice (mutual consent). In response to the second question, erotic love is not completely incompatible with reason. For Boccaccio, erotic love is reasonable if it takes place by free choice and mutual consent (which was the case of Niccolosa and Pinuccio). Impliedly, Niccolosa is also keen to sleep with Pinuccio. It is compatible with reason when it results to marital fidelity which, according to Boccaccio, is an exercise of virtue. In response to the third question, fortune cannot be understood as luck alone. It is a natural attribute divinely bestowed upon man to assist him fight adversity. The interplay between nature and human agency on one hand, and nature and luck on the other hand is fortune – the random workings of pure chance. In response to the last question, it is worth noting that Boccaccio does not consider intelligence as a sole attribute of the male species (the host’s wife and Peronella being case at point). Men and women are endowed with intelligence; both of whom are entitled to the refinement of instinct and impulse (the host’s wife being the case at point). In Boccaccio’s eyes, intelligence is a general attribute of the human species – an attribute which makes it possible the rational control of the senses.
Representations of erotic love, fortune, and intelligence are also evident in other Boccaccian tales, particularly the Second Tale. As said earlier, sex and passion are natural consequences of erotic love. In the Second Tale, Peronella deliberately deceives her husband so that she can continue her fretful affair with her lover. She lies to her husband, hoping that her unruly affair with her lover will be kept secret. She uses her intelligence to protect her lover from her husband’s wrath. Like the host’s wife, Peronella is lucky enough to have a dim-witted husband. If the husband is intelligent enough, he would have discovered that Peronella was lying and that the man inside the barrel was her lover. Peronella clearly knows that her husband is dim-witted. Wanting to avoid a scandal, she tells her husband that the man inside the barrel was her buyer and that he was merely inspecting whether the barrel was sound or not. She even accuses her husband for selling a barrel for five French crowns: “Why, said Peronella, that only makes it worse! Here you are, a man who goes out and about in the world, and you ought to know what’s what: and you’ve sold a barrel for five French crowns…” (Boccaccio 424). This is Peronella’s way of telling her husband to go away and ‘let her be with her lover.’ Clearly, she exhibits the same type of intelligence that the host’s wife possesses.
In conclusion, Boccaccio introduces refined representations of nature (erotic love), fortune, and intelligence in The Tale of the Host’s Wife. Sex and passion are presented as natural consequences of erotic love. The tale also presents fortune as either luck or bad luck. Against the twists and turns of natural forces, Pinuccio succeeds in bedding Niccolosa. But this would never have succeeded if not for the timely intervention of the host’s wife. This is clearly a manifestation of fortune. In the same tale, Boccaccio introduces two types of intelligence: intelligence that aids man in satisfying his natural instincts and intelligence that secures the rational control of the senses. Pinuccio embodies the first type and the host’s wife the second type.
Boccaccio, Giovanni. Decameron. 2nd Edition. Trans. G.H. McWilliam. New York: Penguin Books, 1995. Print.
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