French and Italian | Sex and Society in Boccaccio
M340 | 16013 | Bondanella, Julia M

M340 is cross-listed as an honors seminar (H303). This course is an
opportunity to study Boccaccio IN ENGLISH. It is possible to earn
intensive writing credit for this course (M333 and H303). These
courses will also fulfill the College Humanities and Culture Study
ARTS BOOK SHOP (FINE ARTS 120). If you have questions, please e-mail
Professor Bondanella (

Storytelling is a quintessential human pastime. The
Decameron, which elevates storytelling to an art form,
depicts a cross-section of life in early modern European society as
well as a range of ethnic groups and non-Christians from Asia and
Africa, raising social, political, religious, ethical, literary and
gender issues. Boccaccio makes us think about the role of humor in
life and about the power of words and of storytelling. Although the
Decameron was a hit among the merchant classes of Florence,
later readers considered the work to be nothing less than
scandalous, especially for its exploration of human sexuality. The
work records and explores the tension between the chivalric ideals
of the medieval aristocracy and the values of the emerging
mercantile capitalist middle class, while offering a new basis for
the formulation of values—Nature.

Boccaccio’s use of the Black Death of 1348 to provide a frame
narrative for his tales requires a consideration of the intersection
of literature and history throughout the work. His range of
characters, his unrelenting dissection of human values, his sharp
wit and his sometimes outrageous humor makes Boccaccio one of the
first modern literary figures to emerge from the Middle Ages. To
appreciate Boccaccio’s achievement, we will examine some of his own
writings and his classical and medieval sources, and we will also
consider briefly his influence on writers, such as Chaucer or Pier
Paolo Pasolini, who made a film entitled The Decameron.

Writing assignments will include 4 formal essays. All the formal
papers may be revised for an improved grade. Class attendance is
important and expected.