Narrative functions

In "Framing Boccaccio," Patrick Rumble discusses the similar roles of Dioneo and Emilia. On the first day, Queen Pampinea, granting Dioneo's request to tell whatever story he pleases and, in exchange, to be the last storyteller of each day, reflects that "if the company should grow weary of hearing people talk, he could enliven the proceedings with some story that would move them to laughter" (First Day, Conclusion). Rumble points out that thus "Dioneo adopts the structural function of the transgressor, the one unbound by the laws of the group, precisely to maintain the integrity and stability of the small community. Dioneo reveals that the exercise of the law, indeed the very possibility of legislation or rule-making within a society, is dependent upon the transgression that legitimates it" (p. 111).

Similarly, on the Ninth Day, Queen Emilia reinforces the micro-society's laws by suggesting that storytellers rest from the restraints of a proposed topic. She compares the storytellers to "oxen" and comments: "I consider that it would be both appropriate and useful for us to wander at large for a while, and in so doing recover the strength for returning once again beneath the yoke" (Eighth Day, Conclusion). As in the case of Dioneo, Emilia's "transgression" ultimately encourages a strengthening of the micro-society's structure.


Emilia draws the brigata's attention to herself through her looks and narcissism; she often dances at the end of the days while the others sing, play instruments, and watch her. On the First Day, Emilia sings a song about love, as the other narrators will do in turn. The song begins (First Day, Conclusion):

"In mine own beauty take I such delight
That to no other love could I
My fond affections plight.

Since in my looking-glass each hour I spy
Beauty enough to satisfy the mind,
Why seek out past delights, or new ones try
When all content within my glass I find?"

Clearly, Emilia is presented as a narcissist. Boccaccio casts Emilia as an object to be viewed and desired. Lauretta, upon giving Emilia the laurel crown and thus naming her Queen, comments: "I know not, madam, whether you will make an agreeable queen, but we shall certainly have a fair one. See to it, then, that your actions are in keeping with your beauty" (Eighth Day, Conclusion). Significantly, Boccaccio links her narcissism on the one hand to Dioneo's transgression and, on the other, by contrast, to Pampinea's recurrent scolding, from the ninth story of the First Day, of women's narcissistic complacency regarding their beauty instead of their wits. Not only does Dioneo accompany Emilia's song on the lute; his request to Pampinea for narrative freedom occurs on the First Day directly before their duet.

Queen Emilia's personality and choice of theme thus further interconnect her and Dioneo's role as the cunning representative of the "pleasure principle." On Emilia's day, their roles are quite symmetrical. Her novella, as usual for the Queen of the Day, immediately precedes Dioneo's which is, as usual, the tenth. Her story concerns a husband who rightly, according to the advice of the Prophet Solomon, beats his unruly wife into a proper, subservient wife. Dioneo follows suit with a story about a priest who tricks a simple man into letting him have sex with his wife right under his nose. Again we can see, through both narrators, the double-edged strategy of the Decameron's Narrator (the Author): transgression and repression are two sides of the same coin. Emilia and Dioneo are also opposed in regard to the efficacy of their storytelling. While the ladies "produced one or two murmurs" after Emilia's tale, following Dioneo's they "laughed to hear this tale, whose meaning they had grasped more readily than Dioneo had intended." This is an example of how Emilia's stories are mostly ill received, although she does tell some which are more successful. Dioneo, on the other hand, almost never ceases to please the brigata (and the women in particular) even when he is most controversial.

The themes and subject matter of stories told on Emilia's day (the Ninth) in general reveal the narrators' self-imposed restraints. One clearly can see connections between the stories' subject matter and the narrative functions outlined above in terms of transgression and repression. Filomena tells a story about a woman who tricks her two suitors in order to get rid of them. Elissa's story is about an abbess whose lack of purity becomes apparent as she disciplines a nun for the same fault. Filostrato and Fiammetta tell stories about the comic fool, Calandrino, while Pampinea and Emilia tell stories regarding the proper, subservient place of women in marriage. Neifile, Lauretta and Dioneo tell stories about duped men and Panfilo tells the farcical tale of a clever wife who calms her deceived husband.

(C. M.)


(M. L.)