Class Activities

1. Exploring Boccaccio's World

Using the Geography Search pages of the Decameron Web, determine the geographical scope of Boccaccio's narrative world. In particular, examine which day(s) have most of their stories set (1) in Northern/Southern Italy; (2) outside of Italy; (3) in Florence. Are their any structural patterns in the Decameron with respect to geography that you can identify? Write a one-page summary your findings.

2. What is Love?

Love, Fortune, and Pity are recurring theme in the Decameron. Yet, it is sometimes difficult for modern readers to understand Boccaccio's representation of these ideas in his tales. Using the Word Search feature, locate passages in the Decameron where one or more or these terms appears and, after a close, contextualized reading of the text, describe Boccaccio's concept of Love, Fortune, or Pity as it relates to his characters/stories using specific references to the text. The class may be divided into groups of three, each group researching their own term and then presenting their finding to the class.

3. Character Study

The world of the Decameron is inhabited by a broad range of characters representing diverse social classes, professions, and skills, etc. Using the Decameron Web's Character Search pages, find all of the representatives of a certain profession in the text (such as "priests," "physicians" or "artists") and carefully examine how they are depicted by Boccaccio. Then explore the site's articles for any information that might help to explain Boccaccio's portrayal of these figures. Describe your findings using specific textual references.

4. Boccaccio the Feminist?

Often cited as a proto-feminist text, the Decameron was, according to Boccaccio himself, specifically written for the enjoyment of women. Using the Character Search pages as needed, 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.

5. Historical Characters Refashioned

Using the list of historical characters in the Decameron Web's Character Search page and the mini-biographies in the History section of the site, examine how Boccaccio transforms three of these real life figures into literary characters in his short stories. Compare Boccaccio's subjective literary portrait of these figures with what we know to be historically accurate. What attributes/qualities are highlighted by the author, what is his general disposition toward these figures, what are the likely sources of his literary portrait?

6. On the Cutting Edge...

...of Boccaccio studies! This research project is for students interested in exploring the latest critical discourse surrounding Boccaccio and his works. It requires that the student 1) write a brief critical review of one or more recent books or articles related to the Decameron 2) summarize the current state of Boccaccio literary criticism in a brief essay 3) identify new bibliographical references missing from the Decameron Web. You may use the Site Search feature to verify what references are contained/missing from the site's Bibliography.

7. Boccaccio's "Outsiders"

How are non-Italians represented in the Decameron? What unique attributes do they possess? How do they differ from their Italian counterparts? How do Italians fare when they travel or go abroad? Using a combination of the Geography Search and Word Search tools, examine the depiction of foreigners, distant lands, and travel in the Decameron. Describe your findings using specific textual references.

8. The Power of Rhetoric

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.

9. A Question of Faith

Is the Decameron blasphemous in its satire of corrupt ecclesiastical institutions and figures? What form of religion does the author himself seem to espouse? How are non-Christian faiths depicted? And how does Boccaccio's representation of religion differ from that of Dante and Petrarch? Use the list of "Non-Christian" characters on the Decameron Web's Character Search page to aid in your research.

10. From Rags to Riches

One of Boccaccio's innovations was to juxtapose characters from all walks of life in his stories: rich and poor, powerful and feeble, smart and dim-witted. Consequently, the traditional boundaries between the social classes are often redefined. Examine this literary innovation by using the Character Search pages. Compare the author's depiction of wealthy vs. poor characters. How do they interact with one another? What qualities does each group possess? Does economics play a role in a character's good or bad fortune, their love life, their\ intelligence? Describe your findings using specific textual references.