Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

July Books 8) The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio

It is not all that long since I read The Canterbury Tales, which comes from the same century and draws from the same roots (the Reeve's Tale and the Franklin's Tale are indeed both in the Decameron in slightly different form). But I was struck by how much more enjoyable the Decameron is. For a start, it is actually complete - ten days of ten people telling a tale each, to give a hundred short stories and a framing narrative. It is also striking that the dullest of Boccaccio's stories (the ones from Day Six with the untranslatable punchlines) are still better than the worst of Chaucer (the Monk's Tale, the Parson's Tale, and for my money the interminable Knight's Tale). Boccaccio's geography is also generally better than Chaucer's, including even in Europe north of the Alps - one character ends up in Strangford, County Down; I'm not sure that Chaucer even mentions Ireland.

These are almost all great tales of incident, and I think anyone with an interest in the mechanics of storytelling would find useful material here. While almost all stories are set in fourteenth century Europe, with humour depending on an understanding of society's expectations of marriage and the Church, a lot of it I think is basic commentary on the human situation and could be easily transferred to other situations; or simply updated to the idiom of a new century, as Shakespeare did in All's Well That Ends Well. I am sure there are better translations out there than the 1982 Musa/Bondanella version for Penguin which I read, but even that gets a very strong recommendation from me.
Tags: bookblog 2011

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