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Life & Afterlife of Boccaccio's Decameron: Text, Image, Film - ENG00094H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Kenneth Clarke
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

It is a testament to the enduring appeal of Giovanni Boccaccio and his Decameron that the working title of Woody Allen’s 2012 film, eventually released as To Rome with Love, was Bop Boccaccio. Described famously in the nineteenth century as a ‘human comedy’ (in contrast to Dante’s ‘Divine’ Comedy), the Decameron is one of the most important and influential story-collections of the European Middle Ages, inspiring generations of lively responses to its one hundred stories.  Written in Florence between 1348 and 1351, the Decameron is best known for its sometimes startling stories of relationships, sex and desire, and has often suffered censorship and suppression. The work certainly can shock, even today, in its forthright engagement with these perennial themes.

We shall devote half the module to a detailed reading of the Decameron (in translation), exploring how its various themes of Love, Fortune, and Wit work together with irresistible energy to produce a work of audacious humour and intellectual rigour. The second half of the module will trace some fascinating moments in the ‘afterlife’ of this great work, from the medieval to the modern. These will include examples from the work of Chaucer (The Clerk’s Tale, in the Canterbury Tales, based on Dec X 10), Shakespeare (All’s Well That Ends Well, based on Dec III 9). We shall look at several Italian Renaissance cassoni or ‘marriage chests’, and trace how the story gets adapted for painted panels. Then we shall look at two modern collections of stories, each in their own way taking a cue from Boccaccio’s frank and at times challenging engagement with themes of gender and sexuality: Julia Voznesenskaya, The Women’s Decameron (1986), and Christopher Whyte, The Gay Decameron (1999). We shall look too at film adaptations, in particular, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s remarkable 1971 film entitled Decameron.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aim of this module is to introduce students to one of the most important and influential story-collections of the European Middle Ages, engaging with how it has been reused and adapted in subsequent centuries in a variety of different media.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with navigating the Decameron (in translation)
  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with analysing images and film as well as gaining close reading skills.
  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields dealing with the complex mechanisms of reception and adaptation
  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
3000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to hand in a 1000 word formative essay in the term in which the module is taught (usually in the week 7 seminar). Material from this essay may be re-visited in your summative essay and it is therefore an early chance to work through material that might be used in assessed work.

This essay will be submitted in hard copy and your tutor will annotate it and return it two weeks later (usually in your week 9 seminar). Summary feedback will be uploaded to your eVision account.


Task Length % of module mark
3000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

  • You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours  
  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

Boccaccio, Decameron, trans. G. H. McWilliam (Penguin);

Chaucer, Canterbury Tales in The Riverside Chaucer

Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well

The Master of the Story of Griselda, National Gallery London.

Julia Voznesenskaya, The Women’s Decameron

Christopher Whyte, The Gay Decameron

Pier Paolo Pasolini (dir.), Il Decameron



(from much larger bibliography)

Giuseppe Mazzotta, The World at Play in Boccaccio’s Decameron

Marilyn Migiel, A Rhetoric of the Decameron

Leonard Koff & Brenda Deen Schildgen, eds., The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales.

Howard C. Cole, The All’s Well Story from Boccaccio to Shakespeare

Agnès Blandeau, Pasolini, Chaucer and Boccaccio: Two Medieval Texts and their Translation to Film.

Guyda Armstrong, The English Boccaccio: A History in Books.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.