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.
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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.
On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:
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You will be given the opportunity to submit a 1000-word formative essay for the module, which can feed into the 3000-word summative essay submitted at the end of the module.
Your essay will be annotated and returned to you by your tutor within two weeks.
You will submit your summative essay via the VLE during the revision and assessment weeks at the end of the teaching semester (weeks 13-15). Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to e:Vision to meet the University’s marking deadlines
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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
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.