The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales: New Essays on an Old Question

The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales: New Essays on an Old Question

The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales: New Essays on an Old Question

The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales: New Essays on an Old Question


"What was the influence of the Decameron on the genesis and shape of the Canterbury Tales? In this collection, leading scholars of Chaucer and Boccaccio offer original, provocative answers to this question in light of recurring critical resistance to the idea of the Decameron as a text for Chaucer. That resistance, informed by a model of literary influence grounded on the idea of interruption, would keep the Canterbury Tales away from the Decameron, though not the rest of Chaucer from other works by Boccaccio. In the end, of course, that resistance tells us more about Chaucer's reception since the fifteenth century than about Chaucer himself or his sources." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Giovanni Boccaccio’s role in the literary work of the “father of English literature,” Geoffrey Chaucer, has long been recognized. Without Boccaccio’s Teseida, there would be no Knight’s Tale. Without Boccaccio’s Filos- trato, there would be no Troilus and Cressida, perhaps the most subtle and philosophically complex narrative poem in the English language up to its time. Without Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium, there would be no Monk’s Tale, and without Boccaccio’s Filocolo, it would be hard to imagine the shape and focus of the “marriage group” in the Canterbury Tales.

Yet, when I designed the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Boccaccio Institute at Yale in the summer of 1991, my goal was not to study Boccaccio’s works as sources for Geoffrey Chaucer, but as great literary works in themselves. Close analysis of Boccaccio would focus on narrative technique, the consolation of literature, and Boccaccio’s interest in human things (“umane cose”), including the psychology of women, male-female dynamics, the social upheaval of the mid-fourteenth century, and his fascination with the ancient world and with philosophical and ethical problems.

What emerged in the six-week institute, however, because of the influence of the Decameron on Chaucer and Cervantes, was a renewed interest in Boccaccio’s role in the formation of two national literatures. the relationship between Boccaccio and Cervantes belongs to a different context of problems. This collection of essays on Boccaccio and Chaucer establishes the Decameron as the matrix in the formation of a European canon. Originally planned as a discussion of the influence of all of Boccaccio’s works on Chaucer, the collection evolved to focus almost exclusively on the De- cameron. Scholars who have maintained a long interest in the relationship between the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales joined Peter Beidler and Brenda Schildgen, participants in the institute, to bring the collection together.

The essays here take up two questions connected with the relationship between the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales. the first is the nature of the influence of Boccaccio on Chaucer and the second, perhaps more interesting than proving the link between the authors, is what happens to the way we read both works when we recognize the Decameron as the text standing behind the Canterbury Tales. the first question leads us to speculate why critics, and English critics in particular, hesitate to recognize Boc-

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