Pyrrhus's Rules: Playing with Power in Boccaccio's <i>Decameron</i>

Albert Russell Ascoli

in A Local Habitation and a Name

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780823234288
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823241231 | DOI:
Pyrrhus's Rules: Playing with Power in Boccaccio's Decameron

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This chapter analyzes Boccaccio's exploration in Decameron, Day 7 (and surroundings) of the dynamics of the unequal struggle for power between men and women in a shifty “pyrrhic dynamic” in which apparent victory masks castrating defeat, and where declarations of impotence become the instruments of a reinvigorated male domination and masculine identity. Beginning from a single story, where the struggle is between a male patriarch, on one hand, and those nominally under his rule—a young and restless wife and a not-so-loyal servant—on the other, the discourse widens out to include the whole of Day 7, the playful reign of the key narrator, Dioneo, and ultimately Boccaccio's own deeply ambivalent representation of the utopian realm of the “lieta brigata” founded by women, which he has aimed, ostensibly, at the sufferings of “oziose donne.” Like Chapter 5, this chapter offers an elaborate testimonial to the way in which formal structures shape historical meaning, beginning from the reading of a single “microtext” (a novella) and then moving to reveal the way in which its “historical” content (Boccaccio's elaboration of his fictions under the sign of the exemplary historical figure, Pyrrhus) is qualified and enriched by placement within larger “macrotextual” environments.

Keywords: Giovanni Boccaccio; Decameron; gender and power; symbolic naming; intertextuality; Dioneo; microtext; macrotext; form and history

Chapter.  17273 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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