Women Bridled and Unbridled: Contagions of Shame and Maladies of Governance in the Decameron
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Women Bridled and Unbridled: Contagions of Shame and Maladies of Governance in the Decameron


This article revisits a subject that has been treated plenty: misogynist discourses in Boccaccio's Decameron. Nevertheless, I submit that such medieval normative discourses are both spread and contained by the brigata ladies themselves as they seek shelter and safety away from a plagued Florence. In their determination to preserve their lives, however, the ladies are reluctant to risk their honor, which is intertwined with Dante’s definition of nobility (i.e., "una vera salute") and of women's shame as recorded in the Convivio . With shame and nobility shaping both womanhood and women's governance in the Decameron, I examine the dynamics of female shame-honor in the text and its silencing and reining effects in gender politics. My study focuses on the speeches of two queens—Filomena and Emilia—and how these are challenged by the stories they tell themselves. Day 9, under Emilia's rule, provides us with analogies between human and non-human animals (e.g., horses and mules) which in turn threaten Filomena's preventative measures in keeping women’s safety and honor as observed in the frame tale and Day 2. It is these contradictions and many other stories (2.9, 7.2, 8.1, 9.9 and 9.10 analyzed to a greater extent herein) that expose women's situated vulnerability as much as their complicity. Last but not least, my article ends with a coda that evinces yet another layer of shame with a very different function and effect, namely the authorial shame-modesty staged in the vernacular masterpieces of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. With each poet exhibiting a distinct source of their vergogna, this article points to the tre corone shame variants as symptomatic of their vulnerable poetic status as they dare to produce and innovate Italian vernacular literature.

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