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Courtship, Violence, and the Formation of Marriage in the Early Modern Italian Novella Tradition

  • Author(s): Russell, Sara E.
  • Advisor(s): Ascoli, Albert R.
  • et al.


Courtship, Violence, and the Formation of Marriage in the Early Modern Italian Novella Tradition


Sara Elizabeth Christina Russell

Doctor of Philosophy in Italian Studies

University of California, Berkeley

Professor Albert R. Ascoli, Chair

This dissertation examines the intersection of courtship, violence, and the formation of marriage in early modern Italian legal and fictional narratives. My investigation begins with the marriage causae of Gratian's Concordia discordantium canonum, more commonly known as the Decretum, then moves on to a selection of novellas from Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron and culminates in a series of close readings from Bandello's Novelle. My analysis of these texts reveals complexity and ambiguity in the representation of all stages of courtship and marriage formation in addition to depicting conflict between parents and offspring in the formation of marriage. Emphasizing the role of storytelling within canon law and the intrusion of legal systems (both real and fictional) into storytelling, my reading of coercion and violence is grounded in the broader historical context of courtship and marriage formation.

This study comments on the changes in canon law on marriage between 1140 and the Council of Trent; during this span of time, the increasing attention paid to the will of both the man and the woman involved in a potential courtship or marriage called for the differentiation between forced sex and clandestine relationships. The works of Gratian, Boccaccio, and Bandello, written in the twelfth, fourteenth, and sixteenth century, respectively, suggest a movement toward a growing acceptance of the definition of marriage based on consent and an increasing differentiation between consent and coercion to sex, abduction, and marriage.

Whereas other scholars have focused on identifying the narrators' or authors' attitudes or perspectives about women in general or violence more specifically, my dissertation undertakes the innovative task of analyzing the function of violence in relation to courtship and marriage. More specifically, I discuss the significance of Gratian's, Boccaccio's, and Bandello's depiction of the slippage between consent and coercion, which struggle against each other in these texts, yet remain so tightly interwoven that it is often difficult to untangle them. In the works of Gratian, Boccaccio and Bandello, the representation of coercion and violence underscores the importance of consent.

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