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A Local Habitation and a NameImagining Histories in the Italian Renaissance$
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Albert Russell Ascoli

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780823234288

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823234288.001.0001

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Pyrrhus's Rules: Playing with Power in Boccaccio's Decameron

Pyrrhus's Rules: Playing with Power in Boccaccio's Decameron

Chapter:
(p.80) Chapter 3 Pyrrhus's Rules: Playing with Power in Boccaccio's Decameron
Source:
A Local Habitation and a Name
Author(s):

Albert Russell Ascoli

Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823234288.003.0004

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

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