The Decameron presents an integrative perspective of social ethos, primarily – through questioning the existing values and seeking alternatives. Morality and spirituality are not necessarily described as dogmas, but rather as the main way of handling unfavorable situations and liberating from burdening conditions. Boccaccio finds that the most convenient and reliable method of proving the necessity of empirical application of universal human values is approaching to social pathology from opposite.
The narrators, day by day, demonstrate that deception and trickery either bring additional problems directly to an individual or simply turn into absurd or ridiculous tale. For instance, the fourth tale, narrated on the first day, depicts the divergence between the ‘holiness’ of clergymen and their factual behavior, which is far from ideal (Boccaccio, 2004). The monk is caught sinning, that is to say, his sin deserves the most severe punishment, but the protagonist manages to get rid of any responsibility, putting the blame upon the abbot. On the one hand, the reader is really amazed by the character’s inventiveness, but viewing the situation more broadly, it is possible to presume that the situation itself is extremely awkward, so it would be more reasonable to avoid it through following ethical principles, established for the certain social group.
In psychological terms, this technique is known as behavioral learning – i.e. the reader, instead of learning the actual patterns of valued behavior, gets the knowledge about devaluated actions, which merit societal censure. Another prominent example of conveying spiritual message through using humor is the third situation, presented on the third day. In this story the young woman, enamored of a man, creates the conditions, in which she can gratify her feeling through misusing the principles of holy confession (Boccaccio, 2004).
In this sense, the protagonist naturally abuses the religious fundamentalism, but this bold actions seems to be favored by the narrator and the author, since in spite of the comic and to some extent unpleasant circumstances, in which she throws her beloved, her cunning plan finally allows her to reveal her true feelings, which indicates that the rules and social bonds are powerless against the really strong feeling and that spirituality can sometimes neglect strict and rigid societal norms.
The tenth novel of the third day (ibid) continues the anti-Catholic epopee, as it narrates about the abuse of celibacy. Its humorous tone, however, is aimed at religious dogmas cannot hide or inhibit the real human nature – in this sense, the story demonstrates the faultiness of clerical institution and therefore offers social norms concerning marriage as an alternative to religious dogmas, which appear as theatrical performance (‘putting the Devil into the hell’).
More interestingly, the second novel of the fourth day provides the logical continuation of the topic, as it demonstrates the clear interrelation between the monk’s crime and the resulting punishment. This story logically supplements the fact that genuine morality and spirituality are rewarded through depicting the execution of punishment, deserved by genuine and absolute ‘wickedness’. Again, its humorous attitude towards the situation allows the reader to evaluate the protagonist’s action in terms of distinguishing between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.
To sum up, Boccaccio’s stories are particularly valuable in terms of conveying moral and spiritual messages, since they allows the reader to draw appropriate conclusions by him/herself through analyzing human experiences, without imposing artificial or abstractive morality.
Boccaccio, G. Decameron, 2004.