Boccaccio’s Decameron and The Black Death by Geoffrey Chaucer Case Study
The works of Boccaccio and Chaucer include numerous depictions of the social, cultural, and organizational features of medieval society. Some of these characteristic features can be traced to the onset of the Black Plague. One of the most evident features of the society described in both works is the growing disparity between the poor and the wealthy. This gap grew wider as it became apparent that it would be possible to increase one’s chances of survival by distancing oneself from infected individuals. Thus, flight from the areas with large numbers of infected people became common among those who could sustain such a lifestyle (Caraher). For those who decided to stay in their residences, there was still the option of “dissociating themselves from all others” (The Black Death, 14.1 Giovanni Boccaccio).
Boccaccio describes the lifestyle of these people as “avoiding every kind of luxury, but eating and drinking moderately of the most delicate viands and the finest wines, holding converse with none but one another” (The Black Death, 14.1 Giovanni Boccaccio). In this regard, I mostly agree with Student B, who shares my opinion, but I think it is necessary to develop this idea one step further. Specifically, I believe that aside from the aggravation of economic disparities, such behavior also contributed to a growing distrust of strangers and people of other socioeconomic classes. In other words, the seclusion of people within small isolated communities and the need to ensure that no contact was made with outsiders eventually created the mindset of suspicion and distrust that we have come to expect from medieval society. In fact, the way it is described in Boccaccio’s Decameron resembles in many ways the common image of the medieval era seen in popular culture today.
The most significant shift described in both works is that of religious perceptions. The gravity of the situation faced by the population fueled the need to seek salvation in religion and, by extension, created new ways of obtaining the favor of the church. One such practice is the appearance of relics, artifacts intended to protect their owners from the threat of infection. The Pardoner’s Tale contains the following description of the ritual: “Come forth, sir host, and offer first anon, And you shall kiss the relics, every one” (The Black Death, 14.2 Geoffrey Chaucer). In this particular case, the pardoner is a religious impostor, since he is focused on financial gain and does not share true belief in the supernatural qualities of the relic (Crone 134). In this way, the eventual religious disillusionment described by Student A is strengthened by the emergence of impostors.