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Women in Boccaccio

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The Decameron and the Rule of Saint.Benedict Beginning from the 10th century, the religion of Christianity in Europe was fragmented and localized, as well as in the secular sphere. The Church was in a state of weakness and disorder with rural popes supported by competing nobles, the Abbot of Cluny felt the need to revitalize the church by adhering to the Rule of St. Benedict. The Rule was meant to foster an understanding of the relation nature of human beings, and to provide a spiritual support to strengthen the individual’s ascetic effort and growth that is required for the fulfillment of the theosis. Despite crises happening constantly during the long existence of the Rule, the Benedictines have not been immune to periods of laxity and decline. In the fourth story of Day One in the Decameron, Boccaccio uncovers the negligent of monasticism in the late middle ages through a witty sexual story took place within a monastery. Using great details in the tale, Boccaccio tries to claim the unfeasible practice of monasticism, as well as the viability of the Christian church in the later middle ages. This tale is about the monastic life under the governing of the Rule of St.Benedict. In the context, the ecclesiastical characters attempt to break the Rule for the sake of their body. The monk uses his wit to free his body rests on the assumption that the freedom and pleasure of the body are good, and that the physical vigour of the young monk is very good. This is particularly significant to the tale because the monastic Rule of St. Benedict expressly denied the monk power over his own body. The physical and temporal setting of the tale prepares and frames the emphasis on the physical body and its carnal appetites. Setting off at the time around noon, when the weariness of physicality, hinders the action of the spirit, it creates a quintessential scene of sensual temptation. The young monk sees the girl on the excursion outside of the monastery walls incites an allegorical implications. His walk in the afternoon breaches the Rule of St. Benedict that he lives by as it dims the distinction between the monastery and the outside world . Bringing the girl back to the monastery, the monk enacts the entry of the female into the body, as well as his spirit. He is seized by the the fierce appetite of lust while stimulated by the afternoon heat, by the idyllic background of fields and woods and also the beauty of the young girl. Again, the structure of the monastery is an imagery of the body: the monk’s portrays the secret inner chamber of the heart. As the girl is brought first into the monastery and then into the cell, it reminds us that both of the monastery structure and human body are open to the outside world. To portrays the fleshly nature of the monks, Boccaccio emphasizes with particular frequency of sight in this tale. When the monk sees the girl, “he was fiercely assailed by carnal desire”. (Boccaccio, 45) The abbot, too, looks at the girl with vehemence. This echoes the monk’s envision of the final placement of the girl on top of the abbot. The abbot’s pause before the doors of the cell where he detects a woman inside, and his return and entrance therein stage the moral debate within the abbot’s soul. The action of approaching the cell can be seen as the abbot approaches the hidden thoughts of his mind. Besides visual emphasis , Boccaccio also utilizes audio to galvanize the tale. The passage where the abbot listen to the voices coming from inside the room about the “racket that the pair were creating.” (Boccaccio, 45) It exemplifies an audible seduction to the abbot who sneak up on and eavesdrops the voices, to listen more closely, to a woman. The abbot is very tempted with the desire to enter the room as the first moment of his response is to impulse to enter and witness or perhaps to join in the activity within. There is not any evidence later in the context that his thought to discipline this monk. Perhaps he simply wants to enter and see the female. Moreover, the voice that the abbot responded to his inner thought again proclaimed his initial motions of curiosity and excitement of woman. The temptation of the abbot takes place precisely at the door as it signifies the entrance way to the heart and to his carnal desire. The monk introduces the woman into the enclosed space of the monastery. Yet for the abbot, the woman that was being locked up in the cell is an allegory of the desire that has been lurking inside the chamber of his heart. He gives in and enter the cell is another sign to assent the desire possessed by the woman and by his body. However, the entrance is not entirely his own idea. It is carefully foreseen and planned by his minor monk. Boccaccio does not purposely contemplate the weakening of the religious orders during the period, In this tale, the images of body, the female, the visuals, the sounds presents the younger and minor monk is a more perceptive shrewder. He is just mentally more agile than his superior. Regardless, the tale portrays a triumph of the flesh, of carnal lust that fiercely attacks and overwhelms both monk and abbot immediately as they gaze upon the girl. The roles of monk and abbot are reserved in this tale. The monk is better informed than his teacher about the desires of the flesh that he proves to be the wiser man. Being trapped in a difficult spot because of his runaway lust, the monk is able to secure his freedom with a well-designed plan that defeats the abbot’s own scheme to investigate the matter of the girl in the cell. It is by being capable of imagining the goal of his plan in advance, and foreseeing the reactions of the abbot, that the monk can mentally circumscribe and defeat the abbot. The abbot hesitates his intention, that he bends when tried by temptation, that he got trapped by the wiser monk. It constitutes a kind of turning upside down of the hierarchy that was meant to obtain in a monastic community, where the abbot has the status of both ruler and father like many other ecclesiastical authority. Since the beginning of the tale, we have seen the violation of the Rule of St. Benedict as again in the opening scene when the monk is found wandering alone outside the monastery. Later in the tale, when he left from his cell, it was explicitly mentioned that he presented the key to the abbot and requested permission to leave the monastery. Here, the key can be seen as a reference to the Rule of St. Benedict. The action of surrendering the key was an escape from temptation and sin that the monk has committed. The Rule itself allegorized the margin of pleasure and sin as “for Scripture tells: turn away from (our) desire.” (Fry, 33) At the same time, the presentation of the key to the abbot begins the monk’s conscious manipulation of the abbot. in exchange for the dubious licence to exit the monastery, the monk confers with his key for the abbot to open the door of his lust. The key therefore is a code both for allusion to the Rule and its violation where the human flesh is tempted. Furthermore, the monk’s allusion to the Rule was revealed at the final scene of the tale when he responds to the abbot’s sentence of confinement, speaking in his own defence:
[the monk promptly answered: ‘Sir, I have not yet been long enough in the Order of Saint Benedict to have had chance of acquainting myself with all its special features, and you had failed until just now to show me that monks have women to support, as well as fasts, and vigils. But now that you have pointed this out, I promised that if you will forgive me just this once, I will never again commit the same error. On the contrary, I shall always follow your good example.] (Boccaccio, 48)
He points to the abbot’s defeat by the flesh, signified by his submission to the temptation of the girl, and he lets the abbot know that he knows it. He points to the abbot hypocrisy with a glancing allusion to the woman who has taken in adultery. Predominantly, the monk invokes the Rule of Saint Benedict that the abbot is to teach the monks by demonstration and words. Implicating to the Rule of St. Benedict, “abbot is to lead his disciples by a twofold teaching: he must point out to them all that is good and holy more by example than by words…” (Fry, 22) The charge to the abbot serves as an example to his monks by what they see him do, is the converse of the principle, also explicit in the Rule of the Saint Benedict, that God and the abbot see and know what the monks are doing all the time. The monk sees the failure of his abbot and the desire of the flesh in his heart. It is commanded in the Rule that the monk is to confess the hidden things in his heart to his abbot: “[that] a man does not conceal from his abbot any sinful thoughts entering his heart, or any wrongs committed in secret, but rather confesses them humbly.” (Fry, 36) It is a different episode in this tale when the monk did not confess his sin to the ecclesiastical superior than just handing him over with the key of his cell. Also, the abbot reveals and explains his sinful thought to the girl before gratifying his fleshly cravings. By placing the altercation of flesh and spirit, the Rule of Saint Benedict reintroduced prohibitions in the society through monastic restrictions and sexual license that would revive the religion of Christianity in a sense back to the apostolic age. It was clear in the Rule of St. Benedict that routines were initiated by requiring voluntary submission to an ecclesiastical hierarchy, adopting fixed hours for meals and duties. As the monastery, under the narration of Boccaccio, exists in tension with the depraved secular world which hinders the revival of Christianity from the previous episodes of crisis within the Church.

Work Cited

Boccaccio, Giovanni Decameron: First Day. PDF File
Fry, Timothy. "Humility." RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1982. Print.

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