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Unit information: The Decameron in History in 2017/18

Unit name The Decameron in History
Unit code ITAL30053
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Rhiannon Daniels
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Italian
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Boccaccio’s Decameron is one of Italy’s greatest cultural exports and one of the world’s literary masterpieces. The text is both a core component of the academic curriculum and a recurring reference point in popular culture, continuing to inspire new works of literature and film (e.g. The Gay ‘Decameron’; Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love). This unit sets out to understand the different ways in which the Decameron has been read and interpreted as it journeys through history. Students will be introduced to texts and images which engage with the Decameron selected from two main periods: 1) the Middle Ages and Renaissance; and 2) the 20th-21st-centuries. Case studies might include: 1) letters and diaries from 14th-century merchants; prefaces and letters from Renaissance editions which frame the Decameron as a text book for language study; examples of Inquisitorial censorship; images on Renaissance furniture and in paintings; 2) examples of re-writing (e.g. Aldo Busi’s Il Decamerone (2013); translations into English; film adaptation (e.g. Boccaccio 70 (1962); Maraviglioso Boccaccio (2015)).

Aims: (a) to introduce students to the history of the Decameron in the pre-modern and modern periods through the examination of a range of key written and visual sources; (b) to familiarize students with theories and methodologies relevant to reception studies; (c) to develop further skills of textual analysis, historical interpretation and independent research, building on the skills acquired in units at level I; (d) to equip students with the skills to undertake postgraduate study in a relevant field

No previous knowledge of the Decameron is required.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, a student will be able to:

  1. Identify key cultural trends and use this knowledge to evaluate the status and fortunes of the Decameron in the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and modern period
  2. Analyse written and visual primary texts and evaluate them in their historical context
  3. Articulate and analyse theoretical and methodological questions relating to reception studies
  4. Communicate their findings effectively, both orally and in writing at a high level appropriate to H
  5. Carry out independent research appropriate to level H

Teaching details

Interactive lectures and seminars with small group work and whole class discussion.

Assessment Details

One 15 minute oral presentation (25%)

One written assignment of 1500 words (25%)

One written assignment of 3000 words (50%)

The oral presentation will be an exercise in synthesizing and communicating effectively a body of primary and/or secondary material on an allocated topic (ILOs 1, 4). The shorter written assignment will be an exercise in detailed close analysis of a literary or artistic text (ILOs 1, 2, 4). The final essay will be a wider enquiry into a chosen topic, engaging with methodological questions and a number of critical texts as well as primary sources (ILOs 1-5).

Reading and References

The Cambridge Companion to Boccaccio, ed. by Armstrong, Daniels, Milner (Cambridge University Press, 2015); Rhiannon Daniels, Boccaccio and the Book: Production and Reading in Italy 1340-1520 (Legenda, 2009); Millicent Marcus, ‘Boccaccio and the Seventh Art: The Decameronian Films of Fellini, De Laurentiis, Pasolini, Woody Allen’, Mediaevalia, 34 (2013), 267-79; Marilyn Migiel, The Ethical Dimension of the ‘Decameron’ (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015); The Reader in the Text : Essays on Audience and Interpretation, ed. by Susan R. Suleiman and Inge Crosman (Princeton University Press, c. 1980); Reception Study : From Literary Theory to Cultural Studies, ed. by James L. Machor and Philip Goldstein (Routledge, 2001).