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Unit information: Boccaccio and the Italian Novella in 2015/16

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Unit name Boccaccio and the Italian Novella
Unit code ITAL20030
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
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


This unit offers students the opportunity to study Boccaccio's Decameron, a collection of short stories famous for their humour, sexual explicitness, and anti-clericism, and one of the most influential works in the history of European literature. The Decameron resists classification as either a fully medieval or Renaissance text, combining an elaborately worked out structure reminiscent of Dante with forward-thinking views on religion and women. Boccaccio is a consummate storyteller who presents a series of highly readable stories dealing with themes such as love, the vagaries of fortune, the power of speech, and business and travel in the Mediterranean world, as well as crafting a highly articulate meta-narrative which comments on the art of storytelling itself.

The aim of the unit is to introduce students to the study of narratology in order to analyse how Boccaccio constructs his narrative from a structural perspective. Focus on elements such as plot and characterization will enable us to go beyond an analysis of thematic concerns to an evaluation of Boccaccio's narrative style and innovative use of the genre. In order to set this in context, as well as consider the impact of Boccaccio's technique on later authors, we will study some of Boccaccio's sources, and move on to analyse the transmission of the Romeo and Juliet story through successive Renaissance novella collections.

Aims: - to develop skills in literary analysis and critical thinking through the study of the Decameron and novelle from other short story collections - to develop an understanding of the genre of short story writing in medieval and Renaissance Italy, and the role played by Boccaccio within this - to develop an understanding of narratology and be able carry out a narratological analysis

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the module students will be able to: - analyse critically the texts studied and show some understanding of the context in which they were produced - evaluate the role played by Boccaccio in the evolution of the short story tradition - demonstrate an understanding of narratology and apply it to a variety of texts

Teaching details

Lectures and seminars

Assessment Details

1500 word commentary (25%) 2500 word essay (75%) The commentary is intended to text skills of close analytical reading while the essay requires students to demonstrate an appreciation and understanding of the broader contextual and theoretical issues dealt with on the unit.

Reading and References

Stephen Bann, ‘Narratology’, in The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism. Vol.8: From Formalism to Poststructuralism, ed. by Raman Selden, (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 110-30 Renzo Bragantini and Pier Massimo Forni, eds, Lessico critico decameroniano (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 1995) Joan M. Ferrante, ‘Narrative Patterns in the Decameron ’, Romance philology, 31 (1978), 585-604 Monica Fludernik, An Introduction to Narratology (London: Routledge, 2009) Bonnie D. Irwin, ‘What’s in a Frame? The Medieval Textualization of Traditional Storytelling’, Oral tradition, 10 (1995), 27-53 ‘Boccaccio e la novella dal Medioevo al Barocco’, in Il Tesoro della novella italiana : i secoli XIII-XVII, ed. by Marziano Guglielminetti (Milan: Mondadori, 1986)