chapter  3
20 Pages

Master and Servant Roles in the Decameron

This topic begs some larger questions concerning the weight to be attached to fictional characters and the proper limits of any sympathy a reader might feel for them. Wayne C. Booth, in The Rhetoric of Fiction, cites Jose Ortega y Gasset's ban on fraternizing with characters: "Not only ... is grieving and rejoicing at such human destinies as a work of aIt presents or narrates a very different thing from true artistic pleasure, but preoccupation with the human content of the work is in principle incompatible with aesthetic enjoyment proper." Booth goes on to disagree with Ortega:

Booth is, of course, speaking of modern tiction, which frequently offers a seemingly organic linkage of character, feeling, and action. Characters in Boccaccio tend to be far less rounded and dimensional; most are given a light, perfunctory, noncomplex characterization far closer to the medieval exemplum than to the modern novel, and their motivations can often be represented in a formulaic manner. 3 Yet there are cases in the Decameron where, although individual characters are not particularly fleshed out, the relationships between them strike us as powerfully realistic and convincing. In other words, pairs or clusters of characters in Boccaccio might jointly contain the paradox, contradiction, or "dimension" that we routinely demand in modern characters.4