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Chapter 5 - Another Way of Possessing

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 August 2023

Justin Steinberg
Affiliation:
University of Chicago
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Summary

This chapter re-examines Boccaccio’s naturalism and its putative connection to his feminism, disputing the claim that naturalism in the Decameron is inspired by Boccaccio’s advocacy for natural rights. Critics often celebrate the strong female protagonists of Bartolomea (2.10) and Madonna Filippa (6.7), who defend themselves against accusations of adultery, as evidence that Boccaccio was an early proponent for natural rights, especially the subjective rights of women. However, when Boccaccio gives his adulteresses a chance to finally speak, it is not to insist upon their subjective rights but to take a more unsettling stance: they rest their defenses on their status as socially valuable things. In both of these tales, the women situate their infidelity within a moral economy that views property relations from the ground up, vindicating the needs of things over the rights of individual owners. Having experienced the agricultural crisis wrought by the Plague, Boccaccio’s storytellers would have been especially receptive to such arguments for “adulterous” forms of possessing.

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Law and Mimesis in Boccaccio's Decameron
Realism on Trial
, pp. 151 - 191
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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