Sonnet 3 by Petrarch and Decameron by Boccaccio

The Renaissance, a period in European history that marked the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity, was characterized by moving from religious dogmas to a more human-centered approach to philosophy, literature, and art and a revived interest in Greco-Roman legacy. It is traditionally considered that the Renaissance reached its peak in the 15th-16th centuries, but it is essential to study the works of outstanding individuals who were the founders of the movement – Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. This essay will analyze two literary pieces – one by Petrarch and one by Boccaccio. The paper will concentrate on the following passage from Petrarch’s Sonnet 3:

“It was the morning of that blessèd day

Whereon the Sun in pity veiled his glare

For the Lord’s agony, that, unaware,

I fell a captive, Lady, to the sway

Of your swift eyes: that seemed no time to stay

The strokes of Love: I stepped into the snare

Secure, with no suspicion: then and there

I found my cue in man’s most tragic play.”

Sonnet 3 by Petrarch depicts a tragic story of love: a man falls in love with a woman, falling “a captive to the sway” of her eyes. He fully gives himself to the feeing, entrusts his soul and his thoughts “with no suspicion”. There is a metaphor illustrating how unprepared he was for such emotions: “Love caught me naked to his shaft”. As the speaker is not actually naked, it emphasizes his emotional vulnerability. It is also a personification of love which can catch its “victim”. This is a story of unrequited love: the woman never seems to feel the same way about the man.

However, the description of the sonnet’s persona’s initial feelings still leaves the impression of a blessing. Light imagery plays a crucial role in this poem: Petrarch establishes strong connections between Love and Light. He writes that the first encounter between the man and the woman occurred in the morning, a time of the day typically associated with new hope, and more pragmatically – with sunrise. The passage contains the following words: “Sun in pity veiled his glare”. This is an example of personification that suggests that the Sun can adjust its glare and be driven by certain emotions, such as compassion.

Further analysis of the sonnet’s imagery may help the reader better understand Renaissance humanism concepts as it illustrates Petrarch’s human-centric approach. The Sun, which could have been portrayed as distant and indifferent, pays attention to this particular man’s suffering and shows pity. It emphasizes the importance of human emotions and corresponds well with Renaissance writers’ interest in people’s stories, their joys, and sorrows.

The same human-centric attitude can be seen in Decameron by Boccaccio. The paper will analyze the following passage from the Fourth Novella of Day the Seventh:

“The lady, who had hidden herself near the door, no sooner saw him run to the well than she slipped into the house and locked herself in; then, getting her to the window, ‘You should water your wine, whenas you drink it,’ quoth she, ‘and not after and by night.’ Tofano, hearing this, knew himself to have been fooled and returned to the door, but could get no admission and proceeded to bid her open to him; but she left speaking softly, as she had done till then, and began, well nigh at a scream, to say, ‘By Christ His Cross, tiresome sot that thou art, thou shalt not enter here to-night; I cannot brook these thy fashions any longer; needs must I let every one see what manner of man thou art and at what hour thou comest home anights.'”

In this novella, a man whose wife encouraged his drinking in order to spend time with her lover locks himself in their house, refusing to let her in when she comes back home late at night. In response, the lady pretends to kill herself, manipulating her husband to come outside. She locks herself in the house and says to him: “You should water your wine, when as you drink it and not after and by night.” Here the lady uses a metaphor for her husband’s situation, suggesting that he should have been more cautious earlier. At the end of the quoted passage, she states: “needs must I let every one see what manner of man thou art and at what hour thou comest home anights”. It implies that the lady is planning to manipulate their neighbors’ reactions by emphasizing that she is in the house and her husband is not.

This passage may highlight several social notions of the Italian Renaissance. For instance, the fact that the lady claims to damage the husband’s reputation by revealing his misbehavior allows the reader to suggest that an ideal husband was expected to be devoted to his family and do not come home drunk late at night. However, as for women, the passage illustrates a popular notion of a cunning woman who knows how to manipulate a situation to her advantage.

Overall, both literary works highlight the humanistic approach of the Italian Renaissance. Petrarch concentrates more on glorifying and emphasizing the scope, the sheer volume of human emotions, while Boccaccio focuses on everyday curious episodes, on depicting various characters and social norms. Both authors allow the reader to better understand how people lived and loved centuries ago and, maybe, draw parallels with how they do it today.

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