Boccaccio wrote the Decameron between 1348 and 1352, when the values of the Middle Ages (valor, faith, transcendence) were yielding to those of the Renaissance (enjoyment, business, the real). It is probably the dirtiest great book in the Western canon. A number of critics have described it as amoral. Think of the little towered cities in the far distance, behind the Virgin Mary, in Renaissance paintings. Love of the world: these painters had it, and so did Boccaccio.
The Decameron is hilarious (accidental necrophilia), bizarre (deliberate necrophilia), and, above all, varied (there’s more than just necrophilia). It’s a book of 100 stories displaying thematic arcs and including a group of narrators (with a story of their own), written three centuries before Shakespeare hit the scene. If you want to talk to me about pre-Renaissance comedy (even though this book may very well have kicked off the Renaissance), you’re gonna hear about this or Lysistrata. Both use comedy to explore the relationship between sex and power, and both are done so boldly as to be endearing— there’s nothing coy or squeamish in either —that I suspect Bocaccio and Aristophanes would have been shocked at how little our sexual politic has progressed, standing arm-in-arm with feminists, kinksters and swingers.
At least read the article as far as the tale of Peronella. It’s practically a scene out of Workaholics.
(Oh man and even further down Acocella refers to the book as a precursor to Much Ado About Nothing, my fave Shakespeare. Goddamn y’all it is scarily gratifying to see someone trace the literary lineage of these qualities, because it’s those same qualities in those same books that I followed in my thesis. If other [real] critics see the same evidence as I do, my predictions for the future of comedy hold a little more water for myself.)