Books, poetry and portraiture, Subjects for discussion, Tudor portraiture, Uncategorized

The Tudors Dynasty Decameron 2020 project

            Recently, Rebecca Larson of www.Tudor’ and I were communing about how to amuse ourselves during this Covid-19 crisis and what we could do if we ended up having to self-isolate.  We came up with the idea of creating a new Decameron, the first version was written by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) in around 1353.  So we are throwing it out onto the web to see who might be interested in writing a story.𝑻𝒉𝒆-𝑫𝒆𝒄𝒂𝒎𝒆𝒓𝒐𝒏/

            “What is The Decameron?” I hear some of you asking. 

Consisting of 100 stories told over a period of ten days by ten young adults who isolated themselves in a villa outside Florence during the Black Death of 1348, The Decameron continues to inspire authors, playwrights, poets and artists.  The universal themes are sex, love – unrequited or not, betrayal, heroism etc etc.

For instance Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) must have been inspired by the tale of Griselda for The Clerk’s Tale in his most famous work, The Canterbury Tales.  This story is a repeat of an older tale where we learn how a patient wife is tested by her cruel husband.  In The Reeves Tale, Chaucer takes up the tale told by someone called Filostrato.  In this story a Master Simone, at the insistence of Bruno and Buffalmacco and Nello, makes a man called Calandrino believe that he is pregnant. Calandrino, accordingly, gives them capons and money for medicines, and is cured without being delivered. Clearly Calandrino was not well versed in how babies were made!

William Shakespeare uses the basis of the third tale on the ninth day in All’s Well that Ends Wel, but without the gender complications of Filostrato’s version and is more in line with Chaucer’s story.  In order that the women writers of ancient days are not forgotten, Christine de Pizan (1364-1430) has references to several of the stories in her 1405 book, The City of Ladies, so come on girls, get writing.

Boccaccio’s book has continued to inspire people such as Shakespeare’s contemporary, Thomas Middleton (1580-1627), the French playwright Molière (1622-1673), the romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821) who was inspired to write the poem Isabella & the Pot of Basil told in a story told on day five.  The basic outline of this tale of tragic love is that a waman of good family called Lisabetta, falls in love with an employee on the family estate.  Her brothers slay her lover. Subsequently the dead lover appears to her in a dream and shows her where he is buried. She disinters the head and sets it in a pot of the herb, basil.  She laments his loss and weeps copious quantities of tears over the pot.  As a result her brothers take the pot from her and she dies shortly afterwards of a broken heart.

Keats’s poem inspired John Everett Millais (1829-1896) and William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) to create Pre-Raphaelite paintings of the same subject.  

Isabella & The Pot of Basil. John Everett Millais. Walker Gallery, Liverpool
Isabella & The Pot of Basil. Holman Hunt. Source Wikipedia.

Prior to Millais and Holman Hunt, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), together with Frans Snyders (1579-1657) and Jan Wildens (1584/87-1653) used the story of Cimone and Efiginea (the first story from the 5th day) as inspiration for this painting in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna. I have to say that in this painting I think Cimone is really creepy, but if these women were stupid enough to fall asleep undressed, then really! If Cimone is only looking, then they got off lightly. It is not one of my favourites. for a much bigger image.

This is one story of the Decameron collection that seems to have inspired most paintings, many of which are on this website.

As the 19th century progressed Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) (I bet he washed his hands regularly to live that long) and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow(1807-1882) were also inspired by tales contained in The Decameron

            You might think this is all a bit heavy stuff, but since these stories follow the universal subjects of love, sex, betrayal and death, there are enough twists and turns to inspire the creative mind of today.  Boccaccio’s influence has continued to inspire film directors from the early days of cinematography, when Herbert Wilcox (1890-1977) directed Decameron Nights in 1924 starring the Hollywood legend, Lionel Barrymore, to the 2017 the medieval black comedy, The Little Hours written and directed by Jeff Baena (b1977). Baena’s film is loosely based on stories told on the first and second days of isolation in that Florentine villa in the fourteenth century.

In The Little Hours, three nuns come across a male gardener in their convent grounds who pretends to be a deaf mute, but rather than try and precis the complicated (and imo farcical) plot) this is a cut and paste from Wikipedia.

QUOTE In the year 1347 in Garfagnana, a convent of nuns is led by Father Tommasso. The nuns include Alessandra, who wants a better life for herself and is held at the convent due to her father’s support of the church rather than her own bidding; Ginevra, a gossip who is later revealed to be a lesbian and Jewish; and Fernanda, an emotionally unstable and violent woman. The three of them routinely assault the gardener Luco, who quits in disgust. Meanwhile in Lunigiana, a young servant named Massetto gets caught having sexual relations with his master’s wife. While on the run, he discovers Father Tommasso, who has gone to sell some embroidery but has instead gotten drunk and lost his possessions in the river. Massetto helps him return home and the two arrange to have Massetto work as a gardener while pretending to be a deaf-mute, in hopes that this will dissuade the nuns from giving him trouble. 

Fernanda’s friend Marta appears and encourages Alessandra and Ginevra to get drunk off the sacramental wine while explaining how being with a man is the greatest possible pleasure. Fernanda takes Ginevra back to her room where they have sex. Massetto and Alessandra begin to form a closer bond while Ginevra begins to have feelings for Fernanda.

Later, Fernanda kidnaps Massetto at knife-point and takes him into the forest, where she meets up with a coven of witches. She attempts to perform a fertility ritual with Massetto but is stopped by the arrival of Alessandra and Ginevra. Ginevra, under the hallucinogenic effects of belladonna, takes off her clothes and begins dancing and steals the convent’s donkey. Massetto reveals that he is not a deaf-mute while trying to free himself. They return to the convent, and all of their secrets are revealed in the presence of the visiting Bishop Bartolomeo. Father Tommasso is sent away to become a monk after it is discovered that he and the Mother Superior are in love and have a secret relationship. Massetto is returned to his master and is held in a jail cell with the impending threat of torture and death until the three nuns (who have reconciled and formed an even stronger friendship) help him escape. While Alessandra, Massetto, Ginevra, and Fernanda each run hand-in-hand back to the convent, the Mother Superior and Father Tommasso have met up in secret under the pretense that the Mother Superior has gone to retrieve the donkey. They hide as the nuns and Massetto run by. Fernanda stops and stares in puzzlement at the once again freed donkey that she herself used as an excuse so many times to escape the convent, until Ginevra pulls her away. With the group gone, Father Tommasso and Mother Superior embrace and smile at each other. UNQUOTE

            With what looks like months of social confinement ahead of us, there is no better time than to take inspiration from those ten people who remained in that Florentine villa in the mid 1300s, so why not pick up a pen, brush, camera, or even an embroidery needle, and create something to while away the hours. 

            If you fancy contributing your story to Rebecca at Tudor’s Dynasty for others to read or even to take inspiration from, then here’s the link𝑻𝒉𝒆-𝑫𝒆𝒄𝒂𝒎𝒆𝒓𝒐𝒏/

            If you are wondering just why Rebecca Larson is so interested in the Tudors, she is researching the life of Thomas Seymour (1508-1549).  To enable her to do a thorough job, in her spare time (yes she has some apparently) Rebecca has been doing the online palaeography course offered by our National Archives so she can read the original 16th century documents.  She has sent me elements of original documents written by Thomas and I have to say the man either wrote in a tearing hurry, or was really bad at writing.  I transcribe various ancient legal documents for people who cannot, or are too lazy to learn how to read these primary sources. I have spent a considerable number of hours transcribing various 15th and 16th century wills of the Brandon family for another researcher not do dedicated as Rebecca.  Compared to deciphering Thomas Seymour’s hand-writing these wills were a doddle, but they were written by professional clerks and had a legal purpose therefore had to be more legible than letters written privately.  If you find history fascinating perhaps you could take this period of enforced home staying as an opportunity to learn how to read the original documents – it will certainly keep your brain occupied and is so much more interesting than doing the dusting.

            In addition to www.Tudors (where Rebecca has devised a Tudor Fun for Free to keep all the family amused and entertained), Rebecca also runs All in all she is a rather talented lady.

            Before you ask, yes I am concocting a story inspired by a sketch done by an early 16th century German artist and I will be submitting it for Rebecca’s perusal in the hope she will be putting it up on her Decameron project for all to read.  I hope you will too.

MVT 19th March 2020.

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