- The Marquis of Saluzzo, or the Griselda Story Before It Was HijackedCalculating Matrimonial Odds in Decameron 10.10
Characters and Frame
In this article I propose to read the last story of the Decameron as the story not of Griselda, but of Gualtieri, the Marquis of Saluzzo. So indeed does Boccaccio present it in his summary:
Il marchese di Sanluzzo da’ prieghi de’ suoi uomini costretto di pigliar moglie, per prenderla a suo modo piglia una figliuola d’un villano, della quale ha due figliuoli, li quali le fa veduto d’uccidergli; poi, mostrando lei essergli rincresciuta e avere altra moglie presa a casa faccendosi ritornare la propria figliuola come se sua moglie fosse, lei avendo in camiscia cacciata e a ogni cosa trovandola paziente, piú cara che mai in casa tornatalasi, i suoi figliuoli grandi le mostra e come marchesana l’onora e fa onorare.(Decameron 10.10.1)1
[The Marquis of Saluzzo, obliged by the entreaties of his subjects to take a wife, follows his personal whims and marries the daughter of a peasant. She bears him two children, and he gives her the impression that he has put them to death. Later on, pretending that she has incurred his displeasure and that he has remarried, he arranges for his own daughter to return home and passes her off as his bride, having meanwhile turned his wife out of doors in no more than the shift she is wearing. But on finding that she endures it all with patience, he cherishes her all the more deeply, [End Page 23] brings her back to his house, shows her their children, who have now grown up, and honors her as the Marchioness, causing others to honor her likewise.]2
Refashioned in Latin by Petrarch in Seniles 17.3, with a title that makes this a tale on wifely obedience, De insigni obedientia et fide uxoria (On the Renowned Obedience and Fidelity of a Wife), and since then read as Griselda’s tale, the subsequent appropriations rotate around Griselda’s exceptionalism.3 The story’s originator is Boccaccio, and this essay will be devoted to Decameron 10.10, which anticipates many of the later developments while presenting a stark examination of the will to power that later versions have blunted or obscured.4 Petrarch began the work of obscuring Boccaccio’s message by allegorizing it, as noted by Louise Vasvári: “He became the first of many rewriters to take possession of Griselda and silence the violence and indeterminate moral of the story, by ripping it from its frame in the Decameron, amplifying and translating it into Latin for a male readership, turning Griselda into a Job figure, and in this new garb bestowing it on Boccaccio.” Vasvári focuses “on the violence in the much-neglected literal level of the story, suggesting that it deals not with an isolated case of senseless cruelty but represents, rather, a classic case of sexual abuse of the sort that is inevitable in patriarchal social structure.”5 I too will focus on the literal level, reading the story in social and historical context as the story of a man of power forced to marry against his will.6
Griselda’s exceptionalism is featured already in Boccaccio’s rubric, where it appears as the discovery of the Marquis, who finds her to be absolute (“a ogni cosa”) in her etymological pazienza, her ability to suffer and tolerate life’s contingencies, the various cose that befall us: “e a ogni cosa trovandola paziente [on finding that she endures it all with patience].” She responds to her torments by not responding, by suppressing all emotion. Boccaccio describes her face thus: “senza mutar viso [without changing her expression]” (28, 31), “con fermo viso [with steady expression]” (42), “col viso non solamente asciutto ma lieto [with visage not only dry (from lack of tears) but happy]” (68). She is unchangeable in her stoicism, and life’s contingencies—new events as they unfold—have no purchase over her: “di niente la novità delle cose la cambiava [no event, however singular, produced the slightest change in her demeanor]” (58). Boccaccio constructs Griselda as though she were the...