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Gendered Contexts

New Perspectives in Italian Cultural Studies

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Edited By Laura Benedetti, Julia Hairston and Julia L. Hairston

The application of feminist thought to the study of Italian culture is generating some of the most innovative work in the field today. This volume presents a range of essays which focus on the construction of gender in Italian literature as well as essays in feminist theory. The contributions reflect the current diversity of critical approaches available to those interrogating gender and offer interpretations of prose, poetry, theater, and the visual arts from Boccaccio, Michelangelo, and Galileo to contemporary Italian writers such as Carla Cerati and Dacia Maraini.

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The Widow in Giovanni Boccaccio's Works: A Negative Exemplum or a Symbol of Positive Praxis?: Eugenio L. Giusti 39

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The Widow in Giovanni Boccaccio's Works: A Negative Exemplum or a Symbol of Positive Praxis? Eugenio L. Giusti While describing the social status of medieval women after they have lost their husbands, the historian Shulamith Shahar writes: "Once she was widowed she was no longer forced to accept the authority of another ... her full authority was restored ... she almost certainly enjoyed not merely legal independence but also a relatively broad degree of freedom in everyday life. " 1 For the medieval woman her husband's death meant acquiring an unknown socio-economic independence, hence finding herself in an oxymoronic position difficult to maintain. On the same issue Christiane Klapisch-Zuber writes: Some women-extraordinarily few-seem to have succeeded in their desire for independence, though there is no way of knowing how widespread this desire might have been. Often, widows really did want to remarry. Never- theless, what contemporary reports emphasize above all is the irresolution of widows, and they leave an impression of widows' abject submission to the demands of their kin. 2 The widow's independence, based on the legal ownership of her dowry or her dead husband's inheritance, proved to be exceptional and precarious at the same time. 3 But what kind of cultural repercussions could such a position have for the historically dependent woman? A first answer can be found in the contemporary moral treatise, Reggimento e costumi della donna, written by Francesco da Barberino at the beginning of the four- teenth century. 4 The work's sixth and seventh sections deal extensively with...

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