New Perspectives in Italian Cultural Studies
Edited By Laura Benedetti, Julia Hairston and Julia L. Hairston
The Widow in Giovanni Boccaccio's Works: A Negative Exemplum or a Symbol of Positive Praxis?: Eugenio L. Giusti 39
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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