The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio: Summary & Explanation

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  • 0:02 About the Author
  • 0:46 The Backdrop of the…
  • 1:48 Summary of 'Decameron'
  • 2:32 'Decameron' Explained
  • 3:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Monica Gragg

Monica has taught college-level courses in Tourism, HR and Adult Education. She has a Master's in Education and is three years into a PhD.

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Jenna Clayton

Jenna received her BA in English from Iowa State University in 2015, and she has taught at the secondary level for three years.

This is a short lesson on 'Decameron,' a story so popular that even Shakespeare used it for one of his plays. We'll take a glimpse at the story's author, its plot, and how it is commonly used to explain a critical part of Italy's history.

About the Author

In the 1300s, Giovanni Boccaccio was an Italian scholar, famous for his works in Italian and in Latin. More than 700 years later, Boccaccio is still celebrated for his influence on European literature. Geoffrey Chaucer, who would go on to be called the founder of English literature, actually copied Boccaccio's work Teseida to write the 'Knight's Tale,' the first story of the famous Canterbury Tales. 'The Knight's Tale' was later turned into a Hollywood movie in 2001.

Boccaccio published several works in his lifetime, but Decameron was his masterpiece. It was also the work that Shakespeare used to write his play, All's Well That Ends Well.

The Backdrop of the Decameron

At the time when Boccaccio wrote Decameron, Italy was experiencing a monumental crisis and what would be historically known as the Black Death. Traders from Genoa owned the city of Kaffa, which is now known as Theodosia. This city borders the Black Sea and was a great location to monopolize the trading industry, attracting many competitors. One of the competitors was Kipchak khan Janibeg and his Mongolian army.

Kipchak khan Janibeg laid siege to Kaffa until his soldiers started to die quickly from the Plague. In a last attempt to control Kaffa, his army dumped their own soldiers' plague-infected corpses into the city. How? They used catapults that are normally used to throw boulders and fireballs over walls.

The traders quickly dumped the bodies into the sea and fled back to Italy, not realizing that they were already infected. First, the Black Death hit the coastal cities of Italy, and then it began to wipe out cities all over Italy as people fled the coast.

Summary of Decameron

In 1348, Boccaccio was witnessing the Black Death in Florence, Italy. He was also personally impacted when his father and stepmother died. It would take him six years to write one hundred stories about ten young people who escaped the plague by retreating to the flourishing countryside.

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Additional Activities

The Decameron Activity

The Decameron Multi-Media Presentation

For this activity, you will create a multi-media presentation that summarizes and analyzes one of the stories from Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron. First, choose one of the 100 stories from The Decameron to read and analyze. You can choose any one of these stories. For your presentation, you can choose to use Prezi, PowerPoint, Google Slides, VoiceThread, or any other similar platform. Use the following list of topics to help organize your presentation:

  • Title Slide (Include the story you selected and the storyteller's name, your name, and the date).
  • Describe the setting of the story.
  • Character Analysis (Describe each major character from the story).
  • Major conflict of the story
  • Summary of the story
  • Discuss the major themes.

Make sure to include all of this information in your presentation. Also, be sure to include relevant pictures to enhance the visual appeal of your presentation. It is important that you avoid long paragraphs in your presentation. The text should be placed in a bullet-point format. Also, complete sentences aren't necessarily needed in a multi-media presentation.

Example information for a "theme" slide:

Themes from "Melchizedek and Saladin"


  • Saladin spends his fortune on wars.
  • He then tries to force Melchizedek into lending him money.


  • Melchizedek realizes it's a trap.
  • He tells a clever story to gain Saladin's respect.
  • His wisdom saved him from being manipulated.

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