Renaissance Comic Tales
of Love, Treachery, and Revenge

Edited and translated by
Valerie Martone & Robert V. Martone

THESE SIXTEEN post-Decameron tales are testaments to Boccaccio’s literary revolution, demonstrating his then-new style of entertaining tales written in the vernacular, and showing (again) that Shakespeare swiped all the best plots from the Italians. These liberated tales cast off the notion that literature should teach, and instead portray the triumph of cleverness over conventional morality. Two major themes prevail: lovers who must deceive to unite, and gentlemen who go to great lengths to play scandalous practical jokes on each other. The collection’s stars feature both, such as “Giacoppo” by Lorenzo de’ Medici, in which a simpleton ends up begging his wife to sleep with her heart’s desire. Shakespeare might have lifted Romeo and Juliet from Gentile Sermini’s “Montanina’s Deception,” only Montanina and Vannino must overcome Montanina’s unwanted marriage rather than, more nobly, the political history of their families. Sermini’s lovers fake a death which deceives an entire city in grand comic style, so that Montanina can return to town years later to wed her love as “a Milanese lady” who – amazing! – resembles Vannino’s deceased love.

The tricksters always win, and in today’s post-minimalist fictional haze, these stories seem bawdy in the extreme (the Renaissance Italians had a fabulous way with sexual euphemism) and a little bit bad for you. The translators capture each author’s gift of gab with clarity and distinction, and the result is truly entertaining. Publishers Weekly

I enjoyed the diversity of the offerings and the excellent choice of representative authors.... The stories are amusing, entertaining, sometimes silly but always reflective of the human condition.... The translators are true to the original, reflecting the richness, bawdiness and colloquialisms of the...language. VIA

The stories themselves are entertaining, offering a good introduction to the prose fiction of the Italian Renaissance, and the translations are very readable. The result is a collection with broad appeal to general readers and undergraduate students.... Choice

Italica Press has published three books on the [Italian novella] tradition. One is a competent translation of the most famous and most brilliant of the novelle sciolte — longish novelle that were not part of collections —the story, called Il grasso legnaiuolo [The Fat Woodworker]. Written by Antonio Manetti in the mid-fifteenth century, it commemorates a cunning practical joke engineered by the architect and builder Filippo Brunelleschi. Renaissance Comic Tales of Love, Treachery, and Revenge, edited and translated by Valerie Martone and Robert L. Martone, includes a wide-ranging collection of stories. Tales of Firenzuola is a reprinting of a well-regarded Victorian translation of the novelle of this important figure.

James H. McGregor, University of Georgia
Speculum 80.1 (January 2005): 171

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