Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version



Reconsidering Boccaccio: Medieval Contexts and Global Intertexts, ed. Olivia Holmes and Dana Stuart. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018. 403-23.


A quick digital search for the term ‘confession’ in Boccaccio’s Decameron yields 75 results (Decameron Web). Confession in Boccacio’s text is conspicuously present and, I argue, not coincidental: it highlights the increased attention to the sacrament after the Fourth Lateran Council made annual confession mandatory in 1215. Decameron 1.1 depicts a false confession performed by a wicked man on his deathbed. His confessor follows the protocol of confession manuals, which began to appear in increasing number following 1215, but his interpretive skills do not extend beyond the questions he is bound by protocol to ask. In Boccaccio’s world, confession, though important, is rather formulaic and prone to manipulation by wicked evil-doers such as the man in 1.1.

A few centuries later, wicked evil-doers continue to manipulate confessional narrative in Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron (1559). Hers is a text that proclaims to model itself after the Decameron– with a few significant alterations. The Prologue establishes that all stories be true. Storytelling takes place on the grounds of an abbey, an explicitly confessional space. References to confession in Marguerite’s text highlight the shifting status of confession in the sixteenth century. This paper explores the ways in which Marguerite de Navarre takes Boccacio’s sacramental legacy and transforms it into a confessional space where some of the most pressing concerns of her time come to light.