Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English



First Advisor

Carnell, Rachel

Subject Headings

European History, European Studies, History, Language Arts, Literature, Medieval History, Medieval Literature, Middle Ages


Giovanni Boccaccio was a contemporary witness to the effects of the Black Death pandemic, the Yersinia pestis bacterial pandemic in Europe between the years 1346-53, causing 75 million to 200 million deaths across the continent alone. In The Decameron, Boccaccio depicts the outbreak’s high-mortality rates and how that was a catalyst for many social and cultural changes within fourteenth-century Europe. He also goes on to portray the devastating effects of death on, not only the physical bodies of people and animals, but also on their mental, emotional, and spiritual states, and how this accelerated their acceptance of the rising merchant mentality of more utilitarian values. While some critics interpret depictions of the plague within The Decameron, others argue that Boccaccio’s merchant portrayals are more favorable than in previous literature. But overall, critics do little to link the plague to the positive change in society’s acceptance of these merchants and tradesmen. The Decameron, through its one-hundred tales told over the course of a ten-day adventure, taken by seven young ladies and three young men, presents the reader with examples of pre, during, and post plague societal perceptions and norms. The framework of the Decameron serves to show the drastic cultural shifts occurring, in part due to the pestilence, that further spur forward the acceptance of this rising merchant class in society.