Gold THE GEOFFREY CHAUCER PAGE


Masuccio Salernitano (1410?-1475?), Novellino

VIOLA AND HER LOVERS

 

 

The Argument

Viola promises to satisfy three lovers during the same night. The first one comes, but is kept from his booty by the second. The third one comes and, tricked by the second, is prevented from entering, but he sees the trick, has an idea, devises a remedy, takes revenge on both rivals, and is the ultimate possessor of the booty, much to the detriment of both the first and the second lover.

TO THE MAGNIFICENT JACOMO AZZAIUOLO, A VERY NOBLE FLORENTINE

Exordium

My work would be inappropriate and unfitting, magnificent and virtuous Sir Jacomo, if, knowing you to be endowed by nature with a benign and agreeable temper, I had in composing for you the present story stitched or embroidered it with either much or little phlegmatic, sad, and melancholy matter. Receive it then, I pray you, with pleasure, since surely you will find it from beginning to end composed entirely withqvleasant humor, and in such a manner that it will cause you and other listeners uproarious and repeated laughter.

The Story

A year ago last January there was a good wood-worker in Naples, whose trade consisted solely in making wooden shoes. He rented a house next to the saddlers' quarter in a nice little spot behind the old mint and had a wife who was charming and very beautiful. Although young as she was, she was not at all averse or disdainful to the suits of her almost countless lovers, still there were in this large number three whom the young woman (Viola by name) favored and loved above the others: one was her neighbor the smith, the second a Genoese merchant, and the third a friar (though I don't remember his name and order, I know he was an expert and notorious adventurer). She had promised all three of these privily that she would satisfy their desires as soon as her husband spent a night away from home. Now it happened that not many days passed before her husband went to Ponte a Selece to accompany a packass loaded with unfinished wooden shoes in order to have them polished in Naples, as he was accustomed. Since he was obliged to remain on this business until the following day, all three hopefuls were apprised of his departure and his night away.

Though each of them made his own preparations, the first to appear on the battlefield at the door of our Viola, perhaps because he was the most ardent lover, was the Genoese. He asked her sweetly to await him that night with dinner and lodging, making her the most extravagant promises, as is the custom in such arrangements, so that Viola without further delay told him to rest content, but to come late enough at night so as not to be seen by anyone in the neighborhood. The Genoese replied joyfully, "Farewell in God's name!" And leaving her he went off hurriedly to the Loggia, or perhaps it was the Pendino, and bought two extra- large capons -- big, white, and fat -- and together with fresh bread and several excellent wines had them sent secretly to the young woman's house. When the friar had celebrated the divine offices, he was eager for the fulfillment of her promise; and hurrying at top speed through the streets, like a famished wolf attacking some sheep strayed from the flock, he arrived at Viola's house. He called out to her and told her that he had every intention of coming to spend the night with her. Viola, who would not have deceived the Genoese for anything, but who knew that the friar was bold and very insistent, had no mind to refuse him satisfaction and was so confused that she did not know what to do. Still, as befits a prudent woman, it suddenly occurred to her how to make suitable provision for all contingencies and she replied pleasantly to the friar that she was at his disposal, but that he should not come before eleven o'clock because a little relative was staying with her and would not be asleep until that time, and with this satisfaction he should take his leave quickly in God's name. The friar, seeing that he had been received and caring for nothing else, said he would do as she wished and went on his way.

The smith, who had been in the customs house until late, busy with the release of some iron, found Viola at her window on his way home and said to her, "Tonight when your husband is out, you can make me welcome, and it will be well for you if you do, for if you do not, you may be sure that I will upset any other plans of yours." Viola, who loved him well and feared him not a little, thought that indeed there was time enough during the long night to attend to all three customers; and having found a way with the first two, she proposed to make delivery to the third as well, though he came last. She said to him, "Dear Mauro, you know how disliked I am in this neighborhood and how all the women (with good reason) are trying to get rid of me; some of them spy on me even in the middle of the night. But to prevent my being caught in their snares wait until dawn, at the hour you are accustomed to get up, and signal to me to let you in. We can be together for a short while this first time and later we will find a better way." The smith, seeing that she had plausible reasons and that he had achieved his purpose, was satisfied with the arrangement without further ado.

At nightfall the Genoese secretly entered Viola's house, but though he was given a gay reception and many kisses, still his sluggish nature did not permit him to satisfy his fleshly appetites without the warmth of a bed and other inducements. He mounted his steed and began to go through his paces, since the capons were slow to roast either from a lack of heat or for some other reason. Meanwhile the young woman was all anxiety, fearing to be anticipated by the second course before she had savored the first. Nine o'clock had already struck and their dinner was not even begun. At this point they heard a knock at the door. The Genoese was much alarmed and said, "Alas! I believe someone is knocking at the door." The young woman replied, "That's true and I am very much afraid it's my little friar, but never fear, I will make sure that he doesn't see you. So climb out the window and sit down on this little window-box full of plants until I see who it is and what he wants, and I'll send him away quickly." The Genoese, more timorous than hot with love, and despite the fact that a fine rain was falling whipped by such a cold wind that many people would have considered it snow, did exactly what Viola told him. She locked him out and, having guessed who was knocking, she hid the dinner and went to the door. She found that it was the importunate friar and, somewhat confused, said to him, "You have come too early and have not followed the directions I gave you; poor me, whom you would see dead rather than wait a little while." And with these and other similar words she let him in. Once inside, and without any kissing ceremony such as the Genoese had used, he was so avid that he did not even lock the door, but gave her plenary absolution on the spot, not by the authority vested in him by his superior but by the authority granted by his own potent nature. Viola, who thought that this was enough to satisfy him and send him on his way, now saw him go upstairs. Therefore, bolting the door, she followed him up the stairs and said, "Be off for the love of God; my little relative is not asleep yet and he is sure to hear you." The friar took no notice of what she said, entered, found the fire still hot, warmed himself a little, and embracing Viola once again began a new dance with a pleasanter melody than the one the poor Genoese made with the chattering of his teeth in the bitter cold. The latter saw everything through the cracks in the window and the reader may judge for himself how he was afflicted with chagrin, with the fear of being detected, and with the terrible cold. He was about to jump down several times, but it was too dark for him to judge the height and he continued to wait in the hope that the friar, who had gotten more than his due and whom the young woman repeatedly asked to leave, would go away. But the friar was kindled by the pleasure of the beautiful girl and did not let Viola out of his arms, since he knew a number of new dance steps to teach her (and the Genoese as well, who looked on with no particular pleasure) and had decided not to leave until daylight drove him away.

Thus he stayed until four o'clock and heard the smith making a commotion at Viola's door with the agreed signal. Turning to the young woman he said, "Who is knocking at your door?" She replied, "It's that continual nuisance, my neighbor the smith, whom I haven't been able to get rid of with good words or bad!" The friar, who was a practical joker, suddenly got an idea for a new bit of fun; he quickly went out to the door and with a very high-pitched voice, as if he were Viola, he said, "Who is it?" The other replied, "It's me, don't you recognize me? Open up, I beg you, I'm sopping wet." The friar said, "Alas, I can't open the door because it would make so much noise that there would be a scandal." The smith could not get out of the rain and entreated her to open the door because he was burning with love for her. The friar, who took great pleasure in putting him off in order to give him a thorough dousing, said, "My love, give me a little kiss through this crack, which is large enough, while I see if I can get this cursed door open quietly." The smith believed him and, all agog, made ready for the kiss. The friar, who in the meantime had let down his trousers, stuck out the mouth which spews out the excess bilge. The smith, who thought he was kissing Viola's sweet lips, immediately realized by both touch and smell what it really was and decided that this was another hunter who, quicker than himself, had bagged the game and then mocked him this way. Having suffered such a disgrace, he straightway determined not to let it pass unavenged and, pretending to smack his lips, he said, "My Viola, while you are seeing how to open the door, I will go after a cloak because I can no longer stand the rain." The friar replied, "Go in God's name and return quickly" -- at the same time laughing with the young woman so hard that they could hardly keep their feet.

The smith entered his workshop, quickly forged an iron rod into a spit, let it heat well, and said to his apprentice, "Pay good attention and when I spit, come to me right away with this rod." With this he returned to carry out his plan for gaining entrance. One word led to another and the smith said, "Kiss me again." The friar, who was quicker than a monkey to take advantage of this turn of events, immediately proffered him the usual orifice. Mauro gave the sign to his apprentice who instantly handed over the red-hot iron, which he took in his hand and with which he carefully delivered a thrust hard by the dark valley so that it went in almost a hand's breadth. The friar, feeling the fierce blow, perforce uttered a yell which echoed from the high heavens and kept on roaring like a wounded bull. All the neighbors were roused and came to the windows with lights in hand, and each asked the reason for such a disturbance. When the wretched Genoese, who was so frozen that little more was left for him but to end his days there turned into ice, heard such a clamor and saw so many lights in the neighborhood and realized that dawn was approaching, he finally-resolved to jump down so as not to be found there like a thief caught red-handed. Summoning up his courage and commending himself to God, he jumped. And fortune smiled so kindly on him that when he landed, he struck a rock with his foot in such a way that he broke his leg in several places. Overcome by the fierce pain no less than the friar, he was forced to vent his woes in a loud voice. The smith, attracted by the noise, found and recognized the Genoese, and seeing the reason for his screams, he took a little pity on him and with the help of his apprentice and with no little difficulty they carried him to the workshop. The smith, when he learned from him the whole story and what had happened, and who the friar was, went outside and silenced the commotion among the neighbors, saying that two of his apprentices had been at each other's throats. When all was quiet, Viola, as the friar desired, called softly for the smith, who entered the house and found the friar half dead. After much discussion he and his servant put him on their shoulders and took him to his monastery. Then they returned and had the Genoese brought to his lodging on an ass. But the smith himself reentered Viola's house at dawn and when they had eaten the capons together and otherwise completely satisfied their desires, he merrily returned to wielding his hammer. And thus Master Mauro, though he came last, left his rivals disgraced, injured, and in pain.

Masuccio

Our Viola is a clever girl and deserves to be congratulated for having made suitable provision for all three lovers in one and the same night. And while two of them, with all the interest on their investment, returned home escorted, though they had come alone, Viola, having received plenary absolution several times from the venerable father, remained to teach the smith the fashionable new dances which the Genoese had already witnessed with such little edification.

 

Translated in Larry D. Benson and Theodore M. Andersson, The Literary Context of Chaucer's fabliaux. London and Indianapolis, 1971.

 

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