In medieval tradition, the notion of courtly love was a chaste and idealized version of love in which individuals who desired one another demonstrated their affection through noble deeds and self-sacrifice. Courtly love was believed to be ennobling, yet at the same time it was most often expressed between individuals not married to one another and usually married to someone else. The interaction between Giovanna and Federigo is characterized, to some extent, by the conventions of courtly love. Federigo pursues Giovanna, though she is married to another. As she is the pursued object, Giovanna’s actions exemplify the traditions of courtly love in the sense that she remains aloof. In the typical courtly love scenario, however, the woman desired would give the man pursuing her a series of tasks to accomplish. His achievements were intended to be demonstrative of his love. Typically this type of relationship would also remain secret, due to its often adulterous nature and given the fact that the secrecy intensified the passion felt between the two people involved. In ‘‘Federigo’s Falcon’’ the narrator gives no indication that Giovanna is a willing participant in the ‘‘relationship’’ with Federigo. She sets him no tasks to prove his passion. Yet Federigo still makes lavish displays of his love. In fact, he sacrifices nearly everything he has out of love for Giovanna, who, the narrator informs the reader, ‘‘made no reckoning of whatsoever he did for her sake, or the least respect of his own person.’’ Giovanna’s response goes beyond being aloof. She is not simply cold to Federigo; she ignores him completely, giving no indication that she is aware of what he has done for her or that she owes him any sort of respect. While Boccaccio initially sets up ‘‘Federigo’s Falcon’’ as a tale of courtly love, Giovanna’s utter nonresponsiveness and Federigo’s talent for overt, rather than covert, displays of honor and love undercut the courtly love tradition.
Upon Giovanna’s being moved by her son’s illness to approach Federigo regarding his falcon, the story takes a further turn from the courtly love tradition. Giovanna is now a widow rather than the unattainable woman married to another man. Giovanna’s thoughts, as she considers how best to obtain Federigo’s falcon for her dying son, show an understanding of Federigo that has previously been absent in the story. Giovanna is aware of what Federigo has sacrificed, of how highly he regards her, of how much Federigo’s falcon means to him. The narrator informs us that it is only out of love for her son that, after having considered all these factors, she still seeks to ask Federigo for his falcon. Federigo responds to Giovanna the way he always has, namely, by offering her everything he has. After Giovanna learns that Federigo has presented her with his falcon as a meal, she begins to admire the way his nobility has withstood the trials he has endured. By the story’s end, the courtly love tradition, which typically ends in tragedy should the lovers attempt to consummate their relationship, has been transmuted into a love story with an apparently happy ending, that of the marriage of Federigo and Giovanna.
As members of the wealthy class of gentlemen and women, both Giovanna and Federigo pride themselves on the sense of nobility that they feel they are entitled to and honor-bound to express. Yet their mutual sense of pride in their nobility is the cause of so much grief in ‘‘Federigo’s Falcon.’’ Giovanna expresses pride in her noble status through her sense of propriety. As a married woman, she feels it is not proper to acknowledge Federigo’s attentions at all, yet her aloofness further fuels Federigo’s passion rather than puts him off. A few kind words from Giovanna, politely but firmly refusing his affection, may have prevented Federigo from sacrificing his entire fortune for her sake. Her sense of propriety causes further damage when, upon approaching Federigo regarding his falcon, Giovanna does not forthrightly tell him why she has come. She offers to make amends to him for her earlier inattention by presenting herself as a dinner partner. Had Giovanna, who claims to be so moved by love and concern for her dying son, immediately begged for Federigo’s falcon—an action that would have been commensurate with her desperation to save her child—Federigo likely would have parted with the bird and possibly the son’s life—and definitely the falcon’s life—would have been spared.
Similarly, Federigo’s pride in his status as a gentleman precipitates the tragedies that occur in the story. Living as he does ‘‘wholly by the dictates of courtly love,’’ as observed by Marga Cottino-Jones in the 1982 study Order from Chaos: Social and Aesthetic Harmonies in Boccaccio’s ‘‘Decameron,’’ Federigo gives up all his wealth in pursuit of an unattainable woman. His adherence to the ideals of courtly love is such that he views his self-sacrifice as a display of honor and devotion to Giovanna. He takes this devotion to the extreme when he serves Giovanna his falcon. Federigo is too proud to admit to Giovanna that he has nothing to offer her. He, like Giovanna, is complicit in the deaths of the boy and his falcon due to his pride.
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – Giovanni Boccaccio – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.