Casting Light on Clandestine Marriage in Il Filostrato
Marginalia, Vol.3 (2006)
Introduction: Despite claims made by a number of critics that a clandestine marriage is conducted between Troilus and Criseyde, no such claim has been made for Boccaccio’s Troiolo and Criseida. In fact, the most vocal advocates of sub rosa nuptials in Chaucer’s poem resolutely deny the possibility of a similar espousal in the English poet’s Italian template, to the extent that their arguments even depend upon its absence.
And yet the case for the possibility of sponsalia per verba de praesenti (or even de futuro) in Il Filostrato is no less viable than that which has been made repeatedly for Chaucer’s redaction. However, I am by no means declaring that a clandestine marriage definitely takes place in Boccaccio’s poem, far from it. Rather I am querying the rationale which permits a secret union in the one text and denies it to the other, despite there being just as much (or as little, as the case may be) evidence for its occurrence in both. Indeed, the union in each text is not only concealed from the view of the ancillary characters but also from the view of the reader, due to the penumbral language employed by each poet; we too are faced with ‘ignorance ay in derknesse’ (TC, III. 826).
Various studies in recent years have illuminated the almost pandemic nature of clandestine marriage in late-medieval Europe – the Church considered it to be a pernicious social problem, which was finally curtailed by the Tametsi decree promulgated by the Council of Trent in 1563. Even Kelly, who refuses to acknowledge the possibility of a clandestine marriage in Il Filostrato, admits that ‘with very few exceptions there is a bias in favo[u]r of marriage on the part of serious medieval lovers; that is to say, when they got the chance to marry, they generally took it’. Troiolo and Criseida, by extension, either fall into the category of the ‘very few exceptions’ or they are simply not ‘serious’ about one another, unlike their English counterparts. In this brief query I will examine the case for and against surreptitious nuptials in Boccaccio’s text, and attempt to cast light upon the possibility of a union conducted ‘whan lightles is the world’ (TC, III. 550).