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Henry Justin Steinberg
University of Chicago (Chicago, IL 60637-5418)
Boccaccio’s Realism, Legal Institutions, and the Rise of the Novella

A book-length study of the relationship between literary realism in the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) and the emergence of the inquisitorial trial in Western Europe.

This project examines the influence of the inquisitorial trial—the most important development in legal procedure in Western Europe—on the most important development in Western literary style: the emergence of realistic representations of daily life. I trace this phenomenon through the novellas of 14th-century author and poet Giovanni Boccaccio, arguing that his celebrated realistic narratives, lifelike characters, and naturalistic dialogue are a response to the emergent prosecutorial trends of the period. By exploring the rhetorical and literary underpinnings of probable cause, legal representation, police surveillance, and discretionary punishment, Boccaccio’s work puts into critical dialogue two pillars of early modernity that otherwise might appear unrelated: realism and inquisition.

Project fields:
Italian Literature; Medieval Studies; Renaissance Studies

Fellowships for University Teachers

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2017 – 6/30/2018