Introduction to Day Three
By Mary McKinley
Day Three opens as our storytellers join Madame Oisille to hear her morning lesson on the Bible. The group becomes so engrossed in her teaching that they don’t hear the church bell ringing and would have forgotten to attend mass if a monk had not summoned them. That detail reflects the primacy of the Bible in the minds of the evangelical reformers, the group around Marguerite who wanted the Catholic Church to return to the model of early Christianity depicted in the New Testament. The group reassembles joyfully in the meadow after lunch to exchange more stories.
They first hear about Rolandine, one of the most memorable women in the Heptameron, who dares speak truth to power in the face of injustice. Her tale shows us how the laws governing marriage among the nobility gave men control over women’s lives and denied them the right to marry for love. Her story may remind us that both of Marguerite’s marriages were arranged for the political advantage of the realm.
Two shocking anti-clerical stories portray priests and friars abusing women sexually. Two stories, both set in Spain, depict men who suffer unrequited love for an unattainable woman.
A thinly disguised King Francis I shows his seductive charm in wooing the wife of his lawyer as well as his sly ingenuity in concealing the affair under the mantle of piety. Only his un-named sister (our Marguerite) sees through the subterfuge and gets to the truth. The king’s laughter, the sister’s reaction, and the details framing the story invite us to be indulgent toward the lovers and to smile.
The final story, one of the two incest tales in the Heptameron, shows the dire consequences that ensue when a woman places too much confidence in her ability to resist sexual temptation rather than recognizing the frailty of her flesh. The woman’s example prompts the storytellers to comment on the weakness of human will power and the need for faith in God to avoid sin. Their discussion echoes one side of a crucial debate between Catholic and Protestant theologians during the Reformation. Versions of this story occur in many different cultures around the world.
The personalities of the ten storytellers emerge more clearly as they react to each other’s tales throughout the afternoon. Their stories and discussions are so engaging that once again the monks listening behind the hedges don’t hear the bell announcing vespers. The storytellers, too, need a second bell to pull them away from the meadow into the church. Oisille urges the group to thank God for the joyous day they have spent together. They continue to share memories and possible stories over supper and during the evening, looking forward to the pleasure of another day of storytelling. Joyful is the word that defines the beginning and the end of the day.
Let us join the monks behind the hedge and experience the pleasure of today’s stories.