This talk 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. Boccaccio uses the frequent trial scenes in the Decameron to question emergent modes of realistic representation that were increasingly frequent in the legal procedures of his time, especially in the revolutionary inquisitional procedure. Continuously questioning the very realism he employs as a poet, he puts mimesis on trial.
JUSTIN STEINBERG is professor of medieval Italian literature at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Accounting for Dante: Urban Readers and Writers in Late Medieval Italy (Notre Dame, 2007), recipient of the MLA’s Scaglione Publication Prize and Dante and the Limits of the Law (Chicago, 2014), recipient of the MLA’s Howard. R. Marraro Prize. He is currently writing a book on Boccaccio and the law. Professor Steinberg is also the Editor‐in Chief of the journal Dante Studies.
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