The tales contain abundant nudity, sex, slapstick and scatological humor. The film was entered into the 21st Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear Extraordinary Jury Prize.
The film, shot in Neapolitan dialect at the behest of the director, offers a variety of episodes from the stories most characteristic of the work of Giovanni Boccaccio, and are linked through a pupil of the painter Giotto (played by Pasolini himself) who arrives in Naples to paint a mural.
In the first episode, Andreuccio of Perugia is cheated by a Neapolitan and dropped in a trough of excrement. The young man is found in the pulp by two thieves who are attempting a coup at a nearby church to steal the jewels from the tomb of a bishop who died a few days earlier. Andreuccio is persuaded and, with a brilliant ruse, manages to steal for himself the most beautiful ring of the deceased.
In the second episode, a young man, Masetto da Lamporecchio, is encouraged by some nuns in a convent to have sex with them. In fact, the young man already had this idea, pretending to be deaf and dumb. But the sisters prove insatiable, and the young man finally breaks his silence to protest that he cannot keep up with their demands. The mother prioress declares his sudden ability to speak a miracle from God, but this is merely an excuse to keep the young man at the convent.
In the third episode, the commoner Peronella makes a cuckold of her dimwitted husband. While she is having sex with a lover, her husband unexpectedly comes home for a holiday. The other man hides in a large pot while the husband reveals that he has a buyer for the pot with him. Peronella quickly says that she already has a buyer and that he's inspecting the pot. The husband accepts this and goes to the pot room where the stranger says the inside of the pot is dirty. The wife tells the husband to clean it before selling it, and while he is inside the pot, his wife and her lover loudly and passionately copulate next to it. The husband remains oblivious.
In the fourth episode, set in France, Ser Ciappelletto, a merchant, is sent to make a deal. For most of his life, he devoted his soul to sin, seduction and profit, disregarding all moral and ethical values. In fact, God punishes him with a serious illness that forces him to the bed and eventually death. But Ciappelletto wants to confess and calls a Monaco to tell a myriad of lies. Because of these lies, they consider making him a saint. After his death, Ciappelletto is revered as a martyr.
In the fifth episode, a young woman meets with her lover on a terrace to plan a fraud against her parents and makes love with him there. The next morning the parents of the girl find the two lovers naked, but recognise the boy as a good match, as his marriage would earn a significant amount of money through dowry, and allow their daughter to marry him.