SPAN 300: Cervantes' Don Quixote
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Cervantes' Don Quixote
SPAN 300 - Lecture 11 - Don Quixote, Part I: Chapters XXXVI-LII (cont.)
Chapter 1. Bringing a Meta-Novel to a Close [00:00:00]
Professor Roberto González Echevarría: I have been speaking in the last lectures about the ending of Part I of the Quixote, and today we finally get to the end of the novel. I remind you, again, that although you have both parts bound as one book — we all have it bound as one book — this is the end of the novel Cervantes set out to write, that he had no specific plan to write a second part, which would not be published anyway until a decade later, in 1615. It is very easy to make the mistake that what we’re coming to now is a provisional ending, so avoid that mistake. It is very easy to make, because of the book being bound together, and also because of the very nature of the ending of Part I that is so complicated. It is also easy to fall in that mistake because you know that Part II is coming as part of your course, and that you are going to read it, but not the readers of the 1605 Quixote in 1605 did not have a second part that they knew they were going to read, so I want to dispel the notion that this is a provisional ending. This is the ending of the novel as Cervantes conceived it. There are critics who seem to see in the ending hints that Cervantes planned a second part, but they are at best hints. Because second parts were often written in the sixteenth century, second parts of chivalric romances had many parts. The Celestina had many second parts, the Lazarillo had second parts, the Guzmán de Alfarache also had a second part, so it is conceivable to see in some of those hints the possibility that Cervantes thought of writing a second part, but it is not part of the plan of the 1605 Quixote, which stands on its own, or was designed to stand on its own as a book. It is almost impossible to buy it today separately, of course.
Now, ending the Quixote is a difficult thing to do because it is no ordinary story with a clear beginning; that is, the birth of the hero, for instance, and a linear plot in which the protagonist pursues a goal that he either attains or fails to attain; hence, he is defeated or he dies. It is not a love story like the subordinate stories that we have just seen being resolved at the end in which the lovers get married and presumably live happily ever after. The Quixote, as we have seen from start, from the prologue to be specific, is a meta-novel; a novel about the writing of a novel among other things like; it’s a kind of meta-chivalric romance in that it is a parody of a chivalric romance. Meta-novel is a novel that includes a novel about the writing of the novel. This is quite common in avant-garde fiction in the twentieth century, but it is the first time that it happens in literature in the Quixote, to have this dimension of criticism of the novel included in the novel itself. So the business of bringing it to a close is a complicated one that involves closing several narrative strands, plus the commentary or meta novel part about the composition of the novel — You can’t just come to the end and say, the hero failed, died, got married. No, no, no, you still have to deal with all of this commentary on the writing of the novel, which is part of the novel.
How do you end that? How do you close that? — I will anticipate that you have already read that ending, because the only possible ending to that narrative level is the prologue, with all of its hesitations about how to write it, which means, with all of the problems about how to close the book; the last episode of that meta-fictional level is the prologue, because closing the book, which we literally do when we finish, has many implications, the most important of which is that it implies or includes a statement, by just doing it, about the structure, about the shape of the book — Endings, as I’ve mentioned, are very important, and I believe that I mentioned the best book on the subject by Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending. It’s a brief but very, very smart book that I recommend, if you’re in literature, that you pick up some day and read. So closing the book — after you’ve got to the end and you close it — has many implications about — it’s a statement about the structure of the book, the very fact that it has an ending, that you can close it.
These are the reasons why we do have several endings or closures and why the prologue has to be the final or overarching one, which necessarily suggests circularity and self enclosure — if you come back to the beginning and make it the end — and this circularity and this self enclosure, we saw, is one of the characteristics of the novel, of the Quixote, which is a fiction based on fictions, and in where there are, or there seem to be, no way out of the fiction, because even the very author whose name is on the cover is contained within that fiction. Miguel de Cervantes is contained in the scrutiny of the books; remember, his novel La Galatea is mentioned; and then, Juan de Saavedra is mentioned in the captive’s tale; that’s one of Cervantes’ last names; so it’s also an allusion to himself; Rinconete and Cortadillo, the story that you read for today, is a Cervantes story that is contained, so even the author whose name is stamped on the cover is within the fiction.
Chapter 2. Episodes that Constitute Partial Endings [00:07:17]
So I will discuss several episodes that constitute partial endings, but reminding you that the ending is the prologue. The first of those episodes has to do with the en-closure, with the enclosure of Don Quixote — I’m playing with the word enclosure — by which I mean his caging. Caging Don Quixote is a literal form of closure, you close him in. It takes him out of circulation for good, as the character that he invented himself to be. So I’m seeing, even in the act of enclosure of the character, a form, a kind of ending, a formal enclosure. Now, Don Quixote is an outlaw, as we saw in the arrest order read by the Holy Brotherhood trooper — remember, the one who can’t read very well — who apprehends him after the fracas at the inn. Being a criminal, others, particularly the priest, have to argue Don Quixote’s case to prevent the Holy Brotherhood from taking him prisoner. Remember, this crime is against the Crown, because the galley slaves were under the purview of the Crown, so he would have been taken by the Holy Brotherhood, arrested and perhaps even executed. Remember that Sancho says, at some point, that he can hear the arrows of the Holy Brotherhood buzzing around his ears, because of course, Sancho being a commoner is more liable to be arrested by the Holy Brotherhood, whereas Don Quixote, being an hidalgo, perhaps thought that he was above the law. But in any case, the others, the priest, particularly, have to argue that Don Quixote be released into their custody because the priest argues very persuasively, like a lawyer, being insane Don Quixote would never be kept in jail; he would never be convicted. The insanity defense existed in Spanish law since the thirteenth century; so an insane man would be released.
Again, Don Quixote’s insanity puts him above or beyond the law. It is his most significant characteristic as a literary character, and being insane he accepts no law. But why is he caged, and not simply arrested and taken home in shackles, sitting on Rocinante? Why is it that at the end Don Quixote’s freedom has to be denied in such a spectacular fashion? And I mean spectacular, because this caging of Don Quixote and being carried home in this case is a spectacle. There are two plot strands that are winding up here. First, Don Quixote’s quest, and second, the priest and the barber’s own quest to return him home possibly to be cured. This is what justifies the charade of the masks. Pragmatically, the farce is staged because if Don Quixote recognizes the barber and the priest, he will catch on about the plan to return him home and he might resist. But there is more to it. It is really only at the level of fiction that Don Quixote, the character that he himself has created, can be captured. Alonso Quixano, the hidalgo, the modest hidalgo from that place in la Mancha, can be arrested or apprehended, but not Don Quixote, who is an invented literary character, unless it is within the world of his fiction; hence the make-believe. And this is the scene of the caging on page 415 of the Jarvis translation:
The irony here, in this episode, is that Don Quixote has communicated to the others the freedom to act out whatever fantasies they have. Isn’t this contradictory? He is caged. Forgiven them, allowing them the freedom to cage him in a way. He has contaminated them with the imaginative freedom that he practices. This theme began with the story of Dorotea becoming Princess Micomicona and her acting out a chivalric romance invented on the spot by the priest and performed by her as the priest invents this whole charade. This whole charade, which is like a brief theatrical piece or interlude taking place in the darkness of the inn, is like the episode of a nightmare. Don Quixote awakens to find himself bound and surrounded by what seemed like goblins who put him in the cage.
But is this a dream, or is this reality? He’s dealing here — Cervantes — with a theme that was very common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and that was made famous in a play called Life is a Dream, by a playwright called Calderón de la Barca — you may have heard of it. This is a play from the 1630s, but you can see that the theme is here of — if it’s real life or this is a dream. He has gone from being asleep to finding himself surrounded by these strange figures in the darkness of the inn, so what could it be if not some sort of nightmare? So he believes that he is enchanted. In the cage, Don Quixote is like the prisoner he is, in the sense that, because prisoners were paraded through the streets as a lesson to others. Prisoners were routinely — I think, even up through the nineteenth century — paraded through the streets of town, in carts or walking or being flogged and so forth as a lesson to others. Part of their punishment was their punishment being made public, so it was no unusual for them to be, probably, mostly, riding donkeys and stuff they were paraded through towns, but also in carts. He is also like a circus freak show, that’s what this shows, and you will see one or two in second part of the Quixote traveled around in carts, and, in fact, plays were staged in carts in town squares throughout Spain. That is, the company came in the carts and the carts opened up and became the stage; so the cart here is an important and significant means of communication of taking Don Quixote around as a prisoner and also as some sort of a freak show, the continuation of the theatrical episode of the charade to put him in the cage. So this emphasizes that theatrical quality that I mentioned.
An important part of the charade is the prophecy contrived and delivered in dramatic highly affected tones by the barber, which foretells of the future of Don Quixote as knight, projecting a potential ending to the story on that fictional level which satisfies Don Quixote. Like the priest, the barber is an author, but also an actor besides. I cannot do justice in my performance, particularly in Jarvis’ eighteenth century English and with my Cuban accent, but this is the prophecy by the barber:
So this is the prophecy invented on the spot and delivered by the barber, who is, as we can see, quite a ham himself, and also quite able to imitate the speech of chivalric romances. This is the peak of playacting in the Quixote. By the way, you can see the prophecy that this is a projected ending of the novel; that is Don Quixote and Dulcinea will marry and have children, and so forth. So, you see, this is the projected ending within the fictions, or beyond even the fictions Don Quixote has invented. So this is yet another level, those levels that the novel shows throughout created by characters. This is the peak of playacting in the Quixote, a culminating performance that among other things displays Cervantes’s talents as a playwright, particularly a playwright of the interludes, the entremeses, the funny skits that he wrote. Juan Palomeque’s inn, which has been used as a court of law and as a debating meeting room where they debate what the basin is and so forth, is now transformed into a theater as Don Quixote is finally dismissed from it. This, too, is one of the endings of the 1605 Quixote and the novel has several, as I mentioned, and as we saw in the last class when I discussed the restitutions made — Excuse me, we have a visitor in the class, an insect who is crawling in the middle of the room… This is an added show free of charge by this bug. Elena, maybe you can capture it. Shall we kill it or not? No. What is it? It came out of Toby’s bag. I’m sorry. Well, if you can possibly pay attention to my lecture. So please let us make a pause, an interlude, while Toby, the valorous knight, delivers us from this monster, who is very elusive, it seems.
So this, too, is one of the endings of the 1605 Quixote, and the novel has several, as I mentioned, and as we saw in the last class, and we discussed the various restitutions to those who had suffered damages. This ending is the most consistent; the prophecy with the fictional world generated by Don Quixote and now inhabited by all of the characters around him, except for Sancho, who knows what is going on but prudently chooses not to intervene. So now, we go on the road, and we meet one of the most memorable characters in Part I, the Canon of Toledo, who is traveling with a retinue and meets this very strange caravan carrying Don Quixote and stops to find out what this is all about, and after he does, the canon, Don Quixote, and the priest engage in a discussion about commonplaces of literary theory about the romances of chivalry, and about mostly Aristotle’s Poetics.
Chapter 3. Relevant Background Texts [00:24:54]
Now, the relevant background texts here are the Filosofía antigua poética by Alonso Lopéz Pinciano, known as “el Pinciano,” 1596 — in Spanish we write “filosofía” today with an ‘f,’ that’s just the old fashioned spelling — and Lope de Vega’s Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo, 1609, which is, of course, published after the Quixote, but which deals with topics that are very relevant to this episode. Filosofía antigua poética is a book in which el Pinciano expounds literary theory mostly derived from Aristotle’s Poetics. Now, it is one of the great ironies of literary history that Cervantes was wildly innovative in narrative fiction but exceedingly conservative in the theater, except when writing his brief comic of interludes. I don’t have to emphasize now how he was wildly innovative in narrative fiction. About the theater, this episode is a vicious critique of Lope de Vega, his enemy Lope de Vega, because Lope de Vega wrote plays that did not follow Aristotle’s Poetics, the rules of unity of action, and of plays, and of time; everything had to happen in one day, and one place, and there was only one plot, and so forth. Lope flaunted all of these rules and his plays were historical plays that were dubiously accurate about the history. He just made it up, like Shakespeare.
He was a great innovator who wrote thousands of plays, and who really couldn’t care less about the rules. He invented the Spanish National Theater by not following the rules. But there were those, like Cervantes himself who criticized him for that; and he replied in 1609 in this very hilarious poem called The New Art About How to Make Plays at This Time — the title is very polemical, as you can see. “Arte,” art, is supposed to be eternal and it says “new art,” new art is an oxymoron, art cannot be new or old; it’s always the same, supposedly, if you follow the Poetics; to write comedies “at this time,” now, not in the past: now. And so Lope was wildly innovative. And he, as I’ve mentioned before, just took over the Spanish theater, and Cervantes with his plodding plays that followed the Poetics did not have much success. He did write have a few staged, and then he had the interludes also staged, and a book of this appeared, and I will speak about that when I speak about the transition between the first and second part. But it is an irony that Cervantes, who was so innovative in the prose, was so conservative; so he is using, of course, the canon and the priest to criticize Lope de Vega for all of these irregularities in his plays. Peter Russell, who was a very reputable English cervantista, Cervantes scholar, writes [quote]:
It is true. I think that Russell is right, that Cervantes considered all of the theoretical issues the canon puts forth, but that in practice he did not adhere to any of them, except that of verisimilitude, that the novel does not deviate from the imitation of nature, that its characters never engage in supernatural actions, and that there are no actions that are beyond the credible; that is verisimilitude. The most interesting part of the discussion is when the canon and Don Quixote explore the possibilities of the romances of chivalry which, in the end, the canon winds up praising, because they afford the possibility of introducing variety, which is one Renaissance principle that Cervantes did follow. Besides, the canon himself confesses that he has written the first hundred pages of a chivalric romance. This is hilarious; he is the critic of chivalric romances, and this is a typical cervantean twist. We have seen that it was the priest who read out loud The Novel of the Curious Impertinent, and here the canon says:
Don Quixote, for his part as in reply, makes up a chivalric interlude based on the story of the Knight of the Lake, which is quite remarkable and with which in a sense he wins the debate. Both the canon and Don Quixote are authors, as is the barber, and the priest, and so forth.
Now, there is a very elegant joke embedded in this discussion. The canon, I maintain, is the “idle reader,” the “desocupado lector” that Cervantes addressees in the prologue. Remember, that he really says “desocupado lector,” idle reader. The joke is that canons were supposed to have cushy jobs that allowed them the time to read and devote themselves to other leisurely activities. “Vida de canónigo” was, and still is, a way of saying cushy life. Canons were in charge of reading canon law. They were in churches, and they were supposed to read canon law, and pass judgment. Canon law is church law. That is, when we talked about incest, and the prisoner of sex, who would determine what is incest and what is not, whom you can marry and whom you cannot marry, and what is a sin, and not a sin, and so forth. Canon law is very, very important; it’s not to us anymore.
And the separation between crime and sin is beginning in the seventeenth century and it’s not quite accomplished until the nineteenth century, if you know what I mean. But canons had all of the time in the world to sit around and read, and so they were supposed to be well-fed, fat, and they had the time to read romances of chivalry and pass judgment as this. All of these figures of authority in Cervantes are always slightly ridiculous. They have some flaw or another, but here it’s yet another author, another internal author. We have seen many in the Quixote: Don Quixote himself, the priest, the barber we just saw, Ginés de Pasamonte, Cide Hamete Benengeli, the translator, we have Grisóstomo, Cardenio, and so forth. The Quixote is literature within literature. Literature with its own internal rules discussed not from the outside; this is what is important here, the characters are discussing the nature of the work within which they appear. That is to say, that there is a seamless continuity between theory and practice at the level of discourse, but not at the level of ideology. That is to say, the novel does not comply with the theory propounded by the Canon of Toledo, but flows from within its own practice.
Notice that the canon has not finished the novel that he begun, and that he also confesses that he’s never finished reading the novels that he began reading; he never gets to the end. I think that Cervantes is pointing out here the difficulty of finishing a novel, and finishing this novel in particular, and that is more important than all of the common places about Aristotelian theory that the characters discuss. A little background on Aristotelian theory, although I think that the best thing to approach this passage of the Canon of Toledo which, of course, has generated a lot of criticism, because all you have to do is give a scholar a set of rules that were being propounded and a novel, and scholars think that art is written following rules; it is delusion of scholars and critics. But none of this theory can contain the narrative, the experiments in narrative that we have been observing in the Quixote, all of those various levels of fiction, all of these intertwined stories, all of these very wild, and at the same disciplined experiments about the nature of fiction that we find in the Quixote. All of that surpasses any theory that was expounded in the Spanish Golden Age in the sixteenth century or in Europe in the sixteenth century.
So we cannot be here blinded by the Filosofía antigua poética, by Aristotle’s Poetics, by Plato and all of those discussions, because the poetics of the Quixote are contained in its own practice, and its own practice includes the discussion of its own poetics. But it does not take theory from outside and applies it to the Quixote; that would be foolish. What happens in the sixteenth century in literary theory, in the sixteenth century, is the well-worn debate between Plato and Aristotle. Plato was the first spoilsport in the history of criticism, because he thought that art was a negative influence in the republic, and he wanted to banish the poets because art appealed to the emotions and because art was based on imitation; it couldn’t be itself, it was always an imitation of something. Although, Neo-Platonism is important in other realms of sixteenth century literature, that view of art and of poetry was countered by Aristotle’s critique of Plato in which he departs from — his point of departure, his baseline, is that humans tend to imitate; imitation is part of the human condition, and that therefore, art is inherent in the human animal because he imitates. That is, we are all “micomicones,” if we remember that Princess Micomicona was about imitation, was about mimesis, that we are all monkeys, we imitate just like monkeys, and this is what Aristotle really propounds, that imitation is a good thing, and that imitation in art leads to a pleasurable, intellectual process that he favors; that is at the base of Aristotelian theory.
Now, Aristotle then in the Poetics gives a series of rules that he bases on his own practice of reading the epic and the theater that is applied, slavishly sometimes, in the Renaissance with the Renaissance penchant for reviving the classics. That is basically what is at stake here. It’s parallel to what I mentioned in the last class about the rules of government that are being drawn up then from Machiavelli on and it’s very much a part of the Renaissance who try to draw up rules, and the rules of behavior that were contained in Baltasare Castiglione’s The Courtier. These are all parallel movements. But in the case of the Quixote none of this theory is ultimately relevant, it is contained within it, it is discussed, but it does not drive the book, it does not control the poetics, Cervantes’s poetics in the Quixote, which surpasses all of that by quite a bit. So I will not expound very much beyond that on the presence of Aristotle’s Poetics, there is a lot of criticism, and one of those who has written eloquently about it is E.C. Riley, whom you have met in my Casebook, in the essay about life and art, and so forth, in Don Quixote. He wrote a book, he died not too long ago, about the theory of the novel in Cervantes. Cervantes Theory of the Novel, which is a classic of Cervantes criticism, but I think that ultimately what I have said here today takes care of it.
Now, Cervantes, of course, expounded on literature in other books, he has a long poem called Viaje del Parnaso, A Voyage to Parnasus, which is a book of literary criticism about the literature of his time, and in the prologues to his various books he expounds on criticism, and so forth. But the problem is, as with all writers of fiction, that Cervantes has this theory appear always in dialogue, in a dialogue among various characters. You cannot really pinpoint him as to what Cervantes’s preference is in all of this, but I think that the point to remember is that the canon is a slightly ridiculous figure, that we cannot take him as a figure of authority who has given us the poetics of the Quixote by any means, that he himself has tried to write a romance of chivalry.
Now, another element that is present in this episode is the critique or the criticisms of the romances of chivalry. They were criticized severely in the sixteenth century by figures as important as Erasmus of Rotterdam, another one of these Renaissance figures that I have mentioned before; Vives and others criticized the romances of chivalry for their being potentially a bad influence on society, in terms that Cervantes echoes mockingly in the Quixote when he says that he’s written the book to do away with the romances of chivalry. So there is in this episode, too, also an echo of those debates about the romances of chivalry, because, as I mentioned, they were quite popular at one point, aided by the fact that they could be, they were printed, and distributed in relatively large numbers for the period. So this is what is at stake in these episodes involving the Canon of Toledo, which I think are also preparing us for the ending of the book, which, as I said, is the prologue. It is one of the most sustained takes on the poetics of the chivalric romances and on poetics and on literary theory in the Quixote. So the important thing to remember is verisimilitude; Cervantes never deviates from verisimilitude; that is, the characters never engaged in anything that is supernatural or do something that is beyond what the commonsense of a normal reader would allow. So much for this episode which has, as I said, elicited a lot of criticism as you can imagine; and that I find very entertaining because I think that the figure of the canon is really a very funny one.
You will see that religious figures appear in the Quixote, well, the priest has been around the whole first part. Others will appear in Part II, one in particular, who is depicted in very negative terms, as you will see. The canon is not, the canon is very learned, very well read, and funny in his own contradictions. Notice, of course, that the whole debate takes place over lunch, this picnic that they have organized in this nice valley with food that they have obtained from the inn, in this locus amoenus where we will find a pastoral interlude, which is another one of those stories that almost repeats previous ones towards the end of the Quixote. It is, again, a way of lending substance to the book by these inner references. The episode is like a new version of the Grisóstomo and Marcela episode, but it also recalls parts of the some of the intertwined love stories. Leandra is a young beauty in her father’s care who is desired by many men; Eugenio, the goatherd, and Anselmo, another goatherd, are Leandra’s principle suitors. They appear to be perfect candidates to marry her, as in the earlier story of Grisóstomo and Marcela. They’re both well off and so forth.
Then there appears Vicente de la Rosa who woos her with his wiles and lies, because Leandra is no Marcela; she allows herself to be seduced by Vicente de la Rosa, who is a modern man, in that he has made himself, almost literally, the way that he uses three sets of clothes, he has three suits, and he shuffles them in such a way that it appears that he has many; and he is a miles gloriosus — it’s a term in Latin — a self glorifying soldier, solider, miles gloriosus from classical comedy. This is a soldier who goes around boasting of all of his great feats of arms and showing scars that he has from battles, as Vicente de la Rosa does here. He plays the guitar, and so forth, and this is the way that he woos her. They run off to the wild, the same kind of landscape that we found in the Sierra Morena, where she is robbed, but surprisingly not sexually ravaged, which is a curious detail that I have not been able to ever understand.
What does that reveal about Vicente de la Rosa? It may be as bad that he was impotent and that all of these Don Juan like adventures that he seems to be engaged in are really a cover for that, but I find it amazing that she has been left untouched, and that that satisfies her father very much. But the story is left is unfinished; it hasn’t concluded. No one knows what is going to happen, and I have wondered why, and I think that the reason is that we are now coming to the end of the novel and what is being narrated is kind of a present, and a present cannot have a conclusion, because current events are current, and to give them a conclusion is an artificial way of finishing them. I think that’s the only way to explain this unfinished story that is just left unfinished.
Chapter 4. Don Quixote’s Arrival at the Village [00:47:21]
We come to the end. Finally, the priest, barber, Sancho and Don Quixote arrive back in Don Quixote’s village on a Sunday. Is this significant? It is the day of rest, of leisure, of feasts, consonant perhaps with Don Quixote’s arrival in a cage, as if he were part of a fair. But to me the most moving and interesting detail is that Don Quixote does not know where he is. If you go to page 458, at the very end:
After all of these adventures, home is no longer familiar to Don Quixote. It is not, if it ever was, the abode of the canny, but of the uncanny. Instead of curing him, it seems to me, bringing him home has made him madder than ever. Perhaps the circularity of the event, coming back again has made him dizzy to the point that he cannot recognize even his own bed. This is what I found very moving. He’s in his own bed and he can’t even recognize it. Now, he will, again, get out of it, although we will meet him in it at the beginning of Part II, but not quite soon. In the fiction of Part II he will get out of it, but a long decade later in real history.
I was going to wind up today by talking about Rinconete and Cortadillo, which you were supposed to read for today, and I’m going to do it very briefly, but we will come back to The Exemplary Novels, again, to discuss Rinconete and Cortadillo perhaps a little more, and also because we will be reading several of them. Sixteen thirteen is the date of the Novelas ejemplares, called here — this is the edition that you’re using, I assume-Exemplary Stories. It’s impossible to find a good title for it because novellas at the time meant short novels or long short stories, but today if you say exemplary novels, you think of longer novels. Short stories, the term didn’t really emerge until the late eighteenth century, early nineteenth century with the appearance of newspapers and all of that; so this is why there is no good way of translating it, and when a Spanish speaker reads it today he’s mislead by the title, Novelas ejemplares. The point is, as Cervantes became well known because the Quixote did so well, and publishers became interested in publishing his works for a change. They had all ready fleeced him with the Quixote, so they were ready to do so again with other books.
So he was able to publish his collection of stories that, as I told you in an earlier class, does not have the overarching fiction that the Decameron and other such books have; all of the characters leave the city because of the plague, get together somewhere and then each one tells a story on a different day. This is the Decameron’s overarching fiction. The Exemplary Novels doesn’t have that, it is a one-man show, twelve stories with a prologue by Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes, as I have mentioned favored the long short story like several ones we have encountered intertwined in the Quixote and individually in The Novel of the Curious Impertinent, and he had a few in reserve, obviously, as we recall the papers that someone left at the inn, Juan Palomeque’s inn, including at least a couple of stories by Cervantes.
These were stories that were circulating in manuscript. Remember that I told you that stories still circulated in manuscript in spite of the development of printing. In the book, he collects stories with very diverse themes and styles; it is like a series of narrative experiments. Some, like Rinconete, are akin the picaresque, others to the Byzantine romance; others are love stories, etcetera. We are going to be reading several here. They are superb. I think that even Cervantes had not published the Quixote he still would have become a major author by just this collection of short stories. You will see the Glass Graduate and all of the others that we’re going to read that are really excellent stories.
Now, Rinconete and Cortadillo is obviously of a picaresque thematic and ambiance, and it takes place in the center of picaresque life, Seville, but it does not follow the autobiographical form of the picaresque and that Cervantes made fun of through Ginés de Pasamonte — Remember? When he says, how can the book be over if my life is not over? He’s making fun of that. So you will see that he does use it in the Dialogue of the Dogs at the end, but you will see in what experimental fashion. To me, the point is that that Rincón and Cortado, known by the diminutive Rinconete and Cortadillo, become pícaros because it is already a literary character; so they become pícaros the same way that Don Quixote becomes a knight, and there are hints of this in the first inn, when we learn that the innkeeper of that first inn had been a pícaro and he tells stories, and we get the sense that some of these pícaros that the innkeeper assembled within those emporia of picaresque life that he mentions had chosen that life. It was not that they were just simply poor boys who were out looking for a way of living, but that they had chosen that life, so they had — as they said in the sixties in this country — they had dropped out, as it were, dropped out of society to become pícaros. And this is, I think, what is the case of Rincón and Cortado, who, at the end, decide not to be pícaros any more, and that is the end of their adventures. It is not that they go to the galleys or that they are nabbed or they have to write a story because they are married to the mistress of an archpriest and so forth — I’m alluding to Lazarillo de Tormes.
I think the other very significant element here is Monipodio’s brotherhood, Monipodio is the chief criminal here, who runs the whole brotherhood in very well organized fashion. He’s, again, one of these figures of authority who is slightly ridiculous, and he’s surrounded by a bevy of petty criminals, prostitutes and pimps all of who have their own features, physical features — remember, I talk about the physical features in some of these characters — and it is not a somber sordid life that is depicted as the picaresque life. On the contrary, it seems like a lot of fun. Everybody is having fun, even the prostitute, who comes complaining about her pimp beating her up at the end, she actually reveals that it was really an S&M sadomasochistic, a little mutual sexual game that they were playing.
So there’s nothing evil in all of these pícaros. This is very much Cervantes. As I’ve told you, even the worst characters have some good and are never totally evil, and certainly none of these are totally evil. Repolido is her pimp’s name, and it means that he is bald, probably from some venereal disease. I mean, Cervantes deals with the most sordid, but in a way that does not read as a sordid story, and I think also what is interesting here is that Monipodio’s brotherhood seems like the blueprint for society. That it is the kernel of society where rules are being created, and where there is a kind of self enclosed atmosphere created by those rules, as if this were the beginning of laws and the beginning of a certain mode of speech, and so forth. This is, I think, what is behind this brotherhood; it’s one of the Renaissance topics about utopia, this is a counter utopia — I am referring now to Thomas More, another one of those Renaissance figures that I want you to remember — but utopia, what it means is that it’s a well ordered society, in which everything has been thought of, and advanced, and there are rules, and this is what Monipodio’s brotherhood is like is a counter utopia that is organized with the well wrought sort of polish of a work of fiction. So we will return to this in our next class which will come after Tuesday’s exam.
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