From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
7.2 (1987): 71-84.
Copyright © 1987, The Cervantes Society of America
||HELEN H. REED|
N THE FOLLOWING interpretation of the picaresque of Cervantes,1 I take into consideration a number of texts that deal with matters picaresque, both the Novelas ejemplares especially Rinconete y Cortadillo, La ilustre fregona, El casamiento engañoso, and El coloquio de los perros and also the picaresque episodes woven into longer narratives, those of Ginés de Pasamonte (later Maese Pedro) in the Quijote and Luisa de Talavera in the Persiles. I also mention certain dramatic works that present picaresque protagonists, such as El rufián dichoso, El retablo de las maravillas, and, more elaborately, Pedro de Urdemalas. I include the Persiles and the dramas under the rubric of the picaresque in order to be comprehensive and for the sake of the insights that result, since some features present in other texts become there more prominent and highly developed. In any case, the generic distinction picaresque novel is a category that has been applied a posteriori and from a modern perspective. It implies a greater consensus than may have existed
essay is based on a paper delivered at the Kentucky Foreign Language
Conference, April, 1984. Some of the ideas expressed were presented at
the inspiring National Endowment for the Humanities Seminar on Cervantes
directed by Ruth El Saffar during the summer of 1982. I am grateful to Ruth
El Saffar, Daniel Testa, and Constance Rose for commenting on the manuscript
at various stages of its evolution.
|72||HELEN H. REED||Cervantes|
during the Golden Age and focuses our attention on the narrative works to
the exclusion of others. The fact that Cervantes frequently brings his
pícaros to the stage indicates in the most obvious way the
theatricality of his vision of the picaresque. Even in the narrative texts,
a dramatic mode of presentation prevails due to the predominance of dialogue,
external description, changes in scene, and spectacular treatment of events.
As fictional characters, Cervantes' pícaros often become actors
or are otherwise engaged in the theater; on a more philosophical level, they
play out their lives on the world's stage self-consciously imitating
scripts set by previous picaresque tales. I shall argue that
theatricality2 manifest in Cervantine
fiction in different ways is a significant and constant quality that
distinguishes, but by no means entirely separates, Cervantes' picaresque
from that of other authors. I prefer not to banish Cervantes' texts from
the picaresque canon by labeling them anti- or
counter-picaresque, although I recognize the importance of parody
in their creation. Rather, my idea is that Cervantes, through his dramatic
treatment, produced variations better designated as metapicaresque;
for he selects some essential features of the developing genre and playfully
explores their possibilities and ultimate implications.
The notion of Cervantes' picaresque as evolving in opposition to the fiction of Mateo Alemán has been well developed in Carlos Blanco Aguinaga's seminal article, Cervantes y la picaresca: notas sobre dos tipos de realismo (NRFH, 11 (1957), 313-42), and also Claudio Guillén's sensitive essays, Genre and Countergenre: The Discovery of the Picaresque and Toward a Definition of the Picaresque, in Literature as
notion of theatricality is a broad one, and I have selected several features
of Cervantes' picaresque that seem to me classifiable under this unifying
metaphor or concept. A few modern critics have mentioned the theatrical quality
of the Quijote; the first to my knowledge is Marthe Robert in
L'Ancien et le nouveau. De Don Quichotte à Franz Kafka (Paris:
Editions Bernard Grasset, 1963) who refers to the affinities of Don
Quijote with the theater in its dramatic organization, the use of games
and illusions, and (often) likeness to a spectacle (pp. 29 ff.). See also
Karl-Ludwig Selig, Concerning theatricality in Don Quijote:
Some remarks, in Theatrum Europeaum, ed. Richard Brinkmann et
al (Munich: Fink, 1982), pp. 27-33; and Juan José García,
Visión metadramática del Quijote, in
Cervantes: Su obra y su mundo. Actas del I Congreso international sobre
Cervantes, ed. Manuel Criado de Val (Madrid: EDI-6, 1981), pp. 509-13.
As to theatricality and the picaresque, Edmond Cros in a recent article,
Ecriture Expressionniste et théâtralité dans le
récit picaresque, Imprévue (1982-1983), 34-43,
refers to the theatrical aesthetic of Guzmán de Alfarache in
its use of rhetorical devices to affect the emotions of the
destinataire, of course a very different theatricality to that of
|7.2 (1987)||Theatricality in Cervantes||73|
System (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1971). Both critics utilize a fundamentally taxonomic or classificatory idea of genre, although Guillén amplifies and makes more flexible his system through applying the Wittgensteinian model of family resemblances. Hence a work may embody some of the formal and thematic qualities peculiar to a genre, but not necessarily all. Some recent genre theorists, including Guillén, have regarded taxonomies as too constricting and too static to properly portray the development of a genre in the process of formation since writers continuously modify or replace the features unsatisfactory to them with their own novelties. Such theorists as Rosalie Colie in The Resources of Kind. Genre-Theory in the Renaissance (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1973) and, more recently, Alistair Fowler in Kinds of Literature. An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1983) consider this problem of negative reactions and transformations one of the most difficult for genre theory. Fowler suggests that genre may be best understood as a means of communication or coding system (not unlike a language), rather than a system of classification (pp. 20-24). A structural model for the picaresque genre has also been fruitfully explored by Alison Weber, who refers to a system of semantic possibilities, rather than historical actualities, based on the polarities comic / ironic and story / novel.3 Categorization is one of several aesthetic judgments decided by each individual reader in attempting to comprehend the text. Whatever the author's intention, generic recognition and subsequent interpretation may vary, depending as they do on the reader's attitude toward the pícaro and the social norms depicted. Weber's model is advantageous because of its flexibility, encompassing (rather than excluding) a variety of narrative types that treat the pícaro and his adventures. In an article on Cervantes and the picaresque, Peter Dunn also suggests that genre may be regarded as a set of structural options,4 rather than classificatory constraints. One might almost posit, and Dunn comes close to doing so, a post-structuralist view of Cervantes' picaresque in that he creatively deconstructs the picaresque of his predecessors and contemporaries. Concurrently, he varies, parodies, and playfully
Weber, Cuatro clases de narrativa picaresca, in La Picaresca:
Orígenes, textos y estructuras, ed. Manuel Criado de Val (Madrid:
Fundación Universitaria Española, 1979), pp. 13-18.
4 Peter Dunn, Cervantes De / Reconstructs the Picaresque, Cervantes, 2 (1982), 109-31. See also the recent issue of Cervantes devoted to genre (Fall, 1986).
|74||HELEN H. REED||Cervantes|
experiments with formal possibilities and with the social and philosophical
significance of the pícaro as protagonist.
In the present essay, my intention is to surpass the characterization of Cervantes' picaresque as a negativity or deviation from the norm. Cervantes' readings of the picaresque are intertextually playful, self-conscious, and ironic; but the resulting texts are something far beyond a burlesque or negative reaction to Guzmán de Alfarache. Rather, Cervantes produced an opus of picaresque texts with some salient and quite consistent characteristics whose structures are well-matched to, and even expressive of, picaresque knowledge and experience. In order to do so, he invented a variety of hybrid genetic forms, embedding picaresque episodes or tales about pícaro-like characters in long narrations, stories replete with complex framing devices, and dramas. Sometimes, these works contradict in a qualitative way their apparent generic designation or, to put it another way, surprise the reader's most obvious generic expectations. For example, Cervantes' plays and entremeses, nunca representados, were finally published to be read in 1615 (Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses) with a prologue addressed to lector mío. Thus, one encounters both theater for readers and, as I hope to demonstrate, theatricalized fiction in the picaresque of Cervantes. The notion of theatricality may serve as a unifying conceptual framework within which to consider generic, philosophical, and stylistic aspects of Cervantes' picaresque.
The theatrical quality of Cervantes' fiction was already suggested by a contemporary writer, Avellaneda, who alluded to Cervantes' comedias en prosa in his prologue to the apocryphal Quijote. One may suppose, as Anthony Close suggests, that Avellaneda refers to the partly comic stories included in the Novelas ejemplares such as Rinconete y Cortadillo, La ilustre fregona, El coloquio de los perros, and others.5 Accordingly, even what is probably Cervantes' earliest picaresque work,6 Rinconete y
Anthony Close, Characterization and Dialogue in Cervantes' Comedias
en prosa, MLR, 76 (April, 1981), 338-39. Avellaneda's
reference is to the Novelas ejemplares, and not to the prose
entremeses, although he does not specify which ones. In the same prologue,
Avellaneda also twice refers to the Quijote as a comedia. On
theatrical aspects of Rinconete y Cortadillo, see Américo Castro,
El pensamiento de Cervantes (1925; Barcelona and Madrid: Editorial
Noguer, 1972), pp. 232-33.
6 In assuming an early date of composition for Rinconete y Cortadillo, I follow Ruth El Saffar's chronology in From Novel to Romance: A Study of Cervantes' Novelas Ejemplares (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1974). The dating of the entremeses also seems problematic. Eugenio Asensio, Itinerario del entremés (Madrid: Gredos, 1965), pp. 98-110, postulates that all were written between 1612 and 1615. See also J. Canavaggio, Cervantès dramaturge: une théâtre à naître (Paris: Presses Universitaries de France, 1977), pp. 23-24.
|7.2 (1987)||Theatricality in Cervantes||75|
Cortadillo, is already characteristically theatrical a harbinger
of things to come. The two boys are presented dramatically, characterized
by external description and through dialogue, as though on stage. The
predominance of dialogue imposes a hermetic and self-absorbed quality to
the narration. The scenes in Monopodio's house form something like a play
within a play in that they are presented for Rinconete and Cortadillo, who
are more spectators than actors in that scene. The boys observe the bizarre
collection of low-life characters who are assembled briefly on
stage, as it were. This scene follows their exchange of autobiographical
information and later picaresque adventures together in the streets of Seville.
The introduction of an atemporal and pictorial tableau or cuadro de
costumbres is quite typical of Cervantes' picaresque and provides another
example of the theatricality of his fiction. Rinconete and Cortadillo are
first narrators in their autobiographical dialogue with one another, then
actors deceiving those they encounter, and finally spectators of a picaresque
underworld, thus gaining a wider perspective on this social milieu and their
potential participation in it. Whereas the actor plays a part and is thus,
by definition, tied to the particular, the spectator may observe the play
in its entirety as an organic whole.
In a most general way, theatricality is a constant organizing principle or mode of presentation for Cervantes' picaresque. Cervantes creates a self-contained illusory world in his fiction that excludes the reader. Other authors of the picaresque tell; Cervantes shows. The reader is distanced in that he is addressed by a narrator that makes him witness to a dialogue between two characters, rather than a participant in an implied dialogue between a pícaro-narrator and the reader. In other picaresque texts, the presence of a fictitious reader superior in social status to the pícaro, such as Vuestra Merced in Lazarillo and the Buscón, or critical of him, such as Tú in Guzmán, influences (apparently) the content and direction of the narration; Cervantes' pícaros, once introduced by the narrator, often temporarily assume the narrator's role and recount their tales to a companion or double a friend like themselves. Cervantes' narrations are presented to the reader like tableaux in which both an action and response are included, and the distinction between narrator and spectator is not sustained because their roles are often interchanged. Some examples are the dialogue between Rinconete and Cortadillo, Cipión's running commentary on the adventures of Berganza, Don Quijote's delightful misreading of Ginés de Pasamonte and the galeotes, or even Ginés' reading of his own life.
|76||HELEN H. REED||Cervantes|
Still, Cervantes' picaresque is similar to
other works in the use of fictional listeners or destinatarios who
provide reactions and opinions for the actual reader to consider in forming
his interpretations. Rinconete y Cortadillo is the only work in which
two pícaros exchange stories of their lives on a more or less
equal footing, and, even here, Cortadillo's perspective fades away as we
near the conclusion. In later works, one character, who may or may not be
a pícaro, functions predominately as a listener or commentator.
That is Cipión's role in regard to Berganza and Don Quijote's in regard
to Ginés de Pasamonte and later to Maese Pedro. In La ilustre
fregona, Carriazo is clearly the pícaro-protagonist, and
his friend, Avendaño, accompanies him with increasing reluctance once
he falls in love with Costanza. In all cases the trajectory of the
pícaro's life is episodically recounted and structures the
narration. The various fictitious spectators and listeners function as a
means of orienting the pícaro's account vis à vis the
reader, establishing for him an ironic distance or critical posture and
indicating the author's reservations in regard to the pícaro's
character and reliability as narrator. This technique is reminiscent of
Lazarillo, where the narrator addresses his tale to Vuestra Merced
and other fictional
destinatarios.7 The distinction between
first and third person narrative, which has been associated with the distinction
between dogmatic and tolerant attitudes, is not really at stake here. Rather,
an ironic distance between author and narrator is essential to picaresque
narrative and may be indicated in different ways.
Cervantes' theatrical mode of presentation is complemented by the fact that his pícaros are role-playing, acting out and eventually abandoning roles whose scripts are based on previous picaresque texts. This playing of or playing out of roles on the world's stage is a characteristic consonant with other works of fiction by Cervantes, in which the protagonists imitate literary models and set forth disguised as shepherds, knights, or pilgrims only to assume their original or somewhat transformed personae when all is done. Paradoxically, donning a mask leads to an unmasking when the play is finished. Acting a role is often heuristic and leads to self-discovery. Cervantes' pícaros imitate their predecessors, their picaresque desires mediated by previous texts. Carriazo, in La ilustre fregona, is a well-born student who leaves home llevado de una inclinación picaresca. Like Don Quijote, he is a naive reader. He believes in an idealized version of picaresque
H. Reed, The Reader in the Picaresque Noel (London: Tamesis Books,
1984), pp. 45-49.
|7.2 (1987)||Theatricality in Cervantes||77|
life, discovers a picaresque locus amoenus in the almadrabas
of Zahara in Cádiz, and literally doesn't notice the hardships inherent
to that existence. He plays at being a pícaro, inspired by
his own romantic notions, a fictional representation of the effect of literature
on life. The episode of Ginés de Pasamonte in the Quijote echoes
certain features of Guzmán de Alfarache and makes ironic allusion
to Lazarillo and narrations of that sort. Ginés parodies Guzmán
in the similarities in their names and in also writing his autobiography
from a galley. Here Cervantes' intertextual playfulness enables the creation
of a delightfully amusing picaresque episode and a commentary on the problematics
of narrative form and picaresque autobiography, i.e., how to narrate the
end of one's own life. Cervantes' other novelty in this episode is to pit
Ginés against Don Quijote an innocent listener who wildly
misinterprets the galeotes' euphemistic glossings of their crimes.
The pícaros, in contrast to Don Quijote, are skilled in the
language of deceit. Don Quijote, in redefining reality to accord with a chivalric
world, erases the conventional distinction between fiction and history and
between metaphor and factual discourse. Hence, windmills are giants.
Here, too, he interprets metaphors literally, a willing suspender of disbelief
who won't understand the obvious criminal character of the galeotes.
Don Quijote is a naive interpreter of the picaresque and accepts at face
value the euphemisms of the facile galeotes. His reading is a misreading,
for an appropriate reading of the picaresque is not a trusting or innocent
one. Ginés succeeds in fooling his interpreter and gaining his freedom
an unreliable narrator that should not have been trusted.
One distinguishing feature of Cervantes' pícaros, closely related to their unreliability as narrators, is their rhetorical skill or power of speech. With the exception of Rinconete and Cortadillo, whose initial lively dialogue is reduced to commentary when they abandon center stage to become spectators in the house of Monopodio, later Cervantine pícaros increasingly manipulate others through their wit (ingenio) and verbal facility. In two works oratorical skill is contingent upon a state of physical, or even ontological, fragility resulting from an unfortunate encounter with a woman. In El coloquio de los perros, for example, dogs are empowered with the ability to talk in the syphilitic dream of Campuzano, the direct result of his deceitful marriage, or, alternatively, because of the witch Cañizares and her contact with the devil. A similar transformation occurs in El licenciado Vidriera, where the protagonist, similar in some respects to a pícaro, is endowed with the brilliance of a guru and the vulnerability of a madman after eating poisoned membrillo, a love charm from a woman he rejected. The
|78||HELEN H. REED||Cervantes|
power of the word in enabling the seemingly powerless to realize their wishes
is perhaps first evidenced in the episode of Ginés de Pasamonte and
the galeotes. They mask their crimes with word plays and jokes and
cannot be silenced by the authorities because Don Quijote insists on believing
their lies. Monipodio's guileless and random malapropisms offer a contrast
to the galeotes' well-chosen and purposeful euphemisms. Here the
pícaro has begun to gain control over language and, through
language, control over people. In La ilustre fregona, Carriazo is
a skillful and inventive speaker, managing to easily persuade Avendaño
to accompany him and to deceive even himself with an idealized and almost
pastoral version of picaresque life. Era de presto, fácil, y
lindo ingenio, con una felicísima corriente de
improviso.8 He entertains the ruffians
at the inn with poetry that guides the steps of their dancing. In a later
episode, he uses his poetic gifts to set la Argüello to dancing so that
she will leave him alone. Similarly, Maese Pedro is a trickster that controls
the innocent, particularly Don Quijote, through his art. Finally Pedro de
Urdemalas, the protean king of the stage with his lenguajes
exquisitos reigns supreme over the audience, who temporarily abandon
the real world to listen. Indeed, it is only fitting that the
pícaro go on stage with his amazing power of speech, where
he is most effectively persuasive to the most people.
Many of these speech-empowered pícaros, most notably Ginés de Pasamonte and Campuzano, become writers of picaresque narratives. Pedro de Urdemalas, it is indicated, will become an autor de comedias and represent the story of his own life. In the Persiles, the disillusioned Ortel Banedre relates the tale of his woeful marriage with Luisa de Talavera to the pilgrims, his present desengaño undermining the pleasure of his past experience. Later, the bagajero Bartolomé Manchego, Luisa's present lover, writes a letter from prison pleading for the pilgrims' assistance a confession, defence, and apology of Luisa and himself addressed to those of wealth and influence. He and Luisa have in fact just murdered Luisa's former husband, Ortel Banedre, as well as her former lover, a Spanish soldier. The letter ends thus:
. . . si reina [la misericordia] en todos los valerosos pechos de vuesas mercedes, que sí debe de reinar, sujeto hay en nosotros en que se muestre, pues estamos en tierra ajena, presos en la cárcel, comidos de chinches y de otros animales inmundos, que son muchos por
de Cervantes, Novelas ejemplares II (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1966),
|7.2 (1987)||Theatricality in Cervantes||79|
pequeños, y enfaden como si fuesen grandes. Y, sobre todo, nos tienen ya en cueros y en la quinta esencia de la necesidad solicitadores, procuradores y escribanos, de quien Dios Nuestro Señor nos libre por su infinita bondad. Amén.
Aguardando la respuesta quedamos, con tanto deseo de recibirla buena como le tienen los cigoñinos en la torre esperando el sustento de sus madres.
Y firmaba: El desdichado Bartolomé Manchego.9
In various ways the complaints about bedbugs, the prayerful aside to
God, and the comparison of themselves to baby storks awaiting their mother
the letter cleverly plays on the sympathy and innocence of the pilgrim readers,
who immediately use their influence to free the picaresque couple from prison.
This letter is clearly written in the picaresque tradition, reminiscent or
even a parody of the historical cartas de
relación10 soliciting favors from
someone in power and worded to present the petitioner in the most favorable
light possible (but here in such a way that the reader recognizes the artifice).
Most of these pícaro-writers are disillusioned as a result
of their experience of life and attempt to create a more palatable fictional
account of themselves, in effect to fashion a better self through writing.
Pedro de Urdemalas, who has abandoned hopes of marriage and other ambitions
in the real world, will seek fame and fortune through being an actor and
director; that is, he forsakes a milieu where he has proved powerless for
the world of fiction where he may create images of himself more to his liking.
Indeed, his most effective means of relating to the world is as an actor
to an audience, and life for him will be the life of the theater a
series of repeated performances. Cervantes' indirect or implied commentary
on the psychology of the picaresque author and the raison d'être
of his fiction are further instances of his metapicaresque perspective of
the evaluative or self-conscious dimensions ever present in Cervantes'
picaresque. We see beyond narrative structure and achieve a perspective on
the writing and reading of picaresque fiction on the poetics of the
As I have already noted, Cervantes' earliest picaresque work, Rinconete y Cortadillo, is noticeably theatrical in its mode of presentation. As Anthony Close points out, there are affinities between Rinconete y
de Cervantes, Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe,
1968), p. 276.
10 On the link between the picaresque and the cartas de relación see Roberto González Echevarría, The Life and Adventures of Cipión: Cervantes and the Picaresque, Discritics (September, 1980), 20-21.
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Cortadillo and the comedia and entremés since
the text contains episodes influenced by sixteenth-century entremeses
and, moreover, its situations and character types are repeated in the first
act of El rufián dichoso and El rufián
viudo.11 Cervantes' pícaros
in later works demonstrate an increasing interest in and practice of theatrical
pursuits. The many oficios of Berganza in El coloquio de los
perros include a stint as actor, and he also briefly adopts as master
a penniless writer of comedias. One might say that Campuzano, as a
reformed pícaro who has written down his dream-vision in the
form of a dialogue between two dogs, has thereby become the fictitious author
of a picaresque comedia. Pedro de Urdemalas is an actor and finally
director of comedias. Ginés de Pasamonte becomes the puppeteer
or titiritero Maese Pedro, who plays on the emotions and imagination
of Don Quijote with his representation of the romance of Gaiferos and Melisendra.
The deceitful directors, Chanfalla and Chirinos, manipulate the spectators
in El retablo de las maravillas so that they are convinced that they
see what does not even exist. All these tricksters control people through
the art of the theater, primarily through the skillful use of language and
the power of suggestion an engaño a los ojos and an
engaño por la palabra.
As Ruth El Saffar has demonstrated in two recent articles, many of Cervantes' characters in later works (some of whom are pícaros) achieve their desired goals through affecting disguises or master the art of illusion to exercise power over others.12 Examples are Basilio and the ruse by which he marries Quiteria, Maese Pedro's teasing manipulation of Don Quijote, and Persiles' and Sigismunda's series of transforming disguises before they are finally united as a couple. Pedro de Urdemalas frequently uses trickery to manipulate people in an attempt to better their lives or enable them to realize their desires. In other words he sometimes controls others for their own good, a redemptive deceiver or pícaro prime mover that makes the right things happen through his ingenuity and wit.
Pedro de Urdemalas is a comedy that may be thought of as both metatheatrical and metapicaresque both a play about playing and about the pícaro's fundamental theatricality, his necessity to play and then abandon various roles on the stage of life.13 The main character is
Close, Characterization and Dialogue in Cervantes' Comedias en
12 Ruth E1 Saffar, Cervantes and the Games of Illusion, in Cervantes and the Renaissance, ed. Michael D. McGaha (Easton, Pa.: Juan de la Cuesta Monographs, 1980), pp. 141-56, and Tracking the Trickster in the Works of Cervantes, Symposium, 37 (Summer, 1983), 106-24.
13 On Pedro de Urdemalas as a character from traditional folklore, see [p. 81] Miguel de Cervantes, Comedias y entremeses, ed. Rodolfo Schevill and Adolfo Bonilla (Madrid, 1922), pp. 139-42; Marcel Bataillión, Le docteur Laguna du Voyage en Turquie (Paris: Librairies des Editions Espagnoles, 1958), pp. 53 ff.; Edward Nagy, Prólogo a Pedro de Urdemalas (New York: Las Américas, 1965), pp. 9-33; and Marie Sol Ortolá, Viaje de Turquía. Autobiografía o Ficción (London: Tamesis, 1983), pp. 64-74. On Pedro's verbal skills and metatheatricality, see Alban Forcione, Cervantes, Aristotle, and the Persiles (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 319-37; Stanislav Zimic, El Gran Teatro del mundo y el gran mundo del teatro en Pedro de Urdemalas,Acta Neophilologica 10 (1977), 55-105; Ronald E. Surz, Pedro de Urdemalas: the Trickster as Dramatist, RF 92 (1979), 118-25; and Edward Friedman, The Unifying Concept: Approaches to the Structures of Cervantes' Comedias (York, South Carolina: Spanish Literature Publications Company, 1981), pp. 80-102.
|7.2 (1987)||Theatricality in Cervantes||81|
named after and partially derived from a popular trickster from folklore, a prototype of the pícaro that Cervantes brings to fortunate plenitude and fruition here. Cervantes ascribes some of the positive attributes traditionally associated with the trickster to his version of Pedro and also unequivocally develops his essential theatricality. In the middle of the first act, a series of episodes in which Pedro tricks others to achieve beneficial results, he recounts his picaresque autobiography, both the obscure beginnings and the many oficios he has tried up to now. He is a self-reflective student of his own life, aware of his inventiveness, restlessness, and love of variety, but puzzled by the prophecy of a magician who reads his palm:
|que habéis de ser rey,|
|fraile, y papa, y matachín.14|
Later, when he meets two actors, he suddenly realizes that the life of an actor is what he desires and is entirely suited for. He will fulfill the prophecy of the magician by representing the roles of the powerful on the stage. Belisa, the beautiful gypsy girl he hopes to marry, refuses him, since she only wishes to associate with royalty. Pedro understands that they are similar in that they are both highly ambitious:
|Yo también, que soy un leño,|
|príncipe y papa me sueño,|
|emperador y monarca,|
|Y aún mi fantasía abarca|
|de todo el mundo a ser dueño.15|
de Cervantes, Pedro de Urdemalas (New York: Las Américas, 1965),
15 Miguel de Cervantes, Pedro de Urdemalas, p. 99.
|82||HELEN H. REED||Cervantes|
However, he recognizes that, because of his low birth, he will only be able
to rule omnipotent over a stage world.
In the first portion of the play, Pedro de Urdemalas plays many roles whereby he controls and deceives others. Already he perceives life as theatricalized and recognizes his own theatricality, his propensity to be an actor. In the second part of the play, he transfers these skills to the stage whereby he hopes to affect his audience. The structure of Pedro de Urdemalas is similar to that of Rinconete y Cortadillo in that it includes autobiographical narrative, picaresque episodes, and finally dramatic representation. Pedro de Urdemalas suggests that there is an equivalence between life and drama and an enriching rapport between the two. The world is a stage, just as the stage may be a mirror for the world. Both Pedro and Belisa have wanted to improve their lot in the world. She has been able to do so in fact, since she is discovered to be a niece of the queen, but he can only do so on stage. Belisa is now a member of his audience, a spectator. His role is to amuse her, and her role, as a rich patron, is to appreciate and reward him. Through his art, Pedro will create a mirror in which the audience may see themselves reflected. Analogously, within the play itself a moment before, musicians sang a song about a king's love for a beautiful gypsy girl and the queen's jealousy. Confronted thus with their own story, the royal couple become spectators of themselves, their function as actors temporarily suspended. To compound the play-within-a-play theme, the drama ends with Pedro's invitation to the audience to return tomorrow to see a play performed that will represent his autobiography. This ending suggests that Pedro's life as actor and director is a logical extension of his previous life as pícaro a series of repeated performances in which he plays for others versions of himself.
The ending of Pedro de Urdemalas, in a sense a non-ending because of its implied repetition, is one viable solution to the problem of finishing a picaresque narrative and an indication of the suitability of dramatic form to the pícaro's modus vivendi. The pícaro views existence as theatricalized, as a playing out of roles on the world's stage, which may lead to self-knowledge; roles are abandoned when the play is done, only to be repeated on the morrow. Cervantes, in perceiving this essential theatricality of the picaresque, experimented with prose and poetic works both narrative and dramatic form and created, as Avellaneda so long ago implied, comedias en prosa, such as the Novelas ejemplares, and comedias en verso, such as Pedro de Urdemalas. Cervantes distanced himself from the narrative level of picaresque adventure to
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experiment with picaresque poetics on the level of discourse; hence the variety
in narrative structures. His interest encompasses the idea of the picaresque
and its effect in the imagination of the individual, i.e., with the effect
of literature on life. Cervantes' picaresque texts offer commentary on the
nature of authors, readers, and protagonists. The latter are consistently
characterized as witty and verbally facile narrators that should not be trusted,
but viewed with irony and amused detachment. Even Cervantes'
pícaros are somewhat removed from or have more than one perspective
on their own problematic existence and search for a place in society. They
are readers of picaresque narrative who play out the picaresque in themselves
on the world's stage or become actors or writers of picaresque
comedias, professions admirably suited to their world view and rhetorical
skills. Here they may repeat and self-consciously evaluate their experience
on a higher level, meta-pícaros who fashion themselves
on stage or through writing.
In the Quijote, Sancho gently chides Don Quijote for elaborating a reference to the world as a stage, likening the topos to the commonplace image of the chess game.16 Contrary to what Sancho might have thought possible, Cervantes transforms the topos and imbues it with new meaning, as did Shakespeare, offering original and curiously modern variations on the theme. More than any other writer, Cervantes peoples his stage world with pícaros, implicitly in the earlier works and directly in Pedro de Urdemalas, and even appears to interpret the picaresque in the context of the topos. However, the metaphor is not made emblematic of spiritual life, but is secularized applied to the social instead of the transcendental plane.17 The point is not that the drama of human existence is bounded by eternity and that, therefore, life is ephemeral, but rather that, similarly, the pícaro operates in this life within limits imposed by society. Many social roles are for him unrealizable. He displays the impossibility of his pretensions, but also represents his dreams and desires. A dissembler uncomfortable in the unfamiliar roles aspired to, he becomes increasingly most adept at the very role of role player or actor. Acting in ordinary life prepares him to
de Cervantes, Don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. Martín de Riquer
(Barcelona: Editorial Juventud, 1955), p. 617.
17 Elizabeth Burns in Theatricality. A Study of Convention in the Theatre and in Social Life (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), pp. 8-21, traces the historical progression of the theatrical metaphor, which became increasingly secularized in its application by the Eighteenth Century, something Cervantes achieved much earlier in his treatment of the picaresque.
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perform on stage and the parallel between the two is made apparent.
Theatricality is a characteristic that the spectator often ascribes to others, implied in that suspicion the marginality or artificiality of those he observes. Cervantes develops a continuing preoccupation with, yet maintains a critical distance from, his pícaros. He never establishes the same affinity for them that he declares as author for Don Quijote, for example. Significantly, however, they demonstrate the tacitly assumed Renaissance belief in the possibility of fabricating a self through the artful use of language, a characteristic shared by other Renaissance self-fashioners become men of letters.18 The comparison suggests that the pícaro's attempts at self-transformation may be regarded as less an isolated phenomenon than a generalizable mode of behavior, one that by implication may illuminate both the motivations of almost any Renaissance writer and the self-conscious art of writing.
|STATE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE (ONEONTA, N.Y.)|
18 See Stephen Greenblatt's perceptive study of English Renaissance writers, Renaissance Self-Fashioning. From More to Shakespeare (Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980).
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