From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 7.2 (1987): 71-84.
Copyright © 1987, The Cervantes Society of America

ARTICLE

Theatricality in the Picaresque of Cervantes


HELEN H. REED

IN 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

     1 This 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.

71


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

     2 The 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 Cervantes.


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

     3 Alison 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

     5 See 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

     7 Helen 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

     8 Miguel de Cervantes, Novelas ejemplares II (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1966), p. 64.


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 picaresque.
     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

     9 Miguel 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.


80 HELEN H. REED Cervantes

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

     11 Anthony Close, “Characterization and Dialogue in Cervantes' ‘Comedias en prosa,’” 343-44.
     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:

advertid, hijo,
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

     14 Miguel de Cervantes, Pedro de Urdemalas (New York: Las Américas, 1965), p. 68.
     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


7.2 (1987) Theatricality in Cervantes 83

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

     16 Miguel 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.


84 HELEN H. REED Cervantes

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).


Digitized with the help of Kendall Sydnor
Fred Jehle jehle@ipfw.edu Publications of the CSA HCervantes
URL: http://www.h-net.org/~cervantes/csa/articf87/reedhh.htm