From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
10.2 (1990): 15-35.
Copyright © 1990, The Cervantes Society of America
Nearly the entire history of writing is confounded with the history of reason . . . It has been one with the phallocentric tradition . . . . With some exceptions, for there have been failures . . . in that enormous machine . . . [there have been] poets who would go to any lengths to slip something by at odds with tradition men capable of loving love and hence capable of loving others and of wanting them, of imagining the woman who would hold out against oppression and constitute herself as a superb, equal, hence impossible subject, untenable in a real social framework. Such a woman the poet could desire only by breaking the codes that negate her. Her appearance would necessarily bring on, if not revolution for the bastion was supposed to be immutable at least harrowing explosions.
(Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa 879)
N Chapters 11-14 of the Quijote, Cervantes introduces the pastoral episode of Marcela and Grisóstomo. Marcela, a wealthy orphan, has chosen to stave off marriage for a while. She becomes a shepherdess and, dressed in pastoral garb, lives happily in the woods with other shepherdesses caring for the flock her father has left her as inheritance. The student Grisóstomo, out of love for Marcela, also dresses as a shepherd in order to pursue her. Realizing that Marcela is simply not interested in marrying,
he kills himself. The episode centers on the conventional pastoral
topos of the disdainful mistress who has brought about the shepherd's
suffering (in this case his death); and on both Marcela's unconventional
defense of a woman's right to choose her own life style, and the author's
unconventional handling of the
Critical interpretations of Marcela are often couched in binary oppositions. She is either Madonna or Shrew. Marcela has been seen as an archetypal figure: la pastora superhumana whose amor puro may be seen in contraposition to Rocinante's carnal instincts (Percas de Ponseti, I, 129-132); as the personification of philosophy: la andante filosofía neoplatónica (Wiltrout 168-169); as a demon: an instrument of the demon of love [who] charms and poisons his [Grisóstomo's] soul (Herrero 296). Even when Marcela's assertive speech is seen as el discurso de una libertad femenina, she is nevertheless objectified into the propósito del autor, her role being to transmit formulaciones platónicas no exentas de un componente cristiano (Macht de Vera 7-13). When critics choose to be literal rather than archetypal, Marcela often becomes the object of gender-inflected interpretive misprisions. Diego Clemencín (1765-1834) is vehement at her taking the spotlight away from Grisóstomo: La aparición de la pastora homicida . . . su descoco y desembarazo y su bachillería y silogismos quita a este episodio el interés que pudieran darle el carácter y muerte del malogrado Grisóstomo, a quien no puede menos de mirarse como un majadero en morirse por una hembra tan ladina y habladora (77: emphasis mine). Other critics find it unbelievable that Marcela could be happy without the company of men: The image of an unaffectedly correct maiden who is supposed to trudge through the woods with her sheep, spending the day with zagalas, is awkward, and even in a humorous light, Marcela cannot be fully believable (Finello 123). There are those who are disturbed because she seems so insensitive about Grisóstomo's death: If she comes, it is not to pay the tribute of pity . . . but to use that grave as a tribune from which to plead the cause of the self (Poggioli 173-174); or . . . she could hardly have chosen a less
article was prepared, in part, at an NEH summer institute on the Don
Quijote in Tempe, Arizona in 1989.1 would like to thank Drs. Edward Friedman
and James Parr for their suggestions, and Drs. Ruth El Saffar, Diana Armas
Wilson, and Adrienne Munich for their careful reading of, and comments on,
the preliminary version.
|10.2 (1990)||The Pastoral Episode in Cervantes' Don Quijote||17|
appropriate time of her arrogant, self-serving speech . . . .
a modicum of humanity and respect for the man who killed himself out of love
for her would surely have compelled her to keep silence (McGaha
But Marcela must plead the cause of the self and she cannot and may not be silent. It is Cervantes' way of subverting the pastoral genre within which he has encoded her. This is what I intend to argue in the essay. My interpretive purpose is to show that Cervantes' unconventional handling of both the pastoral genre, and of Marcela within this pastoral episode, are fraught with purposeful ambiguity because all the requisite properties of a drama of unrequited love have been assembled and at the anticipated climax the leading lady walks off because she has not consented to play such a role in the first place (Williamson 48).2 My premise is that the reason for the ambiguity is that the episode conveys a subversive knowledge of the class and gender relations of the society within which the work has been produced and with whose values it is often at odds. Literary works are conveyors of the working myths of a culture and so must not be read as gospel but as myths (Munich 238-250). As Hélène Cixous cautions us in Sorties, there is no such thing as nature or essence but living structures sometimes frozen within historicocultural limits which intermingle to such an extent with the historical scene that it becomes difficult, even impossible, to imagine something else (96). In this essay, I will try to imagine something else a feminist re-reading of the Marcela-Grisóstomo episode. I will show that Cervantes subtly undermines the conventions of the pastoral genre and has Marcela explode traditional literary codes. Marcela will undermine both Grisóstomo's encoding her as the disdainful mistress of courtly love and the pastoral tradition, and Don Quijote's inscribing her into the chivalric mode of damsel in distress. By not subscribing to the tradition of woman as central object of the males' pastoral
have repeatedly pointed out ambiguities in the episode. For some the ambiguity
lies in the varied voices and versions of pastoral that, are contained within,
and immediately follow, Chapters 11-14 (Allen 52). Others attribute it to
la mezcla o el cruce, a veces disonante, de arquetipos de carácter
opuesto . . . de arquetipos contradictorios
(Martínez-Bonati 46). For Joaquín Casalduero, the ambiguity
lies in Cervantes' subversion of the Marcela-Grisóstomo story by
juxtaposing his bucolic text with its social context: En la propia
historia se presenta la realidad social a pesar de la bucólica; su
función, no obstante, consiste en hacer resaltar la fuerza del sexo
. . . (284).
lament, Cervantes undermines the genre and marginalizes Marcela. He has her renounce all the advantages conferred upon her by what Simone de Beauvoir would call woman's traditional alliance with the superior caste (48). But it is precisely Marcela's marginality that will become her greatest strength.
I. THE PASTORAL GENRE AS A MALE FANTASY
Pastoral has traditionally been associated
with escape into an irresponsible dream world. Such an association usually
focuses on the conventions of pastoral rather than on the raison d'être
of the pastoral ideal. Pastoral literature conventionally reflects as its
central image the mythical age of long ago, as Alexander Pope reminds us
in his Discourse on Pastoral Poetry.
It is this golden world that Don Quijote contrasts with his own contemporary iron age in the pastoral episode of Part I, Chapter 11. It is a mythical age marked by class equality and community of goods in which its denizens ignoraban estas dos palabras de tuyo y mío.3 It is an age wherein woman presides the virgin goddess Dike-Astraea of Hesiod and of Ovid to whom Don Quijote alludes in his speech. Don Quijote adds a third figure, that of bountiful Mother Earth who sin ser forzada, ofrecía, por todas partes de su fértil y espacioso seno. During Astraea's reign, there were no wars: Todo era paz entonces, todo amistad, todo concordia; and women were safe: Las doncellas y la honestidad andaban . . . sola y señora, sin temor que la ajena desenvoltura y lascivo intento le menoscabasen. If they chose to be unchaste, it was their personal choice, their free will: y su perdición nacía de su gusto y propria voluntad. In this locus amoenus of eternal springtime, it is indeed possible for shepherds and shepherdesses to pipe as if they would never grow old, and as Shakespeare says in As You Like It, to fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world (I, i, ll. 110-11). But we cannot define the nature of pastoral by Don Quijote's speech, no matter how typical these conventions actually are of the genre. Instead, the conventions themselves must be seen as the outcome of a more fundamental impulse buried in the human psyche (Lynen 13-14). This need to suspend sequential
Ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, I, 3rd. ed. Luis Andrés
Murillo (Madrid: Clásicos Castalia, 1985), p. 155. All references
to the Quijote will be from this edition and will be cited in parenthesis
in the text by chapter only.
|10.2 (1990)||The Pastoral Episode in Cervantes' Don Quijote||19|
time and to project oneself into a mythical time when humanity enjoyed a happiness, a freedom, a plenitude which seems forever unattainable in our postlapsarian iron state finds its origin, according to Jung, in an analogy with childhood. It reflects the period when nature heaps gifts upon the child without any effort on her or his part. In a deeper sense, the golden age stands for life in unconsciousness, for unawareness of death and of all the problems of existence. It symbolizes the Center which precedes time, or which, within the limitations of existence, seems to bear the closest resemblance to paradise. Ignorance of the world of existence creates a kind of golden haze, devoid of the growing understanding of concepts of duty, the father-principle and rational thinking (Cirlot 5). It would seem to be an unconscious reflection, in a contemporary context, of Lacan's notion of a pre-symbolic, imaginary and pre-verbal union with the mother, a condition where the child has not yet had to choose the Father's Law over the Desire of the Mother. But the Golden Age symbolizes a Center. Like Paradise (Genesis) and like Paradise's image in the pastoral genre, it is ultimately a fiction of the male. The pastoral genre is his conscious wish fulfillment. It is he who wishes, even in fiction, temporarily to be devoid of the father principle and of the burden of responsibility which he has erected in androcentric society. And if pastoral images a desire for the Mother, it is still the male's desire and entails his regulation of the role of the Mother/Woman. It is a role by which, here too, she is ultimately absent. She is either the bodyless Beatrice-like goddess whose physical absence or death he bemoans (as with Sannazaro's Fili), or the difficult and disdainful mistress who is emotionally absent by failing to take care of his needs and desires. In both cases she is a male construct, the object of his imagination. As Françoise Parturier has said in her Lettre ouverte aux hommes: Inaccessible women remain your loved ones: dead women, exiled women . . . women saints . . . angels. It is not women you love, sir, but Woman; that is an invention which real presence does not live up to. You have in you a secret preference for imaginary pleasures (62). This is reflected in the pastoral genre. Pastoral is a male fantasy, a microcosmic image of man's gender-inflected wish fulfillment. Marx and Engels have reminded us of the essential relationship between our fictional constructs and the society within which they are created: The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life process . . .
and bound to material premises . . . . Life is not
determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life (47). Pastoral,
like all literary fantasies, is produced within and determined by its social
context. Though it might struggle against the realities of the iron age from
whence it springs, the literary golden world cannot be understood in isolation
from it. It frequently shows in graphic form a tension between the conventions
and expectations of human society and the resistance of the conscious or
unconscious mind to these expectations (Jackson 3-7). And woman's role in
the pastoral fantasy reflects this tension. In a manifest position of exclusion
she keeps the system together, latently, by virtue of that exclusion. The
male bonding thereby remains intact.
Despite the ubiquitous references to the presiding goddess of the classical mythical age, it is indicative that when the age is evoked, the feminine presence is already absent from the golden world. In the Works and Days, for example, Hesiod nostalgically laments the golden generation of mortal people who existed before the Goddesses Nemesis and Aidos (Decency and Respect) forsook mortal men and returned to Olympos (31-33). The absent goddess, in fact, seems to become central to the Golden Age topos. As Harry Levin conjectures, it may well be that the departing Nemesis and Aidos prepared the way for the stellar heroine later introduced (14). The stoic Aratus in his Phaenomena explains that the maiden Goddess of Justice, Dike, who absented herself from the golden world now appears in heaven as the constellation Virgo, thus combining Chastity and Justice. After Aratus, the virgin goddess is invoked under the starry appellation of Ovid's virgin Astraea. Not only is she forever absent, it may well be that in this world also, to reiterate Lacan, the woman does not exist perhaps literally. Since Pandora, in Hesiod's version, was the first of her sex to disrupt the golden world, it follows that there were only men in Hesiod's Golden Age (Levin 14). In Plato's Politicus (272a), he too states that the men of those days [the age of Kronos] had neither wives nor children. Theocritus, who is the first to introduce love into pastoral, underlines in his Idylls the homoerotic love with which pastoral was most concerned: An equal yoke of friendship they bore. There were men of gold then when the loved one returned his love (I, XII). The disrupting Eve of Genesis also prompts the Church Fathers to fantasize how different the Hebrew-Christian Paradise would have been had it been devoid of
|10.2 (1990)||The Pastoral Episode in Cervantes' Don Quijote||21|
women. Augustine tells us in his commentary on Genesis (De genesi ad litteram IX. v. 9): if it was company and good conversation that Adam needed, it would have been much better arranged to have two men together, as friends, not a man and a woman (Wilson 18: emphasis mine).
II. CERVANTES' SUBVERSION OF THE PASTORAL GENRE
Theorists traditionally identify three oppositions
as essential to the genre's heightening of the contrast between the pure
pastoral ideal and the reality of everyday life: Otium/Negotium,
Nature/Civilization, Innocence/Passion. Cervantes subverts these oppositions.
In Chapter 11, the theme of Otium/Negotium is already called into question.
Cervantes underlines the existence of real class structures which separate
the Don from his squire even in this miniature Golden Age. In line with the
ideal he has espoused, Don Quijote assumes the democratic stance of the denizens
of the Golden Age and invites Sancho to eat from the same plate. Sancho
humorously refuses. He wants to be his own peasant self and to ignore the
polite forms of dining room behavior incumbent on someone in Don Quijote's
class (donde me sea forzoso mascar despacio, beber poco, limpiarme
a menudo). But Don Quijote, his amo y señor forces
him to do so: con todo eso, te has de sentar . . .
Y asiéndole por el brazo, le forzó a que junto dél se
sentase (I, 11). Relations of power are not absent in this iron age.
The knight and the squire, in fact, are wholly out of place in the goatherds'
pastoral space. Nor do the goatherds understand these characters from another
genre. Don Quijote's quest for chivalric adventures, as well as his archaic
speech patterns, are as alien to pastoral as is Marcela's speech in Chapter
In Chapter 12, another jarring motif is introduced. The Innocence/Passion theme is subverted. For pastoral tranquility to be preserved, either virtuoso affetto or reciprocal love are permitted in pastoral not the maddening amor hereos of tragedy (Livingston Lowes). Instead, we have here a Girardian triangle of desire created by the male bonding of the two friends, Grisóstomo and Ambrosio, and which the shepherdess Marcela shatters. Marcela is not just another Galatea, Diana, Fili or Selvaggia. In fact, she is not even a pastoral figure until the love-sick swains make her into the object of their complaints. Grisóstomo, the pastor fingido, and his friends become pastoral shepherds for Marcela
(Avalle-Arce 114). Marcela, on the other hand, merely dresses as one to tend to her inheritance (12). We are told that Grisóstomo's father too had divided his son's inheritance into money, cattle, and sheep (12). Also, unlike the student shepherds, Marcela is in the company of real shepherdesses not disguised ones when she tends her sheep. Cervantes gives Marcela a known biography. She is a wealthy orphan. Her parents died when she was a baby and her priest-uncle has raised her. She has chosen to be celibate and to enjoy solidarity with nature. Beautiful and financially independent, she is aware of two things. First, that it is not only her beauty but her wealth that makes her so desirable to the men: . . . pero, con todo esto, la fama de su mucha hermosura se estendió de manera que así por ella como por sus muchas riquezas, . . . era rogado, solicitado e importunado su tío se la diese por mujer (I, 12); and that because of her youth she cannot yet cope with the responsibility of marriage: por entonces no quería casarse . . . no se sentía hábil para poder llevar la carga del matrimonio (12: emphasis mine). Since her uncle acknowledges her reasons as valid, she meets with no opposition. But so unconventional is Marcela's careless freedom that the men literally do not know how to react to Cervantes' subverting of traditional expectations and they try to encode her and themselves into the genre that best approximates their situation as the well-read student Grisóstomo knows the genre of pastoral (Finello 120-121). Inscribed by hills and valleys resounding with lamentations, by trees wherein her name is engraved by sleepless, weeping, love-sick swains, Marcela is now circumscribed by the pastoral convention. She becomes sublated into the familiar object of the men's pastoral complaints and subsumed within the equally familiar binarisms of hunter/hunted, conqueror/conquered. Pedro, the goatherd, exhibiting a narcissistic alliance that identifies him despite class differences with the erudite student shepherds is clear as to the men's predatory stance. They wait to see who will tame her, who will subsequently enjoy her: . . . todos los que la conocemos estamos esperando en qué ha de parar su altivez y quién ha de ser el dichoso que ha de venir a domeñar condición tan terrible y gozar de hermosura tan extremada (I, 12: emphasis mine).4
4 In this
context Simone de Beauvoir's remark is very interesting: One of the
benefits that oppression confers upon the oppressors is that the most humble
among them is made to feel superior, thus, a poor white
in the [p. 23] South can console himself with
the thought that he is not a dirty nigger and the more prosperous
whites cleverly exploit this pride. Similarly the most mediocre of males
feels himself a demigod as compared with women (51).
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Throughout Chapters 12 and 13, she is defined
in dichotomous binarisms as the recalcitrant Other. He pursues/she
disdains; he asks/she refuses; he loves/she hates; he is gentle/she is adamant
as marble; he is honorable/she is ungrateful; Grisóstomo is the victim/she
is the persecutor: Quiso bien, fue aborrecido; Adoró, fue
desdeñado; rogó a una fiera, importunó a un mármol,
. . . sirvió a la ingratitud, de quien alcanzó por
premio ser despojos de la muerte en la mitad de la carrera de su vida
. . . . (I, 13). Not only is she cast in a series of
unflattering binary oppositions, but also she is patterned on triangular
structures of desire wherein the two male friends are bonded and privileged
while she is reviled. The entire point of the story, Pedro admits, is structured
on this triangulation: se puede sacar cuánto haya sido la
crueldad de Marcela; el amor de Grisóstomo; la fe de
la amistad vuestra [Ambrosio] . . . (I, 13: emphasis
mine). Marcela becomes central to a discourse marked by contrasts that negate
her and her feelings and that are articulated solely from the male lens in
which she is a mere reflection a specular image of either their
expectations and/or their disappointments. She is encoded by all who speak
of her as an ingrata, cruel, endiablada
moza, fiero basilisco. She is simply a generic object
the object of the shepherds' complaints.
Marcela is not alone in this encoding. Gender relations are consistently described in similar misogynistic patterns throughout Chapters 11-14. The men set up a series of binary oppositions which privilege them and in which the female is created entirely in the image of their desires and expectations. In Chapter 11, for example, the goatherd sings his rustic song to Olalla. The language differs from Grisóstomo's Petrarchan canzone in its rusticity but not in its attitude toward or its imaging of women. The song is created solely from the male's perspective:
|Yo sé, . . . que me adoras,|
|puesto que no me lo has dicho . . .|
|Porque sé que eres sabida,|
|en que me quieres me afirmo: . . .|
|Dejo el bailar por tu causa, . . .|
|No cuento las alabanzas|
|que de tu belleza he dicho;|
|que, aunque verdaderas, hacen|
|ser yo de algunas malquisto . . . .|
|pon tú el cuello en la gamella;|
|verás como pongo el mío.|
|Donde no, desde aquí juro . . .|
|de no salir destas sierras|
|sino para capuchino (I, 11: emphasis mine).|
If the shepherdess does not acquiesce in the role within which the shepherd has encoded her, then the shepherd either threatens to become a monk or, like Grisóstomo, to kill himself. The woman's role, then, is to reciprocate and be good, or to refuse, and like Olalla above, at best be considered coy (I know you adore me because you have not told me you do.), or at worst, like Marcela, be labelled esquiva hermosa ingrata. But the text seems self-conscious about the conventional misogyny of its pastoral laments and exhibits a subversive attitude toward them. Even before Marcela appears, and in the midst of these stock tirades against the disdainful woman, the men themselves are uncomfortable. They know Marcela does not deserve their negative assessment. Vivaldo acknowledges that the negative image of Marcela, conjured up by Grisóstomo and his sympathizers, differs from the positive things he has heard about her: dijo que no le parecía que conformaba con la relación que él había oído del recato y bondad de Marcela . . . (I, 14). Pedro, the goatherd, also praises Marcela. He claims she is courteous and kindly, straightforward and honest with all her suitors, modest and proper in her behavior. Marcela has never, he says, dado indicio, ni por semejas, que venga en menoscabo de su honestidad y recato; . . . ninguno se ha alabado, . . . que le haya dado alguna pequeña esperanza de alcanzar su deseo . . . los trata cortés y amigablemente (I, 12). Ambrosio, Grisóstomo's friend, and the enemy of the ingrata Marcela, adds a third dissonant voice to the tirade against Marcela. He acknowledges that Grisóstomo was away from her when he wrote his invective and that his complaints against her are therefore imaginary suspicions: los celos [eran] imaginados y las sospechas temidas como si fueran verdaderas (I, 14: emphasis mine). Yet they continue to call her cruel and ingrata. It is clear that these men have a stake in the solidarity which [has] bonded them to tradition's fables (Munich 249). They cannot or will not speak of her except
|10.2 (1990)||The Pastoral Episode in Cervantes' Don Quijote||25|
in negative terms and always in reference to her effect on them. The irony is that we begin to see through the Petrarchan convention of Grisóstomo's lament to the masochism/narcissism that motivates his suicide. He too has been the victim of tradition's pastoral fables. Ambrosio admits that Grisóstomo's life was cut short by a fictional construct, by a shepherdess whom he reified, then sought to immortalize immemorially: una pastora a quien él procuraba eternizar para que viviera en la memoria de las gentes (I, 13). Grisóstomo himself seems unaware of his narcissistic obsession not with the real Marcela but with the imaginary facsimile he created:
|Yo muero, en fin: y porque nunca espero|
|buen suceso en la muerte ni en la vida,|
|pertinaz estaré en mi fantasía.|
(I, 14: emphasis mine)
But Grisóstomo is dead. His fatal error lies in his having interpreted Marcela's behavior as a sign of literary convention, as an exterior crust to be broken through, whereas in reality, it is Marcela's very being (Sieber 193). Petrarch and his followers had treated the idea of the lover's death allegorically though seriously (Iventosch 67). The Renaissance pastoral had smiled at such histrionics. In the Aminta, for example, the chorus had reassured Tirsi who feared that Aminta would kill himself for Silvia that such posture was theatrical not pastoral: E use ed arte / di ciascun ch'ama minacciarsi morte: / ma rade volte poi segue l'effetto (II. 1312-1314). Rosalind's response in Shakespeare's As You Like It is similar: Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love (IV, i, 96-98). And d'Urfé's pastoral characters in l'Astrée echo Rosalind's sentiments: . . . soyez certain que vous ne mourrez pas encores de cette maladie . . . j'en ay veu plusieurs attaints de mesme mal [l'amour] mais je n'en vis encor jamais mourir un seul (II, bk. I, 33-34). But Grisóstomo's death is real. A violent suicide has taken place in the pastoral bower.5 As in Poussin's Et In Arcadia Ego (The Arcadian Shepherds), Cervantes reminds us that his pastoral reverie is also only temporarily distanced from reality (Panofsky 300). It cannot escape it entirely. Class, generic differences, and death exist in Cervantes' pastoral bower.
is hinted at in his canzone: ponedme un hierro en estas manos!
Dame, desdén, una torcida soga (I, 14). See also Iventosch
Finally, even the theme of
Nature-Civilization is subverted in Chapter 14 as the natural world
of pastoral, and its encoding of gender relations is tested. Its conventions,
its assumptions, and its expectations are debunked by the erudition and
sophistication of Marcela's speech. She defends her cause clearly and rationally,
undermining every assumption predicated of her as a pastoral character. She
does this in a speech steeped in the best oratorical tradition of Western
culture the classical rhetoric of Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian
as well as the medieval school manuals which perpetuated the traditions of
ancient oratory (Mackey). Cervantes' coup de grâce comes with the
appearance of Marcela. She erupts into the circumscribed world of the goatherds
and explodes it by assuming a negative function. She rejects both the societal
and the fictional codes that have inscribed her: She has simply refused
to be a sex object (Dunn 3); and her appearance on the
rock makes her look like someone breaking away from the ancient fiction
that [has] bound her . . . (Finello 123). Marcela refuses
to be silent, refuses to be blamed for Grisóstomo's suicide, and refuses
to vindicate herself within the terms of the binarisms used to malign her.
She simply asserts her freedom to live her life in her own way, thereby
subverting the Persecutor/Victim dichotomies and undermining centuries-old
Before her appearance, she has circulated in her absence and in her silence as a value object essential to the males' fiction, a token, a sign.6 Once she erupts on the scene, she fractures the system that had depended on her silence for its perpetuation. Through the use of language, Marcela transforms herself from the Object of their imagination to what Monique Wittig would call an absolute Subject (66). She immediately reappropriates her person by reappropriating the very language by which they have tried to suppress and to alter who she really is. Language now becomes her most powerful weapon. As Debax says in Et voilà pourquoi votre femme est muette (1980): To reduce woman to silence is to reduce her to powerlessness; that is
of woman as object of exchange in Lévi-Strauss' system, Christine
Brooke-Rose describes the degeneration of women from essential
values to value objects: in other words, tokens, signs. And since
signs do speak, if only through the symptom-signifier, the system
was doomed from the start, or rather, had to depend for aeons on women's
silence, on the repression of their signified into the unconscious
|10.2 (1990)||The Pastoral Episode in Cervantes' Don Quijote||27|
how the masculine will to castrate operates . . . Thus perhaps
because of this women's will to revolt necessarily passes through the
use of language, the tongue [la langue]. Language, the tongue, is women's
weapon (Brooke-Rose 31). As long as women remain silent, they are outside
the historical process. It is precisely this historical process that speech
must disrupt (Gauthier 162). What Marcela has done is taken the intellectual
tools of patriarchy, used them to her cause, and turned them against their
inventors (Marks and Courtivron 35). And this with Cervantes' approval. Marcela
cannot remain silent. She, like women in general, is in a manifest position
of exclusion that keeps the system together precisely through
this silence. Marcela must plead her cause. She must defend herself. To renounce
the exercise of speech is for her to perpetuate not being part of the
system (Clément 135). Marcela is encoded within a system, a
genre where the female has been silenced: she has either departed, has never
existed, or is centralized as the object of the males' desire or laments.
It is this tradition that Cervantes explodes and he does this through Marcela's
act of speech.
Marcela's speech raises two issues that are essential to her argument. Is a beautiful person obliged to love because she happens to be loved? Is a person free to choose celibacy and solitude? Her questions are primarily concerned with rights, with power. In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels emphasize that in order to be empowered each new class must represent its interest as the common interest of the members of that society and so validate their position. Marcela presents her interests as her rights. She thereby shatters the silence that has upheld the generic system that had reified her, and she does this through the only medium the men can understand language.
Bakhtine-(Voloshinov) reminds us that regardless of class we nevertheless must use one and the same language. Consequently, sign becomes an arena where class struggle and I add gender struggle takes place: Le signe devient l'arène ou se déroule la lutte des classes (43). The Marcela-Grisóstomo interlude is concerned with very real issues. Don Quijote's repudiation of the amorosa pestilencia to which women are subject simply because society and the pastoral genre encode them as the pursued, and Marcela's plea for the freedom to live her own life, reflect Cervantes' discomfort with women's traditional role in literature and in life. Harry Sieber has correctly remarked that the issues are to be read from the point of view of ownership
and property rights. Forced love (hotly contested by Marcela) is simply masculine
efforts to obtain property (188).
The narrator tells us that without waiting for a reaction not caring one bit about their opinion of her Marcela turns from her interlocutors, her speech ended, and enters the thickest part of a nearby wood: sin querer oír respuesta alguna, volvió las espaldas y se entró por lo más cerrado de un monte que allí cerca estaba . . . (I, 14). Don Quijote, sword in hand, leaps to her defense. He will let no one harm Marcela a Marcela whom we have seen is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Marcela thereby assumes a negative function in the text. She has undermined both Grisóstomo's encoding her as the disdainful mistress of the courtly love tradition, and Don Quijote's inscribing her into the chivalric tradition of damsel in distress. In Kristevan terms, Marcela has exploded the social and generic codes by which they have tried to inscribe her (1980, 166). She has refused to comply with generic expectations, her rejection is not part of pastoral convention (Sieber 193). She has also refused to comply with the traditional expectations of her society. What Cervantes has done in this episode is remarkable. There seems to be no precedent for Marcela in the literary history of the time. Marcela's choice to live freely and alone is unquestionably an hecho grave en los contextos culturales de la época (Macht de Vera 10).
Melveena McKendrick has elaborated on the mujer esquiva as a persona non grata in the seventeenth century. A woman who avoided marriage was, in fact, anathema because the century viewed the issue of marriage in a very circumscribed way. Love and marriage were a woman's birthright. She had been created from man in the Garden of Eden as his helpmate, and so on the temporal level he is her first cause and final end. When she rebels against marriage, it is not against man made rules that she rebels but against the natural order of things as decreed by God (116). The avoidance of men is neither natural nor plausible in a woman and . . . beneath any apparent antagonism there is some fault of character which makes her behave in this way (120). She is therefore made to see the error of her ways, and the literary piece can then end happily as self-deception gives way to self-knowledge. But Marcela ignores all societal expectations. She is very different from her seventeenth-century mujer esquiva counterparts.
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Is there an explanation for Marcela who, textually
and contextually, seems singular in choosing her own lifestyle? Ruth El Saffar
does not see Marcela's stance as necessarily positive. In the context of
the period she sees it as an escape from her traditional role
which would require that the young woman either marry or enter the
convent. Marcela is thereby seen by El Saffar as vulnerable, as lacking.
Motherless, she has grown up in a home in which eros is suppressed
(61-64). Javier Herrero follows this train of thought: It is no accident
that the hardhearted women who cannot surrender themselves to the imperfection
of a human embrace, Marcela and Leandra, both lack mothers (298). Ann
E. Wiltrout attributes Marcela's stance, on the other hand, to the fact that
she is not an aristocrat and so is not inscribed by societal norms of
appropriate behavior: . . . no [está]
sujeta a la rigidez del código del honor, lo cual la deja en libertad
para construir su propia defensa; and to the fact that without a father
to protect her she has had to take care of herself (2). I concur with the
latter view. Marcela's marginality is her greatest strength. Outside of the
pastoral she has been forced to take care of herself, and within the pastoral
she has been maligned simply for being herself. What has Marcela to lose?
What is important is that she simply does not care how they react as long
as she explains her part in the situation. She vindicates her position and
simply goes into the woods, leaving them admirados, tanto de su
discreción como de su hermosura (I, 14). Cervantes refuses to
inscribe Marcela in the male system of representation. By reinforcing her
marginality he deprives her of her centrality as essential object of the
shepherds' complaints. But her marginality does not leave official structures
unquestioned (Clément 1975; Richman 1980; Bowlby 1983). On the contrary,
Marcela's stance constitutes a revolutionary moment of rejection. She posits
a specificity of her own as opposed to the specular image of her that
the males have created and so effects in Kristevan terminology, an
asociality, in the violation of communal conventions, in a sort of asymbolic
singularity (Féral 11).
Yet the text reveals once again its profound and problematic levels. On the level of speech, Marcela succeeds but not on the level of writing. An irrevocable chasm separates the scriptional from the sexual here. Marcela has subverted the male view of her as textual object, but she remains a sexual object. Everyone,
including Don Quijote, wants to go after this beautiful object. Her knowledge of the best Western tradition of oratory, her impeccable presentation, her courageous stance within the text itself, her refusal to play the role of mujer esquiva within her cultural context are in danger of being lost or suppressed from the collective memory. Like other women before and after her, she has been limited in her choices. She can either be immortalized as the men have wanted her to be or she is to be suppressed and even maligned in subsequent publications for exhibiting inappropriate behavior. On Grisóstomo's epitaph she remains for posterity what they had said she was in the first place, a mujer esquiva:
Murió a manos del rigor / de una esquiva hermosa ingrata, / con quien su imperio dilata / la tiranía de amor (I, 14: emphasis mine).
Sexual difference, as Nancy K. Miller reminds us, can actually be made to
structure the scene of production, the actual production . . .
the reading . . . and the glossing of . . . [a] text
(358). What comes to mind is the similar articulation, on the part of another
fictional character, of the distortion possible in male-authored publications.
As Jane Austen puts it in Persuasion: Men have had every advantage
of us in telling their own story. The pen has been in their hands. I will
not allow books to prove anything (239).
The pastoral interlude, however, does not have closure. Grisóstomo is never really the focal point Marcela is. Grisóstomo lives and dies within the easily recognizable conventions of courtly love and of pastoral. He lives and dies in shepherd's attire and chooses as his burial place the foot of the rock where the Corktree Spring is. It is there that he first saw Marcela (I, 12). Marcela, on the other hand, is open to multiple interpretations. She resists all the signifying practices that have tended to circumscribe her within a homogeneous and unifying text. Through her speech, Cervantes calls attention to the heterogeneity implicit in all literary discourse which appropriates, contextualizes, and comments upon another language, namely, that of gender (Kaplan 164). Marcela's marginality to mainstream sexual and social literary conventions makes possible her freedom to question the unquestionable and articulate the inappropriate, thereby bringing about what Josette Féral describes as the feminist disordering, deviating from, and derailing of traditional
|10.2 (1990)||The Pastoral Episode in Cervantes' Don Quijote||31|
discourse (1980, 46). It is this same marginality that makes it ultimately
possible for Marcela to interrogate the very conditions of the conventional
production and re-production of misogynistic discourse in the pastoral genre.
Marcela's speech gives the lie to the functioning of prior negative image
systems of women, and dis-orders a tradition whose codes of silence have
successfully maintained women in a manifest position of exclusion.
In this episode, to reiterate Cixous' assessment in the article's epigraph, Cervantes has dared to slip something by at odds with tradition . . . [thereby] imagining the woman who would hold out against oppression and constitute herself as a superb, equal, hence impossible subject, untenable in a real social framework (1976, 879). Such a woman Cervantes imagined in Marcela.
|STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK|
|OSWEGO, NEW YORK|
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