From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
5.1 (1985): 27-43.
Copyright © 1985, The Cervantes Society of America
||CELIA E. WELLER AND CLARK A. COLAHAN|
OS TRABAJOS DE PERSILES Y SIGISMUNDA enjoyed an immediate popular and critical success fully comparable to that of Don Quixote, with many Spanish editions and foreign translations appearing soon after its first publication, but later many critics, unhappy with its fundamental differences from Don Quixote, came to consider it inferior to Cervantes' masterpiece and it was slighted in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Unlike the novelistic, realistic, Quixote, it has strong ties to both Byzantine romance, on which it is based, and traditional myth, since the protagonists' travels through a fantastic world of dangers and strange customs in mysterious lands of northern Europe are followed by episodes in Portugal, Spain, France and Italy during which their authentic identities are gradually revealed and the realization of transcendent ideals for the improvement of their societies is made possible. More recently however, with the development of critical interest in myth and romance many Cervantes scholars have undertaken a reevaluation of the Persiles, both as indispensable to an understanding of Cervantes' work as a whole and as a distinct but important work in its own right.1
recent surge of critical interest has resulted in several book-length works
of criticism on the Persiles understood as romance, as well as
[p. 28] numerous articles. Of particular interest
are: Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce's edition of Los trabajos de Persiles y
Sigismunda with introduction and notes (all quotations from the
Persiles are taken from this edition; Madrid; Castalia, 1969), his
critical work, Nuevos deslindes cervantinos (Barcelona: Ariel, 1975),which
devotes several chapters to the Persiles; Alban K. Forcione's
Cervantes' Christian Romance (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972)
and his Cervantes, Aristotle, and the Persiles (Princeton: Princeton
Univ. Press, 1970); Ruth El Saffar's Beyond Fiction (Berkeley: Univ.
of California Press, 1984), with about one-third dedicated to the
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A few critics, among them Schevill and Bonilla
(editors of the 1914 Spanish edition of the Persiles), have noted
that Fletcher and Massinger's English comedy The Custom of the Country
(1620) incorporates several episodes from this Cervantine work, which the
English playwrights almost certainly knew through an English translation
published in London in 1619.2 Like the
Persiles, The Custom of the Country has until recently been
slighted by specialists in the period, in its case because an unfair reputation
for being bawdy and salacious overshadowed its positive
aspects.3 However, a more objective recent
comparison has shown that both works share a vision of life as a pilgrimage
through violence and adversity, including desperate shipboard adventures
at sea and equally life-threatening peripeteias on land, all of which are
presented as moral trials to be overcome finally by steadfast love and Christian
Both the title and principal plot of Massinger and Fletcher's play come from an episode in a secondary storyline of the Persiles. In his article Cervantes and Fletcher: A Theme with Variations4 W. D. Howarth has focused on the fact that Cervantes, in the interpolated narrations dealing with Mauricio and his daughter Transila, makes use of the theme of ritual defloration of the bride reported by a number of sixteenth-century travellers as a feature of primitive marriage ceremonies in remote parts of the world. This episode is the starting point for the central action and provides the title for The
Obras completas de Miguel
de Cervantes Saavedra.
Sigismunda, edited by Rodolfo Schevill and Adolfo Bonilla, I (Madrid,
1914), p. XLIII: John Fletcher, en su grosera farsa The Custom of
the Country, utilizó dos o tres episodios del Persiles,
como la historia de Transila y la del polaco Ortel Banedre, añadiendo
de su propia cosecha lo que de ningún modo merece recuerdo en la historia
3 William W. Appleton, Beaumont and Fletcher, A Critical Study (London, 1956), pp. 85-86: Most critics have altogether disregarded it [The Custom of the Country] or cited it as a glaring example of the depths to which Fletcher was prepared to descend.
4 Modern Language Review, 56 (1961), 563-66.
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Custom of the Country, in which Zenocia, like Transila in the
Persiles, escapes at the crucial moment in order to avoid this barbarous
Alejandro Ramírez also has examined the Persiles and The Custom of the Country for similarities of plot and theme in his fundamental article, Cervantes y Fletcher: El Persiles y The Custom of the Country.5 We share his opinion that Fletcher's play is not pornographic or obscene, but rather develops a moral lesson through earthy humor. Ramírez believes and argues convincingly that the theme of ius primae noctis which in the Persiles is illustrated by Transila's flight on her marriage night to avoid institutionalized rape by all of her bridegroom's male relatives and which Howarth sees as being distilled into the singular droit du seigneur that Zenocia resists in The Custom of the Country is used in both works to effect an affirmation of the sanctity of Christian marriage (p. 207). He also points out, along with Schevill and Bonilla, the similarities of characters and events in the episodes involving the vain and boastful Don Duarte. In the Persiles Don Duarte is killed by the Pole Ortel Banedre, who is given refuge by Guiomar, his victim's mother; likewise in The Custom of the Country Don Duarte is apparently killed by Rutilio, who is also protected from apprehension by Guiomar.
Although Ramírez does not do a detailed stylistic analysis of the two works, he recognizes in a general way that not only do Cervantes' plots and themes find their way into The Custom of the Country, but that his style, taken in the broad sense of the way language is matched to subject matter, is also present as an important factor in the play's aesthetic unity.6 We feel that there are two other important links between the Spanish romance and the English play yet to be explored, one stylistic and the other thematic.
First, Cervantes uses clusters of recurring images to illustrate the book's themes, and the imagery associated with those themes in The Custom of the Country is taken over into English along with them, then adapted and integrated into the context of the new work. Moreover, Forcione has demonstrated that it is precisely the carefully constructed and reappearing imagery in the Persiles which gives the complex work a forceful coherence and ties it to dramatic literature:
Homenaje a Sherman H. Eoff, (Madrid: Castalia, 1970), pp. 203-20.
6 He affirms that a new reading of the play is necessary to achieve una visíon más rica, en su complejidad, de la atracción que el estilo cervantino ejerce en Fletcher y Massinger (p. 205).
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The Persiles is an exceptionally pure example of a long prose
narrative that is meant to be read auditorially or
visually, as are the literary genres with which it has much in
common, the lyric and the drama (p. 12). The unifying function of the
imagery is similar in The Custom of the Country, where the interweaving
of the plots creates exceptional complexity even in the comparatively shorter
space offered by a play.
Second, both works contain a surprising number of situations in which the characters reverse their usual sex roles, that is, females act in a variety of ways ordinarily thought typical of males, and vice versa. On closer examination this apparently superficial similarity turns out to be the reflection of a shared technique that allows the authors to show the spiritual growth of certain characters. By experiencing, in a moment of testing, the strengths and weaknesses of the other half of humanity, both the fictional males and females develop as more complete persons and become ready for the higher kind of marriage proposed by Christian Humanists of the time who were influential in Cervantes' thinking.
Images of Barbarism
Cruel customs and violent passions that threaten
the protagonists in the barbaric countries where the action begins are the
starting points for the movement toward civilization and virtue that
characterizes both works. The dominant motifs in these scenes are those of
animal-like behavior, violence, lust, trade in human beings, and false religion.
In Cervantes' romance these manifestations of evil take a literal, mythic
form in the benighted regions of far northern Europe that include an unidentified
Barbarous Island, a werewolf-infested Norway, and a strangely
pagan Hibernia.7 In the play the country's
evil is concentrated in its immoral wedding custom and the governor who enforces
it for his own pleasure. This concentration of vice and brutality is achieved,
however, by the use of the same motifs of savagery found in the
Persiles, but now transformed into metaphors for Count Clodio's
Comparisons of human desires to the destructive appetites or irrational animals lend themselves well to the portrayal of both sexual as well as other vices and constantly link the two visions of barbarism with specific parallels that go beyond the coincidences one might expect in the use of this familiar Renaissance topos. Antonio,
a discussion of the confusion in the Persiles regarding Hibernia and
Ireland, see Howarth, p. 564.
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Cervantes' example of the moral consequences of anger, strikes two men without
cause, then subsequently is set adrift on the sea in a small boat where he
is tormented by a nightmare in which he is torn to pieces by wolves. On finally
coming to an island he discovers that it is full of wolves, one of which
speaks to him and warns him they will devour him if he goes ashore. As Forcione
comments, in his wrath he has descended to the level of the beast and
confronted his sin in its most hideous form (p. 110).
Cervantes' Rutilio adds lust to this combination of violence and animalism. Sentenced to death for a crime of sexual passion, he escapes execution in Italy by handing himself over to a lustful sorceress who carries him away through the air to the darkness of the far north. There she turns into a shewolf that he stabs and kills when she embraces him. After living some months among the cursed people of Norway he is shipwrecked on the shores of the Barbarous Island, where he immediately encounters a corpse dressed in animal skins hanging from a tree. His decision to seek protection from the savages there by wearing the dead man's hides and pretending to be deaf and dump reemphasizes both the violent and bestial aspects of his lust.8
The inhabitants of the island, whom he manages to entertain with a primitive sort of acrobatics, base their society on a pseudo-religious prophecy of their coming to world domination through a child produced by the union of a great chief with a woman of unsurpassed physical beauty. To achieve this end they buy beautiful women from traders and, since the process of selection of the chief requires that their most powerful warriors drink potions made from the ashes of human hearts, they put male captives to death. Rutilio, Antonio, Persiles, Sigismunda and the other more civilized captives there escape when sexual desire, a struggle for power, and revenge suddenly provoke the barbarians to an internecine conflict in which they exterminate each other and set the entire island ablaze.
The motif of a false religious belief as the justification for forcing sexual union on women recurs soon after when the maiden Transila narrates the story of her escape from Hibernia. She describes the practices that led her to flee as deshonestas y bárbaras costumbres, and denounces her husband's male relatives as más lascivos que religiosos (p. 113). Animal imagery is injected into the incident by Rosamunda, the licentious ex-mistress of Henry II of England. She is
the symbolism of these events, see Forcione, pp. 112-15.
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anachronistically introduced into the story as an example of the disastrous
results of incorrigible lust in a woman and defends the custom by comparing
it to breaking in a horse: sí que no es error, por bueno que
sea un caballo, pasearle la carrera primero que se ponga en él
(p. 117).9 Lust as a bestial but organized
and glorified social activity cloaked in false respectability appears again
in the episodes of Persiles' dream of an island paradise, where in a masquelike
procession Lady Sensuality is led in triumph in a cart pulled by doce
poderosísimos jimios, animales lascivos (p. 242).
The opening scene of The Custom of the Country makes use of precisely the same cluster of images of violence, lust, animalism and barbaric religion. Arnoldo calls the droit du seigneur The barbarous, most inhumane, damned Custom10 and the play's setting somewhere in Italy a most beastly Country (p. 303). Very much like the dwellers on the Barbarous Island, Count Clodio is a Cannibal, that feeds on the heads of Maids, / Then flings their bones and bodies to the Devil (p. 307), a common Hangman, / That hath whipt off the heads of a thousand maids already (p. 307), and a Maiden-monger (p. 308). His treatment of women is pictured as being worse than tearing them between two Oaks and, reminiscent of Rosamunda's example, he is the Stallion (p. 310) who breaks wenches to the Saddle, an image which is continued and made even more negative with the addition of the phrase, And teaches them to stumble ever after (p. 307). The rapacious, subhuman quality of his actions calls forth comparisons to a Cat-a-mountain, a Town Bull (p. 307), a dogg and, like Lady Sensuality's simian steeds, a baboon (p. 310). Rutilio, mostly in jest, provides all of the above descriptions of Count Clodio, while the presence of religious sanction for the crime is made seriously explicit by Arnoldo: Tis held Religion too, to pay this duty (p. 308).
In both works the first civilized Christian country to which the protagonists escape is Portugal. Forcione observes that here, as in the other southern European adventures that follow, much of the northern imagery remains, but lightened of its tragic seriousness and rendered comic.11 The same holds true in the play after the first act,
relevance of this equine image is noted by Forcione, p. 120.
10 Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, The Custom of the Country, ed. Arnold Glover (New York: Octagon Books, 1969), p. 303. Notwithstanding the play's inclusion in this collection, most critics agree that it was written by Fletcher and Massinger. All page references are to this edition.
11 See Forcione, p. 123.
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most noticeably in the case of the English version of Rutilio. He inherits his namesake's weakness for women, but there is no suggestion of crime in this, just excessive masculine, pleasure-loving foolishness that needs to be corrected. And corrected it is with lively poetic justice as Rutilio, who in the first act jokingly says he would like to have the governor's prerogatives, is himself subjected very much against his will to unwanted sexual union on a debilitating scale as the sole knave in the male stewes, i.e., a male brothel. The humorously savage ladies of Lisbon pick his bones (p. 367) and he pleads with Sulpitia, his female boss, Do not make a game-bear of me (p. 365). His bestiality is reduced to a domestic, canine, ludicrous variety: Make me a Dog-kennel, / I'le keep your house and bark, and feed on bare bones, / And be whipt out o'doors, / Do you mark me Lady? Whipt, / I'le eat old shoes (p. 365-66). The equine imagery returns in Rutilio's denunciation of this base Stallion trade (p. 366) and repentant protest that he has tryed sufficient / All your young Phillies, I think this back has try'd 'em / And smarted for it too: they run away with me, / Take bitt between the teeth, and play the Devils; / A staied pace now becomes my years; a sure one, / Where I may sit and crack no girths (p. 380). And finally, this mention of devils recalls another vexed and laughable exclamation of his, but one that nevertheless suggests the unholy nature of the institution he is serving: I'le live in Hell sooner than here, and cooler (p. 367).
The Sanctity of Christian Marriage
In contrast to this view of relations between men and women, whether treated as cause for tears or laughter, and hinted at by Rutilio as he yearns for a staied pace . . . a sure one, stands the sanctity of Christian marriage. The establishment of a parallel between the two recently engaged or married heroines, Sigismunda and Zenocia, and the Virgin Mary, God's own immaculate spouse, sets the stage for this important theme. Using a thoroughly Catholic pictorial mode, after the pilgrims reach Rome Cervantes introduces a painting of his heroine that strongly recalls familiar images of Mary: un retrato entero, de pies a cabeza, de una mujer que tenía una corona en la cabeza, aunque partida por medio la corona, y a los pies un mundo, sobre el cual estaba puesta, y apenas la hubieron visto, cuando conocieron ser el rostro de Auristela (p. 437). In addition to this picture identifying Auristela with Mary, Queen of Heaven, another scene in Rome establishes a visual comparison of her to the Mary of the Pietà:
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Abrió los brazos Seráfido, soltóle Rutilio, calientes ya en su derramada sangre, y cayó Periandro en los de Auristela, la cual, faltándole la voz a la garganta, el aliento a los suspiros y las lágrimas a los ojos, se le cayó la cabeza sobre el pecho, y los brazos a una y a otra parte (p. 472).
The 1619 translation through which Fletcher and Massinger probably knew this passage brings out the image of Auristela as comforter in combination with the idea of her own Madonna-like suffering for her seemingly murdered beloved: and Periander fell into Auristela's [arms]: whose voyce failing for her throat, breath for her sighes, and teares for her eyes, shee fell in a trance on the other side, her head hanging on her breast, and her armes stretched out on eyther part.12 The references to the Virgin in the play are less graphically symbolic but no less clear, as in the phrase Most blessed Maid (p. 306) and the particular way the purity of her love is described: the Gods that gave this, / this pure unspotted love, the Child of Heaven (p. 306).13 The idea of a pilgrimage in Mary's honor, present implicitly
Travels of Persiles and Sigismunda, A Northern History, London, 1619,
p. 395. In quoting from this translation we have modernized only to the extent
of replacing the old tall S with the modern s.
13 This last verse is identical to one from an earlier chapter of the Persiles containing a hymn to the Virgin Mary that stresses the divine blessing given to the sacrament of matrimony, reminding the reader of the Virgin's marriage to God the Father: sois la esposa / que al sacro Verbo limpia carne distes (p. 311). Mary's exalted place in Heaven above the reach of the restless changes of this world is stressed: Pasó la tierra, pasó el mar; los vientos / atrás como más bajos, se quedaron, / el fuego pasa, y con igual fortuna / debajo de sus pies tiene la luna (p. 309). Similarly, but more simply in the play, Arnaldo says to Zenocia: You are so heavenly good, no man can reach you (p. 309). The traditional likening of Mary to a star is amplified in both works in images that also link her with the appearing sun. In Cervantes we find; Antes que el sol, la estrella hoy da su lumbre, prudentísima Ester, que el sol más bella (p. 310) and Del claro amanecer, del sol sagrado / sois la primera aurora (p. 311). The solar metaphor for Zenocia is somewhat different, but just as fully developed: Your mind I know is pure, and full as beauteous; / After this short eclipse, you would rise again, / And shaking off that cloud, spread all your lustre (p. 309). Nevertheless, this imagery in the play probably did not come directly from Cervantes' hymn for it was omitted in the 1619 translation (based on a previous French one) and only alluded to as verses sung by Feliciana de la Voz. Two possibilities suggest themselves at this point: either the playwrights were able to read the Persiles in the original Spanish or, more plausibly, this scriptural imagery so pervaded European culture of the time that once the identification of the heroine with the Virgin was established, similar phrases naturally were generated from the common tradition.
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throughout the entire plot of the romance, is also found in praises of Zenocia: All Virgins, too, shall bless your name, shall Saint it, / and like so many Pilgrims go to your shrine (p. 305).
Images of Hatred Changed to Love
The Virgin Mary as the model for yet another
kind of Christian action is later taken up by Cervantes and developed into
a dramatic episode with its own cast of characters. The virtue involved is
that of forgiveness, renunciation of revenge, and the transformation of hate
into love; the image that illustrates it, identical in both works, is that
of changing the black clothes of mourning into bright, joyful marriage
On the level of human relations, Cervantes develops the concept most fully in the story of a young widow, Ruperta, whose husband has been murdered by a rejected suitor of hers. The description of her mourning shows that her grief leads her into an extreme hatred and desire for revenge, kept burning by a cult to her dead husband which unmistakably suggests a perversion of Christian rituals in remembrance of Christ's death.15 Moreover, withdrawing from all human contact and setting out on a pilgrimage-like journey to Rome to seek help from the assassin's enemies, she dresses in black and drapes her rooms, even when traveling, in the same color. In the dead of night (2:00 a.m., the hour of matins) she holds ceremonies similar to black masses where she contemplates her husband's preserved head, his bloodied shirt and the killer's stained sword. Although she learns during the episode that the object of her hatred has died, she resolves to take her revenge on his son, Croriano, who by chance has taken lodging at the same inn as she. That night she steals into the darkened room of the intended victim, but before stabbing him she uncovers her lantern to see his face. His beauty, a neo-Platonic symbol of divine goodness, stops her short, makes her reflect that he is not guilty of his father's crime, and even changes her hate to love.
verses in praise of the Virgin in Feliciana's hymn place the matter on the
archetypal, theological plane. Adam's fall is likened to mankind's death,
for which the virtuous soul grieves; but through the loving sacrifice and
triumphal resurrection of Mary's son, mankind is restored to life and the
soul shows its delight by putting on glad colors: el alma espera /
cambiar en ropa rozagante el luto / que la gran culpa le visitió
primera (p. 311).
15 For the use of details suggesting a perverted Christian ritual see Forcione, p. 131.
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Their marriage follows immediately. The imagery accompanying this change from darkness to light uses resonances from scripture Christ as the light of the world, his sacrifice for man, and the exchanging of mourning clothes for those of rejoicing:
vio que la bellez de Croriano, como hace el sol a la niebla, ahuyentaba las sombras de la muerte que darle quería, y en un instante no le escogió para víctima del cruel sacrificio, sino para holocausto santo de su gusto (p. 389).
Triunfó aquella noche la blanda pas desta dura guerra; volvióse el campo de la batalla en tálamo de desposorio; nació la paz de la ira; de la muerte, la vida; y del disgusto, el contento (p. 39l).
The play takes up this theme, together with
its accompanying images, in two distinct moments. In the first act the presence
of black tokens of death is not followed by marriage, but rather superimposed
over the picture of the bridal chamber in protest against Count Clodio's
crime. Zenocia's father tells his servants, Thus round about her Bride-bed,
hang those blacks there, and, This is no masque of mirth, but
murdered honor (p. 313). On entering the room Rutilio exclaims, How
now, what livery's this? Do you call this a wedding? / This is more like
a funeral (p. 313). Reversing Cervantes' transformation of the place
of death into the marriage bed he adds, And there's the scaffold where
she must lose it, i.e. her honor (p. 314).
In the story of the widow Guiomar, Fletcher and Massinger essentially take the story of Ruperta and use it to give a fuller development of Cervantes' Doña Guiomar. Her kindness in charitably concealing someone unfairly pursued for the murder of her son a killing actually committed in self-defense was taken over into the play from the romance almost word for word, as Ramírez has shown.16 Unlike her counterpart in the Persiles, however, she does not disappear from the plot after this good deed. She is changed from a positive example of keeping a vow to show Christian mercy, even under sorely trying circumstances, into a scheming woman seeking revenge for the death of a family member, a drastic metamorphosis accomplished by having her react with fury to a later proposal of marriage imprudently made to her by Rutilio, the supposed killer himself. This change made, her subsequent actions closely parallel Ruperta's. Much of her mourning, like that in the Persiles incident, is extremely exaggerated, but it is not so unusual in its basic outline as
Ramírez, pp. 214-18.
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to point to a specific course: The silence that's observed her close
retirements, / No visitants admitted, not the day; / These sable colours,
all signs of true sorrow (p. 372). Other details, however, link the
two stories more closely. Like Ruperta, she sees a fortuitous chance to satisfy
her hatred: the defer'd vengeance . . . now is offer'd to
me (p. 373), and feeds her black passion with thoughts of the assassin
/ would-be suitor's sword and her beloved's bloodied clothes. She reproaches
Rutilio, When thine own bloudy sword, cryed out against thee,
Walk like the winding sheet my Son was put in, / Stand with those
wounds (p. 382).
The similarity of the two episodes, however, is most pronounced in the abrupt cessation of the bereaved women's desire for revenge, brought about through the power of love as soon as they get a good look at the men. Before the second meeting of Guiomar and Rutilio in the play, the hopeful suitor plans just this strategy: I'le take her eye, as soon as she looks on me (p. 379). His success is signaled by Guiomar's aside that he is a killer, yet he looks not like one, he looks manly (p. 384). Only after having felt the force of his beauty she, like Ruperta, climbs to the higher moral position of questioning the need for further bloodshed. The fact that Don Duarte is still alive is revealed to her, and in a similar conclusion recalling Cervantes' list of the transformations brought about by this happy turn of events war to peace, death to life, etc. Guiomar changes Rutilio's blush into a kiss: I'le wipe off that, / And with this kiss, I take you for my husband (p. 384).
Such transformations of images in both works are paralleled in a broader sense by sweeping transformations of moral qualities of the characters. These changes often involve sex-role reversals that function as trials to improve their moral stature. The shared pattern is that the female character displays some form of overt and active behavior, which we generally think of as masculine, in order to assert or insure her own ideas, passions and / or safety, while the male is placed (or places himself) in a less active and thus subordinate position, which we generally think of as feminine behavior. At the same time, from the point of view of dramatic technique, both male and female role reversals lend themselves very effectively to dramatic and comedic situations and the lively English play has taken full
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advantage of many of the major examples of role reversals found in the
Mauricio, who along with his new son-in-law stands by in the Persiles while his daughter Transila is awaiting defloration by all her husband's male relatives, presents the following picture of his daughter's reaction to this threat:
y cuando quería ya entrar un hermano de su esposo a dar principio al torpe trato, veis aquí donde veo salir con una lanza terciada en las manos, a la gran sala donde toda la gente estaba, a Transila, hermosa como el sol, brava como una leona y airada como una tigre (p. 113).
This description is significant since it combines positive feminine imagery
with animal imagery associated with the aggressive and violent barbarians.
Through this combination of feminine / masculine attributes Transila successfully
escapes the situation and, although she later falls into the hands of the
barbarians, even in captivity on the Barbarous Island she is able to use
her intelligence and skill with language to take an active role in her survival
by becoming an interpreter between the barbarians and traders. Similarly
in the play, Zenocia takes up arms to defend her honor: Enter Zenocia
with Bow and Quiver, an Arrow bent (p. 315), and Count Clodio, against
whom she is defending herself, sees her as Diana: The beauteous huntress,
fairer far, and sweeter (p. 3l5) who is determined to Dye, before
yield (p. 316). In this context it is not surprising that Fletcher
and Massinger would have compared Zenocia to Diana, seen in mythology as
combining the female qualities of beauty and chastity with masculine independence
The evil and sexually aggressive Hyppolyta characters in both works also pass through their violent stages into one of Christian generosity and marriage. In both works these women attempt to seduce the heroes and hire a witch to kill the heroine with evil spells. Hipólita in the Persiles is forced by her love for Periandro to reform when she realizes that she is also killing Periandro by killing Auristela, and so determines to save her rival. Hipólita evolves
Leech includes some of these incidents in his list of unusual situations
that abound in the play. He adds, Each is an incident in a densely
packed plot, and it is as if Fletcher and his collaborator were bent on outdoing
each other in the cult of the strange. See his The John Fletcher
Plays (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1962), p. 59.
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further toward a positive character when she generously offers to give Periandro and Auristela refuge and money:
Todos los demás circunstantes discurrieron en su imaginación qué consejo darían a Periandro, y la primera que salió con el suyo, aunque no se lo pidieron, fue la rica y enamorada Hipólita, que le ofreció de llevarle a Nápoles con su hermana Auristela, y gastar con ellos cien mil y más ducados que su hacienda valía (p. 471).
In the last reference that Cervantes makes to Hipólita, he stresses
her change by describing her as beginning life
Hyppolyta in The Custom of the Country, who also stays her assassination attempt when she realizes that Arnoldo as well as Zenocia will die, looks forward to a happy marriage with Leopold, the sea captain. His devotion to her seems to neutralize her earlier sins as she promises herself to him:
|And worthy Leopold, you that with such fervour,|
|So long have sought me, and in that deserv'd me,|
|Shall now find full reward for all your travels,|
|Which you have made more dear by patient sufferance,|
|And though by violent dotage did transport me,|
|Beyond those bounds, my modesty should have kept in,|
|Though my desires were loose, from unchast art|
|Heaven knows I am free (p. 385).|
There are other equally striking examples of women resorting to atypical actions or thoughts of violence in both works. Sulpicia, the gentlewomen turned pirate in the Persiles, hangs forty of her would-be attackers, and Sulpicia, the bawd in the play, nearly kills Rutilio by overworking him in forced prostitution. However, the moral development of Sulpicia-pirate and Sulpicia-bawd is not continued in the two works beyond these active and forceful actions against men. In contrast, Ruperta in the Persiles and Guiomar in The Custom of the Country actively plan a terrible revenge for the murder of their loved ones, but later their natural instincts for self-preservation which first take the exaggerated form of desire for revenge, evolve to a higher moral level in which these aggressive drives are tempered by the Christian virtues of love and forgiveness, traditionally thought of as feminine and exemplified by the Virgin Mary. The pattern is that of three stages in the development of some female characters' personalities: first, stereotyped excessive feminine passivity, second,
Avalle-Arce's edition of the Persiles, p. 472.
|40||C. WELLER AND C. COLAHAN||Cervantes|
excessive male aggression, and finally, a balanced blending of these two leading to readiness for marriage. This reading of the Persiles reminds us that Cervantes shared in the Christian Humanist belief that active instincts and passions, together with more passive rational self-control, were also part of the well-founded nature in both men and women that was viewed as the basis for successful marriage.19 The ideal sees each spouse as bringing to the union, through her or his own experience, a personality that understands and participates in both sides of human nature. When this is achieved there can be a spiritual bond and sympathy between them such as that evident when Periandro falls ill while Auristela is under the witch's spell and in the description by Manual du Sosa, governor of Lisbon, of Arnoldo's suffering when Zenocia is enchanted:
|I have heard, there has been|
|Between some married pairs, such sympathy,|
|That th' Husband has felt really the throws|
|His Wife then teeming suffers, this true grief|
|Confirms, 'tis not impossible (p. 371).|
Role reversal does not only occur through the female characters' experiences or experiments with the more active or masculine role. Just as Auristela dresses up and pretends to be a man to protect her virtue (like both Transila in the Persiles and Zenocia in The Custom of the Country, Periandro dresses as and pretends to be a woman in order to help rescue Auristela from the Barbarous Island.20 As a woman, Periandro is the unavoidable passive object of and must deal with the
K. Forcione, in his chapter on La Gitanilla in his Cervantes and
the Humanist Vision: A Study of Four Exemplary Novels (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1982), discusses this view of marriage and human nature:
There are two implications of Christian Humanist thought concerning
the well-founded nature that we should bear in mind if we are
to understand correctly Cervantes' celebration in La Gitanilla of
Christian marriage, family authority, and the state-family as all belonging
to the order of perfected nature. In his optimistic view of human nature,
Erasmus rejected the austere dualisms characteristic of rigid stoicism and
ascetic Christianity, which maintained that the affections and the instincts
were a ruinous part of the human being, ever to hold in check and suppressed
through discipline. To be sure, reason is the authentic nature of man, and
the passions are never to be glorified as certain naturalistic philosophies
had allowed, but they are not to be condemned as totally unnatural. If they
are channeled according to the direction of man's true nature, that is, reason,
for creative purposes, they are in fact natural and beneficial (p.
20 Ruth El Saffar notes that: The reciprocity between masculine and feminine is shown in the initial encounter between hero and heroine in [p. 41] Chapter 4 of Book I. Auristela dresses as a man to show that she is loyal, even to death, to her vow to remain a virgin until she reaches Rome with Periandro. Periandro dresses as a woman to prove his willingness to find Auristela at all costs. The change to the opposite-sex role is both an expression of devotion and a sign that each is able to cross the barrier separating the masculine from the feminine (Beyond Fiction, p. 133). The similarities of pattern in these situations leads us to wonder whether perhaps we have not only a mutual understanding between the sexes, but also an evolution from an emphasis on the passive, typical of the pastoral genre, toward the active, adventurous chivalric mode, and from there to a combined state. This not only would explain all the happy marriages present and / or possible at the end of the Persiles, but would trace in miniature the development of Cervantes' works from the Galatea through the Quixote to the Persiles itself.
|5 (1985)||Cervantine Imagery in The Custom of the Country||41|
barbarians' lust, and this experience helps him control his own desires during
the pilgrimage to Rome.21
Two other examples of the male-to-female role reversal in a trial involving lust can be seen in the Rutilio characters in both works. The character in the Persiles is jailed for abducting a woman for the purpose of sexual pleasure, the Rutilio of the play persists in seeing women merely as objects of desire. As we pointed out earlier, he thinks that the custom of droit du seigneur is an attractive idea: How might a man achieve that place? a rare Custom! / An admirable rare Custom: and none excepted? (p. 303). While the she-wolf sorceress who in the Persiles has saved Rutilio from prison attempts to attack him sexually, Rutilio of The Custom of the Country undergoes an even more severe trial when Sulpicia the bawd makes him become a male prostitute to repay her for buying his freedom from the galleys. The Rutilio of the Persiles is saved by Periandro's band at the risk of their own lives as they escape the burning Barbarous Island. Later, when the escaping band comes to an island inhabited by the exemplary couple Renato and Eusebia, Renato tells the pilgrims about the ideal relationship that has developed between the two of them during their time on the island:
Recebíla como ella esperaba que yo la recibiese, y la soledad y la hermosura, que habían de encender nuestros comenzados deseos, hicieron el efeto contrario, merced al cielo y a la honestidad suya.
El Saffar links the stories of Rutilio and Periandro through this aspect
of lust that we have discussed earlier: Rutilio's story sets the stage
for one of the principal struggles in the work the desire for a young
lady that will tempt Periandro and a host of rivals throughout the journey.
It also focuses on . . . the baser intentions of his flight with
Sigismunda to Rome (Beyond Fiction, p. 136).
|42||C. WELLER AND C. COLAHAN||Cervantes|
Dímonos las manos de legítimos esposos, enterramos el fuego en la nieve, y en paz y en amor, como dos estatuas movibles, ha que vivimos en este lugar casi diez años . . . . Dormimos aparte, comemos juntos, hablamos del cielo, menospreciamos la tierra, y confiados en la misericordia de Dios, esperamos la vida eterna (p. 264).
Rutilio resolves to remain behind on the peaceful island to emulate their way of life.22 His decision to stay behind in this particular place seems to indicate that his character has developed to a state of readiness for a spiritual relationship with another, although in his case the language makes it clear that his is a marriage a lo divino, with God:
¡Oh vida solitaria! dijo a esta sazón Rutilio, que, sepultado en silencio, había estado escuchando la historia de Renato . ¡Oh vida solitaria dijo, santa, libre y segura, que infunde el cielo en las regaladas imaginaciones! ¡Quién te amara, quién te abrazara, quién te escogiera, y quién, finalmente, te gozara! (p. 265).
By the end of The custom of the Country,
the other Rutilio, after being freed from the passive degradation of prostitution
by a generous gift of money from Don Duarte, is also ready to appreciate
the value of marriage, although his will not be of an ascetic or mystic nature.
He has changed from a lustful and joking youth, to a male prostitute, to
a man who welcomes a new and equally shared relationship with Guiomar. Once
again, an experience with the opposite sex role has made marriage possible.
In summary, the influence of the Persiles on The Custom of the Country has two significant aspects not previously studied. Both the Cervantine romance and the English play enrich their stories of spiritual pilgrimage toward civilization and Christian marriage by the use of unifying imagery. Symbols of aggressive passions are balanced by those of moral restraint and love in both works, and the images are often the same. Secondly, the trabajos, the trials through which the characters pass, often involve a sex-role reversal. While this technique undoubtedly appealed to Fletcher and Massinger for its effectiveness in creating comic and dramatic tension on stage, it is
and Eusebia are very reminiscent of Ovid's ideal married couple, Philemon
and Baucis, who also live isolated from civilization guarding a temple. See
Ovid's Metamorphoses, Vol. I, Book VIII, lines 628-724.
|5 (1985)||Cervantine Imagery in The Custom of the Country||43|
clear that they followed Cervantes in using these situations to allow their characters to learn from their experiences and to prepare for the marriages in which both works culminate.
||Prepared with the help of Myrna Douglas||
|Fred Jehle email@example.com||Publications of the CSA||HCervantes|