From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
9.1 (1989): 35-53.
Copyright © 1989, The Cervantes Society of America
A PALABRA HECHA
NADA is of course an ironic inversion of Joaquín
Casalduero's beautifully succinct definition of the dialogue in Cervantes's
farce El Retablo de las Maravillas as la nada hecha
palabra.1 The process is
reversed in his romantic short story, La Gitanilla, whose heroine
constantly questions the relationship between language and truth, in an
environment where del sí al no no hacemos diferencia cuando
nos conviene (p. 39).2 Such
is the old gipsy's proud assertion in his welcoming speech to Andrés
Caballero. This statement epitomizes the world of verbal instability into
which both romantic hero and reader have entered, an instability which is
established in the very early stages of the tale. An atmosphere of doubt
is created quite deliberately by the narrator: Preciosa is introduced by
her abuela putativa (p. 10) . . . en nombre de
nieta suya (p. 9), and Preciosa is consequently defined by her
grandmother's mere claim that she is her granddaughter. Her experiences are
appropriately bound up in the spoken word: in the songs she sings before
her adoring public, in the fortunes she predicts for them, and especially
in the role that most critics attribute to her as the personification of
It would be even closer to the truth, paradoxically, to see her life as being bound up in lies. Indeed, she unwittingly lives the lie that has
been imposed upon her by her grandmother. Likewise, her relationship
with normal society, or the general public, is determined by the latter's
demand for a conventional mode of entertainment which in the case of
fortune-telling is artificial and frivolous, antithetical even to Preciosa's
true personality. Similarly, her rapport with the page-poet is based on the
courtly cliché he addresses to her and which, it transpires, is ultimately
insincere. Finally, her liaison with Juan Cárcamo requires that he,
too, undertake to live a temporary lie. The instability and mutability of
these relationships and identities are quite conscientiously reflected in
the levels of language in this novela, and more specifically, in the
levels of scepticism, suspicion and distrust with which the spoken word is
regarded. This study analyzes the relationships of several people within
the context of their attitudes to language, and it is of more than passing
interest that Clemente, the poet, figures among the most
linguistically naive of the characters.
The critics to whom reference is made fall into two discernible groups. The first, comprising the likes of Joaquín Casalduero, Frank Pierce and Ruth El Saffar, focuses principally though not exclusively on the ideal elements of the tale: that is, genuine love overcoming all obstacles and leading to an ideal union. The second group, which includes J. B. Avalle-Arce, Alban K. Forcione and Michael Gerli, adopts a more sceptical attitude. Gerli states his own case: The romantic elements singled out by the majority of the critics are usually viewed in isolation and do not take stock of the manner in which they are organized within the work.3 Although I am by no means attempting to deny the validity of this idealizing interpretation which would be absurd it should, however, be seen in its proper perspective and emphasis will duly be placed on the various verbal intrigues that must be unravelled before such a happy ending is possible. In this bias I coincide with Forcione in questioning the relationship between the Cervantine artist and his art. Although I shall make more frequent reference to Forcione than to any other critic in this regard, I generally do so in order to modify rather than develop his arguments, particularly in his more radical assertions concerning the criminal associations of the poet. As a form of postscript to my analysis of La Gitanilla I shall add some general thoughts specifically concerning the poet and his art, and draw some interesting distinctions between the enterprising performer or confidence trickster and the poet proper. Although, as the title indicates, this is primarily an analysis of dialogue in La Gitanilla,
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attitudes to art and artifice quoted or implied therein beg comparison with
those of poets and performers elsewhere in Cervantes's fictional society.
Forcione writes of linguistic divisions as characteristic of much of Cervantes's work but he does not carry the concept far enough in his treatment of La Gitanilla: Cervantes' preoccupation with linguistic fragmentation is observable both in the instability of proper names throughout his writings and in his portrayal of the breakdown of human society into units, each with its own linguistic distinction.4 He refers to Preciosa's ceceo, an artifice which is emphasized by the narrator who wants us to be aware of Preciosa's conscientious performance. This concept of linguistic perspectivism is not, of course, original. Leo Spitzer has applied such a criterion to Don Quixote.5 The fragmentation in La Gitanilla is of another order, in as much as it promotes a schism within individuals and splits character into an authentic and a performing self. Juan plays at being a gipsy, the page-poet at being Alonso Hurtado, don Sancho and later Clemente, before fading into notorious anonymity. Preciosa herself is discovered to be the noble Doña Costanza de Meneses and her abuela putativa nothing but a thief and child-snatcher. This latter irony contradicts one of Preciosa's statements in a dialogue with the public: no somos ladronas (p. 34). It transpires that few statements and assertions can be taken at face-value. It is in this process of undermining and contradicting the spoken word that Cervantes takes his so-called linguistic perspectivism one step further. It breaks down in the following way: the true but doubted statement, the poetic assertion and the lie. Although, as most critics of this novela acknowledge, Preciosa is poetry in motion, and her marriage to Juan constitutes the ideal Christian union, this study proposes that it is in this novela more than any other that Cervantes insubstantiates or invalidates the value of the spoken utterance. Preciosa simultaneously epitomizes poetry's nobility and yet is suspicious of normal discourse. This is the central contradiction exposed in the various dialogues of distrust which constitute this tale of linguistic scepticism.
Before looking more closely at individual conversations, I should establish what I understand by the insubstantiation of the word. The narrator has already begun to insinuate and implant scepticism into the mind of the reader in his presentation of the dubious relationship between grandmother and granddaughter. Preciosa is herself amusingly non-committal when she tells the fortune of the wife of the tiniente in an early scene of the story. Predicting that the
lady will be widowed several times, she notices the tears she has provoked and quite playfully admits to the fallibility of her forecast:
|No llores, señora mía,|
|Que no siempre las gitanas|
|decimos el evangelio (p. 21).|
Preciosa's audience remains oblivious to her ironic invalidation of her own
words. Some time later, after her comparative assessment of word and deed
in her dialogue with Juan, her grandmother comments on her prodigious reasoning
and eloquence. Preciosa, in a characteristically pragmatic tone, replies
thus: Calle, abuela, . . . y sepa que todas las cosas que
me oye son nonadas y son de burlas para las muchas que de más veras
me quedan en el pecho (p. 28). This dismissal of her own sensitive
articulacy hardly inspires confidence in the muchas de más
veras to which she refers, but rather serves to enhance Preciosa's
enigmatic linguistic personality and the ambiguity of the dialogue in general.
Before she will come to any agreement with Juan, she needs to verify that
he is indeed who he claims to be, tengo que saber si sois el que
decís (p. 26, italics mine). One cannot exaggerate the irony
of this inversion whereby a gipsy distrusts a nobleman. Later it falls to
Juan to suspect and question the page-poet, albeit provoked by jealousy rather
than any moral quest for absolute truth. In the final, suspense-filled scenes,
the Corregidora needs to substantiate the claims of the old gipsy
by seeking out her daughter's birthmarks, and the Corregidor verifies
the grandmother's confession by cross-examining Juan in his cell. Although
individual motives for such suspicion vary markedly, there is a distinct
pattern of disbelief, and a subsequent need for verification which progressively
divests the spoken word of its literal meaning.
Preciosa is a skilful manipulator of words, and however sceptical she personally may be of statements and juramentos, she is prominently a literary figure, and both the page-poet and the Licenciate Pozo eulogize her as such. She is differentiated from her gipsy fellows linguistically, porque era en extremo cortés y bien razonada, and even succeeds in imposing a linguistic restriction on their more characteristic desenvoltura: Era tan honesta, que en su presencia no osaba alguna gitana, vieja ni moza, cantar cantares lascivos ni decir palabras no buenas (p. 9). This striking effect on her fellows is observed on several occasions. Her relationship with conventional society is equally determined by a degree of awe and admiratio. The public not only derives pleasure from her dancing and
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singing but entertainment from her witty repartee: Admirados quedaron
los que oían a la Gitanilla, así de su discreción como
del donaire con que hablaba (p. 17). In my introduction I referred
to Preciosa's rapport with her admirers as at least partially artificial
and frivolous: two scenes specifically crystallize the facetiousness of her
use of dialogue. The first takes place at the home of the Tiniente,
in which Preciosa recites the nonsensical buenaventuras and in which
she also concedes that she may not be telling the truth. This mesmerising
enchantress is perfectly in control of her material, inciting greater curiosity
rather than doubt in her gullible audience: indeed, the ladies are most eager
to continue the dialogue: Acabó su buenaventura Preciosa, y
con ella encendió el deseo de todas las circunstantes en querer saber
la suya (p. 22). Simultaneously with Preciosa's frivolous make-believe,
each member of her audience is involved in another performance that
of not being able to find the right change to pay for the favour. The wily
Preciosa plays them at their own game of empty verbal gestures and offers
to return the following week: Yo volveré y le diré más
venturas y aventuras que las que tiene un libro de caballerias (p.
Critics such as Frank Pierce and Joaquín Casalduero focus on the desenvoltura of her language and remarks in this scene without paying due attention to the power of Preciosa's deceptive artistry over her public.6 This audience is totally impervious to the ironic implications of her reference to the chivalric romance. Preciosa, the artist, is fully aware of the distinction between truth and artistic deception and in the course of the tale reveals her religious deference for the former and artistic mastery over the latter. The gullibility of Preciosa's interlocutors is underlined once more in the course of her dialogue with the noblemen at the home of Juan Cárcamo. When Juan hears the recitation of the page-poet's composition, he swoons with jealousy. The unas ciertas palabras which Preciosa invents as his remedy are accepted unquestioningly by his father who naively requests a transcript for future reference. Thanks to her artistic spontaneity Preciosa is able to respond convincingly, que las diría de muy buena gana, y que entendiesen que aunque parecían cosa de burla, tenían gracia especial para preservar el mal de corazón y los vaguidos de cabeza (p. 36). Although she obviously says this tongue-in-cheek, her words nevertheless reflect the central problem of the dialogue, the need to decipher true meaning beneath the superficial utterance.
This is just another brief example of her humorous control over
her credulous audience. In fact, the whole scene is characterized by such
riddles and conundrums, decipherable by the minority, unintelligible to the
majority. Although Pierce refers to the double edge of her words
in this scene and to the scene as a whole as amusingly ironic,
this is to ignore its relevance within a much broader ludic pattern of verbal
games, artistry and deceit.7 Deceiving
with the truth in the following statements: ya sé del señor
don Juanico que es algo enamoradizo and un viaje ha de hacer
muy lejos de aquí (p. 32), Preciosa possesses an essential advantage
over the literal-mindedness of her audience. They comprehend only the literal
meaning of words. The riddles she produces in this scene illustrate how language
can function on a far from literal level, while Clemente's empty poetic metaphors
similarly show that edifying communication is (within the framework of this
tale, at least) far from literary. In both registers of language there is
a need to separate authentic and apparent meaning. The examples I cite of
linguistic deceit are, of course, the very stuff of Cervantes's romantic
prose and drama (cf. El Laberinto de Amor and La Entretenida)
as they are similarly of Lope's and Tirso's theatre. Lope, in his Arte
Nuevo, speaks of the delight aroused in the audience by el
engañar con la verdad, el hablar equívoco
and aquella incertidumbre
dramatic common place of deceiving with the truth needs to be acknowledged
before any further significance can be claimed for the verbal games in La
Up to this point I have dealt solely with Preciosa the artistic performer, the singer of ballads and fortune teller, who is perfectly happy to maintain this witty repartee and lucrative rapport with the general public, and equally content to wield her illusory power over it. By contrast, however, in normal, unartistic conversation, she reveals herself to be deeply committed to the truthfulness and integrity of the word: being so adept at artistic illusion and manipulation herself, she is acutely suspicious of the intentions and sincerity of her fellows. The experience of Juan as the gipsy Andrés seems to confirm this hypothesis: once he has learned to live a lie himself, he is able to suspect and recognize untruth in others, namely, in the elusive figure of the poet, Clemente.
This page-poet has aroused much interest among critics, but has eluded concrete definition. Forcione appropriately defines him as a shadowy figure.9 Ruth El Saffar's description of his instability captures the contradictions he embodies: As a character, the page-poet remains totally undefined: he appears at night, apparently from
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nowhere and without being able to state a convincing destination. In Madrid
he had described himself as a poet and yet not one, as neither rich nor poor,
as a page and yet more than
that.10 This elusive figure,
especially in his ties with poetry, intensifies the essential verbal ambiguity
of the story. J. B. Avalle-Arce similarly refers to him as the paje
anónimo and although this anonymity or elusiveness
is undeniable, Clemente is nevertheless a significant figure in this tale
of verbal intrigue. He bestrides both the world of poetic ambiguity and that
Preciosa's relationship with this mysterious page-poet is another verbal enigma. It is, literally, a purely verbal relationship: he composes poetry and she performs it. The first time they meet he hands her a poem and exhorts her to read it, and at their next encounter is eager to ascertain whether or not she has read it. The nature of their dialogue is therefore a professional poetic exchange. It is worthy of note that the first time such an exchange is alluded to, it is done in no idealistic terms. The grandmother normally acquires Preciosa's material: y no faltó poeta que los diese; que también hay poetas que se acomodan con gitanos y les venden sus obras, como los hay para ciegos, que les fingen milagros y van a la parte de la ganancia (p. 10). Although Clemente alters this process somewhat by giving Preciosa money as well as poems, the general poet-gipsy relationship is depicted as venal and unideal. That there is nothing intrinsically remarkable in this common commercial enterprise is quite explicit. What strikes the reader as incongruous or inappropriate is the fact that Clemente, who extols poetry as una bellísima doncella . . . que se contiene en los límites de la discreción (p. 30), should deal so readily with gipsies. Don Quixote himself further supports this argument in his dialogue with Don Diego de Miranda (II, 16): esta tal doncella no quiere ser manoseada, ni traída por las calles, ni publicada por las esquinas de las plazas.12 On this poetic or artistic level Preciosa does not concern herself with the validity of the poem whether his words are written with sincerity is of no consequence to her. Indeed, her only stipulation when they strike their deal is que sean honestos, but not, as it transpires, honest.13 Juan, on the other hand, interprets this amorous metaphor literally, having not yet learned to distinguish the literary lie.
This expression must obviously be used with caution: poetry is not necessarily judged according to moral rather than aesthetic criteria, that is, in terms primarily of its sincerity. Sansón Carrasco's words corroborate this: el poeta puede contar o cantar las cosas no como
fueron, sino como debían ser . . .
.14 If we move to the
origins of Western philosophical thought on the relationship between poetry
and reality, Plato would have branded Clemente a liar, for it is the
poets who have always made up stories to tell to
men.15 Even for the modern
linguistic philosopher, Clemente would be responsible for composing
non-referring sentences, that is, he makes assertions that have
no reality to substantiate
them.16 This is the kind of
substantiation that both Preciosa and Juan are individually led to seek.
While Juan is deceived by Clemente's metaphors, Preciosa, the personification
of poetry, lends credence to no word: de ningunas palabras creo y de
muchas obras dudo (p. 26). Clemente's metaphors therefore function
as valid lies within the dialectic of the novela. While they are automatically
accepted as poetry by Preciosa, they successfully deceive Juan
and they simultaneously present a confusing ambiguity to the reader.
The distinction between poetic distortion and reality is of course fundamental to Cervantes's own art. Mauricio is highly sceptical of Periandro's narrative detail in Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, II, 20 and Clodio, the slanderer, suspects Auristela and Periandro of living a lie (II, 2).17 Don Quixote's fundamental chivalric inspiration derives from his inability to recognize literature as a lie. He is, as A. A. Parker defines him, educado en la mentira por sus libros.18 I deliberately draw attention to three different types of lying in these illustrations: they combine to alert the reader to the essential role of verbal deception in Cervantine fiction.
It is Preciosa who initiates Juan into the various levels of the lie. Living poetry in her professional life, she is better able to analyze and manipulate language. Don Quixote, for his part, is mad and naive enough to accept his chivalric literature at face-value. Only in rare moments of lucid self-restraint is he able to assert: es menester tocar las apariencias con la mano para dar lugar al desengaño (II, 11, 613). Preciosa, however, actively accumulates the wisdom that sifts truth from fiction, probing far beneath its clichés and pretexts.
Preciosa is unwilling to enter into dialogue with the poet unless he pledges to tell her the truth, primero que le responda palabra, me ha de decir una verdad, por vida de lo que más quiere. Her commitment to the truth is such that it requires an oath. What is striking at this point is the fervour of the poet's response and his apparent eagerness to be frank: Conjuro es ése . . . que aunque el decirla me costase la vida, no la negaré en ninguna manera (p. 29). His commitment to a sincere reply clashes with the fundamental
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insincerity of his poetic clichés. This contradiction brings us back
to the very core of one of Cervantes's principal concerns the rapport
between reality and fiction, and specifically in this case, the role of the
poetic lie. The very lie in the courtly praise he presents to
Preciosa justifies her essential scepticism vis-à-vis poetic language,
yet he is candid in his definition of himself in relation to his art. Although
he does not disclose his real social role, his often-quoted qualification
of poetry is revealing. It reflects his idealization of his art: La
Poesía es una bellísima doncella, casta, honesta, discreta,
aguda . . . y finalmente, deleita y enseña a cuantos con
ella comunican (p. 30). Preciosa might well be seen in these same terms,
but she is simultaneously aware of poetry's potential ambiguity. Indeed,
she uses her art to deceive her audience but only when they demand it, by
requesting that their fortunes be told. Clemente is a novice poet, trapped
somewhat naively within poetry's ambiguities. At the end of their second
encounter he appears to be under the spell of the poetry he has written her.
He seems actually to be pursuing her, although he later denies this.
From a theoretical point of view his idealization of Poetry is remarkably similar to another personification which the poet Cervantes proffers in his Viaje del Parnaso, IV, lines 143, 144.19
|La santa y hermosa doncella,|
|Que admiración, como alegría, pone.|
Mercury subsequently takes up her eulogy:
|Esta, que es la Poesía verdadera,|
|La grave, la discreta, la elegante,|
|. . . la alta y sincera.|
Both Clemente's and Mercury's definitions of Poetry reflect the exalted view
that Cervantes holds of the art as a divine gift. Calíope in Book
IV of La Galatea refers to the poets as los divinos espíritus
cuyo loable ejercicio es ocuparse en la maravillosa y jamás como debe
alabada ciencia de la
is a fundamental disjunction between this recurring praise of poetry and
the equally recurrent portrait of the poet in undignified, frequently burlesque
terms. Clemente is portrayed with greater dignity, since he is appropriately
awed by poetry. There is in general, however, an important aesthetic gap
between the poet and his art. I shall focus on this distance in due course.
Preciosa's dismissal of Juan's amorous overture is consistent with
her basic linguistic detachment or scepticism. In response to his oaths she
categorically asserts that a mí no me mueven promesas, ni me
desmoronan dádivas, ni me inclinan sumisiones, ni me espantan finezas
enamoradas . . . (p. 25). Despite this scathing mistrust
of the spoken word, she nevertheless encourages Juan to participate in a
lie. By virtue of this necessary deception both Juan and Preciosa can discover
their true emotions and Preciosa can ascertain the sincerity of Juan's earliest
pledges. While Juan is deceiving conventional society, Preciosa is putting
to the test words addressed directly to her.
It is ironic how Juan's early statements contain their own contradiction. He holds fast to the gentleman's conception of the oath while blatantly undermining it. Much of the comic irony is derived from his naiveté. In his emotional fervour lying is not abhorrent to him and he acquires quite a facility for it. Twice in one breath he voices his planned deceptions: Con ocasión de ir a Flandes engañaré a mis padres . . . . A los que fueren conmigo yo los sabré engañar de modo que salga con mi determinación (p. 27). When they meet at Juan's home, Preciosa suggests that Juan will not keep his word. This provokes several ironic responses, the first of which runs as follows: En verdad, gitanica, que has acertado en muchas cosas de mi condición; pero en lo de ser mentiroso vas muy fuera de la verdad, porque me precio de decirla en todo acontecimiento (p. 32). Caught up in the poetry of his romantic adventure, he does not consider how he is deceiving his family and the delightful irony is reinforced in yet another declaration of integrity: la palabra que yo doy en el campo, la cumpliré en la ciudad, pues no se puede preciar de caballero quien toca en el vicio de mentiroso (p. 33). Thus the caballero is well and truly initiated into the process of lying. In this, his shortsightedness can be compared with that of Clemente: while Preciosa normally remains in command of the situation, both Juan and Clemente are carried away by romantic fallacies. There is nothing intrinsically original or surprising in the concept of a lying caballero: such dramatic irony is virtually a pre-requisite of the romantic intrigue of the epoch. Even Periandro (Persiles) lives a justifiable lie. What is pertinent within the context of La Gitanilla is that Juan's lie is just one of many. Juan's fervent assertions of truthfulness provoke a further peripheral irony. He has just referred to Preciosa's companions as damas. Convinced by his oaths of verbal integrity and harbouring no delusions concerning their true status, they conclude that Juan cannot be referring to them. Cristina dispels the doubt and flatters herself into the bargain: No es mentira de tanta consideración . . . la que se dice
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sin perjuicio de nadie y en provecho y crédito del que la dice
(p. 33). This brief dialogue not only provides light relief after Juan's
energetic protestations of honesty, it also reflects the multivalence of
the lie which constitutes the main dynamic of the story.
One of the most fascinating encounters and most pertinent dialogues in this respect is the conversation which takes place between Clemente and Andrés when Clemente has unexpectedly turned up near the gipsy camp. Both Andrés and Preciosa are made uneasy by his presence. He seems to intrude upon their contentment as an echo and a reminder of the mutability of things. It is partly Andrés's eagerness to change and surrender all to please Preciosa that increases her uneasiness and causes her to consider que como había don Juanes en el mundo, que se mudaban en Andreses, así podía haber don Sanchos que se mudasen en otros nombres (p. 54). In fact, the poet changes his name three times in one night. He introduces himself as Alonso Hurtado and is later referred to by the narrator as don Sancho before being christened Clemente by the gipsy community. Fired with jealousy, Juan needs to discover the motive behind Clemente's sudden appearance. He is convinced that Clemente is as much in love with Preciosa as he himself is. The reader shares this conviction until Clemente explodes the poetic metaphor of his courtly clichés with the following confession: . . . que hermosas tiene Madrid que pueden y saben robar los corazones y rendir las almas tan bien y mejor que las más hermosas gitanas (p. 50). Andrés is unconvinced by Clemente's feeble excuse for being there and in his fervor to uncover the true story he accuses Clemente of being a bad liar pues tan mal sabéis mentir in admonitions such as the following: adviértoos que si os conviene mentir en este vuestro viaje, mintáis con más apariencia de verdad (p. 49). There is indubitable irony in the fact that Juan, so recently initiated into deception, should advise Clemente, the poet, in the art of pretence. Even after Clemente has ostensibly confessed all and has wished Preciosa and Andrés well, the latter continues to be suspicious, estuvo en duda Andrés si las [razones] había dicho como enamorado, o como comedido . . . (p. 55).
This scene reflects the extent and energy of Juan's jealousy and also his newly-developed ability to recognize a lie. He is seeking the truth behind the unconvincing assertion. Although he has been initiated into the workings of the lie by Preciosa, he is not yet capable of distinguishing the artistic lie. In this interpretation of Juan's character I differ from Forcione who chooses to see Clemente's
dialogue with Juan in a symbolic context. For him, Juan is exhorting Clemente
to lie more convincingly in accordance with the Aristotelian principle that
the poetic lie should be verisimilar. He is a poet but not a performer: he
is not totally comfortable with his art, he is not committed to it but merely
aficionado a la poesía. In fact, he is not committed to
anything. He is certainly not comfortable with the lawlessness of his life
on the run and finally he is no actor he cannot lie well: Preciosa
is far more adept at performing.
Preciosa is the real artist of the piece, the true performer. She is far more at home with the lawlessness of pretence and her allotted social role as a gipsy. Forcione links Clemente and Pedro de Urdemalas together. On close examination it becomes obvious that they are simply not in the same league.21 It would be far more appropriate to link Pedro and Preciosa, since both are perfectly in control of their material and their performances. Preciosa has learned her art from her gipsy fellows and perfected it. For this reason Forcione's reference to the Aristotelian principle of verisimilitude would be far more plausible an interpretation if it had been proffered by Preciosa, since she and the page-poet had previously enjoyed an applauded artistic rapport.
Establishing the truth beyond the verbal statement is equally characteristic of subsequent scenes. When Juana Carducha accuses Andrés of theft, the accusation is naturally followed up by a searching of the saddlebags in which the false proof is discovered. Marcel Bataillon remarks upon the incidental nature of the episode: La violente irruption de la Carducha dans le destin d'Andrés n'est qu'un moment dans l'élaboration de La Gitanilla. Mais Cervantès a su donner à cet épisode d'une légende les couleurs de la vie.22 The episode is more relevant than Bataillon would have us believe: it embraces yet another necessary lie, the catalyst that unleashes a series of revelations. In the concluding scenes Preciosa's parents check and recheck the claims of these strangers. Their incredulity is the most understandable: they are experiencing a miracle and they are after all in dialogue with gipsies, figures traditionally regarded with distrust. Yet these successive verifications are merely the culminating investigations in a multi-layered structure of doubt and proof-seeking. Forcione comments that it is characteristic of writers of romance to surround their final peripeteia and dénouement with painful doubt and suspense, moving their action as close as possible to a catastrophic overthrow of the heroes or delaying their deliverance with a seemingly endless flow of last-minute obstacles.23 This
|9.1 (1989)||Mendacious Discourse in La Gitanilla||47|
structural requirement is easily accommodated in this story by an intensification
of the central dynamic the mistrust of the spoken word.
The blurring presence of poetry as an obstacle to clear interpretation is totally absent from the concluding stages of suspense-filled confusion. In the rapport between Preciosa and her milieu the problem of artfulness has been developed on both poetic and personal levels. In the final scenes the situation is being assessed in judicial terms by a professional magistrate. Just as Preciosa and Juan have learned to seek meaning beneath the spoken utterance, it is the professional practice of the Corregidor to listen to any given statement and assess its true value. In his interview with Juan in his prison cell, the Corregidor himself participates in another necessary lie: he deceives in order to extract the truth from Juan. He feigns surprise at Juan's categorical assertion that no es posible que Preciosa diga mentira. He replies, ¿Tan verdadera es? . . . No es poco serlo, para ser gitana (p. 66). This short dialogue is important on several counts: it brings to mind the two Preciosas, the gipsy who is capable of maintaining a frivolous conversation with her public and the private, noble upholder of verbal integrity. The truth-lie dichotomy is also intensified in this exchange between gipsy and judiciary. The enigmatic personality of Preciosa is forever present: she is an artist who can separate herself from her art but who holds on securely to the insights she has gained through it. Unlike Pedro de Urdemalas, her nearest rival in terms of artistic performance, who virtually withdraws into fiction, she holds on tenaciously to the truth.
Although this romantic tale reaches a happy conclusion, its portrait of language appears to run counter to this emotional optimism. This story was not conceived principally to idealize the language of love. Amid the sustained verbal scepticism the intimate and edifying colloquies between Preciosa and Andrés are summed up in the one single phrase: Pasaba Andrés con Preciosa honestos, discretos y enamorados coloquios (p. 45). This is obviously not the place for amorous eloquence: Preciosa has already dismissed it from their dialogue. The principal characters are more concerned with the unveiling of the lie.
In his illuminating Reading and Fiction in Golden Age Spain, Barry Ife recounts the problematic relationship of reader vis-à-vis printed matter. He focuses on the tension between Platonic moralists and theorists, for whom secular literature was mendacious and ultimately dangerous, and the Aristotelians who delighted in manipulating the
distinction between fact and
fiction.24 In La Gitanilla
it is the validity of the spoken word that is constantly doubted and questioned
and the potential ambiguity in everyday discourse is brought into vivid relief.
Preciosa gains this privileged insight through her practised art and through
the suspicion with which gipsy society is regarded, her father through his
frequent, professional encounters with the criminal confession. The imposing
presence of poetry provides another essential layer of ambiguity to confuse
the issue of identities, relationships and true meanings. The tale does not,
as is implied by Forcione in his Cervantes, Aristotle and the Persiles,
link poetry, Clemente and the Cervantine artist in general with criminality.
It rather divulges a broader principle that of multivalence and complexity
in the disarmingly simple act of speech. While the old gipsy would unflinchingly
exchange a yes for a no, controlling this arbitrary use of language and meaning
is Preciosa's literary raison d'être.
In speaking of artistic deception throughout this study I am by no means supporting the argument of sixteenth-century moralists and their condemnation of literature as a lie. This is not Cervantes's attitude. I hope rather to signal the very richness of the ambiguities in both literary and non-literary discourse which form an undercurrent throughout Cervantes's prose after La Galatea. Thereafter many of his characters are either perpetrators or victims of word games.
Forcione takes this concept of artistic deceit one very general step further: Cervantes's various surrogate poets have little in common with the inspired figures who haunt the groves and springs of Parnassus. Nearly all of them are tainted with criminality; they glory not in the act of edification but rather in the act of deception.25 In writing these lines Forcione also has in mind characters such as Pedro de Urdemalas, the false captives of Persiles y Sigismunda (III, 10) and Periandro when he fails to convince Mauricio with the hyperbole of his narration (II, 20). From these widely diverse examples it can be seen just how arbitrarily Forcione endows the title of poet on many Cervantine characters. Pedro de Urdemalas is a versatile actor; Persiles is a romantic hero who is only once caught in the act of exaggerating his own achievements, although the implication is that he stretches the credibility of his audience for much of his narration; the false captives (III, 10) are wily but essentially harmless tricksters. These are artists and performers in the broad sense rather than pure poets. Forcione does not make this very necessary distinction. Since a detailed analysis of the performer as compared and contrasted with the poet is not a practicable undertaking at this juncture, I shall
|9.1 (1989)||Mendacious Discourse in La Gitanilla||49|
establish some basic differences but largely confine my comments to the nature
and function of the poet alone.
Forcione poses one fundamental question, although he fails to answer it satisfactorily: Why does Cervantes surround his poets with such negative attributes; does it reflect a major function which Cervantes associates with the artistic undertaking?26 It is true that Clemente's symbolic value as poet and outlaw is unarguable, but he does not answer the requirements of Cervantes's deceptive artists such as Pedro de Urdemalas and Maese Pedro. Although in characters such as Ginés de Pasamonte creativity is linked with a degree of lawlessness, I do not agree with Forcione's concept of the poet's infernal associations, either in La Gitanilla or anywhere else in the Cervantine opus. Neither Preciosa nor Juan nor Clemente fits into the normal pattern of deceptive artist; their social status precludes it for a start. Preciosa does not carry the artistic lie into her private life: Juan cannot sustain his performance and allows the gentleman within him precedence at the crucial moment of the soldier's insult: Clemente, the figure upon whom Forcione focuses when he speaks of infernal symbolism, is a non-achiever, he possesses neither the will nor the imagination to rank among Cervantes's enterprising performers. On his own confession merely aficionado a la poesía, he is committed to neither truth nor fiction, an aimless, naive talent. He is as much at the mercy of language as manipulative of it. Preciosa is a gipsy who, beyond the limits of her art, cannot and will not lie: Juan belies his noble station in a series of deceptions: Clemente, although capable of lying via the medium of the courtly cliché, has too little imagination and creativity to sustain his lie in his dialogue with Juan. Thus the potential for truth and untruth reveals itself in the three central personalities.
In Cervantes's fictional society and exclusive of the pastoral idyll it is the bad or wildly ambitious poet who appears most frequently, in ironic or burlesque guise. One unimpressive example is the poet-soldier of El juez de los divorcios who, in the words of his estranged wife, en toda la noche no sosiega, dando vueltas . . . haciendo un soneto en la memoria para un amigo . . . y da en ser poeta, como si fuese oficio con quien no estuviese vinculada la necesidad del mundo.27 The playwright who shares his bread with Berganza in the concluding stages of El coloquio de los perros is another self-deluding idealist. The examples are numerous. El Licenciado Vidriera's thoughts on poetry and the poets are significant at this point: Preguntóle otro estudiante que en qué estimación tenía a los poetas. Respondió que a
la ciencia en mucha; pero que a los poetas en
ninguna.28 Sir Philip
Sidney, in his own apology for poetry, draws a similar distinction between
the poet and his art. When poetry falls short of ideal theories, it
is not the fault of the art, but that by few men that art can be
The buffon Madrigal in La gran Sultana is another character who considers himself a poet. He looks forward in Act III to returning to Spain from captivity where he will be able to narrate his adventures:30
|¡O! ¡Qué cosas les diré! Y aun pienso|
|pues tengo ya el camino medio andado|
|siendo poeta, hazerme comediante.|
There is, however, a distinction to be drawn here. This inclination to poetry
is just one facet of Madrigal's personality. He is far too adept at convincing
the Cadí that he can make an elephant talk to be a mere poet. Most
Cervantine poets convince no-one of anything. In general the confidence trickster
or illusionist is a far more imaginative and enterprising character. Consider
especially the intellectual distance between the eloquent illusionist Chanfalla
and Gomecillos, the Governor of the village whom he fools, and who furthermore
prides himself on his puntos y collar de poeta in El retablo
de las maravillas.31 Although
Mary Randel (like Forcione) does not draw the theoretical divide between
confidence trickster and poet, she succinctly deals with their
practical differences: La oposición entre los autores del invisible
Retablo y el autor de comedias sin representar, no es, sino una expresión
más de la paradoja inherente a todo arte: la misteriosa alianza entre
el que engaña a los demás y el que engaña a sí
mismo.32 Gomecillos, with
the characteristic ingenuousness of the Cervantine poet, is fooled by these
illusionists. The only parenthesis in the ever more vigorous dialogue is
provided by this poet, who is misguided by the very fervour of
the spoken word.
This basic difference between performer and poet has obvious implications for our focal poet, Clemente. Akin to even the most laughable of Cervantine poets, he takes himself very seriously. Preciosa, by way of contrast, adopts a theatrical playfulness and like other Cervantine artists, she enters into the spirit of the game. In his naiveté Clemente is trapped within his romantic metaphors, causing both the jealous Juan and the reader to suspect his motives. Yet he is obviously uncomfortable with lies: in fact, it is Juan who upbraids him for his pathetic attempts to mislead. Clemente, in spite of all the
|9.1 (1989)||Mendacious Discourse in La Gitanilla||51|
external differences between himself and other Cervantine poets his talent, his status and the relative dignity that Cervantes accords him is another of Cervantes's stunted poets. Whereas the likes of the poet-soldier in El juez are thwarted by a lack of talent, Clemente is thwarted by circumstance and outlawed out of the picture. He is not, however, banished from the scene on the same terms as Plato's poets from his Republic for lying. If anything, he is removed from the scene because he does not lie well enough. The deception that works so well for Andrés is woefully inadequate for Clemente. He abandons verbal deception when Andrés refuses to believe that he has lost his way.33 This is crucial: other individuals, such as the afore-mentioned false captives in the Persiles are given credit for the creativity of their lies. Even in the case of Preciosa and Juan lying functions as a justifiable means to an end. Although the lawlessness imposed upon Clemente after the romantic adventure in Madrid links him with other lawless artists such as Ginés de Pasamonte, he does not possess their worldly wisdom, imagination or enterprise. It is his poetry that temporarily misleads Juan and reader alike into expecting more of him. Preciosa does not fall into the same trap: in her capacity as a performer she has the power to analyze, control and manipulate language. Clemente is ultimately the victim of his own art. Cervantes often portrays the poet as the derisible victim of his own illusions.34
|Absorto en sus quimeras, y admirado|
|De sus mismas acciones . . .|
Such a figure is laughable for even attempting to embrace so exalted an art
form. Although Clemente is granted the dignity of composing poetry that is
lauded by the public, as a fictional character he is doomed, not only by
the essential requirements of the plot and the peace of mind of Andrés
Caballero but by his poetic pursuit: outside the confines of the pure pastoral
Cervantes's poets are frequently subject to criticism and ridicule.
The architecture of La Gitanilla reflects its essential statement on language. Within an ostensibly idealized framework of poetry and love the progressive invalidation of the word is quite acute, and Clemente's poetic clichés are accordingly rendered null and void. Whereas Chanfalla in El Retablo successfully mesmerizes his audience with la nada hecha palabra, in La Gitanilla this palabra is sceptically and systematically reduced to nothing: the language both of literature and of life is rendered subject to this scrutiny. While Chanfalla celebrates the triumph of his imaginative eloquence, Preciosa reaps
the rewards of her capacity to transcend deception and become the Doña Costanza beneath her grandmother's lie. El Retablo disingenuously fabricates illusions: La Gitanilla ingeniously demolishes them.
|NEW HALL COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE|
Joaquín Casalduero, Sentido y Forma del Teatro de Cervantes,
(Madrid: Aguilar, 1951), p. 217.
2 All references to the text are to the following edition: Novelas Ejemplares, (Mexico: Espasa-Calpe Mexicana, 1981).
3 E. Michael Gerli, Idealism and Irony in La Gitanilla, Cervantes 6 (Spring 1986): 29-38 (29).
4 Alban K. Forcione, Cervantes, Aristotle and the Persiles, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), p. 324.
5 Linguistic Perspectivism in the Don Quijote, Linguistics and Literary History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1948).
6 Pierce, La Gitanilla: A Tale of High Romance, BHS 54 (1977): 283-295, 287; Casalduero, Sentido y Forma de las Novelas Ejemplares, (Buenos Aires: University of Buenos Aires Press, 1943), p. 76.
7 Pierce, La Gitanilla, 28.
8 Lope de Vega Carpio, El arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo, ed. Juana de José Prades, (Madrid: Clásicos Hispánicos, 1971), p. 298, lines 319, 323 and 324 respectively.
9 Forcione, Cervantes and the Humanist Vision (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), p. 94.
10 Ruth El Saffar, Novel to Romance: A Study of Cervantes's Novelas Ejemplares (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), p. 97.
11 J. B. Avalle-Arce, La Gitanilla, Cervantes, 1 (1981), 9-17 (12).
12 Don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. Martín de Riquer (Barcelona: Editorial Juventud, 1955), p. 649.
13 Thus the stylised poetry of love ceases to function as a means of communication (which is its role in the pastoral): it remains as an aesthetic superficiality, an artistic lie.
14 Don Quijote, p. 560.
15 Plato, Republic, trans. H. D. P. Lee; ed. E. V. Rieu (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1955), p. 115.
16 C. G. Prado, Making Believe: Philosophical Reflections on Fiction, (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984), p. 85.
17 Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1980), pp. 163 and 101 respectively.
18 A. A. Parker El concepto de la verdad en el Quijote, Revista de Filología Española, 33 (1948), 287-305 (397).
19 Viaje del Parnaso, ed. Miguel Herrero García, (Madrid: Clásicos Hispánicos, 1983), pp. 256 and 257.
20 La Galatea, ed. J. B. Avalle-Arce, (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1968), p. 187.
21 The Humanist Vision, p. 317.
22 Marcel Bataillon, La Dénonciation Mensongère dans La Gitanilla, BH 52 (1950) 274-76, (276).
|9.1 (1989)||Mendacious Discourse in La Gitanilla||53|
The Humanist Vision, p. 152.
24 Barry Ife, Reading and Fiction in Golden Age Spain (Cambridge Iberian and Latin American Studies, 1985).
25 The Humanist Vision, p. 306.
27 Entremeses, ed. Miguel Herrero García, (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1981), p. 14.
28 Novelas ejemplares, p. 118.
29 Sir Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, (London: T. Nelson, 1965), pp. 35 and 36.
30 Comedias y entremeses, vol. II, eds. Rodolfo Schevill and Adolfo Bonilla (Madrid: Bernardo Rodríguez, 1914), p. 215.
31 Entremeses, ed. Miguel Herrero García, (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1981), p. 166.
32 Mary Gaylord Randel, La Poesía y los Poetas en los Entremeses de Cervantes, Anales Cervantinos 20 (1982): 73-203 (196).
33 Anne E. Wiltrout, Role Playing and Rites of Passage. La ilustre fregona and La gitanilla, Hispania 64, (1981) 388-99 (396).
34 El viaje, I, lines 97 and 98.
||Digitized with the help of Contessa Marion||
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