From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
13.1 (1993): 65-75.
Copyright © 1993, The Cervantes Society of America
HERE IS GENERAL agreement that the action of El gaIlardo español centres on the deeds of the protagonist, don Fernando, el héroe de la acción in the words of Gustavo Correa (291). That action develops along two lines, Correa argues, the national and the personal. On the national level don Fernando is a hero in his defence of Oran, on a personal scale he is the obsessive object of Arlaxa's curiosity and doña Margarita's love. As the heroic figure uniting the national interest and the personal, don Fernando becomes, Correa concludes, the encarnación de la fama (292). Joaquín Casalduero also draws attention to the intrepid qualities of the protagonist. In the introduction to his Sentido y forma del teatro de Cervantes, Casalduero summarises the content of the play as one in which se construye el pedestal de admiración al héroe histórico español (27). Toda la acción de la comedia va dirigida, he says when discussing the play itself, hacia la gallarda . . . hacia el gallardo (35). The heroic defence of Oran is assured thanks to the valour of one individual: El heroísmo se encarna en los hechos de un gallardo el gallardo español, don Fernando de Saavedra . . . (54-55). An integral component of this praise of Spanish heroism is the constant opposition between Christian and Moslem worlds, epitomised by the two
women who, for different reasons, are anxious to meet don Fernando: La
acción está concebida partiendo de un sentimiento cristiano.
Cervantes enfrenta los dos campos árabe y español,
haciendo que de cada zona surja un deseo femenino de admirar al
William A. Stapp is less attracted by the nationalistic or religious aspect of the play, and sees it rather as an instance of Cervantes's interest in the contrast between fame and reality. Taking Arlaxa's and doña Margarita's obsession with the fame of don Fernando as his point of departure, Stapp examines the differences between what they have heard about him and his actions in the play, and concludes that Cervantes tenía la pretensión de crear . . . una realidad más profunda de la que se nos presenta a los ojos y la que las ideas preconcebidas nos presentan a los oídos (136). The avenue opened by Stapp is illuminating and more rewarding for my purpose than the lines followed by Correa and Casalduero, but his contention that don Fernando's character is mudable and inconstante (129) and that lo que le interesa a don Fernando es la apariencia (129) overlooks the imperative imposed by the protagonist's misplaced sense of honour. Curiously, the matter of honour, introduced by don Fernando when don Alonso questions his intentions following Alimuzel's challenge (ya se sabe que suelo / a lo que es honra acudir, I, 235-36), has been overlooked by critics. My objective in this paper is 1) to examine how that sense of honour dictates don Fernando's actions, and 2) to explore the repercussions arising from his preoccupation with his fame.
Don Fernando epitomises the much praised man-of-action whose renown is such that he has awoken the obsessive curiosity of one woman (Arlaxa) and the love of another (doña Margarita) without either of them having seen him. Arlaxa, who has seen don Fernando only through the words of the slave Oropesa, admits that his nombre sobrehumano / me incita y mueve el deseo / de velle (II, 1135-37).1 The description that immediately follows of how don Fernando single-handedly captured a Turkish vessel (II, 1136-1200) is a concrete example of Oropesa's exaggerated praise and explains Arlaxa's curiosity. An individual who is the prototype for such illustrious heroes as Hercules,
edition I have used is that of Florencio Sevilla Arroyo and Antonio Rey Hazas,
Miguel de Cervantes: Teatro completo. Barcelona: Planeta, 1987. All
emphasis in quotations from the text are mine.
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Hector and Roland (II, 1206) is indeed a figure worthy of attention. The point is, of course, that don Fernando has become a myth, a poetic creation larger than life. From the very opening scene, before we have had an opportunity to meet him, Arlaxa draws attention to his legendary status:
|deste Atlante de su España,|
|su nuevo Cid, su Bernardo,|
|su don Manuel el gallardo|
|por una y otra hazaña.|
|Quiero de cerca miralle . . . (I, 41-45).|
Doña Margarita has been subjected to
the same kind of extravagant eulogies by her aged mentor, the hidalgo
Vozmediano. Having been advised by Vozmediano that she should marry the noble
i.e., don Fernando who had earlier defeated her brother in a
duel, doña Margarita has pursued not a man but un Adonis / y
[un] Marte . . . en la Tierra (III, 2221-22).
Great things are expected of heroes whose fame no se en cierra / en límites (I, 191-92), but the kind of individual envisaged by both Arlaxa and doña Margarita can only exist in legend. There is no question that don Fernando is a valiant figure. His spirited defence of Oran, in Act III where he wounds ten of the enemy and kills three, according to Guzmán (III, 2824) proves it. From the point of view of his martial prowess, therefore, his conduct corresponds to the fame he has acquired. It is the stuff from which legends are made. But what are we to make of his behaviour before the defence of Oran? Both his words and his conduct argue for a portrait that is far removed from the heroic stature that Correa and Casalduero unquestioningly attribute to him. When Alimuzel challenges him early in the play, don Fernando's reply is what is to be expected from what we have heard about him: he is eager to accept. Responding to the question posed by don Alonso, encharged with the defence of Oran: Luego ¿pensáis de salir? (I, 233), don Fernando affirms that . . . ya se sabe que suelo / a lo que es honra acudir (I, 235-36). The code of honour is an imperative that must be obeyed.
The exchange between don Alonso and don Fernando at this moment is crucial to my understanding of the play because it establishes clearly the protagonist's priorities. His request for permission to fight Alimuzel elicits a reply from don Alonso that
needs to be reproduced in full, since it determines the direction of the action in the rest of the play:
|No es posible que aora os valga|
|vuestra noble valentía.|
|No quiero que allá salgáis,|
|porque hallaréis, si miráis|
|a la soldadesca ley,|
|que obligado a vuestro rey|
|mucho más que a vos estáis.|
|En la guerra usanza es vieja,|
|y aun ley casi principal,|
|a toda razón aneja,|
|que por causa general|
|la particular se deja.|
|Porque no es suyo el soldado|
|que está en presidio encerrado|
|sino de aquel que le encierra,|
|y no ha de hacer otra guerra|
|sino a la que se ha obligado.|
|En ningún modo sois vuestro,|
|sino del rey, y en su nombre|
|sois mío, según lo muestro;|
|y yo no aventuro un hombre|
|que es de la guerra maestro|
|por la simple niñería|
|de una amorosa porfía;|
|don Fernando, esto es verdad (I, 240-64).|
These lines early in the play clearly enunciate the principles that govern a soldier's conduct: his duty is first to the king or his representative and all personal concerns are subordinated to that law. Don Fernando's protest provokes the firm rejoinder yo guardo aquí el decoro / que la guerra pide y quiere, / y della ninguno ignoro (I, 269-71). Unlike don Fernando, whose concern is with the opinion of his challenger ¿Qué dirá el moro? (I, 267), don Alonso recognises that the siege of Oran endangers all; personal whims in this case based on a simple niñería (I, 262) must therefore be put to one side in favour of the protection of all. Don Fernando's reaction, as soon as his superior retires, shows how little he has understood don Alonso's counsel or how reluctant he is to submit his self-interest to the common good:
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|Que me estará a mí muy mal|
|eso, es cosa manifiesta.|
|Solo a mí me desafía,|
|y gran mengua me sería|
|que otro por mí pelease.|
|Mas si el moro me esperase|
|allí siquiera otro día,|
|yo le saldré a responder (I, 290- 97).|
Concerned only with himself, don Fernando is prepared, as Guzmán makes
clear to Alimuzel, to break cualquier bando (I, 446), which indeed
he does. Canavaggio (393) glosses don Fernando's decision as a
désobéissance momentanée and judges his
defection as something contrary to his true character. But don Fernando clearly
makes a choice, placing his own interests above those of his fellow Christians;
he can scarcely be forgiven then as un être engagé dans
une succession d'événements dont il ne parvient pas à
maîtriser le cours (393). Friedman (30) sees don Fernando's
disobedience as a willingness to defy imposed restrictions and
an attempt to assert his authenticity as an individual. But the fame he has
already acquired would suggest that don Fernando should have no need to seek
such authenticity. Heroes acquire fame through their deeds, and don Fernando's
valour is already widely recognised, in which case his act of defiance seems
even more petulant.
Don Fernando might attribute his subsequent transgression to the intransigence of don Alonso in not giving him permission to accept Alimuzel's challenge. The fact remains, however, that he is a selfish individual who, having been offered a perfectly acceptable and legally and morally recognised argument against a duel, still persists in pursuing his own vanity. Such egoism will later earn the condemnation of both don Martín and don Alonso. When Guzmán attempts to explain that don Fernando's affiliation with the enemy is only temporary, don Martín states bluntly: ha caído en culpa, / y no hay disculpa a tanto disparate (II, 1944-45). Don Alonso is equally forthright: Salió sin mi licencia, ya le culpa, / y más el escalar de la muralla, / insulto que jamás tendrá disculpa (II, 1945-47). De Armas (256) underestimates the gravity of don Fernando's action, seeing the defection as a loss of judgement por cierto exceso, and furthermore justifiable. The words of don Martín and don Alonso, two nobles whose integrity is never questioned, should
alert us, however, to the seriousness of don Fernando's error. Indeed, don
Alonso's conduct in particular stands in contrast to that of don Fernando.
The General is, as Guzmán points out to Alimuzel, sabio
(I, 433) and prudente / y en la guerra gran maestro (I, 435-36).
At the end of Act I, he wisely orders a truce between the warring Robledo
and Guzmán as long as Oran is under siege. Later he is seen to reassure
don Martín that he will not act precipitously in response to Nacor's
treacherous offer of assistance: Hermano . . . no tengáis
miedo / que yo me arroje o precipite en nada (II, 1423-24).
The degree of don Fernando's obsession with his fame is illustrated when he defects to the enemy. The folly of such action in view of the circumstances increases the dangers already faced by the Christians. It is a form of madness which blinds him to the potentially grave repercussions deriving from his conduct. O está don Fernando loco, / o es ya de Cristo enemigo a confused Oropesa concludes (II, 1641-42) after hearing don Fernando promise to protect Arlaxa even against his fellow Christians. Oropesa's binary accusation echoes a similar conclusion expressed by the perplexed Robledo when confronted by Guzmán, at the end of Act I: O él [don Fernando] se fue a renegar, / o hizo mal en dejar (I, 1065-66). Both criticisms are correct, notwithstanding don Fernando's avowal that he is a Christian (cristiano soy, no lo dudes II, 1757). He is mad and has erred in abandoning his post at such a critical moment, simply to satisfy his own sense of honour. The battle between two Christians, Robledo and Guzmán (at the end of Act I), directly as a result of don Fernando's vanity, is an early instance of the discord created by his madness.
The confusion culminates when don Fernando takes up the sword against his correligionists, cutting short Oropesa's admonition (Mira contra quién te armas II, 1664) with a brusque ¡Calla, Oropesa! II, 1665. At this point, even the public, which has been apprised of don Fernando's decisions throughout, must question his sanity. Even Guzmán, who has defended him at all times, is sufficiently perturbed to ask a series of questions that challenge his friend's actions when he himself faces him on the battlefield:
|¿Sois ya de Cristo enemigo?|
|. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .|
|Pues, ¿cómo sacas la espada|
|contra El? . . . . . . . . . . . .|
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|. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .|
|¿Por qué a defender acudes|
|este aduar? . . . . . . . . . II, 1750-59|
Later, when a convinced Guzmán endeavours to justify don Fernando's
actions as a question of honour (Precipitóle honor; vistió
la malla / por conservar su crédito famoso II, 1948), don
Martín is moved to comment sarcastically: ¡Por cierto,
oh buen Guzmán, que estáis donoso! / Pues, ¿cómo
no se ha vuelto [don Fernando], o cómo muestra / contra cristianos
ánimo brioso? (II, 1951-53). Actions speak louder than words
and the matter cannot be explained away in terms of appearance. Don Fernando
does fight against fellow Spaniards and sows confusion everywhere, although
it must be conceded that there is no record of his killing any Christians.
Perhaps the confusion is best summarised in the oxymoron uttered by Alimuzel when attacked by don Fernando who, he had been led to believe, was now his ally: Poco puedo y poco valgo / con este amigo enemigo III, 2778-79. The conclusion of the contest underlines the singularly indeterminate world in which don Fernando finds himself, one in which his integrity is cast into doubt since he is perceived as neither true Moor nor true Christian: ¡Muerto me has, Alimuzel cries, moro fingido / y cristiano mal cristiano III, 2812-13. But he can blame no one else for this; he is himself the agent of his fate.
The confusion also extends beyond the battlefield, but again it is the result of don Fernando's actions. It culminates when the new identities adopted by don Fernando himself, doña Margarita and Vozmediano leave don Juan (doña Margarita's brother) so bewildered that he even begins to doubt his own identity: tampoco soy yo don Juan, / sino algún hombre encantado III, 2916-17.
Don Fernando's return to the Christian camp is effected when he battles Alimuzel. It is the first step in his reintegration, but is not in itself sufficient to restore him completely. Don Fernando himself must recognise publicly that he has committed an error of judgement. This first takes form immediately following his defeat of Alimuzel, when Guzmán and Buitrago urge him to withdraw in the face of danger. Don Fernando refuses, explaining:
|Yo, que escalé estas murallas,|
|aunque no para huir dellas,|
|he de morir al pie dellas,|
|y con la vida amparallas.|
|Conozco lo que me culpa,|
|y, aunque a la muerte me entregue,|
|haré la disculpa llegue|
|adonde llegó la culpa (III, 2848-55).|
Don Fernando is now prepared to die gloriously in order to rectify la culpa and redeem himself at the same time. Death in battle is to be expected of a valiant soldier and would expiate the fault committed (a fault which Guzmán has only just termed, significantly, as ofensa III, 2822). That is not, however, the solution for Cervantes. Don Fernando's defiance cannot be forgiven simply by a heroic death or the defeat of his enemies. By publicly disobeying his superior and la soldadesca ley, he has rebelled against don Alonso's legitimate authority. His return to the Christian fold must be accompanied also by an act of penitence; only then can he be absolved and harmony restored out of the confusion. Contrition is finally expressed when don Francisco, don Fernando's godfather, initiates the matter. Don Fernando's sentiments are interesting and carefully worded:
|Si confesar el delito,|
|con claro arrepentimiento,|
|mitiga en parte la ira|
|del juez que es sabio y recto,|
|yo, arrepentido, aunque tarde,|
|el mal que hice confieso,|
|sin dar más disculpa dél|
|que un honrado pensamiento.|
|A la voz del desafío|
|deste moro corrí ciego,|
|sin echar de ver los bandos|
|que al más bravo ponen freno.|
|Pero no es este lugar|
|para alargarme en el cuento|
|de mi extraña y rara historia,|
|que dejo para otro tiempo (III, 3011-26).|
What we observe here is a cautious modulation between pride and humility. Don Fernando's pride does not permit him to dwell on his transgression (Si confesar . . . Pero no es este lugar / para alargarme en el cuento), but on the other hand he does admit publicly that he had been blinded by the voz del
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desafío and ignored those laws which even the most valiant are bound to respect. For a man whose sense of his own fame has led him to ignore his obligations and who will even after his confession still identify himself to Arlaxa as don Fernando, el de la fama III, 3045 the admission must have required considerable effort. Rather than have don Fernando issue an abject apology, however, Cervantes has retained that quality of don Fernando that has been consistent throughout the play, his pride. Don Alonso's reply is suitably ambiguous, not only reminding don Fernando of his debt to his godfather, but also suggesting that his, i.e., don Alonso's, pardon is given in the spirit in which it is requested.
|Agradecedlo al padrino|
|que habéis tenido, que creo|
|que allí llegará la pena|
|do llegó el delito vuestro (III, 3027-30).|
Cervantes's approach to the question of fame
in this play is not as straightforward as it may at first appear. If don
Fernando is the encarnación de la fama, as claimed by
Correa (292) and echoed by others, then we should expect to find proof of
that assertion. But his conduct and the confusion that subsequently arises
scarcely allow for such unqualified praise. It might be true, as de Armas
says, that don Fernando becomes al recobrar su cordura el héroe
ejemplar de la batalla (257), but the point is that the play examines
precisely that lack of cordura which originates in don Fernando's
obsessive preoccupation with his honour. He is not an exemplary character
to judge from his actions in the play. To call his defection to the Moors
a momentary aberration or justifiable is also to overlook the clear warning
from don Alonso which he deliberately rejects.
Early in the play Cervantes sets before the public the polarities between collective welfare and personal interest, and between myth and reality. The legend is demythified when don Fernando puts his own concerns ahead of his obligations and acts accordingly. His defection is not a strategy intended to fool the Moors and ensure the safety of Oran. Such action could truly be considered heroic; the truth is that it goes no further than his own interests. Don Fernando is, like so many of the protagonists that we associate with the theatre of Lope, a character with a flaw which must be recognised by admission or eliminated with the death of the protagonist. The pattern is a familiar one in
Lope and his followers (Fuenteovejuna, Peribáñez, La Estrella de Sevilla, El burlador de Sevilla, etc.). Only after the flaw has been rectified can harmony be achieved, normally in the form of marriage. Cervantes adheres to that pattern with the pairing of don Fernando and doña Margarita, and Alimuzel and Arlaxa. Interestingly enough, he does not insist on the conversion of the two Moslems, a detail he would surely not have overlooked if his concern had been to emphasise the superiority of Christianity, as in Los baños de Argel. The focus in El gallardo español is not on religion nor on nationalistic sentiments. At no time does don Fernando even allude to them; they function primarily as the framework within which the action is developed. What stimulates that action is the fame that don Fernando has acquired, but the play questions the selfish indulgence of its hero. He has become a legend but his shortcomings are exposed when his honour blinds him to higher obligations.2
|UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO|
2 The title is misleading in a way not dissimilar to the fame of don Fernando that Arlaxa and doña Margarita have heard about. It leads to certain expectations which the public is invited to examine as the drama unfolds. Cervantes likes to play with titles. Some are loaded with contradictions that would have immediately provoked a reaction in his readers: Don Quijote de la Mancha, La ilustre fregona, La española inglesa; others lead to expectations that are undermined or require reassessment as in El gallardo español: La gitanilla, La fuerza de la sangre, Rinconete y Cortadillo.
de Armas, Frederick. Los excesos de Venus y Marte en El gallardo español. Cervantes, su obra y su mundo: Actas del I Congreso Internacional sobre Cervantes. Ed. Manuel Criado de Val. Madrid, 1981: 249-59.
Canavaggio, Jean. Cervantes Dramaturge: Un théâre à naître. N.p. Presses universitaires de France, 1977.
Casalduero, Joaquín. Sentido y forma del teatro de Cervantes. Madrid, 1966.
Correa, Gustavo. El concepto de la fama en el teatro de Cervantes. Hispanic Review 27 (1959): 280-303.
Friedman, Edward H. The Unifying Concept: Approaches to the Structure of Cervantes' Comedias. South Carolina, 1981.
Stapp, William. El gallardo español: La fama como arbitrio de la realidad. Anales Cervantinos 17 (1978): 123-36.
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