From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
14.1 (1994): 61-74.
Copyright © 1994, The Cervantes Society of America
NE of the most distinctive features of Cervantes' novel Don Quijote is its concern for timing. The hero is renowned for his bad timing, which reveals itself to wonderful effect both in his conduct and in his speech. While the most prominent example of bad timing involves Don Quijote's belated quest to revive chivalry, a less obvious but more insidious form involves his premature boasts and promises. Don Quijote is doubly anachronistic for he speaks too soon while acting too late. The uniqueness of Cervantes' achievement, as Georg Lukács was the first to observe, consists in his having portrayed such anachronism at a crucial juncture in history.1 Don Quijote is a timely exposure of bad timing, one that coincides with an increasing awareness of the irreversible nature of historical time and an increasing impatience with the static or circular time of epic. Just as Don Quijote's deeds betray the obsolescence of epic heroism so do his words reveal the obsolescence of epic time. If we attend carefully to the role of time in Don Quijote's language, we can better appreciate
Lukács, The Theory of the Novel, trans. Anna Bostock (Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press, 1971) 101-04.
the relationship of the emergence of the novel to the emergence of a new
historical consciousness in the early modern period.
One of Don Quijote's most endearing and endangering traits is his tendency to speak too soon. This tendency is epitomized in the superb phrase with which the hero assumes his daunting obligation to free a suppliant princess from the oppression of a terrible giant: todo esto doy ya por hecho (I, 30, 375) .3 On another occasion, emboldened by his success in single combat, Don Quijote daba por acabadas y a felice fin conducidas cuantas aventuras pudiesen sucederle de allí adelante (II, 16, 135). Later, having promised to champion the beauty of two young shepherdesses against all comers, he assures Sancho que con la razón que va de mi parte puedes dar por vencidos a todos cuantos quisieren contradecirla (II, 58, 493). The danger of such premature past participles as hecho, acabado,or vencido becomes apparent when, in fulfillment of his chivalrous promise to the hermosísimas pastoras, Don Quijote encounters a herd of bulls whose passage leaves him, in his own words, pisado y acoceado y molido (II, 59, 496). The resilient sense of destiny, of fulfilling a prescribed mission, that animates Don Quijote's courage and distorts his grammar eventually yields to the stampeding force of contingency that overwhelms his confidence in past models, especially literary models. In the process, Cervantes supersedes the temporal order and narrative logic of epic with a new understanding of time and sequence in narrative.
No convention better represents the teleological urgency of epic than prophecy, and for that reason epic prophecy is a prime target of Cervantes' parody. Don Quijote's generous use of the past participle, of which we have just seen a few examples, amounts to an abbreviation of epic prophecy, and his prophecies invariably reveal themselves to be false promises, based not on arrogance but on irresponsible reading. The epic prophecy, in its unironic form, serves to impose an irresistible progression on narrative events and to identify a fixed endpoint or goal. This function is linked, particularly in the Renaissance, to the genealogical
the best recent work on the modern understanding of historical time is Reinhart
Koselleck, Futurcs Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, trans.
Keith Tribe (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985). It is my ambition to enlist
the theory of history in the analysis of fiction to demonstrate how narrative
forms express their own sense of history.
3 Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce (Madrid: Alhambra, 1979) Part I, chapter 30, p. 375.
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concerns of dynastic fiction, and together these factors, genealogy and
teleology, constitute the logic of epic. Against this dynastic model of
narrative, Don Quijote opposes a parodic array of false prophecies
juxtaposed with an insistent meditation on linaje on the part
of a hero who refuses his family name. Don Quijote speaks too soon because,
in the contingent and open world of the novel, he can never inherit the epic
destiny that he considers his birthright.
On two occasions Don Quijote expresses his sense of professional vocation through a paraphrase of Virgil's famous formula of Roman destiny: parcere subiectis et debellare superbos (Aen. VI, 853).4 Upon taking leave of his host Don Diego de Miranda whom he first encountered in the adventure of the lions, Don Quijote wishes he could take Don Diego's son Don Lorenzo with him as an apprentice knight errant para enseñarle cómo se han de perdonar los sujetos y supeditar y acocear los soberbios, virtudes anejas a la profesión que yo profeso (II, 18, 165). This project of heroic pedagogy is a wonderful conflation of epic and romance that reveals Don Quijote's devoutly imitative notion of duty, His sense of epic mission is moreover prophetic since its subtext is a prophecy. In book six of the Aeneid, where Aeneas ventures to the underworld, his father Anchises conjures up a prophetic roll call of Roman history during which he foretells Rome's predilection for the arts of government:
|tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento|
|hae tibi erunt artes, pacique imponere morem,|
|parcere subjectis et debellare superbos.|
Through the use of the imperative memento and the future erunt, Virgil exhorts his readers to remember the future, that is to have confidence in the recurrence of the past. The philosophical basis for such confidence is the doctrine of reincarnation and eternal return that Anchises expounded as the prologue to his prophecy, The epic sense of recurrent time is precisely what inspires Don Quijote's supreme confidence in destiny despite the manifestly errant and unpredictable style of his adventures. Unlike Augustus, Cervantes' hero never manages to impose a pax Romana on his hostile environment, but he does repeat his motto of perdonar a los humildes y castigar a
paraphrase has been noticed by many critics. See Arturo Marasso,
Cervantes (Buenos Aires, 1947) p. 101.
los soberbios in a later episode (II, 52, 444). His prophecies are
repeated rather than fulfilled.
While the historical past is irreversible, the fictional past is recurrent, but Don Quijote does not make this distinction.5 He attributes to destiny what can only be achieved by a narrator. One way for the novelist to usurp the role of destiny is to order events so that characters anticipate certain episodes of the story without having any prescience of history. For instance, at the house of don Diego, Don Quijote announces his intention of visiting the Cave of Montesinos, which he does five chapters later. Then in his descent into the cave, which is reminiscent of Aeneas' catabasis,6 he claims to meet the hero Montesinos, who hails him as el gran caballero de quien tantas cosas tiene profetizadas el sabio Merlín (II, 23). The role of Merlin's prophecies is here primarily retrospective in their reminder of Bradamante's visit to Merlin's cave in canto III of the Furioso, but they do look forward to a later episode of the novel where the Duke and Duchess stage a nocturnal procession in which their steward impersonates Merlin the Magician and delivers a prophecy in conspicuously halting meter (II, 35). This episode in turn is based on the Duke and Duchess' knowledge of chivalric literary tradition.7 In this way, Don Quijote is able to relive the past but only because of the arbitrary intervention of his hosts, who are agents of the novelist, and not because of any force of destiny.
The best-known instance of narrative prophecy in Don Quijote involves Sancho's often-promised island. When Don Quijote recruits his squire, he promises to make him governor of an island, and Sancho's very first speech in the novel is a plea to his master not to forget his promise (I, 7). Of course Don Quijote has no means whatsoever to fulfill this promise, but the anticipation of Sancho's island is sustained throughout the first part by various reminders which are also narrative foreshadowings of the second part. The best example of such a technique occurs in the Sierra Morena episode where Dorotea impersonates the Princess Micomicona and implores Don Quijote's aid against her imaginary adversary Pandofilando de la Fosca Vista. Complaining that
Wardropper emphasizes Don Quijote's failure to discriminate between
history and story in his article Don Quijote: Story or
History? Modern Philology 63 (1965) 1-11.
6 See Marasso 110.
7 Or perhaps they are remembering the Aeneid. Marasso compares Merlin to Virgil's Sibyl (139).
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the evil giant has usurped her realm, she insists that only Don Quijote can
restore her to the throne, just as her own father prophesied: que todo
esto ha de suceder a pedir de boca, pues así lo dejó profetizado
Tinacrio el Sabidor, mi buen padre (I, 30, 372). Here Dorotea speaks
too soon, but with perfect awareness of doing so. Don Quijote, however, replies
in all sincerity that he will be happy to dispatch the giant and that he
considers the job as good as done: que todo esto doy ya por hecho.
What appealed to Dorotea, and thus to Cervantes, as a fantastic parody of
chivalric adventures appears to Don Quijote as a fact or hecho
whose grammatical status as a past participle somehow ensures its reality.
For a naive reader, the past is factual: the past tense converts fantasy
While Don Quijote and Dorotea exchange their false prophecies, one sincere and one parodic, Sancho begins to worry about his future as a governor since his master has chastely refused Dorotea's offer of her hand and her throne as a reward for his imaginary victory. To reconcile the knight and his squire, Dorotea assures the latter that God will provide for him: tened confianza en Dios, que no os ha de faltar un estado donde viváis como un príncipe (376). Whereas Dorotea has no reason to assume that Sancho will ever live like a prince, the Duke and Duchess vindicate her prediction, which they know from their reading of part I, when they appoint Sancho the governor of Barataria in part II. Dorotea proposes and Cervantes disposes. The novel, while disclaiming any influence over historical time, can effortlessly arrange narrative time so that events recall and foreshadow other events within the story.
To assert the autonomy of narrative time even further, the novel can also disprove its own prophecies, especially when they have been fulfilled by apocryphal continuators. This occurs in Don Quijote when the hero, his hopes of chivalric glory trampled on by the herd of bulls, arrives at an inn where he discovers Avellaneda's version of the second part of his adventures (II, 59). Avellaneda had followed the lead of the final chapter of the first part of the novel and sent his bogus Don Quijote to participate in the tournament of Saint George in Saragossa, the goal that Don Quijote frequently assigns himself in the second
8 In this
way Cervantes anticipates Paul Valéry's insight into la naïve
et bizarre structure de notre croyance au passé
from Fragments des mémoires d'un poème in
Oeuvres, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, vol. 1 (Paris:
Gallimard, 1957) p. 1469.
part of Cervantes' novel (II, 4; II, 18). However, when he reads the false
version of his adventures, Don Quijote, el verdadero, abruptly
changes course from Saragossa to Barcelona, thus discrediting Avellaneda
and his false prophecies. At the same time, Cervantes discredits the force
of teleology, showing that his story does not tend to any fixed destination
and is never bound to the past, not even to its own past. The geography of
Cervantes' novel is also quite original since, as many earnest editors have
pointed out, one doesn't ordinarily go from La Mancha to Saragossa by way
of Montesinos' Cave. Apparently, they don't appreciate that Don Quijote is
a knight errant. The novelist draws his own map just as he measures his own
time, independently of any real, historical sequence.
Don Quijote's problematic relationship to the past reveals itself most strikingly in chapter 21 of the first part, a chapter which is famous primarily for its beginning, although the ending illustrates equally well Don Quijote's unique mentality. This chapter first recounts the hero's conquest of the Yelmo de Mambrino, an episode inspired by Ariostan and Virgilian precedents.9 Since the Virgilian intertext, Aeneid VIII, describes Vulcan's gift of prophetic armor to Aeneas, Cervantes' yelmo may well recall the prophetic pretensions of epic.10 In any event, the auspicious acquisition of the pseudo-helmet at the outset of the chapter inspires Don Quijote in the remaining pages to launch into an insanely ingenious narrative of chivalric love and glory that culminates with a disillusioned discourse on genealogy. It is this story within the story, the most detailed example of Don Quijote's tendency to speak too soon, that best demonstrates the novel's consciousness of narrative time.
Secure in the possession of his coveted helmet and prompted by Sancho to consider ways to rescue his heroism from anonymity
Marasso, pp. 39-44 and Michael McGaha, Fuentes y sentido del episodio
del Yelmo de Mambrino en el Quijote de 1605 in
Cervantes: su obra,y su mundo, ed. Manuel Criado de Val (Madrid, 1981)
10 Confirming Cervantes' parody of the divine armor of Aeneid VIII, McGaha suggests another parallel to the underworld voyage of Aeneid VI, reinforcing the prophetic associations of the helmet. McGaha argues convincingly for Cervantes' rejection of the supernatural elements in Virgil and I would suggest that prophecy, being supratemporal, is one of the main such elements. Moreover, in rejecting epic temporality, Don Quijote may be said to reject the epic itself or rather to declare that form irrevocably past.
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and oblivion, Don Quijote tells the story of a knight who should go to court,
will meet the king, does win the love of the princess and did inherit the
throne. This remarkable manipulation of tense, noticed but rarely explained
by the commentators,11 captures one facet
of Don Quijote's locura, his impulse to circumvent time in language.
His madness merits a grammatical analysis. Frida Weber de Kurlat has already
provided an excellent discussion of the syntax and style of this episode
without however acknowledging the peculiarity of the verb
tenses.12 She does point out that the tempo
of Don Quijote's miniature romance is quite swift in distinct contrast to
the dragging pace of ordinary chivalric romance. The swift pace in turn
accentuates the impact of the tense shift, tracing a rapid regression from
future to past. At the outset of the story, the anonymous protagonist will
be greeted enthusiastically by the king and his court, who will recognize
him for his past deeds: Este es dirán el que
venció en singular batalla al gigantazo Brocabruno de la Gran Fuerza;
el que desencantó al Gran Mameluco de
Persia . . . (255). This is an example of hypothetical
direct discourse where the preterite form of venció and
desencantó serves not to describe a fact but to propose
an hypothesis, an unrealized possibility. Like the premature past participle,
the hypothetical preterite is a distinctive trait of Don Quijote's grammar
and one that achieves special prominence in this episode.
Another feature worth noting is the use of haber as an auxiliary of the future tense, as if the future were obligated to follow a predetermined pattern. Once at court, the knight will meet the king's daughter, que ha de ser una de las más fermosas y acabadas doncellas que en gran parte de lo descubierto de la tierra a duras penas se pueda hallar. Naturally, the two of them han de quedar presos y enlazados en la intricable red amorosa. In these examples, the auxiliary haber has the same sense as the adverbial sin duda of the following sentence: Desde allí le llevarán, sin duda, a algún cuarto del palacio. By means of such verbal determinism, Don Quijote claims affinity
for example the edition of Vicente Gaos (Madrid: Gredos, 1987), who cites
Clemencín's commentary on I, 21.
12 El arte cervantino en el capítulo XXI de la primera parte del Quijote in Studia hispanica in honorem R. Lapesa (Madrid, 1972) vol. 1, pp. 571-86.
with the epic hero, exemplar of destiny, even as he recounts a romance
As the narrative sequence advances, events that were originally foretold in the future tense are now recalled in the past tense. When the knight tries on his scarlet mantle, Don Quijote assures us, si bien pareció armado, tan bien y mejor ha de parecer en farseto. The knight's armed appearance was and remains an hypothesis, a figment of the narrator's imagination; but as the narrative evolves and the knight changes clothes, his original appearance acquires an unexpected historicity attested to by the preterite, pareció, just as his new appearance is guaranteed by the deterministic future, ha de parecer. In this way, Cervantes exposes the mimetic illusion of narrative sequence: if the events of a story follow in order then we are to assume that they really happen. The verb suceder, from the Latin succedo, means both to follow and to happen, and the heading of chapter 21 promises us the capture of Mambrino's helmet as well as otras cosas sucedidas a nuestro invencible caballero. As Vicente Gaos points out in the notes to his edition, nothing else happens to Don Quijote in this chapter besides his conversation with Sancho. Thus, the succession mentioned in the chapter heading must refer to the rapid and rigorous sequence of events that Don Quijote recounts and which he gradually transforms from fantasy into fact. In effect, to return to our example of the knight who changes clothes, the relationship between pareció armado and ha de parecer mirrors the sequential relationship between part I and part II of the novel. When part I is finished, its fiction becomes an historical fact to be evoked and imitated in part II.
Inexorably, the present tense invades this hypothetical romance, only to take on an hypothetical quality of its own. The first sentence whose main verb is conjugated in the present describes the obligatory war between the knight's royal host and his enemy: Y lo bueno es que este rey, o príncipe, o lo que es, tiene una muy reñida guerra con otro tan poderoso como él, y el caballero huésped le pide (al cabo de algunos días que ha estado en su corte) licencia para ir a servirle en aquella guerra dicha (256). Through the verb tener, Don Quijote asserts that the war is in progress at the time of narration, no doubt to confer a greater immediacy and verisimilitude on the events of his story, and yet the verb ser, also conjugated in the present, expresses the vaguest of hypotheses, as emphasized by the disjunctive
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o: este rey, o príncipe, o lo que
es.13 This indeterminate present recalls
a remark by Montaigne in De la vanité where he justifies
his nostalgia for the past on the basis that les choses presentes mesmes,
nous ne les tenons que par la fantaisie. Don Quijote's present tense
has only a tenuous hold on reality. Moreover, in conjunction with the present,
he introduces the perfect tense ha estado implying that the knight
has been and remains at court up to the moment of narration. In this way,
the events of the story achieve an unreal simultaneity that puts them outside
of historical time.14
As the story progresses, the tenses regress further. Having shifted from future to present, Don Quijote decides to conjugate the main verb in the past when he dispatches his knight to the battle front: Ya se es ido el caballero (257). Then he adds a very curious phrase that raises the problem of tense and truth. When the triumphant knight returns from war and marries the infanta, the king initially disapproves but quickly changes his mind porque se vino a averiguar que el tal caballero es hijo de un valeroso rey de no sé qué reino porque creo que no debe de estar en el mapa. Here, the third-person preterite, se vino, is linked to verification, averiguar, while the first-person present of no sé and creo expresses ignorance or conjecture. This is a classic case of discours invading histoire in Benveniste's terms.15 Yet, what becomes of the third-person present, es, which is meant to be historically true, verified, and yet is inevitably contaminated by the surrounding uses of the conjectural or indeterminate present? In effect, as narrator, Don Quijote betrays quite clearly that tense is incapable of verification; everything is discours rather than histoire. This lesson is summed up concisely in the chaotic concluding phrase when Don Quijote, now identified with his knight-protagonist, promises a reward to Sancho, now identified with the protagonist's squire: el caballero . . . casa a su escudero con una doncella de la infanta, que será, sin duda, la que fue tercera en sus amores, que es hija de un duque muy principal. That suits Sancho just
a discussion of Cervantes' hypothetical narration see Maxime Chevalier,
L'Arioste en Espagne (Bordeaux, 1966) pp. 471 ff.
14 An analogy can be drawn to the Cave of Montesinos episode. See Harry Sieber, Literary Time in the Cueva de Montesinos MLN 86 (1971): 268-73.
15 Emile Benveniste, Problèmes de linguistique générale, vol. 1 (Paris: Gallimard, 1966) p. 238.
fine, even though he's already married. The remarkable conflation of future,
past and present (será, fue, es) represents a quasi-religious
or mythic sensibility which transports the storyteller to a world beyond
time and certainly beyond
The ease with which Don Quijote merges with his protagonist and inherits the crown of his own invention depends upon his essentially epic sense of time. At the conclusion of his miniature romance, both Don Quijote and Sancho share the conviction that the whole adventure will come true just as foretold, todo, al pie de la letra, ha de suceder por vuestra merced llamándose el Caballero de la Triste Figura. While Sancho trusts in onomastic determinism, his master bases his conviction on past experience: No lo dudes, Sancho, porque del mesmo y por los mesmos pasos que esto he contado suben y han subido los caballeros andantes a ser reyes y emperadores. In other words, the past authorizes the future, just as it did for Virgil's audience. Heeding Anchises' advice, Don Quijote remembers the future and anticipates the past. Of course, Don Quijote is demented, and in the course of the novel he will painfully learn the archaism of epic time.
The problem of time in Don Quijote is linked, sequentially as it were, to the problem of genealogy. No sooner has the hero finished his nostalgically prophetic story, than he begins to doubt his future, fearing that his royal father-in-law might inquire into his family background.
También me falta otra cosa: que, puesto caso que se halle rey con guerra y con hija hermosa, y que yo haya cobrado fama increíble por todo el universo, no sé yo cómo se podía hallar que yo sea de linaje de reyes, o, por lo menos, primo segundo de emperador (258).
For all his faith in the past, Don Quijote has no past. He has only had his name for twenty chapters. The dilemma of linaje proves so acute that it threatens to deprive the hero of his hard earned reward: así que por esta falta temo perder lo que mi brazo tiene bien merecido. The use of merecido to describe an hypothetical marriage with a nonexistent bride is one of the
the notion of mythic time in Don Quijote, see Mariano lbérico
Rodríguez, El Retablo de Maese Pedro: Estudio sobre el sentimiento
del tiempo en Don Quijote, Letras 45 (1955): 5-23.
Ibérico Rodríguez's analysis recalls Mircea Eliade's discussion
of the archaic sense of time in The Myth of Eternal Return.
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more spectacular instances of the premature past participle in Cervantes'
novel and yet another reminder that the past and the future coincide in Don
Quijote's mind as in his speech.
For this very reason, this temporal coincidence, Don Quijote does not allow his genealogical predicament to prevail for long over his epic faith. Even as he acknowledges his lack of noble lineage, he reserves the hope that his friendly enchanter, who is also his biographer, might discover a forgotten king somewhere in his family tree:
podría ser que el sabio que escribiese mi historia deslindase de tal manera mi parentela y decendencia, que me hallase quinto o sesto nieto de rey (258).
This implausible ambition for royal lineage, to be discovered by a
magician-narrator, parodies the epic topos of genealogical prophecy initiated
by Virgil in the sixth book of the Aeneid, where Anchises reveals
to Aeneas his glorious descendants including Augustus, Virgil's patron. This
topos flourished in the dynastic epics of the Renaissance such as the
Orlando Furioso, where Ariosto introduces various prophetic figures
including Merlin's apprentice Melissa, who foretells to Bradamante her
illustrious progeny culminating in Ariosto's boss, the Duke of Ferrara
(OF. 3.23-62). Such self-interested reading of the past, as Cervantes
suggests, is no more reliable than Don Quijote's genealogical fantasies.
The dynastic past may be a verbal conquest rather than an historical
Impatient as always, Don Quijote cannot wait for a hypothetical biographer to discover his glorious ancestors. Instead, he does so himself in his famous debate with the Canon of Toledo over the value of the chivalric romances (I, 49-50).18 To refute the canon's insistence on the inauthenticity of chivalric fiction, Don Quijote responds with a roll call of exemplary knights chosen indiscriminately from history and fiction, resulting in a chaotic mezcla de verdades y mentiras (585). This relativistic confusion scandalizes the classicizing canon who, earlier in their conversation, exhorted Don Quijote to satisfy his appetite for narrative by reading history rather than romance (581-82). The true scandal of Don Quijote's speech is his eager recognition of
is precisely what Ariosto suggests in his lunar episode where St. John
deconstructs epic history (OF. 35.25-30).
18 For the esthetic implications of this debate, see Alban Forcione, Cervantes, Aristotle, and the Persiles (Princeton, 1970) chapter 3.
the uncomfortable proximity of history and fiction. Don Quijote believes implicitly in the past tense of narrative, and generic distinctions between romance, epic, history, and chronicle are of little significance to him. He professes a naive belief in the past, and the very consistency, the perverse logic of his profession exposes the credulity and hypocrisy of his adversaries, who seek to segregate history from fictional forms of narrative.19 Among the many exemplary figures whom Don Quijote alleges in favor of chivalry is a supposedly historical personage from whom he claims linear descent:
Si no, díganme también que no es verdad . . . las aventuras y desafíos que también acabaron en Borgoña los valientes españoles Pedro Barba y Gutierre Quijada (de cuya alcurnia yo deciendo por línea recta de varón) . . . (584).
This genealogical invention, though more humble than his earlier fantasy
of royal descent, does serve to authorize Don Quijote's past and to justify
his reading habits. Moreover, by linking himself genealogically to his
heterogeneous list of chivalric models, Don Quijote poses a serious problem
to those who would differentiate between history and fiction. In effect,
he tells the canon, If Amadis is a fiction, then so am I; and
who can argue with him? The reality of the past is a verbal construct which
shares the narrative techniques of
By claiming linear descent from the Spanish knight Gutierre Quijada, who ought to have spelled his name more carefully, Don Quijote reiterates his faith in epic logic. For the epic often resorts to genealogical exposition in order to impel its hero along an inexorable path to a destined goal. The most prominent example in Renaissance epic might be the episode from Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata where the Magus of Ascalon shows Rinaldo a vision of his forebears so as to convince him to rejoin the Crusader army and conquer Jerusalem (GL. 17.65-82). In other words, the family line and the story line run parallel in epic. Cervantes emphasizes this parallelism through lexical parallelism.
similar situation arises in chapter 32 of the first part where the
cura tries in vain to prove the inferiority of romance fiction
to historia verdadera (392).
20 For the affinity of narrative techniques in history and fiction see Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, trans. Blarney and Pellauer, vol. 3 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988) 142-56 and passim.
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In the celebrated episode of Maese Pedro, Don Quijote admonishes the digressive
narrator of the puppet show, Seguid vuestra historia línea recta
y no os metáis en las curvas o transversales (II, 26, 236).
The events of a story ought to follow in sequence just as directly as the
generations of the Quijote family (or Quijada). Of course, neither Don Quijote's
imaginary family nor his convoluted romances obey the logic of the
línea recta, but epic teleology does depend on linear
progress. The epic may indeed depart from its linear path to return to a
point of origin but never by means of unpredictable digression, for epic
movement is predetermined. By preferring curves to straight lines, the novel
disavows epic determinism.
As he pursues his defense of the romances against the canon's hostility, Don Quijote reveals the extravagance of linear logic. How could romances be false, he declares indignantly, when they respect both chronology and genealogy:
¿habían de ser mentira, y más llevando tanta apariencia de verdad, pues nos cuentan el padre, la madre, la patria, los parientes, la edad, el lugar y las hazañas, punto por punto y día por día . . .? (587)
Chivalric romance pursues its story line just as scrupulously as it retraces
the family line, point by point. Of course, Don Quijote's esthetic values
are highly suspect and the punctuality that appeals to him must have infuriated
his author, whose style is often sparing in
details.21 Don Quijote himself, when recounting
the story of the lago hirviente, abbreviates certain details
in his description of the damsels of the castle, since to observe the customary
precision of the romances sería nunca acabar (I, 50, 588).
Here, as narrator, Don Quijote demonstrates an awareness of time that he
lacks as a reader. Ordinarily, he never worries about running out of time
because, in his mind, past, present, and future are contemporary. What Cervantes
achieves through Don Quijote's unorthodox apology for romance is to parody
the reader's belief in the continuity of past and present, to challenge our
faith in the unbroken line of narrative.
In effect, Don Quijote's parody of the continuous, recurrent time of epic amounts to an expression of historicism, of the new consciousness of historical change that stood in tension with the
Chevalier, 476 ff.
classicism of Renaissance humanism.22 There
is nothing new in discerning the tension between historicism and classicism
in Don Quijote's dilemma,23 but it seemed
appropriate to locate the tension precisely in that element of style that
is most concerned with the passage of time; namely, verb tense. The extraordinary
consciousness of narrative time in Don Quijote, manifested in the
hero's grammar, can be thought of as the novelistic equivalent of historicism,
just as it can help to differentiate the novel form from the decidedly
ahistoricist genre of epic. After Guicciardini, Montaigne, and other Renaissance
thinkers had formulated a new emphasis on relativism, contingency and fortune,
and after Renaissance painters had cultivated the illusion of depth and distance
through perspective, Cervantes wrote Don Quijote, where the past forfeits
its claims on the present. Thus, at its inception, the novel was a
symbolic form symbolizing a new sense of time and a new awareness
of the broken line of history.24
Renaissance historicism, see Donald Kelley, The Foundations of Modern
Historical Scholarship (Columbia, 1970); David Quint, Alexander
the Pig: Shakespeare on History and Poetry, Boundary 2
(Spring, 1982): 49-67; Anthony Grafton, Renaissance Readers and Ancient
Texts: Comments on Some Commentaries, Renaissance Quarterly
38 (1985): 615-49.
23 This point is developed fully in Tim Hampton, Writing from History (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1990) chapter 6.
24 Ernst Cassirer proposed the idea of symbolic form that was developed by Erwin Panofsky in Perspective as Symbolic Form. In a parenthetical comment at the end of the third part of his essay, Panofsky compares Renaissance perspective to Kritizismus, which ordinarily refers to Kantian philosophy but may refer in this context to the nascent historical criticism of the Renaissance. His observation merits further discussion.
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