From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 12.1 (1992): 73-92.
Copyright © 1992, The Cervantes Society of America

Readers, Authors, and Characters in Don Quijote


Don Quijote, a novel saturated with figures who assume the multiple literary roles of characters, readers, and authors or narrators, is “in many ways a lesson in reading.”1 Filling his book with characters and narrators who are literary in essence and often conscious of being so, Cervantes implies in his text the extratextual Reader, to whom he directs aesthetic and ethical lessons about how one should respond to literature and to other people.2 In this study I will consider the most interesting doubly literary figures, their functions within Don Quijote, and how their literariness affects the reading of the novel as a whole.

     1 Ruth El Saffar, Distance and Control in Don Quixote: A Study in Narrative Technique, North Carolina Studies in the Romance Languages and Literatures, no. 147 (Chapel Hill: U.N.C. Department of Romance Languages, 1975), 117.
     2 Although I am aware of Parr's scheme of narrators/authors and readers (see James A. Parr, Don Quixote: An Anatomy of Subversive Discourse (Newark, Delaware: Juan de la Cuesta, 1988)), here I am interested in what he calls the “Real Reader,” the actual person who sits and reads Cervantes's novel. Hereafter I refer to this reader as “the Reader” to distinguish him/her from the readers within Don Quijote.



     There are several types of character-reader-authors in Don Quijote. The quintessential, although unique example is, of course, Don Quijote, an extremely avid reader who through his words and imagination transforms himself into the protagonist and author of his own living chivalric romance. There are numerous characters who follow Don Quijote's example to a certain extent, playing literary roles and often occupying and/or manipulating the novel of his adventures. Before discussing these figures individually, I will give an idea of their general characteristics. There are some characters (Cardenio and Dorotea, for example) who, like Don Quijote, are the protagonists and narrators of their own historias, with the important difference that their historias are based not on imagination, but on truth.3 Most of the other characters I will discuss (especially the Priest, the Barber, and the Duques) are readers both in the literal sense of the word, in that they like to read or listen to stories, and in the figurative sense, in that they derive pleasure from observing, listening to, and interpreting, or reading, other people's lives. These characters share the curious tendency to respond to other people as they respond to books and stories, often reducing others to literary objects and then making themselves the authors of others' historias. The third group of literary figures consists of the narrators of Don Quijote, who are also readers and characters, especially in Part Two, where as character-readers they appear to misread both the text and its protagonists. I will discuss the characters more or less in the order in which they appear in the novel, with the exception of the narrators, whom I will consider at the end, since they most directly affect the Reader's reading of Don Quijote.
     Don Quijote is considered insane because of his transformation from a reader to a protagonist-author of chivalric romances, but ironically, what he does is actually only an exaggerated case of what nearly all of the characters in Cervantes's novel do. Alonso Quijano is a naïve reader; he doesn't distinguish

     3 Since there is no word in the English language that means both “story” and “history,” I will use the Spanish “historia”when I mean both these words at the same time and when I wish to preserve the ambiguity of the Spanish term. For a discussion of this term and the difficulties of the notions of story and history, see Bruce W. Wardropper, “Don Quixote: Story or History?” Modern Philology 63 (1965): 1-11; rpt. in Ruth El Saffar, Critical Essays on Cervantes (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986), 80-94.

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between reality or history and fiction and immerses himself too much in his reading:

[S]e enfrascó tanto en su letura, que se le pasaban las noches leyendo de claro en claro, y los días de turbio en turbio; y así, del poco dormir y del mucho leer se le secó el celebro, de manera que vino a perder el juicio. (I, 73)4

Alonso Quijano doesn't maintain the appropriate distance between life and literature and consequently becomes incapable of distinguishing between fiction and reality. Not satisfied with experiencing adventures vicariously, through reading, he enters into the world of fiction, transforming himself from a passive reader of chivalric adventures into Don Quijote, the author and protagonist of his own adventures. With the power of language and of his imagination, Alonso Quijano frees himself from everyday existence and creates for himself another reality and a new (although imitated) identity.
     When Don Quijote begins his career as knight errant, his imagination is powerful, though untested. He is good at transforming the real world into one more appropriate to the romance he wishes to live. As a sort of living novel, he attracts many readers, that is, other characters who derive pleasure from watching him and laughing at him. Often the attraction of the Quixotic world is so strong that many of his readers can't distance themselves from it. Like Don Quijote, they cross the border between reality and fiction and enter into the fantastic Quixotic world, allowing themselves to be transformed into characters in his novel. Thus, at first Don Quijote has the power to be not only his own author, but also the creator and author of other characters.
     The first episode in which other people become characters in Don Quijote's adventures occurs on his first sally, when he goes to the inn and imposes his fantastic reality on the people there. In his imagination and with his words, he transforms the inn into a castle, the prostitutes into damsels, and the innkeeper into a knight, so that everything is concordant with the world of knight-errantry. Don Quijote needs other people to participate in his adventure, and his “incited” nature incites them to do what

     4 This and all subsequent quotations from Don Quijote are from El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. by Luis Andrés Murillo (Madrid: Castalia, 1987).


he wants.5 Having realized that he has not yet been knighted, he asks the innkeeper to knight him, which he agrees to do “por tener que reír aquella noche” (I, 88). Thus, the people at the inn play the roles Don Quijote has assigned them, and they perform the ceremony just as he wishes.
     Although in the inn the protagonist Don Quijote has wounded a muleteer, as author he has done no harm. Nevertheless, immediately afterwards he begins to include in his adventures people who do not wish to participate. He interferes in other people's lives and forces them to do what his plot requires, which often causes great pain both to them and to himself. What happens in the “adventure” of Andrés exemplifies many Quixotic adventures. When Don Quijote demands that Andrés's “gentleman” master untie and pay the boy, in his imagination he has completed a successful adventure. But he has actually worsened the boy's situation through his attempt to manipulate the master; after Don Quijote leaves, Andrés is whipped more than he would have been had Don Quijote never come on the scene. Don Quijote is later punished for this misdeed, for in the following adventure he receives a very painful beating from a muleteer.
     On his second sally, Don Quijote continues as author-protagonist of his own adventures, subjecting innocent people to his plot and educating Sancho to perform the role of squire errant. However, unfortunately for Don Quijote, many of the people whom they meet “are irresistibly drawn to invent situations in which they can enjoy, and temporarily participate in, Don Quixote's madness” (El Saffar 23 [emphasis mine]). Such characters are not content with simply observing or participating in Quixotic adventures, but wish to become inventors or authors of them. As I will show below, this phenomenon occurs increasingly often as the novel progresses, and Don Quijote loses progressively more control over his own historia, as other characters usurp his power.

     5 Stephen Gilman, in Galdós and the Art of the European Novel: 1867-1887 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981), explains that Américo Castro uses the term “incitation” to mean “the conscious incorporation of excitement” (162). In The Novel According to Cervantes (Berkeley: University of California Press,1989), Gilman says that “incited” characters are “far more intensely alive in both the active and passive voices than we are . . .” (35); they have a certain “inner richness.” All references in the text to Gilman are to The Novel According to Cervantes.

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     In spite of their disapproval of his literary behavior, Don Quijote's “friends,” the Priest and the Barber, also play the multiple roles of character, reader, and author. Furthermore, the Priest is not a very good reader in practice. Although he agrees with the Canon of Toledo that the best books “deleitan y enseñan juntamente” (I, 564), whenever he hears or reads stories, he speaks only of the pleasure they give him, never of what he has learned.6 Also, the Priest and the Barber, the supposedly discreet intellectuals, share with many other characters of Don Quijote the tendency to regard other people as they regard stories, that is, as means toward their own entertainment. They often consider others almost not as people, but as stories that exist to be told for their pleasure. The Priest and the Barber demonstrate these attitudes when they meet Cardenio in the Sierra Morena. First they hear him singing his lament, which makes them feel “admiración y contento” (I, 330). When they find out it is Cardenio who is singing, they are very interested in hearing his story: “[L]os dos, que no deseaban otra cosa que saber de su mesma boca la causa de su daño, le rogaron se la contase” (I, 332). Cardenio tells them his whole historia, and the response of his listeners (or readers) is, of course, pleasure; the Priest says that “no sólo no se cansaban en oírle, sino que les daba mucho gusto las menudencias que contaba” (I, 338).
     The pleasure the Priest and the Barber derive from reading other people's lives is even more obvious in the scene in which they meet Dorotea. Here they move from taking pleasure in story to a kind of voyeurism; they enjoy reading not only her historia, but also her body.7 After hearing a voice saying it wants to remain hidden, the two, along with Cardenio, want to know who is speaking. When they see Dorotea (who is dressed as a boy), instead of speaking with her, they approach her quietly and hide behind some rocks to watch the erotic “mozo” washing “his” feet in the brook. Thus, they go from vicarious reading of others to voyeurism, also a kind of reading. Dorotea's beauty awakes in the men “más admiración y . . . más deseo de saber

     6 See Alban Forcione, Cervantes, Aristotle and the “Persiles” (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1970), chapter III, for an analysis of the literary discussion between Don Quijote and the Canon.
     7 Here I am indebted to Salvador J. Fajardo's detailed and perceptive reading of this scene in “The Unveiling of Dorotea or the Reader as Voyeur,” Cervantes 4 (1984), 89-108; especially 89-97.


quién [es]”(I, 346), and after coming out from his hiding place and confronting Dorotea, the Priest asks her to tell her historia.
     The fact that the Priest and the Barber react to Cardenio and Dorotea as if they were stories more than people is surprising, but what is even more striking is that Cervantes himself presents them as such. These two narrator-protagonists of the stories of their lives are “the repositor[ies], the embodiment[s] of . . . tale[s]” (Fajardo 92), read not only by other characters, but through these characters, by the Reader. Both Cardenio and Dorotea tell their histories as stories; they are the storytellers, and the others, their audience, gather around to listen.
     Dorotea, who is less desperate than Cardenio, is able to remain distant enough from her own story to be able to consider it as a work of art.8 As Stephen Gilman points out, Dorotea is very conscious of being a storyteller. After Cardenio's interruption, she resumes telling her historia by saying, “lo que en mi cuento pasa fue . . .” (I, 352 [emphasis mine]). Furthermore, she demonstrates artistic control over her historia in her delivery, style, and use of various literary devices (Gilman 168). Dorotea “fabricates (or at least arranges) her story imaginatively, admires it as she repeats it aloud, and proceeds to try to live it” (Gilman 169). Gilman also argues that Cardenio and Dorotea are characters not only of their own historias, but also in real life; even in their everyday lives, they behave as theatrically as Don Quijote does in his “insane” attempts to replicate a chivalric romance. Their conduct, fashioned according to the rules of nobility and honor, a sort of national role-playing stimulated by the national theater, makes their historias almost as unbelievable as chivalric romances are. Dorotea becomes a literary character on yet another level when she plays the role of Princess Micomicona. Dorotea, “borrowed tacitly from the theater,” and Micomicona, “imitated verbally from the romances of chivalry,” are “equally artificial and absurd” (Gilman 175).
     Having examined the Priest and the Barber as readers, I would now like to look at how they play the literary roles of author and character. These two men are the first characters who become authors in order to manipulate Don Quijote. Although their primary motive is to cure or normalize him, they also wish

     8 In this paragraph I rely heavily on Gilman's discussion of Cardenio and Dorotea (The Novel According to Cervantes, 157-177).

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to benefit from the program they have designed to “reducirle a mejor vida” (I, 328) and cannot resist creating a situation that will entertain them.9 The Priest and the Barber manipulate Don Quijote not through discourse, but through fiction: through a drama that will appeal to his sense of chivalry. Their first plan is that the Priest play the role of a damsel in distress and the Barber play her squire, but when they tell their plot to Dorotea, they agree that she ought to be the damsel, Princess Micomicona. Dorotea is more suited to the role and knows how to play it, since she has read many chivalric romances. The three join forces and impose a plot on Don Quijote, composing for him a fixed role that he must play. Don Quijote's role is active, but not creative, for the ending of the play is already written in Micomicona's father's prophecy, and Don Quijote is obliged by the plot not to enter into any other adventure until he kills the giant and restores to Micomicona her kingdom. Dorotea, on the other hand, plays the more creative role, telling the “verdaderahistoria of the life of her character immediately after having told the verdadera historia of her real life. Although the Priest, the Barber, and Dorotea consider themselves superior to the “loco” Don Quijote and the “simple” Sancho Panza, these “discreet” people must abandon their positions as observers or readers exterior to the fictional world of chivalric romances in order to enter into the Quixotic world, thus transforming themselves into fictional characters and unconsciously participating in Quixotism. Since it is through literary means that Don Quijote is returned to a normal life, his return becomes a sort of spectacle that provides what literature provides for most of Cervantes's characters: pleasure (el gusto). The authors and actors inevitably end up as spectators of their own drama, and especially of the reactions of the “loco y simple” Don Quijote and Sancho, which make everyone laugh.
     Intending to write the final chapter of the historia of Don Quijote, the Priest and the Barber depose him from the position of author; they rob him of the authority over his own narrative. After the drama of Micomicona, Don Quijote becomes more and more passive, and as he has to respond to other people's creations,

     9 This is reminiscent of what Foucault calls “the repressive hypothesis” in The History of Sexuality, vol. 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Random House, 1980).


his own imaginative and creative forces diminish accordingly. Although he is limited by the drama of Micomicona, his position within it is not so bad. It seems at first that he will have the opportunity to do what all heroes of chivalric romances do: kill a giant and rescue a damsel. But maintaining the illusion of the drama turns out to be too complicated for the players, and Don Quijote's author-readers end up entrapping him literally, bringing him home in an “enchanted” state, completely passive and dehumanized. These “friends” of Don Quijote have committed the ethical error of reducing another person to a literary figure, a puppet, an object of ridicule, a means toward their own pleasure. Their error is the result of the Quixotic aesthetic error of not distinguishing appropriately between fiction and reality. Ethically, however, the Priest's and Barber's error is far worse than that of Don Quijote. Don Quijote also wishes to novelize others, but in his case it is in order to transport them to his own level of reality, not to put them in one inferior to his own.
     The pattern of presenting the narration and reception of historias and dramas, along with several characters who play the literary roles of reader, author, and character, occurs repeatedly throughout Don Quijote, from the most interior level, that of the interpolated novella, “El curioso impertinente,” to the most exterior, that of the narrators, which I will discuss below. In the case of “El curioso impertinente,” the Reader of Don Quijote observes from a superior position the narration and reception of a story read aloud by the Priest, at the same time the character-readers/listeners are observing the performance and reception of dramas within the fictional story they are reading. At the beginning of the novella, Anselmo composes a drama in which his friend, Lotario, plays the role of seducer so that he can observe the reaction of his wife, Camila. But when the fiction becomes reality, and Lotario actually does become Camila's lover, Camila and Lotario become the authors. They plot a counter-drama, in which Camila will be the protagonist, thus forcing Anselmo to assume the role of naïve reader. Ultimately, Anselmo becomes the victim of the very plot he has set in motion and had hoped to control. He has been impertinente in trying to orchestrate a drama in which the characters are real people. The important aesthetic and ethical lessons of Don Quijote, that one should not confuse the boundaries between reality and fiction, novelize other people, nor try to become the author of other people's lives, are presented directly to the characters of Don Quijote in

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“El curioso impertinente.” However, the characters of Don Quijote read “El curioso impertinente” for pleasure, not for edification, and they learn nothing from their reading.10
     The inclusion of the publication of Part One of Don Quijote in Part Two adds yet another complication to the pattern of characters, readers, and authors. In Part Two, many of the characters are readers of others not only in the figurative sense of being listeners, observers, or voyeurs, but in that they have actually read Part One of the adventures of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. Thus, they consider the protagonists not as real people whom they may sometimes treat as fictional characters, but as literary/historical characters come to life. Further, “rather than being unaware, or taken by surprise by Don Quixote's madness . . . [they] tend to anticipate and exploit for their own entertainment his [and Sancho's] credulity” (El Saffar 82). Such characters have preconceptions about what Don Quijote and Sancho are like and treat them as the objects of ridicule they believe them be from their reading of Part One. These new character-readers, like some in Part One of Don Quijote, are not satisfied with reading Don Quijote, but also insist on becoming his authors.
     As I mentioned above, Don Quijote loses progressively more control over his own narrative throughout the course of the novel. In Part Two even the supposedly simple Sancho becomes the author of a Quixotic adventure and by doing so exerts a certain control over his master. In order to avoid revealing his lie about the letter to Dulcinea, Sancho deceives Don Quijote. He convinces him that the peasant girl mounted on a donkey is Dulcinea by transforming reality with words, as he has seen his master do so many times. In spite of the fact that Sancho does not follow literary conventions very well (for example, he says the girl has pearly eyes instead of pearly teeth), Don Quijote believes him. But since Don Quijote's imagination is already weak, he cannot transform the peasant girl into Dulcinea. After this “enchantment” of Dulcinea, Don Quijote loses even more control, not only over his narrative, but even over his own ideal.

     10 For more on the relationship between the characters of the Quijote and “El curioso impertinente,” see J. B. Avalle-Arce, “‘El curioso’ y ‘el capitán,’ “ Deslindes Cervantinos (Madrid: Edhigar, 1961). Also pertinent is El Saffar's discussion of the analogies between this novella and the rest of the novel, in Distance and Control, especially 68-79.


When he realizes that he cannot disenchant his ideal woman, his raison d'être, Don Quijote's melancholy deepens and his spirits fall. In this episode, Sancho assumes a position superior to that of Don Quijote and laughs at his naïveté, but he does not maintain this feeling of superiority nor insist on dominating him. As we will see below, when Don Quijote and Sancho meet the Duques, the squire quickly returns to the Quixotic level of reality.
     Sansón Carrasco is the first reader of Part One of Don Quijote to appear in Part Two. After consulting the Priest and the Barber, Carrasco proposes to normalize Don Quijote by conquering him according to the rules of chivalry. For this reason, he enters into the Quixotic world as author and character of a chivalric adventure. According to Carrasco's plot, his character, the Knight of the Mirrors, will easily conquer Don Quijote and then force him to return home. Carrasco plays the role of a knight errant well enough, but fails as an author. As he learns most painfully, Don Quijote and Rocinante are not just of literature, but rather of very real flesh and bone. Since his characters exist in the real world and not just in the closed world of fiction, Carrasco cannot maintain control over everything that happens in his “adventure,” and in the end, he is beaten, wounded, and conquered.
     After his defeat, Sansón Carrasco becomes even more a part of the Quixotic world. He doesn't react as if losing the battle were simply the end of a fictional adventure, but resolves to seek actual revenge. The second time Carrasco enters into battle with Don Quijote (as the Knight of the White Moon), he conquers him and forces him to retire from knight errantry for one year. By conquering Don Quijote in a “mock” battle, Carrasco gains control over him and then uses his power to bring his adventures and historia to their ends. The obligation to retire so depresses Don Quijote that it contributes greatly to the cause of his death.
     As we have seen, throughout Don Quijote Cervantes places his characters in various literary situations, portraying most of them as bad readers and authors who commit various aesthetic and ethical errors. But it is the Duques whom he portrays as the worst characters of Don Quijote: the worst readers and authors, the “villains.” The Duques' attitude toward reading is similar to that of most of Don Quijote's characters. They derive great pleasure from reading books, and they hope that Don Quijote and Sancho will provide them with as much entertainment as literature does:

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[L]os dos, por haber leído la primera parte desta historia y haber entendido por ella el disparatado humor de don Quijote, con grandísimo gusto y con deseo de conocerle le atendían, con el prosupuesto de seguirle el humor y conceder con él en cuanto les dijese, tratándole como a caballero andante los días que con ellos se detuviese, con todas las ceremonias acostumbradas en los libros de caballerías, que ellos habían leído, y aun les eran muy aficionados (II, 270).

     The Duques are especially dangerous reader-authors, since they have either misread Part One of Don Quijote or have understood it and chosen to disregard their understanding for the sake of entertainment. Thus, they prove to be extremely vicious authors of adventures for Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. The Duques seem to think they understand the protagonists from having read the first part of their historia, but their reading is not consistent with the true natures of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. According to their reading, the two are one-dimensional, like Avellaneda's characters. They consider Sancho to be simple, his master, loco. It is true that Cervantes's characters are this way in the beginning of Don Quijote, but Sancho soon becomes simple-discreto and Don Quijote, loco-cuerdo. The Duques are not aware of or do not take into account the complexity the protagonists have gained even in the latter chapters of Part One. Thus, in their attempt to make a continuation of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, they commit the same artistic error that, according to Cervantes, Avellaneda commits in the false Quijote; they fail to show understanding of their characters.
     In addition to misreading Part One, the Duques err in failing to distinguish appropriately between reality and fiction, more than almost any other character-reader-author. Like the Priest, the Barber, and Sansón Carrasco, the Duques want to become the authors of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza and manipulate them. However, unlike Don Quijote's friends, the “nobles” have absolutely no good motive for doing so. While the Priest, the Barber, et al. want to create episodes that are pleasurable, but will also end his crazy adventures, the Duques want only to prolong his adventures for the sake of their own entertainment. They make no distinction between literary/historical characters and actual people. They consider Don Quijote and Sancho simply as literary figures, whose adventures, like books, will lead to la risa, la admiración, y el gusto.


     The Duques' failure to distinguish between reality and fiction leads not only to their committing the ethical error of mistreating other people, but also to a serious defect in their artistic creation. Like Sansón Carrasco, they think they can manipulate every aspect of their narrative. However, the truth is that they cannot maintain absolute control, since elements of reality interfere with their plot. Their narrative does not take place within the closed world of literature, but rather is superimposed over reality. Moreover, there are times when they cannot completely mask the real world. Don Quijote, Sancho Panza, doña Rodríguez, Tosilos, and the other “characters” of the dramas of the Duques are human beings whose reactions cannot always be anticipated or controlled.
     Because of their aesthetic and ethical errors of misreading, of not recognizing the difference between literature and life, and of novelizing others, the Duques, believing themselves to be discreet, are actually fools. Furthermore, sometimes they almost transform themselves into characters of their own dramas and enter into the world of their fiction, forgetting that their plays are only plays.11 As the Duques make fun of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza, Cervantes satirizes them, and the Reader laughs not at the objects of ridicule, but at the ridiculers themselves. After reading the adventures composed by the Duques, the Reader agrees with the Duke's chaplain's judgment of them: “Por el hábito que tengo, que estoy por decir que es tan sandio vuestra excelencia como estos pecadores. ¡Mirad si no han de ser ellos locos, pues los cuerdos canonizan sus locuras!” (II, 284). And although Cide Hamete Benengeli's opinion of Don Quijote and Sancho does not seem accurate, his reading of the Duques seems quite astute: “[eran] tan locos los burladores como los burlados, y . . . no estaban los duques dos dedos de parecer tontos, pues tanto ahínco ponían en burlarse de dos tontos” (II,564-565).
     We meet the Duques for the first time as bad readers, who objectify others and read solely for pleasure. Soon they also become authors and begin to use their socio-economic position to manipulate Don Quijote and Sancho. During her conversation with Sancho (II, Ch. 33), the Duchess derives great pleasure from hearing him tell his version of the historia of his adventures

     11 See El Saffar's Distance and Control for a detailed discussion about authors losing control due to their lack of distance from their creations.

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with Don Quijote. But she also intervenes and imposes on Sancho her reading of the historia, assuming a hermeneutical function almost like that of the confessor.12 The Duchess interprets his story, and on the basis of her interpretation, produces the “true” story, which is, of course, fictional. She convinces Sancho, who wants to win her favor, to reject his own reading of his life and to substitute hers. She tells him:

. . . real y verdaderamente yo sé de buena parte que la villana . . . era y es Dulcinea del Toboso, y que el buen Sancho, pensando ser el engañador, es el engañado (II, 301).

The Duchess also interprets for Sancho what happened in the cave of Montesinos:

Deste suceso se puede inferir que pues el gran don Quijote dice que vio allí a la mesma labradora que Sancho vio a la salida del Toboso, sin duda es Dulcinea, y que andan por aquí los encantadores muy listos y demasiadamente curiosos (II,301-302).

     The Duques are authors as well as spectators of various spectacular but not very clever adventures, from which they derive great pleasure, laughing at the disparates of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. The discreet Reader sees that in addition to being very cruel, the Duques are not very artistic authors. What they compose is farcical, with emphasis on the spectacular and on the pain of the protagonists. This makes the Reader feel compassion for Don Quijote and Sancho and disdain for the Duques. These character-reader-authors entrap Don Quijote both in actuality and within their fictional plots. They impede the progress of his adventures, forcing him to participate in a series of rather unimaginative episodes in which he is nothing but an object of ridicule and has no opportunity to succeed. In the Duques' plots, Don Quijote is restricted to reacting to the situation they present him, and the conclusions of these “adventures” are always anticlimactic. For example, instead of having the opportunity to feign a battle with the giant Malambruno, Don Quijote is allowed only to ride a wooden horse, after which it is announced that the adventure has ended “con sólo intentarla” (II, 352).

     12 In The History of Sexuality, pp. 66-67, Foucault discusses the hermeneutic function of the confessor. The “truth” is produced through the relationship between the person who confesses and the confessor, and the confessor has the power to “constitute a discourse of truth on the basis of [the] decipherment” of the confession.


     The Duques fail especially in their grand drama of the government of Sancho. While they intend to laugh at the foolishness of the apparently simple Sancho, what happens is that Sancho governs with discretion, justice, and compassion; he is a better ruler than the “nobles” are. The Duques have been foolish, and Sancho, discreet. Their joke fails because it is based on a serious misreading of Sancho's character. Instead of leaving the island ridiculed and humiliated, Sancho departs with proven wisdom and enhanced self-knowledge.
     Because he has learned, among other things, that he will be happier ruling at home than governing an island, Sancho Panza emerges as the triumphant character of Don Quijote. He wins in dependence from the Duques, from Don Quijote, and from false ideals. And most importantly, he gains the freedom to become both his own author and his own reader or interpreter. Sancho abandons the Duques' plot and decides for himself to return home. Because of his experiences as governor and his consciousness of being a character from a famous book, Sancho “acquires . . . a new self-awareness and is capable of observing and describing himself as though he were another person.”13 This capacity to read himself well is especially evident when he and Don Quijote encounter characters who misunderstand them because of their familiarity with the false Quijote. For example, when he talks with don Alvaro Tarfe, a friend of Avellaneda's Don Quijote, Sancho distinguishes himself from the false Sancho:

. . . el decir gracias no es para todos, y ese Sancho que vuestra merced dice, señor gentilhombre, debe de ser algún grandísimo bellaco, frión y ladrón juntamente; que el verdadero Sancho Panza soy yo, que tengo más gracias que llovidas; y si no, haga vuestra merced la experiencia, y ándese tras de mí, por lo menos un año, y verá que se me caen a cada paso, y tales y tantas, que sin saber yo las más veces lo que me digo, hago reír a cuantos me escuchan . . . (II, 577).

     As we have seen, Cervantes repeatedly shows the presentation and reception of stories and dramas on the level of Don Quijote's story, as well as on the more interior level of the interpolated novella, “El curioso impertinente.” He repeats this pattern yet again on the outermost level of the novel, the

     13 Edward C. Riley, Cervantes' Theory of the Novel (London: Oxford UP, 1962), 203-204.

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diegetic level, which communicates most directly with the Reader. Thus, not only are the characters of Don Quijote readers and narrators/authors, but also the narrators function as characters and readers. They become characters in their own narration or in that of other narrators, and like the other important characters of Don Quijote, they are readers and interpreters both of the story and of other characters.
     Of course, every narrator of any story is a kind of reader/interpreter and character, but in Don Quijote Cervantes reveals his narrators as such, thus showing the Reader “how . . . fictions masquerading as histories are put together by laying bare their inner workings,”14 both within the story of Don Quijote's adventures and on its diegetic level. In both parts of Don Quijote, but especially in Part Two, the narrators impose themselves on the story, frequently interrupting and commenting on it. By calling attention to the artifice of the narrative, Cervantes “recalls us to our condition as readers” (Fajardo 97). He forces us to maintain a certain distance from the story, thus teaching us, “while absorbed in the entrancing flow of narration, to take the configuration of the whole into account” (Gilman 13-14). This interruption, along with the representation of so many readers and narrator/authors within the story, forces the Reader to disengage herself (or himself) from the adventure of the moment and to think instead of the novel as a whole and of the nature of the various elements that contribute to the experience of reading it.15 It makes her conscious of the fact that the narrators are also readers and interpreters of the text and of the characters, that they tell not necessarily the truth, but rather their conceptions of it, and that sometimes they may even lie. This teaches the Reader not to rely absolutely on any narrator and to think and judge for herself. By saturating Don Quijote with figures who play the literary roles of fictional character, reader, and author, Cervantes makes his text, its narration, and reading itself as much the subjects of his novel as is the historia of Don Quijote and the other characters.
     As George Haley points out, Maese Pedro's puppet show most vividly dramatizes “the interplay of story, teller and

     14 George Haley, “The Narrator in Don Quijote: Maese Pedro's Puppet Show,” in El Saffar, Critical Essays on Cervantes, 109-110 (originally in MLN 80 [1965]): 145-65.
     15 In order to avoid repeating “he or she,” etc., I refer hereafter to the Reader alternately as “he” or “she.”


reader” (97) that occurs when one reads Don Quijote. It is a microcosm of the novel, and its relationship to the Reader is very much like that of “El curioso impertinente” to its readers; each shows its readers a process of narration and reception very similar to what they are experiencing outside of the story (which is, in the case of the Reader, reading). As in Don Quijote itself, in the puppet show the roles of author and narrator and their manipulation of the narrative are dramatized, revealed. The difference is that in the case of the story of Melisendra and don Gaiferos, Cervantes can also dramatize the role of the reader or spectator, while in Don Quijote, he can only imply the Reader, and through this implication, direct him to consider his own reading.
     In the performance of the puppet show, the Reader sees the dramatization of the roles of author, narrator, and reader from a superior position. Maese Pedro, the author, remains backstage throughout most of the drama. Nevertheless, his control over both the narrator and the narration is revealed when he directs his assistant:

Muchacho, no te metas en dibujos, sino haz lo que ese señor te manda, que será lo más acertado; sigue tu canto llano, y no te metas en contrapuntos, que se suelen quebrar de sotiles (II, 242).

Llaneza, muchacho; no te encumbres, que toda afectación es mala (II, 243).

Furthermore, as even Don Quijote observes, the narrator does not limit himself to telling the story objectively, but rather intervenes to interpret it. Thus, the version of the story presented is his own version; the story is filtered through the narrator before reaching the reader, whether he interrupts the story or not. He chooses which details to include and presents the characters according to his own interpretation. In addition, “[t]he assistant also indulges in the purely personal aside that allows the spectator to see clearly where the narrator's sympathy lies and to be influenced in his reaction accordingly. His personal commentary twice threatens to turn into long-winded digression . . .” (Haley 101). Objecting to this superfluous commentary, Don Quijote shows himself to be a discreet reader, not willing to accept everything the narrator says. While Don Quijote can maintain his distance from the narrator, from the story itself he cannot. Characteristically,

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he does not distinguish between literature and life, and he again tries to transgress the boundary between the world of fiction and that of reality, this time not just spiritually, but physically. Needless to say, this is impossible. Attempting to participate in art, he destroys it, ruining (or “killing”) the puppets, friends and enemies alike. With this episode, “an analogue with implications that concern . . . [the] reading of the whole novel” (Haley 109), Cervantes advises his Reader, once again, to read with discretion.
     There are so many cases in which the narrators of Don Quijote play the roles of readers and characters both implicitly and explicitly that a discussion of this subject could fill an entire book. Therefore, I will concentrate only on the fascinating complication of Part Two, when the narrators reveal themselves to be bad readers of the characters and/or of the text itself.16 Like the character-readers of Part Two, the narrators judge Don Quijote and Sancho according to their readings of Part One, which seem to be as mistaken as that of the Duques. They try to impose their erroneous or deceitful readings on the Reader, as the Duchess does to Sancho, but unlike Sancho, the Reader has already received a long lesson on how to read and should resist the narrators' authority. Besides adding to this lesson, the narrators' misreading serves to underscore the development of the protagonists' characters, which is evidence of the superiority of Cervantes's art over that of his character-authors and of Avellaneda. Also, by revealing his personal attitudes toward the characters and his reactions to the story, each narrator becomes an object of his own narration, or of that of “superior” narrative presences.
     Perhaps the most explicit case in which a narrative voice judges Part Two of Don Quijote according to its (mis)reading of Part One occurs in Chapter II.5. The translator says that he considers this chapter apocryphal “porque en él habla Sancho Panza con otro estilo del que se podía prometer de su corto ingenio, y dice cosas tan sutiles, que no tiene por posible que él las supiese . . . “ (II, 73). But the discreet Reader does not doubt that Sancho can speak grandiloquently and with discretion, for as

     16 Especially in Part Two, it is often difficult to be certain when a particular narrator is misreading Don Quijote's adventures and when he is intentionally giving an ironic or deceitful reading. Whether the narrators are actually misreading the situations and characters or intentionally giving ironic (mis)readings, I will call their readings “misreadings,” since at any rate they at least appear to be misreadings.


Sancho shows in Part One, he has learned a great deal from Don Quijote and from his own experiences. His lamentation in the last chapter of Part One,

¡Oh flor de la caballería, que con solo un garrotazo acabaste la carrera de tus bien gastados años! ¡Oh honra de tu linaje, honor y gloria de toda la Mancha, y aun de todo el mundo, el cual faltando tú en él, quedará lleno de malhechores, sin temor de ser castigados de sus malas fechorías! . . . (I, 601),

makes us laugh, but we don't think it “apocryphal.” The narrators truly seem to be ignorant when they don't recognize changes in Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. Don Quijote himself is more perceptive than they are, for he says to his squire, “Cada día Sancho . . . te vas haciendo menos simple y más discreto” (II, 121). Even the narrative voice that maintains the greatest distance from the story, the supernarrator,17 appears not to recognize changes in the protagonists. For example, in the epigraph to Chapter II.18, He writes,“De to que sucedió a don Quijote en el castillo o casa del Caballero del Verde Gabán . . . “ (emphasis mine), even though in Part Two, Don Quijote transforms very few things with his words and never imagines that an inn is a castle.
     While the attitude of the Reader toward Don Quijote evolves from mockery to compassion, the attitudes of the polyphony of narrative voices remain static. This alienates the Reader from the narrators and thus seems to further increase her compassion for Don Quijote. In Part One, the Reader shared the narrators' ironic point of view toward Don Quijote and allied herself with them. But once she is alienated from the narrators, the Reader tends to identify with Don Quijote. In part because of the narrators' misreading and abuse of Don Quijote and Sancho, the Reader's alliance with them becomes almost unconscionable, which further confirms her identification with the protagonists.
     The supreme presence of Don Quijote, Cervantes, orchestrating all of the narrative voices, guides the Reader toward this new stance vis-à-vis the narrators and characters.18 Mancing

     17 See Parr, especially pp. 11-12.
     18 See Howard Mancing, “Cide Hamete Benengeli vs. Miguel de Cervantes: The Metafictional Dialectic of Don Quijote,” Cervantes 1 (1981): 63-81 and John J. Allen, “The Narrators, the Reader and don Quijote,” MLN 91 (1976): 201-212, for more on Cervantes's alienation and redirection of the reader.

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observes that “Cervantes, who most directly influences the reader's perceptions of all the characters (including Cide Hamete), implicitly stands relatively close to his protagonist[s] and draws attention to the insensitive, unperceptive, lying author[s]” (80). He compiles a rather long list, citing various instances of Cide Hamete's (or the narrative voices') imperception, insensitivity, and deceit. The most notable case is when a narrative voice, probably the supernarrator, tells the Reader how he is to react to the events that follow:

Deja, lector amable, ir en paz y en hora buena al buen Sancho, y espera dos fanegas de risa, que te ha de causar el saber cómo se portó en su cargo, y en tanto, atiende a saber lo que le pasó a su amo aquella noche; que si con ello no rieres, por lo menos desplegarás los labios con risa de jimia, porque los sucesos de don Quijote, o se han de celebrar con admiración, o con risa (II, 368).

     The problem is that this is not the reaction of the discreet Reader, but of the indiscreet and cruel character-readers. The scenes that follow are not consistent with this narrator's reading of them. The discreet Reader does not laugh at the “temeroso espanto cencerril y gatuno que recibió don Quijote” (II, 382), because it is not very clever and causes Don Quijote great pain. Nor does he laugh at how Sancho behaves in his new position. Sancho governs his island very well, and his goodness and discretion do not surprise the perceptive Reader. The Reader laughs not at Sancho's simplicity, but at his discreción graciosa and at the burladores burlados.
     By constructing a pattern of narration and reception that resounds from the innermost level of the text to the outermost, Cervantes implies in his text the Reader, to whom he directs the ethical and aesthetic lessons that almost all his characters refuse or fail to learn. Borges makes some very intriguing suggestions for the continuation of this pattern of character-reader-author that appears so frequently in Don Quijote:

Ese juego de extrañas ambigüedades culmina en la segunda parte; los protagonistas han leído la primera, los protagonistas del Quijote son, asimismo, lectores del Quijote. Aquí es inevitable recordar el caso de Shakespeare, que incluye en el escenario de Hamlet otro escenario, donde se representa una tragedia, que es más o menos la de Hamlet . . . ¿Por qué nos inquieta que Don Quijote sea lector del Quijote, y Hamlet,


espectador de Hamlet? Creo haber dado con la causa: tales inversiones sugieren que si los caracteres de una ficción pueden ser lectores o espectadores, nosotros, sus lectores, o espectadores, podemos ser ficticios.19

I agree that the metafictional nature of Don Quijote may imply this to the 20th-century reader, but I am more inclined to say that this autonovelization is precisely what Cervantes wants his readers not to do. With his complicated narrative scheme and the repeated dramatization of the narration and reception of historias, Cervantes urges his Reader not to react to his novel as his fictional readers react to historias. He wants us to respond not only with pleasure, but also with understanding, and not to enter and participate in the world of fiction, but to experience it from a superior position, to maintain a certain aesthetic distance, so that we are conscious of the reading of the narrators and readers within Don Quijote as well as of our own reading.20


     19 Jorge Luis Borges, “Magias parciales del Quijote,” Prosa Completa (Barcelona: Bruguera, 1980), 174-75.
     20 I would like to thank Professors Thomas A. O'Connor and Salvador J. Fajardo for their encouragement and for advising me in the revision of this paper.

Digitized with the help of Contessa Marion
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