From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 11.2 (1991): 105-07.
Copyright © 1991, The Cervantes Society of America

Martín, Adrienne Laskier. Cervantes and the Burlesque Sonnet. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991. 295 pp.

     This analysis of Cervantes' burlesque sonnets demonstrates the sophisticated art of an often-undervalued group of poems and places them in the context of social, political and literary history. The book, a revision of Professor Martín's Harvard Ph.D. dissertation, also surveys the evolution of the burlesque sonnet from the thirteenth century in Italy to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Spain, making this a useful resource for comparatists and Hispanists alike.
     Professor Martín's critical style is generally clear and jargon-free, reflecting command of the subject matter and confidence in handling the works of major poets. The book's first chapter summarizes significant trends in the history of the Italian burlesque sonnet, whose origins are nearly simultaneous with those of the sonnet itself. In this chapter and throughout the book, Professor Martín strives to convince the reader that “burlesque verse is a full-fledged literary genre . . . Rather than the spontaneous manifestation of the popular spirit, as interpreted by Romantic criticism, this poetry is an artistic construction governed by strict literary discipline” (p. 13). Francesco Berni's burlesque verse, influential in Spain, receives substantial attention, as does the structure and evolution of the Italian “tailed” sonnet or sonetto caudato (soneto con estrambote in Spanish). Chapter 2 presents Cervantes' Spanish predecessors in the burlesque sonnet, including Hurtado de Mendoza and the best-known of Golden Age comic poets, Baltasar del Alcázar.
     Chapter 3 deals with the topics of madness and humor in Erasmus and Cervantes, with a discussion of the transformation these terms underwent in the Renaissance. “Through the metaphor of madness Cervantes incorporates marginality, authenticity, and the transgression of conventions into life and literature. He is transgressing societal norms by suggesting that self-imposed madness is the only valid response to the institutionalized madness of society; at the same time his new ‘novel’ transgresses current literary norms,” using rhetorical paradox (p. 79). Cervantes and Erasmus are both represented as advocates of religious and social tolerance, which for Cervantes is described as a self-protective position.
     Chapters Four and Five gather the most interesting material on political, military, and literary history to illuminate Cervantes' sonnets, most notably


106 EMILIE L. BERGMANN Cervantes

“Al túmulo del Rey Felipe II en Sevilla.” In a lively and informative manner, Professor Martín brings the Quixote sonnets and the anonymous sonnets into the arena of contemporary literary controversies, a particularly useful contribution to understanding Cervantes' personal invective against Lope de Vega. Cervantes' parody of Lope also explains the humor that arises from the absurd dramatic contexts of the sonnets in La entretenida, which can be read in isolation as serious poems. Professor Martín maintains a sharp distinction between satire and burlesque throughout her study, and acknowledges that the invective of some of Cervantes' anonymously circulated sonnets attacking Lope's poetry and personal life straddle the line between burlesque and satire. She also points out the dialogic form of many of Cervantes' comic sonnets, conceived, as is so much of his writing, in a theatrical mode.
     The relationship between written and oral culture is constantly at play in Cervantes' writing, with its allusions to popular ballads as well as to every form of contemporary print culture. While the brevity of Professor Martín's treatment of this aspect of the burlesque in Cervantes' work can be justified by this study's focus on the sonnet, the presence of popular culture in these sonnets is a significant critical issue that would follow logically upon the initial questioning of the Romantic identification of the oral tradition with “the spontaneous manifestation of the popular spirit.” By and large, Professor Martín's study focuses on the task of illuminating historical and lexical aspects of the sonnets. Some critical concepts are oversimplified: Rezeptionsästhetik (pp. 128-129), and “surface structure (language)” and “deep structure (meaning)” (p. 171), for example. A more thorough treatment of these concepts could have been productive. Appropriately, Bakhtin's work on Rabelais and Carnival provides the critical approach most extensively brought to bear on these sonnets (pp. 134-147).
     The substantial Appendix provides texts of the twenty Italian and forty-three Spanish sonnets discussed in their original languages with English translations. While all three of the translators are mentioned in the Preface, attribution in the Appendix is inconsistent. Muriel Kittel's name appears with each of her sonnet translations, while neither John Ormsby nor Professor Martín are credited in the Appendix for theirs. Translations of the twelve Quixote sonnets are in Ormsby's familiar nineteenth-century style. Professor Martín's translations enhance her analyses of the sonnets: she has rendered into clear and often graceful English eleven sonnets by Hurtado de Mendoza, Ramírez Pagán, Salinas y Castro, and Baltasar del Alcázar, in addition to seven of Cervantes' sonnets independent of the Quixote (including those on the tomb of Felipe II), the six sonnets from Cervantes' La entretenida, five “anonymous” sonnets of personal invective, and two in response to Cervantes by Lope de Vega and Alonso de Castillo Solórzano.
     Perhaps the most difficult aspect of learning a foreign language and studying its literature is understanding what another culture finds amusing. While Martín acknowledges the near-impossibility of explaining to present-day readers what those of the European Renaissance found amusing,

11.2 (1991) Review 107

she envisions twentieth-century readers capable of smiling at some of the jokes in the sonnets she has chosen to explain, given her guided tour through the landmarks she reprints in the appendix. Comparing Cervantes' sonnets to those of his predecessors, she concludes, “Our author abandons the gratuitous obscenity of the Italian tradition in favor of a covert eroticism that always serves a critical, exemplary purpose. Never strident or bitter, Cervantes repudiates cruel satire to adopt more compassionate humor ” . . . (p. 173).
     It must be noted that Professor Martín's claim (p. 270, n. 89) that Ciplijauskaité “seems not to realize” that two compositions attributed to Góngora are tailed sonnets (“Hermano Lope, bórrame el soné[to]” and “Embutiste, Lopillo a Sabaot”) is outdated: they are clearly printed as tailed sonnets in Ciplijauskaité's critical edition of the Sonetos (Madison, 1981). In the discussions of madness and humor, perspectivismo, and the play of narrators and “authors,” there are surprising omissions of the groundbreaking critical work of Leo Spitzer, Ruth El Saffar, George Haley, and Carroll Johnson. Professor Martín knowledgeably reviews the critical perspectives and takes a common-sense approach to resolving such thorny problems as disputed authorship, and the question of Don Quixote as a “funny” book.
     These sonnets draw much of their humor from taboo topics. The critic in this area walks a fine line between the vulgarity of the poems themselves and the euphemism that they both parody and defy. Professor Martín confronts these topics in clear and unequivocal terms. She shows meticulous attention to the lexical limitations of non-Hispanist readers by translating all passages in Spanish and Italian, and most Spanish terms that do not appear in the sonnet translations in the Appendix, with a few exceptions (pp. 45, 99, 131, 138, and 165). A careful editor should have caught this minor inconsistency.
     Professor Martín has given us good reason to pay closer attention to the sonnets in Don Quixote, and provided background for understanding these and other Cervantine sonnets more clearly. Her study sheds light on a kind of poetry that has too often been eclipsed by sonnets on love, death, and social satire, and by the burlesque tradition in other poetic forms, such as romances and letrillas.

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