From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 11.2 (1991): 87-101.
Copyright © 1991, The Cervantes Society of America

Public Indiscretion and Courtly Diversion: The Burlesque Letters in Don Quijote II


IN every class of letters we should include a joke whenever the subject-matter permits.” This apparently very modern narratorial stance was actually espoused by Erasmus in one of his early pedagogical works, the 1522 essay “De conscribendis epistolis” [On the Writing of Letters]. Moreover, Erasmus continues, “The first consideration is that the joke should be timely, gentlemanly, and mindful of propriety. If it is skilfully used, it often carries more weight than a serious speech.”1 In his Don Quijote, Miguel de Cervantes seems to have taken Erasmus's suggestion to the letter, as it were.
     Specifically, in chapter fifty of Part Two of his novel, the narrator assures his readers that the letters that Teresa Panza has just dictated “de su mismo caletre” and sent to her husband and to the duchess, “no son de las peores que en esta grande historia

     1 Desiderius Erasmus, Collected Works of Erasmus, ed. J. K. Sowards, trans. Charles Fantazzi (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985) 25: 245.



se ponen.”2 One cannot help but be amused by this manifest irony, since the correspondence conducted between Sancho, Teresa Panza, and the duchess produces one of the most comical moments of the novel. Aside from a plainly domestic sketch of the Panza family, these letters also provide a generous sprinkling of rusticated courtly gossip (the so-called “nuevas de corte”) which serves, among other things, to respond in kind to the duchess' practical jokes. Moreover, and this generates my subsequent argument, they are intimately linked to the phenomenon of the burlesque epistle (la epístola bufonesca) and its literary function.
     The literary role and negotiation of this type of letter culminated during the Renaissance period immediately prior to the publication of Part Two of Don Quijote.3 From the fifteenth century on, the so-called “familiar letter” enjoyed full literary generic status since the “carta mensajera,” or news letter, was conceived from the beginning as both an artistic and public artifact.4 It was adopted around that time by the official and extra-official court fools in residence in Spanish Renaissance courts. It was they who established the premises for this ludic component of “fool literature.” The better known among these authors were the Secretary to the Catholic Monarchs, Fernando

     2 I cite from the Luis Murillo edition of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (Madrid: Castalia, 1984).
     3 See J. N. H. Lawrance, “Nuevos lectores y nuevos géneros: apuntes y observaciones sobre la epistolografía en el primer renacimiento español” in Literatura en la época del emperador, ed. Víctor García de la Concha (Salamanca: Universidad, 1988) 81-99 regarding the epistolary genre as the culmination of a process that reaches full maturity in the Renaissance. Now that the letter has acquired certain literary canonicity, studies abound which inevitably turn to the tradition in which the burlesque letter is inscribed to understand the actual situation of the epistle. See, for example, A. J. Greimas et al., La Lettre: approches sémiotiques [Les Actes du VIe. Colloque Interdisciplinaire] (Fribourg: Editions Universitaires, 1988) and Ecrire, publier, lire. Les correspondances [Actes du Colloque International “Les correspondances”] (Nantes: Université de Nantes, 1983). For the generic possibilities of the letter, see Patrizia Violi's recent study, “Letters,” in Discourse and Literature, ed. Teun A. Van Dijk (Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1985) 149-167 and Ana María Barrenechea's article “La epístola y su naturaleza genérica,” forthcoming in Dispositio 15 (1990).
     4 Lawrance 85. On the letter as recreation of a specific social context, see Jeannine Basso, “Echo de la vie culturelle dans les lettres en langue italienne publiées entre 1538 et 1662,” in La correspondance 2 [Actes du Colloque International Aix-en-Provence, 4-6 octobre 1984], ed. Georges Ulysse (Aix en-Provence: Université de Provence, 1985) 221-238.

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del Pulgar —whose Letters represent the first collection of epistles published in a modern tongue5— the physician Francisco López de Villalobos; Don Francesillo de Zúñiga, author of the outlandish Crónica burlesca del Emperador Carlos V; and Antonio de Guevara, official preacher in the same court and mischievous fabricator of the history of Marco Aurelio.
     The first of these authors, Fernando del Pulgar, offers an apology of the genre in one of his letters. In it he defends the inclusion of jests among the truths of the familiar letter, explaining that the decorum of the “familiar style” allows this. At the same time he highlights his own situation as court fool:

Reprehendésme asimismo de “alvardán”, porque escrivo algunas vezes cosas jocosas; y ciertamente, señor encubierto, vós decís verdad. Pero yo vi aquellos nobles y magníficos varones marqués de Santillana don Iñigo López de Mendoça y don Diego Hurtado de Mendoça su fijo, duque del Infantadgo, y a Fernand Pérez de Guzmán, señor de Batres, y a otros notables varones escrevir mensajeras de mucha dotrina interponiendo en ellas algunas cosas de burlas que davan sal a las veras. Leed, si os plaze las epístolas familiares de Tulio que enbiava a Marco Marcello y a Lelio Lucio y a Ticio y a Lelio Valerio y a Curión y a otros muchos, y fallarés interpuestas asaz burlas en las veras. Y aun Plauto y Terencio no me paresce que son reprehendidos porque interpusieron cosas jocosas en su escritura. No creáis que traigo yo este enxemplo porque presuma compararme a ninguno de éstos; pero ellos para quien eran y yo para quien só ¿porqué no me dexarés vós, acusador amigo, alvardanear lo que sopiere sin injuria de ninguno, pues dello me fallo bien y vós no mal? Con todo eso os digo que si vós, señor encubierto, fallardes que jamás excriviese un renglón de burlas dó no oviese catorce de veras, quiero yo quedar por el alvardán que vós me juzgáis.6

     During the sixteenth century there is a tremendous growth in the social practice of correspondence and the printing of books that incorporate letters as a means of communication.7 The fictional epistle and the epistolary novel appear in Spain during the first decades of the century. Tangentially, one ought

     5 Lawrance 99.
     6 Letras. Glosa a las coplas de Mingo Revulgo, ed. Domínguez Bordona (Madrid, 1958) 87-88. Cited in Lawrance 87-88.
     7 Claudio Guillén, “Notes Toward the Study of the Renaissance Letter” in Renaissance Genres, ed. Barbara K. Lewalski (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986) 81.


to note that early in the same century there was a parallel growth of the vernacular prose letter in Italy. The letters of well-known satirists like Pietro Aretino contained the popular everyday experiences that were normally relegated to the short novel and to comedy.8 If the problems of the letter as dialogue, figure of compromise, speech act, reported text and, ultimately, simulacrum of communication were similar in the Mediterranean world of the period, the transplantation of this communicative interaction to something known as literature was, in practice, somewhat different in the Iberian peninsula.
     As Claudio Guillén has pointed out, the letter in Spain was an instrument for the liberation of the critical imagination, either in poetry or in prose. In the literature of the peninsula, the people who wrote these letters were not real persons like Aretino in Italy, but instead fictional characters who pretend to be real. Alongside Lazarillo de Tormes we have the case of Don Quijote and his fictive companions. In Spain, moreover, the epistles “serve to criticize obliquely, or transcend, the limiting environment of social and personal life.”9
     Guillén adds, however, that what the Italian Aretino and the Spaniard Guevara had in common was indiscretion. “Gossip, rumors, and fresh news abound about persons and events external to the relationship between the correspondents. What is more important, the reader is an accomplice.”10 Ultimately, and above all, the burlesque letter is a public genre since the jokes it contains need an audience in order to function as such. As he would do with other genres and subgenres that he used and transformed in his novel, in the second part of the Quijote, Cervantes utilizes this literary mode, adapting it to his narrative purposes.11

     8 Guillén 92. For a situation similar to the one I examine here, that is, one in which the powerful could control the contents of what was communicated in a letter, see Paul Larivaille's study of Aretino, “Pour la histoire des rapports de l'Aretin avec les puissants de son temps; deux lettres in édites au pacha Ibrahim et au roi François 1er” in La correspondance 55-92.
     9 Guillén 95.
     10 Guillén 100.
     11 On the general function of the epistolary genre in Don Quijote, see Amalia Pulgarín, “Función novelística de las cartas en el ‘Quijote,’” Anales Cervantinos 24 (1986) 77-91. All the letters included in Don Quijote reflect Cervantes's substantial novelistic gifts in creating a work that embraced all genres known to him. In this sense, the epistle as a practice of literary [p. 91] apprenticeship and development is studied in Françoise Van Rossum-Guyon, “La Correspondance comme laboratoire de l'écriture. George Sand (1831-1832),” Revue des Sciences Humaines 95.221 (Janvier-Mars 1991) 87-104.

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     In chapter thirty-six Sancho Panza sends the first letter to his wife from the ducal palace, before embarking on his governorship. His epistle is a string of proverbs, of news about his adventures, of simplicities, and of sly irony. He soon admits to his foolishness when telling Teresa that “Don Quijote, mi amo, según he oido decir en esta tierra, es un loco cuerdo y un mentecato gracioso, y que yo no le voy en zaga.” And this after telling her that along with the letter he is sending a green hunting suit that the duchess gave him, so that Teresa might refashion it into courtly garb (saya y cuerpos) for their daughter Sanchica. It should be noted here that in the small intertext created by the letters there is nothing gratuitous, just as there are no symbolic voids in both parts of the Quijote. Indeed, as Francisco Márquez Villanueva has aptly demonstrated, the color green was emblematic of buffoonish madness at that time since it was the color typically preferred by the court fool.12 Therefore, Sancho symbolically passes on the green-colored garment, and along with it his folly, to his family.
     In effect, Sancho acts and writes in accordance with the role of court fool that he has assumed in the palace, crouched at the duchess' hardly benevolent feet. The rogue insinuates that if the disenchantment of Dulcinea, a woman whom he identifies openly with Aldonza Lorenzo, depends on him, she will never be disenchanted. Or, in his own words, “quedará desencantada como la madre que la parió.” The squire is totally blinded by the idea of the island that awaits his governorship, to which he goes “con grandísimo deseo de hacer dineros.” Sancho, just as the court fools who preceded him, expects to prosper and become rich at court. His constant preoccupation with money is duly noted by the duchess, who chides him for his greed.
     Since by this time in the novel Sancho's adherence to every aspect of materiality has been well established, Cervantes chooses to textualize yet another level of identification for an audience who knows Sancho well. The squire thus displays the rustic's traditional and folkloric love for his donkey as well as a

     12 Francisco Márquez Villanueva, “La locura emblemática en la segunda parte del Quijote,” in Cervantes and the Renaissance, Papers of the Pomona College Cervantes Symposium, Nov. 16-18, 1978, ed. Michael D. McGaha (Easton, Pennsylvania: Juan de la Cuesta, 1980) 93-96.


certain asinine nature by sending Dapple's regards to Teresa.13 However, Sancho demonstrates above all else a basic good heart and faithfulness to Dapple when he assures Teresa that he wouldn't leave his mount behind “aunque [le] llevaran a ser Gran Turco.” Good (and practical) peasant that he is, Sancho will never abandon his dear donkey, itself an equine symbol of innocence.14
     I have already mentioned that the familiar letter has been conceived from its inception as a public artifact. The official recipient of the letter is a mere figure through whom the letter reaches a greater diffusion among those who listen joyfully to its reading in public. Following the same scheme, the burlesque epistle is not only public, but rather its nature of courtly diversion makes reading it aloud in public an act of pure buffoonish entertainment. 15 In accordance with this oral public imperative, Sancho s letter is read by the duchess, who criticizes and judges it, and then passes it along to the duke, “de que recibió grandísimo contento.” The other letters are also read aloud, and are unanimously savored and celebrated by the public. Teresa Panza's letters to her husband and the duchess in chapter fifty-two are, in turn, “solenizadas, reídas, estimadas y admiradas.”
     Even though the duchess does not distance herself from the tradition upon which I have been commenting, neither does she

     13 The conventional close relationship between the rustic and his ass can be appreciated in several Spanish proverbs, such as “¿Quieres hacer gran bien a un pobre aldeano? Regálale un asno” and “Sin un burro y sin un Juan pocas casas se hallarán.” These and other examples are found in Luis Martinez Kleiser, Refranero general ideológico español (Madrid: Real Academia Española, 1953) 58-59. Regarding Sancho's asinine nature, it is worthwhile recalling that when he employs what could be called his “don del rebuzno,” the results are quite unfortunate, as when he suffers a staffing at the end of the braying adventure in chapter twenty-seven.
     14 The ass as Christian symbol of humility and innocence was protagonist of the medieval “feast of the ass” which commemorated Mary's flight to Egypt with the infant Jesus. These festivities included asinine masses in which a donkey would be brought into the church and both priest and parishioners would engage in comic braying. Regarding this and other similar festivals, see Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1968) 78.
     15 This can easily be appreciated by reading Villalobos's letters. In a missive sent to Jufre, the royal quartermaster in Flanders, Villalobos speaks of the laughter caused when one of Jufre's own letters was read “ante la Majestad de la Serenísima Reina y á la Señora Camarera con las damas.” See Francisco López de Villalobos, Algunas obras del doctor Francisco López de Villalobos (Madrid: Bibliófilos Españoles, 1886) 9.

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deviate (through Cervantes) from the norms recommended by writers of treatises on the epistolary art. In this regard it is relevant to keep in mind that a tradition of rhetorical rules can be glimpsed between the lines of the burlesque letter and that this tradition is what, in the final analysis, is being mocked. The ars dictaminas or dictandi of the eleventh century is a necessary precursor for the greater context under which the burlesque letter can be examined. Curtius has studied the position of this art of writing within the development of rhetoric, and asserts that it grew out of the necessity of administrative procedure to provide formulaic models for letters and official documents. When it went from theory to practice its growth was unprecedented, to the point that, Curtius continues, one can detect an attempt to subordinate all rhetoric to the art of epistolary style. Cervantes, never one to adhere blindly or humorlessly to literary dictums or any other control of the construction of narrative, may well have wanted to comment on such strictures. As Curtius asserts, adopting the epistolary style “imports both an adaptation to contemporary needs and a conscious turning away from the traditional curriculum of rhetoric. A new name [ars dictaminas] was required to show that the new art was something modern.”16
     But of course, Cervantes knew well that if he was to be judged at all, such objections would have to come from his flouting of more contemporary conventions of style. If the notion of progressive control of a letter's contents is to be analyzed, Vives is one whose epistolary criteria come to mind. In his “De conscribendis epistolis,” Juan Luis Vives indicates that a letter sent to an inferior should be written “con cariñosa afabilidad, que no parezca que hablas desde un lugar elevado, sino en un plano de igualdad, y ello aunque escribas a los de ínfima condición social.”17 Vives then provides suggestions regarding the style and language appropriate for the festive familiar letter. As these are reflections of a conversation between absent friends, they

     16 Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973) 76. This is a necessary addendum to Guillén's exegesis about the relationship between letter-writing and style during the Renaissance. I state this because Curtius argues subsequently that the artes dictandi embraced both prose and poetry, even when they treat of nothing but writing prose letters (148).
     17 I cite from the Spanish version: Juan Luis Vives, “Redacción epistolar” in Obras completas, ed. Lorenzo Riber, 2 vols. (Madrid: Aguilar, 1948) 2: 846.


should be free of all ostentation, written in pure but simple language, with “elegancia desafeitada.”18 Echoing Pulgar, Vives does not banish from the genre a fair amount of textual enrichment through witticisms and jests, nevertheless, he warns that “de estas festivas jocosidades debe estar ausente toda truhanería y no han de ser sórdidas ni escabrosas . . . Deben presidir estos juegos la elegancia, la urbanidad, el aticismo, las gracias donde las risas tienen su morada, que producen admiración y sabroso entretenimiento.”19
     On the surface, the duchess appears to adopt this scheme of “affectionate affability” that Vives prescribes. In the letter that she writes to Teresa Panza in chapter fifty, the duchess treats her with due fondness, calling her “Amiga Teresa” in the salutation and taking her leave as “su amiga que bien le quiere.” However, her letter barely conceals a desire to mercilessly poke fun at the Panzas. Her ironic comment that “tal me haga a mí Dios como Sancho gobierna” is launched in order to underscore the ridiculous imposture of Sancho Panza as governor of a fabulous island. But as we the readers well appreciate, if the Panzine Salomonic governorship does anything at all, it serves to make evident the duke and duchess' poor leadership. The duchess would, in fact, become more just and serious were she to approximate the type of government Sancho practices during his island reign. All this, of course, is the classic inversion of fool literature, wherein the grandee ends up as victim and the truth which nobody dares mention finally emerges.
     Of the same ilk is the coarse proverb that the duchess turns into a tasteless joke when she sends Teresa the coral necklace: “quien te da el hueso, no te querría ver muerta.” Where have the urbanity and witticism that Vives prescribes disappeared to here?20 Within this framework, the duchess also reveals her own cultural impoverishment and vulgar demeanor when she says to Teresa that if she needs anything, “no tiene que hacer más que boquear, que su boca será medida.”

     18 Erasmus indicates practically the same thing, saying that the language of a letter should be adapted to the correspondents and to the circumstances and should always be “refined, learned, and sane.” Erasmus 25: 19.
     19 Vives 853.
     20 This tone halfway between intimate and vulgar, carefree and ironic, in fact tipifies Guevara's familiar letters. Regarding the generic implications of Guevara's epistles, see Asunción Rallo Gruss, Antonio de Guevara en su contexto renacentista (Madrid: Cupsa, 1979) 247-268.

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     The detail of the gift of the necklace is not without precedent. In his manual Estilo and formulario de cartas familiares (1600), Gerónimo Paulo de Manzanares provides models of letters which correspond, among other situations, to the sending or receipt of presents and gifts.21 In the same manner, an obvious antecedent of the request for the acorns can be found among the letters of Antonio de Guevara's Marco Aurelio, in the pedestrian request for green almonds and walnuts for Faustina. Along with the same letter the emperor sends a garment for the addressee and a skirt for his wife.22 Guevara, master and great model for the familiar letter in Spanish, writes one to Alonso de Albornoz in which he admonishes him for not answering his last letter. In it he explains how “no está la baxeza en el escrebir ni responder a personas baxas, sino en querer o hacer cosas feas.”23 This is precisely the error that the duchess incurs in Cervantes. With her letter she establishes an atmosphere of equivocal familiarity that poorly conceals a desire to entertain the court at the expense of her rustic inferiors. Of course, this is also Cervantes's way of subverting the subgenre of the literary epistle. Nevertheless, since subversion is the norm for the textual components of his novel, the specificity of burlesquing the normative aspects of letter-writing is of greater concern for my argument.
     If the letters discussed so far contain traces of the burlesque epistle, the remaining ones by Teresa Panza that appear in chapter fifty-two are brief masterpieces of the genre. The first one, sent to the duchess, begins with a curious message on the envelope that ultimately places the addressee in textual anonymity: “Carta para mi señora la duquesa tal, de no sé dónde.” One should note in this regard that each of the numerous treatises on letters published throughout the sixteenth century contains a rich compendium of model letters on various themes. The first among these works is Gaspar de Texeda's Este es el estilo de escribir cartas mensajeras, compuesto por un cortesano (Zaragoza, 1547).

     21 See “A un criado que embio unas frutas” and “De un secretario, a un amigo suyo, que le embio unos corales” in Gerónimo Paulo de Manzanares, Estilo y formulario de cartas familiares (Madrid, 1600) 195 and 196.
     22 See María Rosa Lida, “Fray Antonio de Guevara, Edad Media y Siglo de Oro español,” Revista de Filología Hispánica 7.4 (Octubre-Diciembre 1945) 375.
     23 Fray Antonio de Guevara, Epístolas familiares, ed. José María de Cossío, 2 vols. (Madrid: Aldus, 1950-52) 1: 88.


There is a second part of this work, entitled Cosa nueva. Segundo libro de cartas mensajeras, en estilo cortesano, a infinitos propósitos. Con las diferencias de cortesías y sobre escriptos que se usan (Valladolid, 1552). The first section of this last part, “Aviso para cartas. Lo que se usa en títulos: cortesías y sobreescriptos,” contains a series of models to be followed according to the category of the author and recipient. The appropriate forms of address for the category of Teresa Panza writing to the duchess, that is, “de criado a deudo o señor,” would be honorifics such as “Ilustrísima . . . “ or “Muy ilustre señora.” Nevertheless, revisionist and humorist that he is, Cervantes has Teresa opt for “Carta para mi señora la duquesa tal, de no sé donde.” Actually, she is calling her a sort of “Fulana de tal,” from Who Knows Where.24 On the other hand Teresa insists on the social distance that separates them by using “su criada” as her letter's closing formula. Here the recipient or reader of this type of manipulation of the “text within a text” convention is faced with ambiguity regarding the social hierarchies represented.
     The proper form of address used in the familiar letter was determined by the social standing of the recipient. Carelessness in this regard was a grave error and sometimes the source of great offense. All correspondents, from the Pope down through princes and the nobility, demanded their own exclusive form of address. Teresa Panza's daring salutation, which falls somewhere between familiar and terribly insulting, fits perfectly within the parameters of the burlesque genre. And, as is well known, the buffoon was granted abundant freedom of expression, since his inherent state of indignitas exempted him from any responsibility for what he said.25 Of course this freedom of

     24 It should be recalled that there is no textual mention of who the duchess actually is or where she is from. In this regard, although there is a smattering of critical commentary on the possible “referents” for the duke and duchess, the fact still remains that the textual evidence does not support the empirical biographical connections proposed under the rubric of “modelos vivos.” This, of course, is a concern that entails an argumentation that is not part of my focus here.
     25 Although I am aware of the larger gender implications, I purposefully use masculine pronouns here since to date no fool literature written by women has been discovered in Golden Age Spain. Because of this, it is interesting to note that Teresa Panza, and by extension Cervantes, represents the transgression of a norm within the already transgressive and noncanonical framework of fool literature.

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expression was relative and the situation of the court fool was always precarious. Don Francesillo de Zúñiga, for example, suffered the consequences of the loss of favor and protection of the king when he was stabbed to death by a courtier supposedly offended by Don Francesillo's remarks.
     Returning to the body of Teresa's letter, she will display a wide range of hyperbolic salutations such as “vuestra pomposidad,” “vuestra señoría,” “señora de mi alma,” “vuesa excelencia,” “vuesa alteza,” and “vuestra grandeza” (the last of these humorously translated by Ormsby as “Your High and Mightiness”). We, the readers, are witnessing a totally buffoonish act. Shielding herself with her own rusticity and ignorance, Teresa Panza creates a letter-joke that in reality serves no other purpose than to pull the duchess' leg. Teresa repeats what we readers already know —that Sancho is deemed by his neighbors to be a fool and incapable of governing anything other than a herd of goats. And what can be said about Teresa and her pretensions as governor's wife? Mrs. Panza dreams about moving to the court in order to “tenderse en un coche . . . oronda y pomposa” with her daughter Sanchica. Indeed, this is a peasant's odd perception of life at court that undoubtedly reflects the duchess' own situation. In effect, Teresa Panza is responding to the duchess' ill-intentioned mocking of country life (the traditional and conventional “alabanza de aldea”) with an extremely subtle disdain of city life (“menosprecio de corte”).
     Teresa then responds to the duchess' request for acorns with ingenuous wit by notifying her that even though none had been harvested in her village that year, she herself had gathered and selected about half a peck of the largest ones. By sending her the acorns, which at the time were related to fatness and stupidity as well as to pigs, Teresa acknowledges the insinuation implicit in the duchess' request for this rustic delicacy.26 At the same time, of course, she gets her revenge for the insult.
     In this vein, another food offering which deserves mention here is the cheese that Teresa gives to the duchess' page and which he duly passes on to his mistress. While being an obvious rustic foodstuff and typical going away present to be expected

     26 According to Covarrubias, “estar de la bellota” means “estar un hombre necio, gordo y robusto, como los cevones que buelven del monte, engordados con la bellota.”


from a peasant, cheese is not without its own symbolic meaning as the food appropriate for the insane.27 Once again, an interpretation of Teresa's actions simply as natural generosity and gratitude must be attenuated by a consideration of the ambiguous symbology of fool literature.
     The last letter in my sample is the one from Teresa to Sancho, which is opened and read aloud for the amusement of the court and, as a consequence, for the readers' own enjoyment. Regarding this orality, we all know that neither Teresa nor her husband Sancho is able to read or write. Therefore, the customary triad of sender-message-receiver in the epistolary text is placed in doubt since the letters dictated by the Panzas are mediated by the writing of others. In Sancho's case, for example, we do not know who writes his letter; in his wife's case, a young altar boy acts as scribe in exchange for a bread roll and two eggs. As a result, it is the mediation of the message that the readers have to decipher.
     This last letter is also a comical assortment of warm expressions of affection and a not overly discrete transmission of provincial news.28 Through the letter we see how the report of Sancho's governorship has been received in his home and village. It is a glimpse into the Panzas' domestic life and at the same time an elliptical means of conceptualizing the communication between a text and its readers. In the letter we find Teresa bursting with contentment at the news of Sancho's island and the possibility of her going to the court. She has even greater hopes of seeing Sancho appointed tax-collector, one of the most difficult and controversial occupations of the period. This in

     27 “[E]1 queso se consideraba como alimento más propio y adecuado para el loco, al que solía ponérsele en el capillo de su ropón.” F. Márquez Villanueva, “La locura emblemática en la segunda parte del Quijote,” 93.
     28 One should remember that in pre-newspaper times, the letter served not only as a means of personal communication but also as a source of daily news. In this regard, see P. Dumonceaux, “Le XVIIe siècle: aux origines de la lettre intime et du genre épistolaire,” in Ecrire, publier, lire 289-302. The psychological ambiguities of letters and how they have been transposed to the present period have been exhaustively examined by Jacques Derrida in The Post-Card from Socrates to Freud and Beyond, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987). For a brief and more recent study of a different kind, see John L. Brown, “What Ever Happened to Mme. de Sévigné? Reflections on the Fate of the Epistolary Art in a Media Age,” World Literature Today 64.2 (Spring 1990) 215-220.

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itself plays with the autobiographical consideration that the author of the novel also struggled as a tax-collector. But as Teresa points out, at least the person who holds this job has and manages money. The wife of the novice governor does not shy away from courtly greed. Indeed, one can ask what it is that these letters are really reporting, for there is no deviation from the unveiling of the whimsical negotiations that are a component of communication between different classes and rhetorics.
     But there is more. In an ingenious parody of the “news of the court” genre, Teresa reports on daily events at home in the village, gossip, and other domestic news.29 It is precisely this information that expands our knowledge of the Panzas and their milieu, and at the same time it reveals the clairvoyant Cervantine attitude of seeing how whatever is written is always in danger of becoming fossilized. That is to say that new news can readily become old news by the time a letter reaches its addressee. The burlesque letter, more than fixating, also serves to alienate a message, or to open it to new meanings. Moreover, the notion of the content of a letter or its proscribed propriety is implicitly challenged, and thereby the “codes” of the genre are, again, called into question. Villalobos himself, in the letter cited above, warns Jufre against excessive jest in his burlesque letters: “Ora mirad quánta fuerça teneys en vuestro officio, que tomamos aca por pasatiempo de mirar el gesto al que lee vuestra carta, porque haze tantos visages y locuras quantas vezes vos meays cada dia y quantas haceys luchar á la razon con el cuero y days con ella patas arriba” (10).
     If Teresa's missives are going to be more concerned with “nuevas de aldea,” it is expected that details about the scarcity of acorns will not take precedent over the lack of olives and

     29 There is an ample display of the “nuevas de corte” genre in Villalobos's burlesque letters. See, especially, letter number two, “El doctor Villalobos á un grande del reino,” in Algunas obras del doctor Francisco López de Villalobos. This “newsmakers” section is placed invariably at the end of the letter. Villalobos explains the reason to a friend as follows: “Este bocadillo os guardé para la postre, porque siempre acabeys de leer mis cartas” (11). It is also introduced by the same expression that Teresa Panza uses: “Las nuevas de acá son, que . . .” Thus, the rhetoric of the construction of burlesque epistolary narrative is quite evident. On the relationship between “nuevas de corte” and fool literature, see Francisco Márquez Villanueva, “Literatura bufonesca o del loco,” Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica 34.2 (1985-86) 501-528.


vinegar as well as other matters that Teresa feels compelled to include in her text to Sancho. In her letter she relates the effect on their daughter of Sancho's appointment as governor as follows: “se le fueron las aguas sin sentirlo, de puro contento.” Fluids —in all their varieties and importance— were deemed worthy of epistolary inclusion and attention. Villalobos, for example, both consoles and teases Jufre in his friend's absence by relating the wine situation at home:

Hasta ahora no haueys perdido nada en estaros allá, porque aún no están todos los vinos hechos; de aquí adelante es vuestro perder, porque se ha cogido ogaño en España más vino que nunca fué de tiempos inmemoriales acá, tanto que en muchos lugares deban á los vendimiadores la mitad de lo que cogian, y no se hallaron vasijas do tanta multitud cupiese. Y comiençan ya á salir los vinos cada uno con su invencion; unos vienen rascadorçitos, que os hacen cerrar los ojos y amoxinar las orejas; otros dulces y conversables, que os hazen morir de risa; otros graues y ásperos, que os paran atónito y embelesado; otros muy cerrados intrínsecos, que hazen de vos un majadero . . . otros cabeçudos, que os darán con la cabeza por essas paredes; otros humosos brauosos, que os harán renegar de la puta borracha que os parió, hablando con acatamiento . . . (3).

     The Don Quijote letters that I have examined are much more than a mere addition to the novelistic conventions of the period. Through them the subtle tension of the episodes that take place in the ducal palace are communicated to the readers. This textual tension not only affects the correspondents but, of course, is also transmitted to the readers. The obvious use of a genre on the point of canonization is raised by Cervantes to a higher communicative plane, a telegraphic one perhaps. At the same time, the overwhelming prosaicness of these letters produces a sort of “colloquial” artistic level of enjoyment both among the listeners within the narration as well as among the readers. This proximity of the aesthetic pleasure derived from a letter's play between what it reveals and what it veils constitutes its appeal to this day.
     Cervantes does expand the characterization of his creations through the intimacy communicated in their letters. But ultimately these are texts that base their art on pure jest. They are a witty exchange of double entendres and literary strategies with the purpose of bringing the grandees down to earth. This, of

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course, is the goal of all arte bufonesca. From this one can infer the letter's intimate link with the critical and social implications of fool literature, the literature of pure entertainment and laughter which, on the other hand, helps to situate Don Quijote at the center of literary modernity.


Digitized with the help of Contessa Marion
Fred Jehle Publications of the CSA HCervantes