From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 4.1 (1984): 79-83.
Copyright © 1984, The Cervantes Society of America


Midsummer Eve and the Disenchantment of Dulcinea*


     A hitherto uncited facet of the second part of Don Quijote is Cervantes' use of traditional Midsummer rituals as context for chapters thirty-four and thirty-five.1 As noted by Frazer in The Golden Bough, these festivals occurred throughout Europe and North Africa from prehistoric times into the present. Such ritualized events were important to primitive man because of their astrological significance: the sun, at its zenith during the longest day of the year, was thought to bestow special purificatory powers upon fire, water, and plants.2
     Chapters thirty-four and thirty-five present the ducal couple's comically involved introduction of a formula whereby the ‘enchanted’ Dulcinea may be disenchanted, a function —essentially one of purification, even concretely of un-bewitching, as we shall see— universally associated with the Midsummer Eve's ritualized celebration. The appropriateness of introducing Midsummer elements into the story at precisely that juncture of Don Quijote is, therefore, unquestionable.
     Although we shall have occasion, shortly, to compare the details of Cervantes' description in those two chapters with the symbolic elements and actions traditionally identified with Midsummer Night

     * For further information on this topic, see Alfred Rodriguez and Karl Roland Rowe, “Cervantes' Redundant Midsummer in Part II of the Quijote,” Cervantes, 5.2 (1985), 163-67.
     1 In his edition of the Quijote (Madrid: Castalia, 1978) II, 506, note 3, L. A. Murillo cites Frazer's studies relative to Midsummer rituals in conjunction with Cervantes' explicit presentation of Saint John the Baptist's day in Chapter 61. Also see his The Golden Dial (Oxford: Dolphin Book Co., 1975), Ch. 4., “The Summer of Myth.”
     2 J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1935), X, 328-46. All references to Frazer are to this edition.



rituals, the novelist's own words, immediately before introducing the activities that concern us (in the form of a pageant organized by the protagonist's noble hosts), are clearly indicative, it would seem, of his creative intention:

     Con estos y otros entretenidos razonamientos, salieron de la tienda al bosque, y en requerir algunas paranzas, presto se les pasó el día y se les vino la noche, y no tan clara ni tan sesga como la sazón del tiempo pedía, que era en la mitad del verano . . . .3

     The foremost feature of the Midsummer rituals was fire. All over Europe and North Africa fires were lit at dusk on Midsummer's eve.4 Frazer suggests that the purpose of these fire rituals was mainly purificatory:

Hence, when we remember the great hold which the dread of witchcraft has had on the popular European mind in all ages, we may suspect that the primary intention of all these fire-festivals was simply to destroy or at all events get rid of witches, who were regarded as the causes of nearly all the misfortunes and calamities that befell men, their cattle, and their crops (Frazer, X, 751).

     Noise, as a means of scaring off witches and evil spirits, was also an integral part of the Midsummer's Eve performance, with much tramping, shouting, playing of instruments, and firing of weapons a necessary adjunct to the ritualized practices:

. . . shots, too, are fired, and shouts raised. The fire, the smoke, the shots, and the shouts are all intended to scare the witches . . .  (Frazer, X, 170).

     3 M. de Cervantes,Don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. by M. de Riquer (Barcelona: Juventud, 1974), II, 793. Curiously enough, we hit upon this heretofore unnoticed Cervantine intention while teaching the Quijote in English, where J. M. Cohen accommodatingly translates Cervantes' passage by ‘Midsummer.’ Cervantes himself was not accommodating to the reader, for he purposely offers a confusing chronology. Shortly after the episode studied, Chapter thirty-six, a ducal letter is dated July 20, and shortly thereafter, in Chapter forty-seven, another is dated August 16. Finally, he goes back (II, 60-61) to St. John the Baptist's day, June 24, for the protagonist's arrival in Barcelona. But any reliance on this chronological data —or any chronology at all— for rejecting our dating of the episode in question is in large part defeated by L. A. Murillo's brilliant analysis of chronology in the Quijote. See, specifically, Murillo, Golden Dial, pp. 62-66.
     4 The inclusion of North African Midsurnmer practices is warranted, and even perhaps pertinent (note the Moorish cries included later among the noise-making endeavors), because of Cervantes' long North African captivity.

4 (1984) Midsummer Eve and Dulcinea 81

     Cervantes' initial description appears to leave little doubt regarding the three ritual elements indicated, dusk, fire and noise:

. . . y así comenzó a anochecer un poco más adelante del crepúsculo, a deshora pareció que todo el bosque por todas cuatro partes se ardía, y luego se oyeron por aquí y por allí, y por acá y por acullá, infinitas cornetas y otros instrumentos de guerra, como de muchas tropas de caballería que por el bosque pasaba. La luz del fuego, el son de los bélicos instrumentos, casi cegaron y atronaron los ojos y los oídos de los circunstantes, y aun de todos los que en el bosque estaban.
     Luego se oyeron infinitos lelilíes, al uso de moros cuando entran en las batallas; sonaron trompetas y clarines, retumbaron tambores, resonaron pífaros, casi todos a un tiempo, tan contino y tan apriesa, que no tuviera sentido el que no quedara sin él al son confuso de tantos instrumentos (II, 793).

     Fear-producing noises, which Cervantes stresses most,5 appear quite direct1y connected, in this instance from the Quijote, with the Midsummer witch-scaring function:

Oyóse asimismo un espantoso ruido, al modo de aquel que se causa de las ruedas macizas que suelen traer los carros de bueyes, de cuyo chirrío áspero y continuado se dice que huyen los lobos y los osos, si los hay por donde pasan (II, 794).

Frazer, again, has documented the rolling of wheels as a ritual element of Midsummer witch-scaring performances;6 and wolves and bears, the animals specifically mentioned, are among the animal forms often taken by witches in the superstitious lore concerning such matters.7
     Water is the other important element in the Midsummer's Eve ritual, especially in Southern Europe and North Africa.8 Not surprisingly, then, water plays an important role in the Cervantine presentation. After Sancho faints, being the person most affected by the fire and the noises, he is revived by having water thrown in his face. Although the aspersion of water on the face of a person in a

     5 It is the only element stressed, but heavily stressed, in the urban Midsummer festivities offered in Barcelona.
     6 Frazer, X, 160-61.
     7 See, for example, J. J. López  Ibor, ¿Cómo se fabrica una bruja? (Barcelona: DOPESA, 1976), pp. 106-110; J. Michelet, Satanism and Witchcraft, trans, A. R. Allison (New York: The Citadel Press, 1969), p. 123.
     8 E. Westermarck, Ritual and Belief in Morocco (London: MacMillan and Co. Ltd., 1926), II, 182-206; and Frazer, X, 213-19.


dead faint would today seem a natural mode of behavior, its origin (if one could envision an ignorance concerning such a state that would lead to its equation with bewitchment) may well be magical.9
     Moreover, the paragraph with which Cervantes closes out the entire episode heavily stresses the ritual liquid. It is worth citing because, besides stressing water and plants, it is clearly intended to convey the post-purificatory effects of the Midsummer Eve's rituals:

Y ya, en esto, se venía a más andar el alba, alegre y risueña; las florecillas de los campos se descollaban y erguían, y los líquidos cristales de los arroyuelos, murmurando por entre blancas y pardas guijas, iban a dar tributo a los ríos que los esperaban. La tierra alegre, el cielo claro, el aire limpio, la luz serena, cada uno por sí y todos juntos daban manifiestas señales que el día que al aurora venía pisando las faldas había de ser sereno y claro (II, 803).

     Clearly, the disenchantment of Dulcinea, as planned by the ducal pair, has much in common with the purificatory rituals of Midsummer. The entire affair begins at dusk, precisely at dusk, and its presentation, as we have noted, is suffused with the basic elements (fire, noise, water) associated with the un-bewitching purificatory functions of the Midsummer ritual. Even those Cervantine (or ducal, if one wishes) elements that might appear to have the least connection to Midsummer Eve's festivals, such as the appearance of the devil or of that series of literary enchanters, are in no way out of place. The devil, although not necessarily in person, was thought in some Iberian communities10 to be visible at Midsummer's Eve; and the myriad enchanters, with Merlin at their head,11 are not at all removed from the witches that were about on, and targeted by,12 the Midsummer rituals.

     9 In any event, the sprinkling of water on the face and eyes continues to this day to be practiced on the eve of St. John the Baptist's day throughout rural Spain.
     10 Frazer, X, 208. The Devil's presence is presupposed, naturally, wherever witches are considered present.
     11 This need for recognizable enchanters (witches), of which Merlin was of course the most renowned, may well explain Cervantes' decision (noticed and commented upon by Sancho) to have Merlin take the place of the previously announced Montesinos.
     12 Curiously enough, the eve of Midsummer was one of the major sabbats, or witches' festivals. See M. Summers, The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969), p. 112 [1st ed., 1926].

4 (1984) Midsummer Eve and Dulcinea 83

     Significant, of course, is the parallel, which holds for the entire episode, between the fundamental function of the Midsummer rituals (purification via the driving off of witches) and the plot as developed by the novelist. The reader must remember, as the duke and duchess undoubtedly do, that Sancho is responsible for the ‘enchantment’ of Dulcinea at El Toboso. It is only appropriate, therefore, that he, as enchanter-witch, be the primary object of the purificatory rites, their primary victim. In effect, Sancho is frightened into unconsciousness by the fiery and noisy events, and his dousing at that point may well be seen as a comic parody of the purification rituals involving water practiced in Southern Europe and North Africa. It is only logical, as well, that Sancho, the enchanter of Dulcinea, should perform the purificatory penance, and the self-flagellation hit upon by the ducal pair is riotously comical because it simultaneously serves as disenchanting formula and as just punishment (in the most universal and pedestrian manner) for his naughtiness.
     Even more significant, as it is so often with the Quijote, is the question of Cervantes' inexplicit manner of presenting what is, upon analysis, so clear a use of the Midsummer rituals. He had little
hesitancy in referring very explicitly to the matter upon don Quijote's arrival in Barcelona, where it in fact has a minimal role as such. A reasonable answer may be found in the novelistic context in which the incident takes place. As is the case with so much of the second part of the work, chapters thirty-four and thirty-five reflect a make-believe world, created for the protagonist's benefit (and the merriment of its creators) by other characters in the novel. By offering no explicit indication, on the occasion in question, of his character-creators' manipulation of the most appropriate moment and the most appropriate traditional ritual, Cervantes may well be making a most significant statement: behind the burlesque creativity of his characters, deepening and enriching that creativity with dimensions of his own experienced soul, there is always the writer himself.


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