From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 6.1 (1986): 13-27.
Copyright © 1986, The Cervantes Society of America

Ring Around the Hermeneutic Circle


THE CRITICAL PROBLEMATICS of the Hermeneutic Circle have a subversive relevance to the topic of today's seminar: Genre Definition and Interplay in Cervantes' Narrative Fiction. It is precisely the sequential contradiction at the heart of the concept of the Hermeneutic Circle that is most applicable to a “deconstructive” reading of Chapter 20 in the 1605 Quijote. The entire episode —Sancho's story and its context— not only dramatizes the generic differences between the two main characters but brings to light the crucial role of genre interplay in the text. The threat that this episode poses to each of the two main characters is at the same time a threat to the genre definition of the entire work. The dramatic tensions of Sancho and Don Quixote's vital situation are to a great extent a metaphor for the condition of the text. A precarious identity marks the ontology not only of the protagonists but also of the work we are reading. On the level of fictive action we find that Sancho is attacked and nearly killed by Don Quixote, while Don Quixote's role as protagonist is nearly subverted by Sancho. Thus the chapter comes close to blocking the entire thrust of the novel, first by the threat of the early narrative death of Sancho and then by the premature disintegration of Don Quixote's crucial novelistic identity as a knight who believes he is the hero of a libro de caballerías. Furthermore, it is the nature of their conflict, that is, it is the genre-linked formulation of their differences, that converts the episode into an examination of the generic identity of the entire work. The episode not only asks who is the hero of the novel but questions the role of the narrator, Cide Hamete, and his attitude toward both Don Quixote and the libros de caballerías. Once exposed


14 EDWARD DUDLEY Cervantes

this question also undermines Cide Hamete's final claims at the end of the novel. There we are left with the uneasy problem of what is the genre of the book we are reading, and concomitantly what is the role of genre in the hermeneutic task of the reader. This fundamental question comes into focus because the episode of Sancho's story shows conclusively that meaning is manipulated by how a passage is read, a problem exemplified by the hermeneutic conflict between Sancho and Don Quixote.
     The answer to these inquiries cannot be found within the text itself, not even within a text as radically self-conscious as Don Quixote. The problem can only be addressed in the act of reading and within the specifics of the genre question as it is formulated in this chapter. Here the narrative itself functions as an articulation of the problem of hermeneutic circularity. The reader is left with a disturbing vertigo, a feeling that will disappear only by proceeding into the stabilizing activity of the next chapter. It is not surprising that the next adventure will be the finding of the helmet of Mambrino, an event Don Quixote welcomes as a vindication of his identity. But the uneasiness with which Don Quixote (and the reader) leave the adventure of Sancho's tale may account in part for the fact that little critical attention has been paid to the problem of its hermeneutic function.1
     A first step in that direction would be an examination of the various genre codes operative within this chapter, but in order to do this it will be necessary to examine Wilhelm Dilthey's formulation of the problem of hermeneutic circularity. It is the problematics of this

     1 Critical analysis of this episode has tended to focus on either the transcendental power of Don Quixote's will or on the use of folkloric material by Cervantes. In Sentido y forma del “Quijote” (Madrid: Insula, 1970) Joaquín Casalduero sees the adventure as a magnificent example of Baroque pictoric density. “El sentido es que la aventura crea el hombre y como para vivirla basta ir en busca de aventura” (p. 114). Maxime Chevalier in a recent study stresses the necessity of studying the folkloric material used by Cervantes if we wish to know how the first readers read the novel. He indicates important studies of Sancho's tale. See Maxime Chevalier “Huellas del cuento folklórico en el Quijote” in Cervantes: su obra y su mundo (Madrid: EDI-6, 1981), pp. 881-93.
     For a study of the changing critical perception of Sancho's role in the novel see R. M. Flores Sancho Panza Through Three Hundred and Seventy-five Years of Continuations, Imitations and Criticism, 1605-1980 (Newark, Delaware: Juan de la Cuesta-Hispanic Monographs, 1982), pp. 77-102).

6.1 (1986) Ring Around the Hermeneutic Circle 15

dilemma that regulates not only the actions of Don Quixote and Sancho but also those of Cide Hamete in this adventure. While Dilthey provides the classic articulation of the problem, the contradiction itself had particularly troubled critical discourse since the Reformation's challenge to the Church's exclusive claim to exegetical authority.2 But even within the orbit of Renaissance

     2 The question of hermeneutic circularity came into a new critical focus in the early 19th century when Friederich Ast discussed the problem of the harmony of the inner parts in relation to the spirit of the work. This at least forms the background of the thinking of Schleiermacher and later Dilthey, from which the modern critical tradition takes its orientation. In Cervantes' time the issue of how to understand a written text had two particular foci: the aesthetics of genre and Biblical exegesis. The question of genre forms was posited of course on authorial intention rather than reader comprehension, but nevertheless, the problem of understanding is implicit in any such discussion. The more urgent problem of understanding the Bible was central to Catholic/Protestant polemics and to the idea of a humanistically achieved scriptural text. In Cervantes' writing the problem of interpreting what language says is inherent in most of his work. In the opening passages of La Galatea, for instance, the relationship between Galatea and Elicio is constituted as one in which the element of mutual (mis-)understanding of what is said and not said is already precarious. Thus the present study does not imply that the problem of hermeneutic circularity is in any way unique to this chapter of the Quijote; rather the interest in this episode is posited on the particularly apt formulation of the question in the differing interpretations of their situation given by Don Quixote and Sancho.
     For a review of the modern development of the idea of hermeneutic circularity see Richard E. Palmer Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger and Gadamer (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969). Dilthey himself traces the sources of the problem to its classical origins and comments on the nature of the conflicting Catholic and Protestant exegetical claims in the 16th century. See Frederic Jameson's translation of Wilhem Dilthey's “The Rise of Hermeneutics” in New Literary History III (1972), 229-44. Subsequent citations are from this text. In this essay Dilthey examines the problem of scriptural interpretation in the 16th and 17th centuries. During the prolonged debate that centered on the question of the Catholic claim of Tradition as stipulated by the Council of Trent, the Protestant polemicists insisted on the validity of the individual's ability to read scripture. Dilthey discusses the writings of Flacius (1567) and cites a statement by him that clearly postulates an awareness of the circularity of the interpretive act: “And indeed the individual parts of a whole everywhere draw their comprehensibility from their relationship to that whole and to the other parts” (p. 238).
     Hans-Georg Gadamer delineates this historical stage in the development of hermeneutics in Truth and Method, translation edited by Garrett Barden and John Cumming, (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, [p. 16] 1985), pp. 153-62. Catholic/Protestant polemics at the beginning of the 17th century would have provided both Cervantes and his readers with a heightened awareness of the perils of textual interpretation. From the Catholic standpoint in the debate Don Quixote is an example of the individual's inability to read texts without guidance, and his madness is an exaggerated instance of hermeneutical fallibility. The difficulty with this problem, however, is complicated by the fact that Cide Hamete's critique of Don Quixote's interpretation of the libros de caballerías appears equally flawed at the conclusion of the novel.

16 EDWARD DUDLEY Cervantes

concern for genre, the problem underlay much of the discussion of the conflict between the status of history and fiction.3 In fact Cervantes' entire fictional agenda in the Quijote is an overt exploitation of this concern, but while the question concerns the work as a whole, perhaps nowhere else is the matter so intricately worked into the texture of Don Quixote's adventures. The core of the problem is succinctly stipulated by Dilthey in his famous treatise on the rise of hermeneutics:

The whole of a work is to be understood from the individual words and their connections with each other, and yet the full comprehension of the individual part already presupposes comprehension of the whole.4

The hermeneutic problem is therefore one of sequential contradictions. Each act of recognition and understanding is dependent upon a previous act of recognition and understanding, but neither act can effectively be achieved without the precedence of the other. To translate the statement from the realm of theory of criticism to an act of criticism relevant to the Quijote, the reader is able to recognize that Amadis has chivalric adventures because it is already known that he is the hero of a libro de caballerías and simultaneously the reader can recognize that Amadís de Gaula is a libro de caballerías because it is known that the protagonist of such a work has chivalric adventures. Thus the genre will be identified by means of the presence of previously

     3 The nature of the confusion between history and fiction in the Renaissance is examined by William Nelson in Fact or Fiction: The Dilemma of the Renaissance Storyteller (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1973). The most comprehensive study of this problem in the work of Cervantes is found in Edwin Williamson, The Half-Way House of Fiction: Don Quixote and Arthurian Romance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984). Williamson traces the connections between the narrative traditions of Arthurian romance and Cervantes' concern with the authority of the text. This latter point in particular comprehends the question of Cide Hamete's narrative stance in relation to his own text.
     4 Dilthey, p. 243.

6.1 (1986) Ring Around the Hermeneutic Circle 17

identified genre-linked features, while the genre-linked features can be identified because they appear within a previously identified genre.
     In Chapter 20 Cervantes presents what amounts to an examination of the temporal workings of hermeneutic circularity by separately dramatizing both approaches. First he has Don Quixote proceed from his comprehension of the previously identified genre to the act of identifying an individual part, while Sancho proceeds from his comprehension of a previously identified individual part to the act of identifying the genre. The chapter concludes with the revelation that both Don Quixote and Sancho have failed to properly identify either the part or the whole, thereby illustrating the failure of closure of the hermeneutic circle. It is this failure of closure that marks the subversive energy of this episode.
     Cervantes' narrative presentation of this problem has four distinct stages, each illustrative of one step in the hermeneutic process:

     1) A mysterious sound is heard by Don Quixote and Sancho.
     2) Don Quixote interprets the sound as a meaningful event within a specific literary genre, i.e. for him it is a genre-linked event signaling a call to chivalric adventure in a libro de caballerías.
     3) Sancho interprets the same sound as having another meaning, i.e. he sees it as a warning of a danger to be avoided and then claims the sound is a genre-linked feature of another genre, the folktale.
     4) The source of the sound is revealed by Cide Hamete and the meaning is discovered to signify neither a call to heroic action nor a warning of danger. It is not a genre-linked feature of either literary kind, nor can Don Quixote or Sancho achieve a closure of either of their respective hermeneutic circles.

Thus the conflict between Don Quixote and Sancho is specifically over the problem of interpreting the meaning of a sign. Each of them tries to read the sound as a signifier and understand what has been signified. Don Quixote and Sancho both err in believing that the meaning of the sound is determined by its being part of a genre system. The discovery that the sound is not part of either of the literary genres indicated opens the question of the genre of the literary whole we are reading. What meaning does this episode have? The answer can only be obtained by seeking to identify the genre to which it belongs. That task, however, can only be approached negatively according to this chapter. The reader can only know for certain that neither of the genres indicated by Don Quixote and Sancho is correct. An examination of the sequence of events in the episode will illustrate how the specific hermeneutic circularity

18 EDWARD DUDLEY Cervantes

indicated does not work and how the resulting generic indeterminacy anticipates the precarious conclusion of Part II.
     The episode begins with Don Quixote and Sancho searching for water in the darkness. The latter condition precludes an important role for visual images. The signs, such as they are found, are primarily aural. The water mill hidden in the darkness is the source of the entire adventure, and the episode in part functions as a reprise of the windmill scene. In the first encounter Don Quixote could not recognize the mill even when it was visible; here he cannot recognize it from its sound. But in the earlier adventure Sancho did see the mill for what it was. Now he also fails to identify the sound of the turning fulling hammers and therefore reads another meaning into what he hears. In a crucial turn of events he will here for the first time oppose Don Quixote's interpretation with one of his own that is based on another literary genre. In this way two literary kinds are placed in clear opposition to each other, and the question of hermeneutics becomes the pivotal issue.
     In addition to the confusion caused by the darkness the protagonists do not know where they are. Their spatial disorientation forces them to proceed by groping through the grass. Sancho perceives the thickness of this grass as a sign that water must be nearby. They proceed, following Sancho's interpretation, until they reach a point at which they hear the sound of rushing water, as in a waterfall or cascade. Not only is water the central motif in this episode but the meanings associated with water are specifically what preoccupy both Don Quixote and Sancho. Water is often linked with either the birth or the identity of the hero, as in the case of Moses or Amadis, Don Quixote's paradigmatic chivalric model. Both Don Quixote and Sancho cite or evoke instances of rivers, respectively the Nile and the Guadiana, in their attempts to interpret the meaning of this sound. Intermixed with the sound of rushing water is a harsh pounding noise which is rhythmically repeated. Neither Don Quixote nor Sancho can identify this new clamor, and from this point forward the entire episode is focussed on the problem of “reading” this sound, on discovering its source and on interpreting its meaning. It is the mystery which challenges both Don Quixote and Sancho and comes to symbolize the genre enigma of this chapter.
     Don Quixote provides the first attempt at a hermeneutic circle. He predictably interprets the sound to be a call to chivalric adventure, that is he identifies the sound as a genre-linked feature of a libro de caballerías. Given his prior identification of himself as the hero of that

6.1 (1986) Ring Around the Hermeneutic Circle 19

genre, it follows that any phenomenon is potentially readable as part of such a whole. This is only one of a series of such identifications by Don Quixote, and it is a basic characteristic of his fictive identity. To cite only one previous act of identification, in Chapter 19, when Don Quixote sees the funeral procession, Cide Hamete comments: “en aquel punto se le representó en su imaginación al vivo que aquella era una de las aventuras de sus libros.”5 Thus by definition Don Quixote's madness is a genre-controlled fixation which causes ordinary occurrences to be perceived as genre-linked signs. In Chapter 20, however, it is important to note that this genre-fix is more fully explicated by Don Quixote than in any previous episode so that the reader is presented with a fully articulated display of how Don Quixote's madness operates.
     Don Quixote's interpretation of the meaning of the sound is nearly a page long and provides a highly focussed spectrum of generic antecedents that highlight his own view of his role. Two crucial components of this explication provide a clarification of the chivalric potencies he claims. First he sees himself as a special hero fated to achieve a paradigmatic feat that will not only endow him with unending fame but will be an act that will benefit humankind in general. He has been selected by fate to accomplish this deed, an act only he is capable of carrying out. But a hitherto hidden part of this heroic potentiality is also a capability to read signs and interpret mysterious events. This ability is part of the condition of the great heroes of myth and legend. Arthur knew he had to try to pull the sword from the stone; the Cid knew how to read the movement of birds; Amadis knew instinctively which side to assist in a battle. What is important is that Don Quixote asserts here that this capability is part of his own condition and therefore proof of his identity. His success in this adventure thus becomes an essential verification since he has just admitted failure in the funeral episode in Chapter 19 and is therefore in need of a corroborating adventure.
     He begins his assertions by indulging in a litany of such assertions:

yo nací, por querer del cielo . . . para resuscitar . . . yo soy aquel para quien están guardados los peligros . . . yo soy, digo otra vez, quien ha de resuscitar . . . . (p. 179).

     5 Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. Martín de Riquer (Barcelona: Editorial Juventud, 1971), p. 172, my italics. Subsequent quotations are from this edition.

20 EDWARD DUDLEY Cervantes

He then cites an elaborate list of chivalric heroes, figures from Biblical and historical sources as well as from literature. This repertoire includes the knights of the Round Table, the 12 peers of France, the Nine of Fame, and then a list of heroes from the libros de caballerías. In order to further impress Sancho with the importance of what he is about to undertake and with the immediacy of their peril, he describes their situation utilizing an aesthetically intensified literary language. The total effect of this is to elevate their experience to the level of a literary genre and to reinforce his own fictive identity. It is in his metaphorical expansion of the sound of the rushing water that Don Quixote makes a significant reference to the Nile. According to popular tradition at the time, the river had its source in the Mountains of the Moon in Ethiopia, and Don Quixote's descriptive phrase “desde los altos montes de la Luna” was a well-known verso ocasional. This reference further enhances the overt “literariness” of the description by providing the requisite exotic remoteness. In addition the Nile evokes associations with the birth of Moses and by extension with the birth of Amadis, another foundling launched on a heroic career in the waters of a river. It is also relevant that another tradition of the time stressed the fact that the source of the Nile was not only remote but hidden. The occulted condition of the source of the sound is thus metaphorically enriched with all the exotic remoteness and inaccessibility necessary for a paradigmatic aventura. (And it is precisely this quality of unseen knowledge that is to be claimed by Sancho in his counter-interpretation.) The totalizing effect of all these associations creates the expectation of the self-authenticating adventure sought by Don Quixote. Like Arthur's pulling the sword from the stone or Galahad's discovery of the Grail, this adventure will, Don Quixote asserts, prove his identity as a chivalric hero. In effect by means of this inflated assertion he puts his identity on the line in this encounter.
     The third stage of the episode is Sancho's counter-reading of the significance of the sound. He begins with a discourse on the meaning of their situation diametrically opposed to Don Quixote's. His procedure is the reverse of Don Quixote's, since he begins with the meaning of the sign itself and only later invents the story as a deliberate strategy of his argument. In his efforts to interpret events he utilizes whatever material comes to mind. He quotes from the Bible, he cites the village priest, he invokes Don Quixote's legal responsibilities to his squire. Finally in an effort to get Don Quixote to at least postpone his adventure he argues that he can tell from the position of the stars that dawn is at hand. This “ciencia” of reading the stars he claims to have learned when he was a shepherd,

6.1 (1986) Ring Around the Hermeneutic Circle 21

anticipating for the first time the contentual orientation of his forthcoming tale. But this science, as he dubs it, is also part of Sancho's claim to a hidden knowledge, opposed to Don Quixote's. It constitutes a counter-epistemology that threatens to subvert an essential component of Don Quixote's heroic incarnation: his ability to read signs. Sancho further argues that fear is the source of his own ability to see hidden matters. Thus he opposes his fear to Don Quixote's courage as the source of his epistemological powers.
     Sancho's fear also allows him to perceive that Don Quixote is not receptive to any hidden knowledge but his own, so Sancho resorts for the first time to a trick: he ties Rocinante's legs together so that he cannot move except by jumps. This deception is likewise hidden in darkness, and Sancho correctly anticipates that Don Quixote will read Rocinante's condition as another sign from his own genre. Don Quixote is convinced that fate has intervened and prevented him from undertaking the aventura at that time and so he resigns himself to waiting until the dawn breaks before proceeding. This conforms exactly to Sancho's trick, and it is during this suspension of the aventura that Sancho is able to interpolate his subversive story.
     The genre of Sancho's narrative is determined by his interpretation of the sound of the water and the hammering, and because he reads this as a warning of danger he connects their situation with the warning encapsulated in the formulaic opening of Spanish folktales.6 In this way the genre of his tale is developed as the product of his previous identification of the meaning of the sound. Thus the same sound is now claimed as a genre-linked feature of two opposing literary kinds, the libro de caballerías and the Spanish folktale. As a result we have two potential hermeneutic circles that share, in Siamese fashion, a single feature. The meaning of that feature can be determined by whichever hermeneutic system the reader selects. This condition is, of course, remindful of the fact that the sound in itself bears no meaning, and that therefore meaning in literature is arbitrary, dependent on the genre system.7 A full set of such arbitrary oppositions is now operative, each claiming possible

     6 The tale that Sancho tells is found in various medieval collections and was well known in the oral tradition of Cervantes' time. See the commentary of Rodríguez Marín in his edition, Don Quijote de la Mancha (Madrid: Clásicos Castellanos, 1961), 11, 143-44.
     7 For a full discussion of the role of genre in the question of interpretation see Alastair Fowler, Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1982). Fowler asserts that the primary importance of genre is its role in interpretation not its function as a means of classification.

22 EDWARD DUDLEY Cervantes

meanings of the sound: one heroic and the other antiheroic, one aristocratic and the other popular, the one aesthetically high style and the other low style, one generous and giving and the other sagacious and self-protective. Most important of all, the one calls the hero to high adventure and personal fulfillment in search of a hidden truth, while the other admonishes the individual to avoid unnecessary involvement with possible danger. Each claimant will attempt to close his hermeneutic circle with opposing procedures, and each will claim that his genre provides the true interpretation of their situation. The conflict between them can be resolved only by determining the correct meaning of the sound. In this way the interpretive struggle becomes the narrative thrust of their adventure. The resolution of the adventure will show which genre-fix correctly interprets their situation and which protagonist is in possession of the most powerful hidden knowledge. It is a battle of conflicting hermeneutic systems; interpretation has been transformed into a fictive situation.
     Sancho's challenge to Don Quixote surfaces immediately in the opening rhetoric of his tale. He begins with the all-important formulaic warning: “Erase que se era, el bien que viene para todos sea, y el mal, para quien lo fuere a buscar . . .” (p. 182). And then Sancho adds the following bit of hermeneutic guidance: “. . . que viene aquí como anillo al dedo, para que vuestra merced se esté quedo, y no vaya a buscar el mal a ninguna parte, sino que nos volvamos por otro camino” (p. 182). Don Quixote immediately perceives the threat to his own system of reading and interrupts: “Sigue tu cuento, Sancho . . . y del camino que hemos de seguir déjame a mí el cuidado . . .” (p. 182). This response is based on Don Quixote's recognition of the image of camino as a genre-linked feature of his libro de caballerías. He has, in fact, more than once observed that the knight or his horse will choose the road to adventure. In this way Don Quixote is asserting the privileged category of his own ability to interpret over Sancho's counter-claim.
     Nevertheless the threat to his role as dominant reader remains. It was Sancho who read the signs that led to the water, and his trick of tying together Rocinante's legs has prevented Don Quixote from following the road of his own choice.8 More important, the trick

     8 See Mac E. Barrick, “The Form and Function of Folktales in Don Quijote,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 6 (1976), 101-38. Barrick classifies Sancho's story as a catch-tale, the basic thrust of which is to trick the listener.

6.1 (1986) Ring Around the Hermeneutic Circle 23

foreshadows Sancho's even more radical deception of Don Quixote in Part II when he invents the enchantment of Dulcinea. Sancho's emerging role as a reader of signs is thus launched. In the immediate situation, the story he will tell is a narrative trick in more ways than one. It distracts Don Quixote from his own genre and from his own role, and forces him to assume a role in Sancho's genre. Furthermore it enhances Sancho's role as a counter-interpreter of the meaning of their mutual adventures or non-adventures.
     The final stage of the closing/non-closing of the hermeneutic circles belongs, however, to Cide Hamete. As the basic narrator of the history of Don Quixote's adventures, it is his fictional agenda that will determine both the fate of the protagonists and the significance of the episode. Cide Hamete's basic rhetorical procedure has been one of ironic distance from the heroic pretensions of Don Quixote and the cowardly maneuverings of Sancho. This ironic stance has allowed him to successfully undermine the goals Don Quixote has set for himself, and in this instance his strategy achieves one of its more comprehensive reversals. The classic definition of irony, well known in Cervantes' time, was that it was simply a means of saying the reverse of what the words would mean without the ironic overcast. Thus it is a primary rhetorical device for subverting meaning. In this way Cide Hamete's fundamental agenda is one of hermeneutic manipulation. It is not merely the sequence of the words and phrases but rather the tone given to the message that determines the way a passage is read. In this way Cide Hamete effectively adds a third hermeneutic circle to the present situation. The central problem of the meaning of the sound is now to be determined by his disclosure that the sound is nothing more exotic, threatening or significant than the sound of an abandoned fulling mill. As in most previous cases the gap between Don Quixote's genre-fix and Cide Hamete's account of what is happening provides the comic punch. But in this instance the revelation has a more dramatic impact because Cide Hamete has withheld the information about the molino from the reader as well as from Don Quixote and Sancho. This procedure involves the reader in the problem of conflicting genre interpretations. If neither Don Quixote's nor Sancho's hermeneutic circle is operative, then the effectiveness of Cide Hamete's is also in question. The reader is made aware of the impact of genre upon reading, and therefore the problem of what constitutes the meaning of this episode is left hanging in the air. Here the irony turns back on the narrator because

24 EDWARD DUDLEY Cervantes

he cannot recall its corrosive power. By making the question of hermeneutics part and parcel of the dramatic action, Cide Hamete has brought the problem of his own narrative procedure to the surface, and that problem will also have to be worked out on the level of Don Quixote's actions.
     In this case the ironic reversal of Don Quixote's pretensions constitutes a lethal threat to both Don Quixote's genre-fix and to his identity as a fictive hero. Not only is the mill not a sign of a heroic call to adventure, it is not a sign of any kind. Instead it is one of the myriad occurrences that escape the individual's ability to “read.” Life is more complex than the literary genres in question. Both the chivalric romance and the folktale are constituted as genres in which the everyday detail of life can contain a hidden meaning which the protagonist must read correctly. The sword in the stone or the frog in the princess' garden contain potencies which the hero or heroine must respond to with appropriate action. This condition does not obtain in the realistic novel. Therefore Don Quixote's situation when he discovers the source of the sound threatens his earlier affirmations about his heroic incarnation. His own view of his genre is in jeopardy. As hero he should have been able to read whether the event was significant or not. His power to “read” has been too obviously subverted. His threatened position accounts for his near fatal attack on Sancho when the latter taunts him about his previous claims: “Yo soy aquel para quien están guardados los peligros . . .” (p. 188). Don Quixote's reaction is born of the fatal danger such taunts constitute to his view of himself.

Viendo, pues, don Quijote que Sancho hacía burla dél, se corrió y enojó en tanta manera, que alzó el lanzón y le asentó dos palos, tales, que si, como los recibió en las espaldas, los recibiera en la cabeza, quedara libre de pagarle el salario, si no fuera a sus herederos (p. 188).

This beating silences Sancho's taunts but it does not remove the hermeneutic threat to Don Quixote's chivalric identity. He is left with what he perceives to be the generic indeterminacy of the adventure. He must deny the most obvious meaning of the situation, the clearly comic tone perceived so accurately by Sancho. Don Quixote must reject this reading or he will be forced to see an unwanted truth about himself —i.e. he is not the hero of a chivalric romance. That moment must be deferred until the very end of the novel, but the possibility of that moment is brought to the surface here. The

6.1 (1986) Ring Around the Hermeneutic Circle 25

immediate conclusion of his madness is close to realization in this episode, so close that Don Quixote himself cannot ignore it. The real threat is in the account that Don Quixote realizes must be written about this adventure. In other terms Don Quixote realizes that his hermeneutic circle will not close if this episode is included. The reader will not be able to “read” the situation as a genre-linked part of a chivalric romance. His response is a daring step across the line that separates the hero from the narrator: he decides that the episode must be excised. He explains this to Sancho as he admonishes him to silence about what has happened.

—No niego yo —respondió— que lo que nos ha sucedido no sea cosa digna de risa; pero no es digna de contarse; que no son todas las personas tan discretas que sepan poner en su punto las cosas (p. 189, my italics).

In this way Don Quixote attempts to draw a circle of silence around the entire episode. He needs to suppress it because it can't be read according to the hermeneutic circle he has projected. Again the turn of events in the story is pivoted on the problem of hermeneutics, on how to read. What is most significant, however, is that Don Quixote is attempting to usurp Cide Hamete's role as chronicler. He has performed a radical editorial act so that he himself can proceed with his agenda of inventing his fictional identity. But this cross-over of roles between Don Quixote and Cide Hamete, between hero and chronicler, is not achieved without a price. The problem of chivalric glory and artistic intention is now brought to the surface in a way that both ironizes and foreshadows the reversal of narrator/hero roles in the conclusion of the entire novel.
     The awareness that meaning is posited on generic systems of interpretation creates the possibility of a new reading of Cide Hamete's claims in the final passages of the work as a whole. There, at the end of Part II, the last confrontation between Don Quixote's system of reading and Cide Hamete's writing agenda receives its ultimate and most radical reversal. Each figure trades his own hermeneutic circle for the other's, and the last claims each makes are ironized and rendered suspect. By means of this reversal the reader finds that the conclusion of the novel belongs neither to Don Quixote nor to Cide Hamete and neither has the final word. The editorial “Vale” with which the text is ended becomes a gesture of conclusion only in the sense of its having the force of a propemptikon, a farewell

26 EDWARD DUDLEY Cervantes

salutation to the reader, for whom the meaning of the work is now rendered fallible.
     The procedures for this reversal are effected as Don Quixote once and for all abandons his fictive identity as hero of a romance, recognizing that his inner dream was a false ideal based upon false readings. But there is a final error in this rejection, one that Don Quixote shares with Cide Hamete, and one that will subvert both their hermeneutic systems. Don Quixote errs simply in failing to recognize that it was his “reading” of the romances that was false, not the romances themselves. The meaning is misread, just as he misread the sound of the batanes because he didn't recognize the correct genre. For this mistaken reason Don Quixote leaves his own genre and enters the genre of Cide Hamete, the world of the realistic novel. The irony of this last error is intensified by the fact that now neither the priest, nor Sanson Carrasco nor Sancho wants him to abandon his generic stance. Nor does the reader, because by means of this stance the entire book has unsettled the humdrum tedium of the protagonist's life and transformed it into a “Romance,” an ironic romance but one that allows for the possibility of meaning in the indeterminate playing out of events in everyday life. This satisfies the modern reader's need for the undercurrent of fulfillment that was deliciously met by the seductive innocence of the old libros de caballerías. This act of abdication on Don Quixote's part results, however, in a new subversion of Cide Hamete's writing agenda and of his role as critic of the libros de caballerías. Cide Hamete's assertion that his sole purpose has been to undermine the genre is based on the same error that haunted Don Quixote, the problem of the “truth” of the fatal libros de caballerías. But his error is also in the failure to interpret them correctly, in his insistence that they be read as realistic novels. The truth is that Cide Hamete is closer to Don Quixote than he has admitted, and the reader now sees that neither hero nor chronicler knows how to read a romance. The consequences of this weakness are fully revealed when we find that Cide Hamete finally surrenders to the call of heroic presence as soon as he abandons his ironic distance from Don Quixote. The deconstructive charm in Don Quixote's claim to chivalric power, of being the hero of hidden knowledge, of knowing what was and was not his true adventure now seduces Cide Hamete.
     This ultimate reversal of roles occurs immediately after Don Quixote's death. Then in a hurried and somewhat embarrassed

6.1 (1986) Ring Around the Hermeneutic Circle 27

attempt to conclude the novel, and at the same time, to insist that only his writings about Don Quixote are the true writings, Cide Hamete succumbs to the power of Don Quixote's chivalric claim to glory and abandons himself to the appeal of the world of Romance. The true aventura of the book, he alleges, has been the act of writing it, and he, not Don Quixote, is the true hero. In a final assertion of chivalric hubris, Cide Hamete hangs his pen upon the wall, like the arms of the knight returning from the crusade, and warns all potential usurpers that this adventure has been reserved for him alone. He even places a sign upon the wall that echoes Ariosto's claim for Roland's arms, a warning twice cited by Don Quixote.9 Cide Hamete's assertion of authorship, however, is expressed in the words of an old Spanish ballad:

De ninguno sea tocada;
porque esta empresa, buen rey,
para mí estaba guardada (p. 1068).

With this act Cide Hamete has in effect entered Don Quixote's genre and stolen Don Quixote's role as the hero of Romance.
     Thus the seductive and insistent allure of chivalric glory has escaped, like a floating signifier, from Don Quixote's supposedly discredited libros de caballerías and come to rest uneasily, subversively and ironically on Cide Hamete's “true” history of his errant knight.


     9 Warnings of this type were a commonplace of chivalric literature. Don Quixote cites Ariosto's admonition concerning Orlando's arms twice, first in I, 13 and later in his instructions to Sancho about his own arms, II, 46. The specific ballad line used here by Cide Hamete has also been previously adapted by Don Quixote in reference to his Cueva de Montesinos adventure in II, 22, where his claim to the adventure is never fully accepted by Sancho. Cide Hamete's claim here not only imitates Don Quixote's but similarly fails to convince.

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