Ramón Menéndez Pidal was born in 1869 and died in 1968, so 2018 is the 50th anniversary of his death and 2019 the 150th anniversary of his birth. To commemorate these events, the Fundación Ramón Menéndez Pidal celebrates the ‘Bienio Pidalino’.
What follows is Ramón Menéndez Pidal, “The Genesis of Don Quixote,” from The Anatomy of Don Quixote: A Symposium, edited by M. J. Bernardete and Ángel Flores. First published in English by Dragon Press, 1932. Copyright 1924 by Ramón Menéndez Pidal; currently, this essay appears in Cervantes across the Centuries, edited by Angel Flores and M. J. Bernardete 1948, 1969 by Gordian Press, NY.
The origin of this article was a speech in Ateneo de Madrid in 1920, later published in Ramón Menéndez Pidal, «Un aspecto en la elaboración del Quijote», in De Cervantes y Lope de Vega, 1.ª ed., Buenos Aires, Espasa Calpe Argentina, 1940, pp. 9-56 (see online version in Spanish)
From the twelfth century onward, France, relying primarily on Bretonian legends, had set the model for the versified romance of chivalry, the taste for which spread throughout Europe, thanks to the charm of works such as Tristan, Lancelot, Perceval, and, Merlin, by Chrétien de Troyes or Robert de Boron, and to that of a body of prose literature that made its appearance in the first half of the thirteenth century. Heroic verse, which reflected traditional, political, and martial ideas and was characterized by domestic austerity and the absence of love as a poetic theme, was now succeeded by a new kind of narrative poetry, which, like the lyric, assumed the essential character of love poetry, with its scenes unfolding in a courtly, elegant world far removed from the stern feudalism of the epic.
The several and new emotions that enriched these poems of adventure were embellished by very diverse means. Through the famous works of Béroul, Chrétien, and Thomas, France was especially smitten by the poetry of fatal and turbulent love, whose poisoned shafts struck the breast of Tristan. Germany, in the poem by Wolfram von Eschenbach, contemplated the battles of inner purification fought in Parsifal’s soul, winning for him the kingdom of the mystical city of the Holy Grail. Spain refined the legends of Bretonian inspiration into the anonymous Amadís, inventing the innocent first love of the Doncel del Mar and Lady Oriana, which was destined to last from childhood until death “in such a manner that never for a single hour did they cease to love one another,” despite the temptations and hardships that relentlessly conspired against them.
Amadís, whose stout heart beats comfortably only at the shock of danger and in the midst of battles against deadly attacks, nevertheless trembles and turns into a coward in the presence of his lady, at whom he hardly dares to gaze. He goes numb upon merely hearing Oriana’s name, and he would actually fall off his horse were it not for his faithful squire Gandalín, who steadies and supports him. The romance of chivalry inherits this trait from the love poems. But because the latter originate immediately after the epic, it is not surprising that they, like the later romances of chivalry, have certain points of contact with the ancient heroic poems. Like heroic poetry, the romances of chivalry conceive their heroes within very similar ideals of chivalric perfection, placing them in a world made up of only two bands, one of the noble personages, the other of the wicked, who are locked in eternal antagonism with one another. Moreover, the struggle between them is settled in battles that use formulas and narrative techniques found both in the romances of chivalry and epic poetry.
Apart from the inspiration of love, other very profound differences in the conception of poetic life nevertheless separate the new literary productions from the old. In the romances of chivalry the struggle between the two forces previously mentioned is not carried out in an organized fashion, as in the epic—where the contest is generally played out before the king and his court—nor does it extend to entire nations. It is instead a purely personal struggle. The life of the ancient vassals, set in the midst of a powerful family group, faithful to or rebellious against their lord, abandons its national and political dimensions to assume a human and merely individual quality with the advent of the new knights-errant, who wander about alone in search of adventures, stimulated by whim and chance. The horrible revenges based on inherited enmities that characterized the epic are now replaced by what the Amadís calls “glorious vengeances,” which the knight executes in the name of justice as if following a professional protocol without himself being personally involved in the wrong he seeks to redress. The knight-errant fights as if to the death for any reason, whether it be to prevent the harmful enchantments of Archelaus or merely to compel a strange knight to declare his secret name. Heroic action is replaced in the romances of chivalry by actions that are arbitrary and more than human, both in the brutal acts of violence of the evil knight and in the lance thrusts of the good ones, which always cut through perversity’s strongest coats of mail. The epics’ heroic deeds unfold slowly in the middle of the life of societies of great historical density; meanwhile, the adventures of the romance of chivalry take place brusquely and swiftly against a lonely landscape, typically in a vast forest where the laments of the aggrieved go unheeded until the avenging knight hears them. If there arises on the edge of the forest a wellturreted castle inhabited by some powerful lord, or by a giant or an enchanter, be he evil or kindly, it is only for the purpose of initiating further complicated adventures which the good knight untangles and resolves with the blows of his invincible arm. If farther on a king’s court is occasionally found, it is only because the valiant knight-errant, who all by himself is more powerful than the entire kingdom, is awaited. How far removed is all this from the Poem of Mío Cid! The Corpes Woods, where the Cid’s daughters are ravaged, is not the center of the heroic life. The greatest of affronts committed against the hero in the oak woods is not immediately avenged on the spot, as a romance of chivalry would demand, but rather at the court of Toledo and under its authority. However, the romance of chivalry is actually not very far removed from the later epic—the new decadent epic of the Cid—in which the vassal repudiates his king and the entire nation and goes on to fight alone.
In Spain, this medieval romance had a very late revival. Around 1492 Garci Ordoñez de Montalbo adapted and expanded the old Amadís with such timeliness and good fortune—typical at the time of all Spanish endeavors—that the work, which for two centuries had been confined to the Peninsula, now sallied forth brilliantly and impetuously into the realm of universal literature, being translated and meriting repeated editions in a great many foreign languages. The romance of chivalry, which during the Middle Ages had scarcely produced any original works in Spain and which in France was completely forgotten, enjoyed in the plenitude of the Renaissance a profuse flowering which spread from the Peninsula throughout Europe. There came forth an entire series of sequels to the Amadís which recounted the lives of the sons and grandsons—Esplandianes, Lisuartes, Floriseles— of the fortunate Doncel del Mar. Additional series of Palmerines, Primaleones, and a hundred other knights, who came from the strangest and most archaic realms of fiction, entertained the spirits of those generations that deserved the more refined art of Bembo, Garcilaso, Ronsard, and Sidney. The last highly successful romance of chivalry, the one that survived the longest, was Diego Ortún ̃ez de Calahorra’s El Caballero del Febo (1562), whose adventures furnished plots to the courtly theater of Queen Elizabeth of England and inspired Henry Pettowe and perhaps even Shakespeare himself.
With some basis in fact, but also considerable exaggeration— justified by the exuberance of popular opinion on the matter— it has been claimed that chivalric and adventurous ideals were at odds with the Spanish character and spirit. For some, an unfathomable abyss existed between the Spanish epics (like the Poem of Mío Cid) and the romances of chivalry which, some had asserted, never enjoyed real popularity among us. It is true that the romance of chivalry is not derived from the ancient Spanish epic, but it is nevertheless linked to it, even if only by a tenuous thread. It is also true that it is primarily a reflection of foreign models, but this fact neither cancels out its popularity nor stands in the way of the intimate Spanishness of the Amadís, which was a happy adaptation to the Spanish spirit of a French trend. And if chivalric literature captivated the Spanish public from the remote times of King Don Pedro to those of Philip III, filling bulky tomes for the more cultured classes; if it descended the social scale in the form of cheaply produced broadsides for the humble classes and invaded even the beautiful ballads of the Romancero; if it inspired the national Hispano-Portuguese theater; if it found its way into seigneurial events and public fiestas; if its lengthy tales provided absorbing reading, capable of filling with bitter remorse the conscience of the old Chancellor Ayala, Juan de Valdés, or Santa Teresa, and of worrying the solicitors in the Cortes of the kingdom as well as the moralists Luis Vives and Fray Luis de Granada, then we must concede that this literary genre was not only popular but exceedingly so. The romances of chivalry did not triumph, as some believe, because they were the only narrative works of fiction available in the sixteenth century, but rather because they practically had no competition, as their adventures had long beforehand captured the Spanish imagination. These works spawned continuations and sequels because readers’ imaginations wanted to prolong the pleasure of living vicariously the life of exciting adventure with its victorious, avenging great deeds.
This literature was not dying of old age even as late as 1602, when Don Juan de Silva, Lord of Cañadahermosa, published his Crónica de don Policisne de Boecia. Then came the well-known moment when Cervantes decided to better the reading habits and morals of his homeland by discrediting the romances of chivalry.
Don Quixote is thus born with a special literary purpose, stated repeatedly by the author, according to which it may be believed that the novel bears only a negative relationship to such books and to the chivalric spirit that informs them. Lord Byron (in his Don Juan) thinks that Cervantes destroyed the Spanish feeling for chivalry and that he was thus responsible for his country’s ruin. Likewise, León Gautier (upon dedicating his monumental volume on the chivalric life to Cervantes himself), bitterly lamented the fact that ancient chivalry—his love of loves—was ridiculed and put to death by the great novelist. To forgive Cervantes for the imperishable yet demolishing pages of Don Quixote, Gautier was forced to evoke the heroic soldier of Lepanto, preferring the man over the book. Menéndez y Pelayo, at the opposite pole, maintained that Cervantes did not write a work antithetical to chivalry nor one of dry and prosaic negation but, rather, a work of purification and perfection: He came not to kill an ideal but to transfigure and exalt it. All the poetic, noble and human elements of chivalry were incorporated into the new work with the loftiest of meanings. In this way, Don Quixote was considered to be the last of the romances of chivalry, the definitive and most perfect one.
Between this latter point of view, which in itself seems paradoxical, and the other, more generally accepted one, we shall endeavor to develop our own judgment concerning the fundamental meaning of Don Quixote by taking a genetic approach.
Regarding the introduction of a comic dimension into a heroic domain, Don Quixote appears as the last exemplar of a series. This intertwining of the comic and the heroic had existed in literature for many centuries, since the very time of the epic’s splendor. It is sufficient to recall, as the most notable instance, the epic poem Pèlerinage de Charle Magne. The Renaissance stressed this way of understanding heroic poetry, because in that period, which contemplated serene classical beauty with great seriousness, the characters of the chansons de geste must have been seen as extremely simple poetic fictions, as monotonous in their turns of thought as in the wild blows of their swords. Spirits nourished by the ideas of Roman antiquity understood much less the empire of Charlemagne than that of Augustus, and they were unable to truly appreciate the simple grandeur of the medieval epic. Thus the Italian Renaissance, from the end of the fifteenth century, finding itself with Pulci and Boiardo confronting Carolingian and Bretonian poetic material that the northern Italian tradition transmitted to it, could not take that tradition seriously. By making Roland fall in love, Boiardo amused himself by presenting the unconquerable paladin as an awkward and timid lover, a stupid fellow, a babbione ever deceived by Angelica. Later, Ariosto (1516–32) continued this ridicule of the hero, making him a spurned lover, and exaggerating the furious madness of his jealousy to tragicomic proportions. With regard to these culminating scenes, the poet, whimsically and with a barely veiled smile, intertwines the knights of Charlemagne with those of Marsilio in a tangle of adventures—adventures replete with love affairs, battles, and enchantments, each one being interrupted and overtaken by the following one, like the calm waves of the sea, always continuous, always monotonous, foaming forever with playful novelty.
Almost a century after Ariosto, Cervantes took up chivalric adventures from a comic point of view. The Spanish author knew and admired Boiardo as well as Ariosto. He frequently imitated the Orlando Furioso, and Don Quijote even prided himself in being able to sing some stanzas of the poem. Still, face to face with his much admired predecessors, Cervantes achieved a strange kind of originality. While Pulci, Boiardo, and Ariosto carried forward the narration of the old poems with mocking humorism, Cervantes, on aiming to satirize the tales of chivalry in prose, did not set out to write a poem but rather a novel which took him into an artistic realm very different from that of the Italians. That is, Cervantes did not seek the initial source of his inspiration in their works, lofty as they were with artifices and the exquisiteness of monumental endeavors; instead, following the instincts of his Spanish nation, he sought inspiration in a simpler, more popular kind of literature.
Along with the comic scenes of the old French epic and the unbelievable narration of chivalric fiction created by Boiardo and Ariosto, there had long existed, in works of a lesser literary magnitude, another more openly hostile way of looking at chivalry: that of embodying its ideals in a poor madman whose fantasies are dashed to pieces against hard reality. For example, in the second half of the fourteenth century, I find in the work of the Italian novelist Franco Sacchetti a figure of the most exact quixotic appearance. In Agnolo di Ser Gherardo, Sacchetti created an extravagant personality, afflicted with a chivalric monomania in spite of his seventy years of age, who, mounted on a tall, lean horse that was the very image of hunger itself, goes from Florence to a nearby town to attend jousting matches. As his assistants help him put on his helmet and give him his lance, mischievous wags place a thistle under the tail of his nag, which begins to run, leaping and bucking, and does not stop until galloping all the way to Florence. There, amid general laughter, a woman takes in the battered equestrian, puts him into bed to cure him of the blows caused by his helmet and armor, and upbraids him for his foolish chivalric madness. Not only the comic structure but also the narrative details are similar to those in Don Quixote. Who can forget the old Manchegan hidalgo atop his lean Rocinante on the beach at Barcelona, where he, too, has gone to participate in certain jousts, and by his strange bearing arouses wonder in the merrymakers who surround him? Who does not remember the boys who place a bundle of gorse beneath his horse’s tail, producing the beast’s bucking that sends Don Quijote crashing to the ground?
Cervantes must have known Sacchetti’s story or a similar one, either in manuscript or in its oral telling, although he must have come to it late, only upon writing part II of the novel, where he exploits it. He also must have been familiar with some of the various stories then in circulation about comic delusions suffered by readers of books of chivalry, like the one about the student at the University of Salamanca who, because of these books, abandoned his studies and one day interrupted the solitude of his reading with loud shouts and sword thrusts in the air in defense of one of the characters in the novel he was reading; to such a point it had saturated his brain.
While Cervantes must have known stories of this sort, perhaps not knowing or remembering them until after beginning Don Quixote, it is certain that he conceived the first episodes of the novel as a response to the stimulus of a work of another type, a contemptible “Entremés de los Romances” (“Interlude of the Ballads”) whose importance, in my opinion, has not yet been understood by the critics.1 Adolfo de Castro happened to exhume this sorry theatrical composition, stating that Cervantes himself was its author and thereby attracting to himself the most justifiable and widespread disgrace among critics. Nevertheless, his foolish affirmation ought not to prevent us from examining the question without prejudice.
The “Entremés” must have been written about 1591 or shortly afterward. Its intention was to make fun of the extraordinary vogue of the Romanceros, the volumes of which had been published without pause for half a century, especially the Flor de Romances, which was reprinted and augmented from 1591 to 1597.
This “Entremés” introduces us to a poor peasant, Bartolo, who from “reading the ballads so much” goes crazy, as Don Quijote did from reading the books of chivalry. Bartolo insists on ridiculously imitating the knights in the ballads. His ravings bear the most striking resemblance to those of Don Quijote during his first adventure, that of the Toledan merchants. Having become a soldier in his madness, Bartolo believes himself to be the Almoradí or the Tarfe of the Morisco ballads, and he attempts to defend a shepherdess who is being harassed by her shepherd boyfriend. But the latter takes Bartolo’s lance and mauls him with it, leaving him flattened on the ground. In like manner, Don Quijote is beaten with his own lance by one of the merchant’s muleteers. Unable to get up, Bartolo consoles himself by thinking that not he but rather his horse was to blame for his misfortune. Don Quijote says the same thing, without being able to raise himself from the ground: “It is not through my fault that I lie here, but through that of my horse.” Resemblances increase when Bartolo, recalling the well-known “Ballad of the Marqués de Mantua,” now believes himself to be the enamored Valdovinos, who lies wounded in the deserted woods and exclaims: “Where art thou, my lovely lady/Feel’st thou not my cruel pain?” Don Quijote likewise believes himself to be Valdovinos, and he bursts forth reciting these same verses. Meanwhile, members of Bartolo’s family arrive, and he now thinks that it is the Marqués himself arriving; thus he greets them with more verses from the ballad: “O noble Marquis of Mantua/My uncle and carnal lord!” These are verses that Don Quijote also repeats when a peasant from his own town approaches him.
The “Entremés” goes on stringing together parts of the ballad, first in the mouth of Bartolo, then in those of the other characters who, humoring the madman, give themselves over to a foolish parody concerning the very famous history of the Marqués de Mantua. As would have been expected, Cervantes rejected such a grotesque parody, and he reduced it to a short narrative in which he says that Don Quijote only replied to all of his neighbor’s questions with verses from this ballad, recounting Valdovinos’s misfortunes as his own. In this short sequence, early in his novel, Cervantes allows himself to be swayed by the parodic system of the “Entremés.” He recalls that the Marqués, on approaching the wounded knight,
From his head and face his helmet
And his beaver first he drew;
Then with gore beheld him cover’d,
All of one ensanguin’d hue.
With his handkerchief he wipes him;
When his face from blood was clean,
Then, alas! too true the story,
Then too plain the truth was seen.
Cervantes tells us that, upon approaching Don Quijote, the peasant, “taking off the visor of his helmet… wiped off the dust that covered his face, and presently recognized the gentleman and said to him…” Created by Cervantes without any burlesque intent, this parody is a significant vestige of his unconscious imitation of the ballads, as suggested by the “Entremés.”
Bartolo and Don Quijote are carried away in the same fashion to their respective villages, and while on the road the madness of both takes a violent leap from the ballad of the Marqués de Mantua to those on Morisco themes. Bartolo now imagines that he is the mayor of Baza, who laments with his friend Abencerraje the unfaithfulness of his beloved Zaida, and Don Quijote fancies that he is Abencerraje’s captive, who tells the mayor of Antequera about his loves. Both madmen finally reach their homes, and once in bed, they fall asleep. But in a short time both are back to alarming their concerned relatives, disturbing them with new follies: Bartolo ranting about the burning of Troy and Don Quijote about the tournaments of the twelve peers.
“May the devil take the ballads which have put you in such a plight!” says Bartolo’s neighbor. “May a hearty curse… light upon those books of chivalry that have put you in this pickle,” says Don Quijote’s housekeeper when he reaches home. The “Entremés” aims to make sport of imprudent readers of the ballads and treads its ground firmly when it makes Bartolo believe that he is a character drawn from them. Cervantes wants to censure the reading of chivalric romances, and he is very much out of his element when he repeatedly makes Don Quijote rave about the same ballad characters as Bartolo. It can be readily seen that the first idea of the madman who dreams that he is Valdovinos belongs to the “Entremés,” and that only thanks to its general, undue influence is it found in Cervantes’ novel. If we should claim for an instant that the “Entremés” was written after the novel and created in imitation of Don Quixote, we would be forced to confront the fact that it reaches into the very foundation of both works.
We should still add yet another substantial consideration on behalf of the precedence of the “Entremés.” A madman in whose head his own personality dissolves in order to be substituted by that of a famous personage is the crass and sole type of lunacy that governs the “Entremés,” which is mindful only of provoking the spectators’ laughter. But in Don Quixote this kind of madness only appears in the first adventure, in the fifth and seventh chapters about which we have been speaking. It is, moreover, a madness that is at odds with the one that always afflicts Don Quijote, whose personality remains on every other occasion steadfast and firm in the presence of those heroes who are the cause of his insanity. One must consider, then, in examining the foundations of that which is quixotically comic in the adventure of the Toledan merchants, that Cervantes did not conceive the episode by freely mixing the resources of his own fantasy, but that his imagination was constrained and limited by the indelible recollection of the “Entremés de los Romances,” which had left a strong comic impression in his mind. This tenacious, immoderate impression not only imposed on Cervantes an unconscious and incomprehensible substitution by the ballads of the Romancero tradition of the books of chivalry as the cause of Don Quijote’s madness, but rather, and in addition, implied a form of madness and a parodic procedure that were quite foreign to the untrammeled imagination of the novelist.
This is the fundamental element in the genesis of Don Quixote. Cervantes discovered a productive kind of humor in the “Entremés,” which poked fun at the mental derangement caused by the injudicious reading of the Romancero. This literary satire seemed to him an excellent theme. But he shifted it away from the ballads— an admirable poetic form—in order to transfer it to a literary genre despised by many, that of the romances of chivalry, which at the same time were as popular as the Romancero. There were authors, too, who, like Lorenzo de Sepúlveda, wished to apply a corrective to the influence of the old ballads, so “full of many lies and very little merit,” but Cervantes was not to proceed either in the manner of Sepúlveda or of that of the writer of the “Entremés.”
As soon as Don Quijote arrives home and goes to sleep, resting from the madness of having been the Valdovinos of the ballad, the priest and the barber proceed to the scrutiny of the deranged hidalgo’s library. In it, besides the great profusion of romances of chivalry, there are the Dianas, the Galatea, and other pastoral romances. There are heroic poems in the Italian style and the Tesoro de varias poesías, but we notice with surprise that there are none of the many Cancioneros, Silvas, Flores de Romances, or other Romanceros that had been published over the previous half century.2 To Cervantes, the brief poems contained in these collections were, so to speak, the poetic output of the entire Spanish people. They could not be the cause of the madness of the very noble knight of La Mancha, nor should they be subjected to the judgment of the priest and the barber. What really drove Don Quijote insane were those bulky old books of chivalry which were condemned to the fire, like the unwieldy Don Florisel de Niquea and that fat barrel of a tome, Don Olivante de Laura. Still, the first instance of Don Quijote’s immortal madness was not provoked by any of these but rather by a thin, cheaply produced broadside containing the “Romance del Marqués de Mantua,” which does not figure in any way in the witty and grand scrutiny because it entered not into Cervantes’ plans but rather into those of the mediocre author of the “Entremés.”
Solely through the immediate influence of the “Entremés” are we able to discover that the ballads, not the romances of chivalry, lie at the heart of Don Quixote. And this is not only the case in the adventure of the Toledan merchants but also in other events of chapter 2. At dusk on that hot July day which saw Don Quijote’s first longed-for sally through the Montiel plain, when he arrives at the inn where he is to be dubbed a knight, is he contented with the poor lodging that the innkeeper offers him, recalling the words of the mysterious ballad La Constaneira: “My only gear is arms,/My only rest, the fray”? And when the inn’s female attendants help him remove his armor, he goes on with his insanity by garbling lines from the ballad of Lancelot:
Oh, never, surely, was there a knight
So served by hand of dame,
As served was he, Don Quijote hight,
When from his town he came.
But all this changes completely as soon as Cervantes puts the “Entremés” behind him.
When a superior work of literature is in question, the study of the literary sources of an author, which is always an excellent way of understanding the sum of human culture of which the poet forms a part, should not be undertaken for the purpose of determining what that work takes from them in order to subtract from its originality. (That could only be done by those who do not understand what truly constitutes artistic invention.) On the contrary, the study of sources should serve to show how a poet’s conception rises above those sources, how it frees itself, and evaluates and transcends them.
Paradoxically, Cervantes is more original than ever precisely when he follows the “Entremés” most closely. Of that fresh, keen, and profound comic delicacy which makes the episode of the Toledan merchants one of the best in the novel, not a single element is derived from the “Entremés,” which imposed on Cervantes’ imagination only sporadically the most peripheral details of the adventure. The grotesque and clownish Bartolo resembles Don Quijote from the outset only in the crass materiality of some of his actions. To make use of the “Entremés” in the first chapters of Don Quixote, a gigantic creative effort was needed; this fact is forgotten by many eminent critics who are reluctant to believe that Cervantes’ (or Dante’s) inventive genius could have had more sources of inspiration than those commonly attributed to them. After providing Cervantes with a point of departure, the “Entremés” did not help but rather became a hindrance because it obligated him to carry out a corrective procedure that we are able to observe only partially and that to some degree was carried out not at the time of the work’s gestation but in the course of its execution.
Several inconsistencies in the sequence of the episodes and their relationship to one another can easily be observed in Don Quixote. This phenomenon has stimulated some critics to speak of Cervantes’ creative haste in writing his work, while others believe such a view to be merely a common misconception because it is known that Cervantes corrected and produced more than one draft of his writings. It should be clear that there are traces of every possible cause in the lapses that have been noted in the novel; there are cases of evident carelessness, half-made corrections, and bold displays of willful incongruities and absurdities. Forever changing direction because of the hero’s deranged imagination, the overall plan of the plot of Don Quixote received less attention than that which the author devoted to the Exemplary Novels. Cervantes wanted to allow the action to be fraught with all the trifling inconsistencies of improvisation, very much in the Spanish style. But that improvisation in no way presupposes indifference but rather gives a keen, lively, and profound impression that refuses to be bogged down by useless detail. Cervantes’ art is not a careless one because he happens to draw liberally from popular fiction; he knows how to carve out of that raw material facets of extraordinary poetic brilliance. It is not a careless art made simply to satisfy the shallow joviality of those who say: “Let us have more quixotic stunts, let Don Quijote attack and let Sancho comment, come what may, and with this we will be quite content!” Cervantes was perfectly aware that he was infusing his work with lasting human value. He writes, in the prologue to part II, that he believes “that there is not going to be… a language into which it will not be translated.” Yet in contrast to the carelessness we observe in some details, how much meditation is evident in the distillation of the quixotic type! What an intimate and prolonged cohabitation between the artist and his creation!
Our point of departure is that Cervantes’ fantasy did not conceive the type spontaneously but rather that it was in a certain fashion held in check by the outline of the “Entremés.” He did not create his protagonist according to a plan well defined at the outset; he worked instead from a somewhat imprecise and synthetic vision. Only during the development of the work did he, at times groping tentatively, draw forth and call to life all the complicated grandeur that was latent in his brilliant initial conception. One can easily understand how felicitously the gradual development of an idea may be in a long novel of adventures. Far from being a wearying repetition of the original type of the hero, Don Quijote’s adventures are a never-ending series of revelations, even for the artist himself, and they are therefore ever more gratifying to the reader. The character of the protagonist is not perfectly and completely revealed until the very end of the novel.
Don Quijote’s particular madness on his first sally, imagining himself at one time to be Valdovinos laying wounded on the ground, believing himself immediately thereafter to be Abindarráez the prisoner, and next Reinaldos, indignant with Don Roldán, was, as we have already indicated, very damaging to the personality of the ingenious hidalgo. Cervantes abandoned this course completely after he had exhausted the “Entremés,” his first source of inspiration. From then on Don Quijote would always and only be Don Quijote.
His character immediately receives firm support. In that same seventh chapter in which his delusions about his identity come to an end, Sancho enters the scene. He, too, comes from popular literature. An old proverb goes: “There goes Sancho with his donkey.” And here comes Sancho, inexhaustible reciter of proverbs, like an archaic type of squire who had first appeared in the fourteenth century in the oldest known romance of chivalry, El Caballero Cifar. In the very first conversations that Don Quijote holds with his squire there is already an anticipation of the hidalgo’s axiomatic mental habits that later will give weight to his madness and soon afterward, in the eleventh chapter, blossom forth in the eloquent speech on the Golden Age. Master and squire will continue to gradually complement (and complete) one another in such a way “that the madness of the master without the servant’s gaffes would not be worth a penny.” Rubió rightly adds that when Don Quijote is left alone in the Sierra Morena and at the home of the Duke and Duchess, which are the only two occasions on which the genial pair is separated, we feel for Sancho the same yearnings that the knight experiences in his own golden heart.
As soon as he put an end to the adventure suggested by the “Entremés de los romances,” Cervantes clearly understood that the kind of humor produced by the collision of a half-witted fantasy with cruel reality, which was consequent with the popular art of Sacchetti or the author of the “Entremés,” could not reach humoristic perfection by being based on the heroic and national ideals of the ballads. It is true that the Romancero and the romances of chivalry were half brothers as offspring of the medieval epic, but the Romancero, as a legitimate child, remained within the patrimonial legacy of the heroic world, while the bastard child (the romances of chivalry) went in search of adventures and lost its wits by pursuing them. Cervantes venerated the world of the epic, and as soon as he saw himself free from the influence of the “Entremés” he withdrew Don Quijote’s madness from the verses of the Romancero and made it take refuge, as if in its own castle, in the fantastic chivalric deeds of the prose romances. These, then, in the mind of Don Quijote, are elevated to the level of heroic fictions. The hidalgo claims to know that in the armory of the kings of Spain, next to the saddle of the Cid’s horse Babieca, stands the enormous peg, big as a wagon tongue, with which the valiant Pierres guided his wooden horse through the air. And he even places the world of the romances of chivalry above that of the epic, holding the Knight of the Blazing Sword in higher esteem than the Cid himself. Scandalized by this nonsense, the canon, on the contrary, discriminates between the epic heroes and the phantoms of chivalry, and he connects the former in a general way with historical personages. He had never seen in the Armory in Madrid the peg belonging to Pierres, but he believes in the authenticity of Babieca’s saddle (which archaeological scholarship has now banished from the royal collection), and he counsels Don Quijote to stop reading about the fanciful deeds of Felixmarte de Hircania and the Emperors of Trebizond and to pay heed to the (real) ones of Viriatus, Caesar, Alexander, Fernán González, and the Cid.
Without uncertainty we may say that Cervantes definitely understood that his Don Quijote could not continue reliving the episodes of the Romancero, of which the Spanish imagination was so notably fond, and that he knew that the comic force of his book would have to rely solely on the clash between the knighterrant’s asocial perfection and the life of society tightly organized and structured by the powerful institutions of the state. Don Quijote not only stops believing himself to be a character drawn from balladry; he also ceases to apply to himself the ballads’ verses. He only appropriates later a certain famous vow from the Marqués de Mantua ballad (“My arms are my only gear; my only rest, the fray!”) as indelible memories of the first manifestation of his madness as influenced by the “Entremés.” Apart from this, it seems as if Cervantes instinctively wished to remove himself as far as possible from the wrong road along which he had initially embarked, and in all the rest of the part I of Don Quixote he makes but few allusions to the ballads in spite of the fact that they were then in fashion and even used in ordinary conversation. Don Quijote cites only the ballad about Lancelot and the one about the Cid being excommunicated by the Pope, treating them as historical matters. By contrast, in part II of the novel, written when Cervantes was already free from the objectionable “Entremés,” the resonance of the Romancero tradition occurs twice as often as it appears in the first part and, as we shall see, it is much more fully developed there than in part I.
Even when Cervantes expressly avoided making reference to the Romancero in part I, he had it very much in mind and made use of it for his own personal inspiration. When he wanted to enliven part I of Don Quixote, crafting the plot with care and making the greatest effort that a novelist could make according to the art then in fashion, he created the series of episodes in the Sierra Morena. There came to his mind a ballad worthy of imitation, although its thrust was quite different from that which held sway in the parodic “Entremés.” It is the figure of Cardenio, taken bodily from a ballad by Juan del Encina that circulated along with the traditional ones in Cancioneros and broadsides. Rejected by his beloved, this Cardenio, leaving his dead mule behind, penetrates into the most rugged and remote part of the Sierra, and leaps from hedge to hedge amid brambles and thickets. Then, surrounded and pitied by the shepherds he encounters, he weeps, gives signs of madness, becomes speechless, and fixes his eyes on the ground:
A sorrowing knight presses
into the forges of a dark mountain
His steed, dead, he forsakes,
and scales the cliffs alone.
Deeper and deeper,
from bush to bush,
into the thickest of the forest
With eyes downcast,
he does not stop lamenting.
His beloved has scorned him,
and never before has he felt such pain.
“Who hath brought thee here, Sir Knight,
into this dark forest?”
“Alas, shepherd, only my misfortune!”
Cervantes’ learned critics have failed to see the correspondence between this ballad and Cardenio’s actions, but it is clear to us, and it reveals how in the mind of Cervantes his inspiration in romance has shifted its focus.
Once Cervantes modified the relationship between the hidalgo’s madness and the Romancero, he was easily able to lead the protagonist to his perfection. Ever since his first sally, Don Quijote had proposed to right wrongs and punish the proud, but in this respect he does not yet differ greatly from the grotesque Bartolo, who confronted the shepherd pursuing the shepherdess. Only in the seventh chapter, cited earlier, in which the influence of the “Entremés” comes to its end, does the hidalgo elevate his madness to a comprehensive reflection, expressing the need for knighterrantry to be, through him, revived in the world. He is thus invested with a mission and this fleeting phrase signals the moment of genius of Cervantes’ conceptualization. For it is then that the author begins to look upon the madman’s fantasies as an ideal deserving of respect; it is then that he decides to depict him as grand in his purposes but inadequate in their execution. Perhaps the initial, flawed introduction of the Romancero into the novel helped Cervantes to rescue the heroic element still present in the romances of chivalry. These elements coincided with the epic, as we have noted, in the ideal of chivalric perfection. Don Quijote gradually fulfills in himself both the ideals of the epic and those of the romances of chivalry. He is steadfast in his love of glory and tenacious in his struggles in the face of danger; he displays a loyalty to which all ingratitude is foreign, and he will not tell a lie, even though he be shot for it. He interprets and applies the law correctly, aids all those in need, defends those not present, is liberal and generous, eloquent, and even listens to omens, daring to challenge those which are adverse to him, as did the ancient Spanish heroes. The romances of chivalry had added a further perfection to the epic ideal: that of being in love. Dulcinea rises up before Don Quijote because the “knight-errant without a beloved was a tree without either fruit or leaves, a body without a soul.” Thus, from the intricate adventures of the romances of chivalry, Don Quijote’s confused mind derived a pure heroic ideal that came down from the same stock as that of the ancient epic.
“Poor Don Quijote!” exclaims Paulin Paris, considering the superior beauty of the French poems of chivalry from which the romances of chivalry took their inspiration. “Poor Don Quijote! The romances responsible for your madness were nothing more than long colorless paraphrases. What would have become of you if you had read the French originals?” But no, if Don Quijote had read only Tristan and Lancelot with “that recounting, so sweet and smooth, of his brave and amorous deeds,” he would have been an ordinary madman, fortunate only in tragic loves. The parody would have come to an end and exhausted itself after a few scenes verging on buffoonery in which the knight of la Mancha would win Dulcinea, the “Tobosan dove,” by the might of his arm, realizing an accomplishment that Cervantes often had in mind and that he had announced in the introductory verses of Urganda’s prophecy. The French poems might well have maddened Don Quijote more, but only the happy Spanish adaptation of the Amadís could lend a superior nobility to his madness. After much racking of his brains in long meditations, Don Quijote decides to imitate not the madness of Orlando Furioso but rather the penitence of the knight from Gaul on the Pen ̃a Pobre. “And now,” he exclaims, “oh famous deeds of the great Amadís, come to my remembrance, and instruct me in the means by which I may begin to imitate you!” This is the moment in which his madness offers a glimpse of all the moral grandeur of which he is capable.
From that time onward, the gradual refinement of the quixotic type is assured. If before that moment the fidelity and veneration that Don Quijote feels for Dulcinea reveal some vacillation and serious lapses of reverence (part I, chapters 21, 25, 26), from now on the figure of the faithful lover is definitively established, especially in chapter 30 in which the knight-errant slights the Princess Micomicona. Recall the subsequent chapter in which Sancho, telling of his mission to El Toboso and its message, describes Dulcinea as a mannish country wench winnowing reddish wheat; the more the squire seeks to undo all the illusions of Don Quijote, the more successfully the knight-errant reconstructs them with delicate and untiring care.
This stubborn restoration of the ideal of the beloved is likewise treated a little earlier, in chapter 25. Yet how much more infelicitously, because of the vacillation and irreverence already mentioned! And still the progression continues. The peasant girl Aldonza, who had a better hand for salting pork than any other woman in all of La Mancha, with whom Sancho is acquainted, and whom Don Quijote has looked upon occasionally in respectful silence, disappears in part II of the novel and is converted into an ideal lady whom her knight has never seen, being in love with her solely on the basis of hearsay.
In like manner, the novel’s comic disposition, which at first manifested itself in confused fashion, gradually reaches its highest inner perfection. At the end of part I Don Quijote can say: “ever since becoming a knight-errant, I am brave, courteous, bountiful, well-bred, generous, civil, bold, affable, patient, and a sufferer of hardships, imprisonments and enchantments.” He has distanced himself from the allures of love and violence that the anarchical and fantastic world of chivalry offered in order to accept only harsh sacrifices, always placing before his imagination “the goodness of Amadís, the flower and mirror of knights-errant.” Firm in the idea that chivalry is a religion, he ennobles all his ridiculous life with profound mystical sentiment. He ascends to the purest sources of the heroic and, with the corporeal indifference of a martyr, he endures the greatest pains “as if he were not a man of flesh, but a statue of stone.” He is sustained by the most steadfast faith: “Get upon thy ass, good Sancho, and follow me once more; for God, who provides for every creature, will not fail us, especially since we have set about a work so much to His service; thou seest that He even provides for the little flying insects of the air, the wormlings in the earth, and the spawnings in the water. In His infinite mercy, He makes His sun shine on the righteous and on the unjust, and the rains fall upon the good and the malevolent.” Don Quijote always places his hopes in God, even though he always finds his expectations frustrated. He wishes to “improve this depraved age of ours” and to restore to it the purity of chivalry though the whole world be ungrateful to him for it. He seeks all about himself to entrust his downtrodden honor to those who show him the most sympathy: “I have redressed grievances, and righted the injured, chastised the insolent, vanquished giants, and trod elves and hobgoblins under my feet!… My intentions are all directed toward virtuous ends and to do no man wrong, but good to the entire world. And now let your Graces judge, most excellent Duke and Duchess, whether a person who makes it his only endeavor to practice all this, deserves to be upbraided as a fool!” It is all in vain. The Duke and Duchess, to whom he appeals in his sadness, are at that very moment playing a vicious trick on him in order to ridicule his misguided ideals. The most holy hopes of heaven and earth are frustrated. Is it because they are impossible? It does not matter. The hero’s noble madness assumes a bitter, tragicomic meaning. It is a madness sustained by an ideal which, although never realized, is deserving of humankind’s warmest sympathy.
At times we let ourselves be overwhelmed with the hidalgo’s comic aspect and think like his niece: “You should know so much, sir uncle, as to be able, if there were occasion, to get up into a pulpit and go to preach in the streets, and yet be so strangely mistaken, so grossly blind of understanding, as to fancy that a man of your years and infirmity can be strong and valiant; that you can set everything right, and force stubborn malice to bend, when you yourself stoop beneath the burden of age; and, what is yet more odd, that you carry yourself like a knight, when it is well known that you are none! For, though some gentlemen may be knights, a poor gentleman can hardly be so.” Nevertheless, when all is said and done, we believe that the ideal force of Don Quijote overcomes his abandonment of reason as well as all the other limitations imposed by reality. Being poor, he amazes us with his generosity; being weak and sickly, he is a hero possessed of unyielding courage in the face of misfortune; being old, he yet moves us with his absurd, mad first love; being crazy, his words and actions always stir vital chords in the enthusiastic heart.
Nine years after the publication of part I of Don Quixote there appeared an imitation which is of keen interest to us. Avellaneda seems to have written another Don Quixote solely to give us a tangible measure of Cervantes’ own value. The outstanding characteristics and qualities of the comic type are in Avellaneda, but they miss the mark of genius. This judgment can never be sufficiently emphasized if we are to avoid inadequate assessments of the novel. Every appreciation of Don Quixote which can be likewise applied to Avellaneda contains nothing unique to Cervantes. Avellaneda’s Don Quixote can be used as another touchstone for measurement.
From the point of view of the issues under consideration here, Avellaneda dwelt on both the hero’s delusions in which he assumed other identities as well as his ravings over the ballads; far from understanding how much harm they did to his hero, Avellaneda thus tediously insisted on the vulgar madness of the “Entremés” and Don Quixote’s early chapters. Avellaneda’s Don Quijote, wounded and defeated by a melon dealer, begins to recite the ballad of King Don Sancho, believing himself wounded by Vellido Dolfos, and he orders Sancho Panza to call himself Diego Ordón ̃ez and to go challenge the people of Zamora and the venerable old Arias Gonzalo. Again, Avellaneda “strings together a thousand beginnings of old ballads without rhyme or reason,” just like the Bartolo of the “Entremés.” Mounting his horse, he recites the beginning of the ballad “Ya cabalga Calaínos.” Upon entering Zaragoza he speaks as if he were Achilles; he later takes himself to be Bernardo del Carpio; in Siguenza he believes himself to be Ferdinand the Catholic; in the Prado of Madrid he imagines himself to be the Cid Rui Díaz; still later he says that he is Fernán González and stuffs his speeches with irrelevant ballad verses. This fool who, puffed up with vanity and boasting, appropriates the identities of heroes and kings, makes us appreciate all the more the vigorous personality of Cervantes’ Don Quijote, from whose mouth discretion and madness flow in gentle alternation. It is instructive to observe how, in the hands of Avellaneda, the same popular theme of the madman enamored of chivalry is punished by reality and ends in failure. Meanwhile, Cervantes, using that very same idea, tapped a powerful source of inspiration. Avellaneda’s gifts as a narrator are not accompanied by a profound poetic genius, and so his Don Quijote does not resemble the real one at all. In the false Don Quixote the worst kind of literary coarseness is shockingly combined with a pleasing form, at times in a solemn and labored way, just as immorality can coexist with superficial devotion to the rosary, self-flagellation, and hair shirts — all so far removed from the mystical religiosity of the real Don Quixote. The structure that Cervantes erects upon a popular idea is so much his own that, even after it has been assembled, it cannot be copied by the likes of an Avellaneda.
But a fact that cannot be denied is that Avellaneda’s work served as one of Cervantes’ sources of inspiration when he wrote part II of his novel. I believe that Cervantes had some fairly definite information about his competitor’s work before writing chapter 59, in which he refers expressly to it, and which marks the moment when it appeared in print. What is certain is that he wanted to derive the most reasonable profit from Avellaneda’s envy, that is, to have his work resemble in no way his resentful rival. It would appear as if in Avellaneda he saw clearer than ever the dangers of triteness and coarseness that the story contained, and that he struggled all the harder to eliminate them upon writing part II of Don Quixote. He no longer thought of drawing those two or three crude pictures elaborated in part I, even though they were far removed from the coarseness of his imitator. The superiority of part II of Don Quixote, unquestionable for me as for most people, may be attributed in great measure to Avellaneda. There are sources of literary inspiration that operate by rejection, and they may be as important as, or more so than, those that are mobilized by attraction.
The blundering way in which Avellaneda takes hold of the ballads contrasts strongly with the new use which Cervantes makes of them in part II. Having now forgotten his aversion to the “Entremés,” he again begins to use the ballads in profusion, but now, of course, never to impair the personality of the hero in the form of impertinent nonsense, as did the author of the “Entremés” and Avellaneda. The ballads reappear in order to render Cervantes’ prose agreeable with poetic reminiscences that at that time were remembered by all, and which everybody used in polite conversation: The novelty now is that this poetic resonance appears not only in the mouth of Don Quijote and in those of the more educated characters but, rather, principally, in the mouth of Sancho. The Sancho of the proverbs is now, at times, the Sancho of the ballads.
This evolution can be observed from the very beginning of part II of Don Quixote when, in chapter 5, Sancho refers to a ballad for the first time. It is the one concerning the Infanta don ̃a Urraca’s self-assuredness. It is true that this chapter is jokingly labeled apocryphal by Cide Hamete’s translator on account of containing “judgments that exceed Sancho’s capacity.” But its intimate authenticity is guaranteed by the dialogue that Don Quijote later has with his squire: “ ‘Truly, Sancho, every day thy simplicity lessens, and thy sense improves!’ ‘And there is good reason why!’ quoth Sancho, ‘Some of your worship’s wit must needs stick to me.’ ” Without doubt, Sancho is improving and being refined, too, at the same time that Don Quijote and Dulcinea are undergoing their own evolution. Avellanedas’s Sancho, gluttonous, brutal, and clownish to the point of not even understanding the proverbs that he chaotically heaps up pell-mell, rises up between the primitive Sancho of part I and the new Sancho of Cervantes’ part II. He makes us appreciate in all his perfection the Sancho of poor and kind heart, a faithful spirit who is skeptical of everything and believes in everything, and in whom prudence in abundance shows through his coarse shell of craftiness, achieving the keenest kind of folk wisdom as governor in decisions comparable to those of Solomon and Peter the Cruel.
The Sancho of part II of Don Quixote recalls verses from the Romancero several times in his conversation: “Aqúı morirás, traidor, enemigo de don ̃a Sancha,” “Mensajero, sois amigo,” “no diga la tal palabra,” or he alludes to the ballad of the Conde Dirlos, to that of Calaínos, to that of the Penitencia del rey Rodrigo, or to that of Lanzarote about which, as he declares, he learned by hearing them from his master.
Moreover, Cervantes used the Romancero not only for its phraseology but also for the very invention of the novel, although in a very different way than he had used it in the adventure of the Toledan merchants. In this as in everything else, one sees the superiority of part II of Don Quixote over part I. Savi López, an adherent to the opposite opinion, affirms that part I is predominantly comical, while in part II the grotesque dominates. But I believe in fact that quite the opposite is true. Limiting ourselvesto the special point that we are considering, the grotesque elements that appear in the adventure of the ballad of the Marqués de Mantua are completely absent from the episode that has its inspiration in the Montesinos ballads and succeeds because of its delicate comic sentiment.
While in part I of the novel, only a single adventure contains a resonance of the Romancero, in part II several adventures do so.
When Don Quijote enters El Toboso on that mournful night, looking in the darkness for the ideal palace of his Dulcinea, he hears a farmhand approaching, who, on his way to work before dawn, sings this ballad: “Ill you far’d at Roncesvalles,/Frenchmen…” His song, like an evil omen, startles and disturbs the mind of the knight-errant.
Later, the ballad of the undauntable Don Manuel de León, who enters a lion’s den for the purpose of retrieving a lady’s glove, is invoked for the great adventure of the lions. There the so frequently audacious madness of Don Quijote borders on extremes that approximate more the epic than the comic mode. The victory won before the lion which turns his hindside to the knight is ridiculous, but the valor of the Manchegan hero, comparable to that of Don Manuel de León, is realized not solely in his imagination as on other occasions; it is, instead, actually materialized in the midst of the fear of all those who witness his boldness in the presence of the savage beast, free to attack. He rightly feels himself strong: “No, these magicians may well rob me of success, but they can never take from me my strength and courage of mind!” He is so beside himself that he sends Sancho to remunerate the lion keeper with two crowns of gold; it is the first time that history records that Don Quijote has given a gratuity! Generosity, an essentially chivalric virtue, stands out only in part II of the novel. Is it not evident that here the hidalgo’s comic success far surpasses the repeated beatings by which the adventures of the first part are resolved?
Nor is there in part I as rich a development of the frequent quixotic delusions as appear in part II, in the adventure, for example, of Maese Pedro’s puppet show, so wisely and admirably commented upon by José Ortega y Gasset. Here we are interested in remarking only on one thing: Delusion in the presence of a theatrical spectacle was a common theme of popular anecdotes old and new, and it had already been incorporated in the quixotic fable by Avellaneda, when his Don Quijote, taking for reality the performance of Lope de Vega’s play, El testimonio vengado, leaps into the actors’ midst to defend the unprotected queen of Navarre. As if he had seen here an excellent theme poorly developed and now wished to use it, Cervantes even gave his competitor the advantage of being first! Hence he described the madman’s exaltation not before a performance of actors but of puppets, and the topic was not an original and cleverly dramatized action but a well-known ballad adventure familiar to young and old. The ballad recounts how the forgetful Don Gaiferos recovered his wife Melisendra from captivity. Cervantes’ success here is one of stylistic and psychological refinement. The picturesque narration by the boy who explains the action of the figures onstage is animated with such descriptive force that he brings to life that poor world of balladry and puppetry.
Nevertheless, Don Quijote listens and watches everything with cool sanity, even commenting upon the archaeological accuracy of the representation. But when the boy’s words project real emotion and anguish over the danger in which the fleeing lovers find themselves, the flash of chivalric obsession suddenly flares in Don Quijote’s mind and he hurls himself into the midst of the adventure to destroy with his sword the stage upon which the Moors of Sansuen ̃a ride at full speed in pursuit of the lovers. Reality soon again takes possession of the deluded knight and imprisons him in its powerful bonds; Don Quijote now agrees to the undeceived appraisal and payment for the broken clay figures. But in the presence of the most fleeting recollection of the dangerous adventure, his fragile and inconsistent imagination again goes wild and he once again escapes to live, as if it were reality, in the world of the ideal that is his and from which he sorrowfully feels banished.
The perfection so often attained in the real adventures was nevertheless not enough for the novel. Cervantes sought a type of adventure that could rise above the realm of the ordinary, “of the possible and verisimilar,” in which other adventures, craftedaccording to the aesthetic doctrines that he followed, could develop. He wanted a fantastic adventure that could serve as a sort of nucleus for part II, and he created it in the Cave of Montesinos, the visit to which he announces with solemn anticipation, relating it to subsequent adventures right up to the very end of the novel. Just as in the profoundly humorous episode of the galley slaves, where he had coupled his chivalrous hidalgo with the heroes of the picaresque novel, he wished now to associate him with the true and venerated heroes of medieval fiction. He did not seek them out in any book of chivalry. Once more, his mind turned to the ballads, although not, as we might suppose, to those of Spanish themes, but rather to the Carolingian.
Through an extravagant allusion, Don Quijote appears among Charlemagne’s knights for a second time in an adventure derived from the ballads. But this time he appears more nobly and rationally, so to speak, than in the adventure of the Toledan merchants. The ballads had given those first chapters the appearance of a caricatural parody. Now in part II they provide the best moment of the burlesque ideal, in which it seems as if Cervantes were making amends for having earlier allowed himself to be too greatly influenced by the “Entremés.”
If in Italy and Spain the Carolingian heroes had second homelands, conquered for them by Charlemagne’s campaigns in both countries, they had multiplied in our own with new characters such as Durandarte and Montesinos. La Mancha, at the time a frontier between Christendom and Muslims and a bulwark that the three powerful military orders defended, had made itself worthy of being inhabited by poetic figures prouder and more gallant than, though not as universally admired as, that of their belated compatriot, Don Quijote. A certain castle in ruins, with its fountain which stood on a rocky outcrop in the middle of one of the lagoons of Ruidera where the river Guadiana has its source, was singled out by Manchegan tradition as the wonderful castle of which the ballad sang: “The castle called Roca/And the fountain called Frida.” Silver battlements had been erected there on a foundation of gold, as the ballad states, studded with sapphires that shone in the dark of night like suns. In that castle had lived the maid Rosaflorida, disdainful of all suitors until she burned with love for the French Montesinos and, bringing him there, strew his path with pearls and precious stones. About the nearby cave, named for the same Montesinos, they told such marvelous things through all that realm that Don Quijote’s curiosity was aroused. This was a great good fortune for the Guadiana, a hapless river in which the poets of the Golden Age, who lavished their efforts on the Duero, the Tagus, and the Henares, could find not a single nymph, except perchance one who had been turned into a frog in its muddy pools! Don Quijote found in the medieval Rosaflorida the nymph who would endow those marshlands with poetry, converting them into the enchanted fortress of the chivalry of long ago. The lagoon and cave, along with the dusty roads, the burning hot oak groves, and all the monotony of the vast, disconsolate horizon of La Mancha, were exalted to the dignity of a landscape that was poetical, familiar, and pleasing to humankind—no less so than the sacred olive groves of Attica and the luxuriant groves of the Cephisus, which were never penetrated by the summer sun or the winds of winter but indeed were frequented by the choruses of muses and bacchantes and by Aphrodite, driver of the golden chariot.
The exceptional quality in this adventure of Montesinos’s cave, so insistently called to the attention of his readers by Cervantes, is that, for me, Don Quijote’s heroic ideal does not manifest itself, as usual, in conflict with reality but, rather, finds itself emancipated, free from annoying and painful contact with it. Don Quijote descends to the bottom of the cave and, slackening the rope held by Sancho and the guide—the only link that connects him to the outer world—finds himself removed from it, alone in the midst of the cold, cavernous darkness. The cave is then illuminated by the light of the Manchegan hidalgo’s imagination, as noble as it is unbalanced, and he finally finds himself among the heroes of the old ballads. He discourses amid the gloomy shades of Durandarte and Balerma, comic–heroic figures shrouded in a warped ideal. He appeases his mind with the placid and pitiful appearance of the enchanted Dulcinea, and in that mansion of ancient chivalry, where the lugubrious and the comic are powerfully blended in a fantastic picture of incomparable beauty and humorism, the eager spirit of the hidalgo realizes its supreme aspiration, the crowning of his effort through the mouths of the admired masters. Montesinos himself extols the restorer of knight-errantry and entrusts to him the important mission of revealing to the world the mysteries of the ancient heroic life and that of disenchanting the ancient paladins and the new Dulcinea. The novel’s entire machinery, built on the opposition between fantasy and reality, is suspended on this sole occasion.
Upon reaching the summit of his exaltation, the hero nevertheless also reaches the edge of the abyss. When Don Quijote, hanging onto the rope, returns to the land of mortals and relates the supreme success that he has achieved, he encounters more than ever in his faithful Sancho a bold, impudent skepticism, and finally he, too, falls into doubt. That firm soul, who always restored his idealism so energetically whenever it was crushed by the vicious blows of reality, does not know how to defend himself against doubt in this glorious adventure devoid of torments. In vain he tries to put his uncertainty at rest by questioning the soothsayers as to whether his experiences with the ballad heroes in the enchanted cave had been a dream or the truth. The ambiguous clichés of the replies obtained from such oracles gradually filter into his heart, and dejection holds sway over him. The hour of being reduced to ordinary thinking has arrived. The hero is convinced that he will not attain the promise of Montesinos, that he will not see Dulcinea in all the days of his life, and he dies of sorrow… and of sanity. He has recovered his reason but lost the ideal by which he lived and breathed, so nothing is left for him but to die.
In Sophocles’ tragedy, the offended Minerva sets in motion in Ajax’s mind the whirlwind of a chimera, and the maddened hero attacks a flock of sheep, believing that he is beheading the Atrides who have wronged him. On recovering from his delirium and seeing himself surrounded by dead animals, he realizes that spilled blood is a dishonor to his invincible courage and to all his achievements, and he runs himself through with his own sword. His madness is divine because it is a punishment of the gods, while that of Don Quijote is a divine creation of his ailing soul.
The hero of Salamis takes his own life upon feeling himself ludicrous in the face of the reality that he contemplates. He kills himself out of shame. The Manchegan hero dies of the sadness of life upon discovering that reality is inferior to him and upon seeing that the Dulcinea to whom he gave his being is fading away forever into the world of impossible enchantment.
Is this novel of a madman one more book of chivalry, the last, the definitive and perfect one, as some say? Or, is it the ruination of chivalry and heroism, as others contend? It was not when writing Don Quixote that Cervantes attempted to produce a modern romance of chivalry, but afterward, when he composed his last, and for him, his most valuable work, The Trials of Persiles and Segismunda. This the good canon seems to announce in chapter 47 of part I when, cursing the books that have caused the Manchegan hidalgo’s madness, he nevertheless finds in them something good, and this is “the subject that they furnished to a man of understanding with which to exercise his parts, because they allowed a large scope for the pen to expand upon without restriction, describing shipwrecks, storms, skirmishes and battles.” All this is found in Persiles, the real novel of adventures, not only because of the influence of the Byzantine novel but also because of the romances of chivalry. The latter are influential even through their conventional episodes, as when Periandro, at the head of the company of fishermen, goes out to sea righting wrongs—a seafaring Amadís, created by the author of Don Quixote.
As for Don Quixote, we cannot help considering it simply and plainly as antagonistic to the romances of chivalry, which it tries to condemn to oblivion by satirizing not only their unpolished and careless composition but also their subject matter, a blend of childish fantasy, unbelievable deeds, and elemental passions.
Yet on the other hand, because these books, far from being essentially exotic to the Spanish people, are deeply saturated with that part of their spirit that consists of the exaltation of the universal feelings of selfless generosity and of honor, Cervantes’ satire does not seek to damage the reputation of the eternal ideal of chivalric nobility. When he observes the ideal come to naught by its collision with daily life, he does not blame the ideal as much as he does reality itself for not turning out to be exactly as the heroic spirit would want it. Far from wishing to destroy that world adorned by the purest moral feelings, Cervantes holds it up for our respect and sympathy, showing us its ruins, bathed in a light of supreme hope, as a lofty refuge for the soul. Dulcinea del Toboso will always be the most beautiful woman in the world, as her unfortunate knight proclaims, even when he falls vanquished to the ground and begs his opponent to slay him.
In short, far from combating the spirit and fictions of heroic poetry, Cervantes received from the Romancero the first impulse to portray Don Quijote’s ideal madness, and he sought in the Romancero a great portion of the work’s inspiration and embellishments. Thus, popular heroic poetry was present at the creation that destroyed the molds in which the romances of chivalry were cast, removing its fictions from the world of chimeras to bring them to contend with the world of mundane reality. Thus Cervantes forged the first and inimitable prototype to which every modern novel, in close concert or somewhat distantly, is ultimately subordinated.
1. An entremés, literally a dish served between main courses of a meal, was a brief, one-act skit, a comic interlude performed in the interval between the acts of a play. Romance is the Spanish for ballad, a narrative poem in popular meter and rhyme. The first romances were derived from the epic poems, such as the Poem of Mío Cid, but as time went on they acquired a variety of themes, including the wars against the Moors and topics derived from the romances of chivalry. Romancero is the sum of all the romances and also a compendium or anthology of them. These popular, anonymous ballads enjoyed a great revival in the sixteenth century among cultivated poets, and they became a standard form in Spanish poetry that has endured up to the present. Menéndez Pidal was the foremost expert on the romances, which he placed at the core of Spanish literary history. ↵
2. Cancioneros were anthologies of poetry in the courtly love tradition with much circulation in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. ↵