Chivalry and Empire: The Colonial Argument of the Princess Micomicona Episode in Don Quijote Part I

By Triplette, Stacey | Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Chivalry and Empire: The Colonial Argument of the Princess Micomicona Episode in Don Quijote Part I


Triplette, Stacey, Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America


CERVANTES' ENGAGEMENT WITH THE motifs of the libros de caballerias is undeniably deep and complex. Critics may never agree on the degree to which Cervantes' romance borrowings are admiring or antagonistic, but it remains beyond doubt that the chivalric features of Don Quijote are so deeply enmeshed in the fabric of the text that it would be almost impossible to unravel and catalogue each one. Without the intervention of the romances of chivalry, particularly of the Amadis de Gaula, which the character Don Quijote upholds as the mirror of all virtuous action, the major moments of Cervantes' text would not even exist. Both Daniel Eisenberg and Judith Whitenack have demonstrated the depth of Cervantes' chivalric borrowings, and both critics would probably categorize Cervantes' gaze as admiring more often than not. (1) Don Quijote's chivalric episodes go beyond mere citation of motif; rather, they interpret and re-contextualize the values of the source works. One episode, the appearance of Princess Micomicona, showcases Cervantes' particular reading of romance motif. In order to coax Don Quijote out of Sierra Morena, the cura and Dorotea present the mad knight with the fictional Micomicona, an African princess who requires the knight's assistance in order to rid her kingdom of a troublesome giant. Sancho makes his own contribution to the story by planning to enslave Micomicona's people once Quijote has slain the giant and taken control of Micomicona's kingdom. Through his representation of the lost princess storyline, Cervantes brings to the fore the colonial plot latent in both Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo and Feliciano de Silva's Amadis romances. The Micomicona episode updates tropes from the parent texts in order to articulate an argument about conquest, slavery, and liberation in the context of the early seventeenth century. Although the conclusion of the episode retains some ambiguities, Don Quijote's refusal of the advantageous marriage with Micomicona makes a poignant, though indirect, critique of both colonialism and the slave trade.

It may seem jarring to modern readers that the idea of slavery rears its head in a romance plot, but Sancho's immodest proposal underscores the concept of profit, which is in fact the foremost concern of the Micomicona episode. For David Quint, Micomicona and the financially advantageous marriage she offers representa story cluster that focuses on money, the acquisition of goods, and other practical concerns. Quint does not enter into a detailed analysis of the Micomicona fiction itself, but he does oppose the story of the chivalric princess and her kingdom to the fiction of Dulcinea. Where Dulcinea represents the ideal, Micomicona represents the practical. Quint reads the Micomicona tale as a modernizing impulse within Don Quijote: "With the 'Princess Micomicona' plot and the marriage-and-money stories clustered around it, Don Quijote seems to have entered fully upon the terrain and preoccupations of the modern novel, the measure of a historical shift from a stratified feudal society to the more open social world of a nascent capitalism" (76). I agree in principle with Quint's argument, but I would like to point out the irony of using the romance of chivalry, an archaic and archaizing genre, to code for this shift towards the modern. However, Cervantes certainly does capitalize on certain pre-existing features of the chivalric genre in order to articulate this currency-driven plot. In its oblique way, the Iberian romance of chivalry has always been concerned with the very practical matters of the acquisition of wealth and territory. Many knights do in fact seek out financially advantageous liaisons, and this episode from Don Quijote seems to allude to several chivalric marriages in the Iberian tradition. In the marriage plots of the Amadis series, Christian knights find pagan brides, convert them to Christianity, and assume leadership over their new wives' inherited territories. In these romances, marriage substitutes for warfare, and colonial relationships become predicated on marital ties. …

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