The Machiavellian In-Betweeness of Cervantes's Elizabeth I

By Guerrero, Eduardo Olid | Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

The Machiavellian In-Betweeness of Cervantes's Elizabeth I


Guerrero, Eduardo Olid, Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America


Este ensayo analiza como y por que "La espanola inglesa" presenta una nueva vision de Elizabeth I que desafia la imagen oficial, popular y ficticia que tuvo durante la Espana imperial. Esta reina cervantina armoniza la virtud cristiana con la practica del poder, presentando una postura politica que difiere de la mayoria delas reacciones de los escritores espanoles a las ideas de Niccolo Machiavelli. En "La espanola inglesa," esta reina mantiene una posicion intermedia que refleja el debate sobre el mensaje politico de Machiavelli: ejerce algunas de las destrezas que se aconsejan en El Principe (1513), y demuestra con sus acciones varios de los principios cristianos defendidos por escritores y ensayistas espanoles. La literatura de Cervantes manipula la ideologia anti-maquiavelista a traves del papel de su reina inglesa, y mi lectura revisionista explica porque su imagen es transformada en la primera version positiva en la literatura espanola.

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De manera que mucho yerran y desvergonzadamente hablan los que dicen ser buena razon de Estado, conquistar, sujetar y mandar a otros y que se hagan con ellos lo que no querrian que se hiciese consigo, un dios para los unos y otro para los otros, que consigo se guarde justicia y a los otros que se los coman los perros.

DIEGO PEREZ DE MESA, Politica o razan de Estado sacada de la doctrina de Aristoteles (1625)

When considering the image of England's Q ueen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) in seventeenth-century Spain, one may wonder how it is possible that Miguel de Cervantes--personally committed during part of his life to the Spanish monarchy and the national spirit behind its enterprise toward England--could have employed a character like her in "La espanola inglesa" (1613). This novella does not have a clear composition date, although most probably it was an ongoing project that went through various changes, as did the rather tense relationship between the two monarchies. In 1947, speaking of this short story in his "Cervantes in England," Edgar Alison Peers argued that "Queen Elizabeth, so recently the Spaniard's bete noire, is idealized to such a degree that one might suppose the author to have been deliberately working for an Anglo-Spanish understanding" (227). For Peers, this novella seems to propose diplomacy--not exactly reconciliation, but still the assumption of a potential collaboration (or at least peace) between the enemy states. Peace after Elizabeth's death and the advent of James I brought hope for appeasement, but only in diplomatic circles. Anne Cruz notes that "the real antagonism felt so strongly by the populace of each country did not subside after the peace signing" (xxvii). Still, Peers's suggestion invites an exploration of this idealist political agenda in "La espanola inglesa. " (1) I argue that Cervantes's novella explores just such a hypothetical diplomacy via his royal character, examining how and why "La espanola inglesa" presents a new vision of Elizabeth I that challenges the official, popular, and fictional image she had in the Spanish Empire at the time. (2)

To account for this original Queen Elizabeth who harmonizes Christian virtue with the practice of regal power, I turn to specific reactions by Spanish Catholic writers to Niccolo Machiavelli's (1469-1527) political thought first expressed in Il Principe (1513). (3) During the course of her interventions in "La espanola inglesa," Cervantes's queen presents an intermediate moral position in the debate surrounding Machiavelli's basic political message: she exercises some of the skills required by the Machiavellian Prince, but also shows some of the ethical principles of the type of Christian sovereign defended by radical and moderate Spanish writers and essayists alike. As a result, Cervantes's literature manipulates anti-Machiavellian Spanish ideology through the performance he invents for his Queen. (4) Julia Janara's concept of "critical in-betweenness," or the flexibility for political action that Machiavelli requires of his virtuoso prince, further explains Elizabeth's character.

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