Cervantes: Essays in Memory of E.C. Riley on the Quatercentenary of Don Quijote

Cervantes: Essays in Memory of E.C. Riley on the Quatercentenary of Don Quijote

Cervantes: Essays in Memory of E.C. Riley on the Quatercentenary of Don Quijote

Cervantes: Essays in Memory of E.C. Riley on the Quatercentenary of Don Quijote


This volume commemorates the quatercentenary of Don Quijote (Part I, 1604-05), widely acknowledged to be the 'first modern novel'. Through Don Quijote, his Exemplary Novels and other major works, Cervantes, Spain's master novelist, has for centuries shaped and profoundly influenced the different literatures and cultures of numerous countries throughout the world. Containing chapters written in both English and Spanish by leading scholars worldwide, this book deals with topics as fundamental and diverse as contested discourses in Don Quijote, psychology and comic characters in Golden-Age literature, the title of Cervantes' master novel, and Cervantes, Shakespeare and the birth of metatheatre. A special issue of the journal Bulletin of Spanish Studies.


Psychology and Function in the
Comic Characters of Spanish
Golden-Age Literature

Anthony close University of Cambridge

Because of the historic presumption, which goes back at least as far as Menéndez Pelayo’s Orígenes de la novela, that the comic prose-narratives and prose-dialogues of the Spanish Golden Age are precursors of ‘the modern novel’ there has been a tendency amongst modern critics to align such works, particularly the classics, with the typical strategies of that genre as defined by its major modern theorists (Lukács, Bakhtin, Watt, Booth and others). in adopting this line, the critics tend to obscure or downplay features which are manifestly dated and alien to modern taste. the purpose of this article is to show how this kind of modernizing recuperation hinders our understanding of comic character in Spanish Golden-Age literature, and to suggest alternative ways of considering it. I propose to exemplify the process as it applies to the picaresque novel, and will then focus specifically on Cervantes because of all the writers of the period he had the most original conception of character and lavished most care on it. For him, the inventive originality on which he prided himself was displayed above all in the portrayal of Don Quijote and Sancho.

First of all, let me explain what I mean by the term ‘function’ in the title of this essay. I assume that every aspect of art is functional: that is, is designed to ‘get at’ the consumer in particular ways. Roland Barthes, in S/Z, discriminated five ‘codes’ which guide the reader’s response to narrative and predispose him or her to perceive any given sequence as having a particular purpose. Each of them in turn incorporates several functions: e.g. in the case of the hermeneutic code, to pose mysteries, compound them, deliberate about them, clarify them, provide clues, suspend clarification. However, I am less interested here in specific discrimination of literature’s functions than in their interplay with the basic one, as Aristotle defined it: mimesis, creating the illusion of lifelikeness. in particular, I want to focus on those features of literary

1 See S/Z (Paris: Seuil, 1970), 23–27.

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