Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Marriage and Investment in El Celoso Extremeno

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Marriage and Investment in El Celoso Extremeno

Article excerpt

Cervantes's El celoso extremeno, the version of his experiments with the decrepit-husband-takes-young-wife plot that he published as an exemplary tale, or novela ejemplar, is one of the most widely studied narratives of his collection. Rich in its intertextuality with other variations of the same basic story by Cervantes--his theatrical farce, El celoso viejo, the interpolated tale in Don Quijote of El curioso impertinente, and the unpublished Porras manuscript of "El zeloso extremeno"--this edifying short narrative offers a surprising departure from Cervantes's own treatment in these works of the viejo cornudo (elderly cuckold) figure, as well as from a long literary and folkloric tradition. (1)

After detailed description of the acquisitive Carrizales's marriage to and enclosure of a young teenager in a fortress-like home, in order to be her sole possessor, the story ends with penetration of that private property by an interloper from the streets beyond, Loaysa, his attempted seduction of Leonora, and the discovery of the two exhausted combatants while they sleep. The master of the house, Carrizales, erroneously concludes that he has been robbed of his most prized possession upon witnessing his child-bride sleeping in the arms of this intruder, although the commerce with the enemy that he imagines to have been adultery in fact fell short of consummation. Later, before an emotional family forum, Leonora responds to her husband's revelation of their discovery (133) with the enigmatic and apparently lame statement, "sabed que no os he ofendido sino con el pensamiento" (134) (know that I have committed no offense against you except in thought), that her betrayal and his rival's victory did not materialize except as fantasies or figments of their--as well as his--imagination. (2) She does no more to clarify her innocence, driving not only her husband but also the narrator to distraction, as they attempt to respond to the effects of her sexual contact with the public--in amorous battle with Loaysa--upon Carrizales's worth. The narrator finally ends the exemplary tale with the following inconclusive lines: "Solo no se que fue la causa que Leonora no puso mas ahinco en desculparse y dar a entender a su celoso marido cuan limpia y sin ofensa habia quedado en aquel suceso; pero la turbacion le ato la lengua, y la priesa que se dio a morir su marido no dio lugar a su disculpa" (135). (I simply don't know what caused Leonora not to strive more vigorously to explain her innocence and to make her jealous husband understand how unstained and without offense she had remained in that incident; but confusion tied her tongue, and the quickness with which her husband surrendered to death didn't allow time for her pardon.)

Although other literary treatments of real or perceived adultery and the honor theme lead us to anticipate Carrizales's cleansing of his dishonor with the blood of the offenders, Cervantes has the old man opt for a novel resolution of the dilemma. He acknowledges his own fault in establishing the confining marriage (133). Next he revises his will so that all that he has invested in the marriage will not be wasted, but rather that reinvested it might yield both edification to others and, since he has sired no offspring, the continuation of his good name in public renown for his magnanimity:

   Mas por que todo el mundo vea el valor de los quilates de la
   voluntad y le con que te quise, en este ultimo trance de mi vida
   quiero mostrarlo de modo que quede en el mundo pot ejemplo, si
   no de bondad, al menos de simplicidad jamas oida ni vista; y asi,
   quiero que se traiga luego aqui un escribano, para hacer de nuevo
   mi testamento, en el cual mandare doblar la dote a Leonora y le
   rogare que despues de mis dias, que seran bien breves, disponga
   su voluntad, pues lo podrfi hacer sin fuerza, a casarse con aquel
   mozo, a quien nunca ofendieron las canas deste lastimado viejo; y
   asi verni que, si viviendo, jamas sali un punto de lo que pude
   pensar ser su gusto, en la muerte hago lo mismo, y quiero que lo
   tenga con el que ella debe de querer tanto. … 
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