Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

De Los Osos Seas Comido: Sancho Panza as Intruder in the Discourse of the Hunt

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

De Los Osos Seas Comido: Sancho Panza as Intruder in the Discourse of the Hunt

Article excerpt

IN CHAPTER 34 OF PART II, Don Quijote and Sancho Panza go hunting with the Duke and Duchess. In a typical big-game hunt of the period--known in Spanish as monteria--trackers and dogs force a wild boar through the woods toward the hunting party, which takes up positions to wait for the animal to charge out. When the boar finally appears it is so large and frightening that Sancho takes refuge in the branch of a tree, which snaps under his weight. For this he is ridiculed, and soon finds himself debating the Duke on the merits of hunting. Later, (1) as evening falls and the hunting party is still in the forest, the hunters are treated to what appears to be a supernatural vision. Various enchanters from novels of chivalry arrive, bringing with them the enchanted Dulcinea herself. It is here that the great sage Merlin instructs Don Quijote and Sancho on how Dulcinea is to be disenchanted, much to the dismay of Sancho and "both of his broad buttocks, robust and large" (Grossman 692). Cervantes's skill as a comic writer is well on display. He presents the reader with images of exquisite contrasts: tall, angular Don Quijote on his broken down Rocinante, of course, contrasts vividly with short, rotund, cowardly Sancho Panza, trotting on his donkey, and together the two present a striking contrast to the elegant Duke and Duchess.

Underpinning these comic contrasts are layers of irony and social commentary, for all is not what it seems. After all, underneath her elegant skirts the Duchess oozes pus from open sores. For his part, the Duke himself is so deeply in debt to one of his own vassals that he is prevented from exercising justice in his territory. This is the context that frames the extraordinary conversation where Sancho, through his critique of the hunt, exposes the inadequacy of aristocrats like the Duke and Duchess. As Margaret Greer observes in her masterful exploration of the role of hunting imagery throughout Don Quijote, while ostensibly arguing about the merits of hunting, Sancho and the Duke are actually debating competing social visions. Greer writes that Sancho's humanistic objection to the hunt echoes Montaigne and ultimately Erasmus, giving Cervantes the chance to offer "a subtle critique of the ethos of the aristocracy" (216). This critique reveals that "an idle, self-absorbed and sometimes cruel aristocracy ... no longer serves any defensive function that would justify its privileged status and that there is more true nobility and justice in Sancho's kindness and common-sense government" (Greer 218). Aristocratic privilege, like the elegant Duchess, is at best an empty facade.

Carroll Johnson, meanwhile, argues that Cervantes presents a series of social types throughout Part II, each of which represents a degenerate form of an earlier ideal. In Johnson's view, the Duke belongs in this "gallery of decadents," because he embodies a degraded version of aristocratic and knightly values, which are brought to the fore in the hunt episode. Johnson argues that in contrast to the Duke (and the rest of the "gallery of decadents"), Don Quijote emerges as the clear moral superior, indeed, the moral center of the entire novel (196).

I wish to look again at this episode, considering the hunt as social discourse and more specifically as a literary motif that transmits the codes of that discourse to the written page. The episode combines two elements--the hunt as precursor to a vision--that together form a well-established motif, which Cervantes makes full use of, to brilliant comic effect. The comic potential of the hunt as motif would not be possible without the hunt as discourse. As Greer notes, this discourse, which signifies a variety of exclusive aristocratic values, frames Sancho's social criticism. But I will argue that it is only by means of the hunt motif that Sancho is able to participate in an activity meant to exclude him and converse with the Duke in the first place. The hunt motif in Part II occurs on two different narrative levels. …

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