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

Courting Don Quixote: An Aulic Frame of Reading

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

Courting Don Quixote: An Aulic Frame of Reading

Article excerpt

DESPITE THE CURRENT SUCCESS of aulic studies in early modern history, the court did not exist as a research topic on its own until well into the 1980s. Before then, historians tried to compile all the information they could with the hope of being able to reconstruct a "perfect" narration of their national history. In the twentieth century, it was argued that a collection of data reflects not only objective information, but also the personality, interests, goals, and beliefs of the collector and his or her society. The ideal of "Total History"--the aspiration to write an indisputable and objective narration of cultures and nations has disintegrated. Historical studies have since diversified into multiple circumstantial, inapprehensible and sub-theoretical pieces. It is in this context that the subfield of "court history" has been able to grow in recent decades. In many instances, court history studies what happens behind the scenes of major historical events, and therefore its findings and achievements were often neglected of diminished by the traditional notion of history. In court history, secrets and rumors, games, friendships, and personal preferences are more important than facts, battles, and offices.

Because of court history's late development, we still lack an extensive bibliography on Miguel de Cervantes's interactions with the historical courts and patrons to whom he has been connected, much less on how his literary work relates to the court as a socio-historical institution. This does not mean that aulic studies has been completely neglected by Cervantine scholarship. A fairly large number of Cervantes scholars during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries examined the connection between Cervantes's work and the Habsburg court. However, this was not done with the intention of examining the actual relation between his prose and the Spanish royal household, but more as a sort of epic quest to find the hidden identity of Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda, the pseudonymous author of the false Don Quixote that was published in 1614, shortly before the publication of Cervantes's own second part.

It is not the intention of this article to continue an examination of the true identity of Avellaneda or the role he may have played at the Spanish court. The purpose, rather, is to offer an aulic perspective from which to read and interpret Don Quixote as it relates to and engages in a discussion about the court as a sociological entity during the reign of Philip III. This essay departs from the recent scholarly trend that views the court as a social mixture of nobility and bourgeoisie, laymen and churchmen, courtiers and officials to examine the complex dynamics of patronage and clientele, and the impact of these various constituencies in the construction of new sets of norms of behavior and ethical codes that differ from those of the warrior society of the knighthood.

An aulic reading of Don Quixote is of special interest because early modern courtiers througout Europe saw themselves as the direct descendants of the medieval knights, and therefore as legitimate heirs to their values and privileges. In other words, courtier-knights eventually thought of themselves as modern versions of the earlier class of warrior-knights. The symbol of the knight was his armor, which was the external projection of his power as both furtitudo and auctoritas. With this in mind, it is not very surprising that very early on the virtues that the knight was to embody were associated and represented by the different pieces of his suit of armor. Ramon Llull, in part five of his Libro de la Orden de Caballeria (1281) says of the knight's helmet:

   [A]si como el yelmo defiende la cabeza, que es el miembro mas alto
   y principal que posee el hombre, la verguenza defiende al caballero
   [...] para que no se incline hacia los actos viles y para que la
   nobleza de su corazon no se rebaje a la maldad ni al engano ni a
   ninguna mala costumbre. … 
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