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

What's in a Name: Andres Caballero and Chivalric Romance in "La Gitanilla"

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

What's in a Name: Andres Caballero and Chivalric Romance in "La Gitanilla"

Article excerpt

In the first interview with Preciosa in which he declares his love for her, Don Juan de Carcamo agrees that, as a gypsy, he will be named Andres Caballero. The question this essay asks is what it means that, as he transforms himself into a gypsy to win the hand of Preciosa, Donjuan is known above all as a caballero. How does this fact serve as a key to explaining the novella?

Critical literature on "La gitanilla" has long dealt with the question of the opposition between the noble and the gypsy. Many readings of the novella have revolved around the differences between these two subcultures, taking the surname Caballero as evidence for their views. Thomas R. Hart, emphasizing the unbridgeable difference between the noble and gypsy worlds, maintained that Andres's surname of Caballero "like his behavior throughout the story, indicates his continuing allegiance to the ideals of his class"(24). More recent scholars, such as Joseph V. Ricapito, Jonathan Burgoyne, and E. Michael Gerli, have stressed the irony of the "onomastic paradox" of a gypsy named Caballero (Gerli 34). (1)

There is evidence, however, to suggest that Cervantes's fusion of these two concepts may be more sincere than ironic. Cervantes provides a clue to a reading that opposes drawing differences between caballeros and gypsies when he adds that this last name is frequent among the gypsies themselves: "tambien habia gitanos entre ellos deste apellido" (1: 90). This is supported by a detail of gypsy practice. Gypsy families systematically "sought to establish bonds of fictional kinship with the most powerful families in the Peninsula," by seeking out nobles as the godparents of their children and adopting their last names (Johnson 96). Cervantes emphasizes that there were, indeed, gypsies who were Caballeros. "Andres Caballero" is thus a name that identifies Don Juan as a fusion of the two groups. This detail suggests that nobles and gypsies are defined not solely by their opposition but by their similarity, and furthermore, it calls our attention to the idea that our reading should be attentive to these similarities as sites of productive meaning. In what follows we will ask how caballeros and gitanos are different but, more importantly, we will also highlight how they are the same.

Another line of inquiry that the detail of Andres Caballeros last name raises is that of his transformation, of whether it is possible for a caballero to become a gitano. Does Don Juan de Carcamo become a gypsy, or does he remain a knight throughout? The answer we give to this question, in turn, has bearing on how we see one of the main mysteries, and main problems of reading and teaching, the text: the silence of Preciosa at the end. What we will demonstrate is that the trajectories of Andres and Preciosa, in which he seeks to live as a gypsy and she is recognized as noble, cross at the end. Don Juan de Carcamo does, effectively, become the gypsy Andres Caballero at the same moment that the gypsy girl, Preciosa, becomes "Constanza de Azevedo y de Meneses" (1: 127). (2) What is more, Cervantes chooses to make this moment of their transformed identities the point at which they give consent to marry.


Many scholars deny that such a transformation of identity is possible, especially for Don Juan. Hart characterizes Don Juan as a nobleman who, during his sojourn among the gypsies, "remains completely un sullied by his environment" (37). In a more recent article Carolyn Koch comments that, for a son of privilege such as Don Juan de Carcamo, real change is not possible: "los del centro nunca en verdad se. desplazan al margen: solamente los gitanos tienen mobilidad" (82). Others would deny the sincerity, depth, and efficacy of the transformative powers of an experience such as Don Juan's. Anne Wiltrout observes that an experience such as that of the male characters of "La gitanilla" and "La ilustre fregona" was a rite of passage for noble youth. …

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