Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

The Curious Impertinent on the Restoration Stage

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

The Curious Impertinent on the Restoration Stage

Article excerpt

In English speaking countries, the reception of Don Quixote has long been entangled with popular images of the two male bodies at the novel's centre: the tall, emaciated knight of around fifty, who withstands pain, hunger, and fatigue with comic-heroic endurance, and the short, rotund Sancho Panza, recognized at a glance by his stick-legs and unkempt beard. Beaten and bruised, the two figures remind us that we cannot escape our skin, try as we might to disappear into books, fantasy, or an idealized past. The pairing of the two suggests something of the tension between mind and matter at the core of the novel, of how lofty ideals invariably get betrayed by the body and rendered absurd. The gaunt, spiritualizing Quixote and his plebeian companion polarize two realms of experience, yet even in their complemen-tarity do not exhaust the possibilities for representing this tension between ideal and real, fiction and ordinary life. To dwell exclusively on the image and iconographic traditions surrounding the novel's male protagonists overlooks not only the women in Cervantes' text, but also other pairings, for example, the characters who form the love triangle in the 'Tale of Inappropriate Curiosity' (I. 33-35).1

Cervantes digresses to tell the tale of a young husband, Anselmo, who makes a trial of his wife's chastity by having his best friend attempt her seduction. He becomes a fascinated but deluded onlooker as the friend's first hesitant advances turn into a dangerous liaison of which he knows nothing until the end. This friend, Lothario, keeps his passion for the beautiful Camila and its eventual consummation secret, only to reveal it rashly in a fit of jealousy. Before the two become lovers, Anselmo peeks through a keyhole to make sure that Lothario has followed his instructions. In a later scene, Anselmo hides in the garderobe to witness the lovers' clandestine affair. Instead he sees Camila, whom Lothario has alerted to his betrayal of confidence, stage a highly theat-ricalized counterplot in which she spurns Lothario's advances and inflicts a knife wound on herself. Throughout the tale Cervantes dwells on Anselmo's misguided curiosity, a phrase that hints at his suppressed homoerotic attraction for Lothario, and, by implication, at the reader's desire to experience pleasure vicariously, to behold everything. When Anselmo eventually learns the truth after the adulterous couple take flight, he cannot bear the knowledge of his own dishonour and dies of remorse. Repentant and chastened by the experience, Lothario and Camila die soon afterwards.

Before Quixote and Sancho became visual icons in the deluxe editions of the eighteenth century and before readers recast the book as a modern classic, Don Quixote appealed to the English for this story of curiosity, voyeurism, fatal attraction, and perverse desire. Far from an unmotivated detour, the tale within a tale describes the awakening of an overwhelming longing that flattens every reasonable argument, that destroys logic and eventually life itself. Later Cide Hamete Benengeli will concede that 'El curioso', along with 'El cautivo', departs from the main action of Part I, but justifies its presence by appealing to its artistry and narrative coherence (II. 44). The tale held a fascination for seventeenth-century readers more accustomed than ourselves to narrative interruption in romance and picaresque. Cervantes inserted five semi-autonomous narrations into part I of Don Quixote, and if this one intercalated novela provoked criticism from his contemporaries, some of whom supposedly pronounced it irrelevant (II. 3), the large number of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century adaptations it inspired testifies to its continuing pertinence. The tale momentarily disrupts, but also confirms, the larger historia, by drawing us into a parallel, less benign world of madness and obsessive behaviour.

An important and generally overlooked part of the early history of quijotismo in England takes place in the staging of this narrative interlude. …

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