Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Creating the Merchant Subject in a Patraña

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Creating the Merchant Subject in a Patraña

Article excerpt

Joan Timoneda's 1567 Patrañuelo represents an anomaly for early modern Spanish texts. On the one hand, it has often been the subject of reproach for its perceived stylistic flaws by critics in both the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. On the other hand, the work has also undergone numerous editions, at least twenty-five in the twentieth century. Why is it that Timoneda's text continues to be read while other books of greater critical appeal have gone unpublished, unread, and unknown? This work will address that question through an analysis of Timoneda's adaptation of the ninth story from the second day of Boccaccio's Decameron, and will suggest that the negative criticism of Timoneda's text has been based on a basic misunderstanding of the author's intent and, by extension, its popular appeal.

Timoneda's presence in the canon has always been tenuous. He has been a source of continuing interest as a poet and dramatist, as well as a writer of fictional tales, but always in the category of "minor writer." This lukewarm interest has tended to portray Timoneda as a compiler and transmitter of other people's work, rather than as a thinker and writer in his own right. When focusing on his contributions to the stories that he transmits from earlier sources, critics object to his style, language, and the purportedly chaotic and illogical nature of the changes he introduces. Sherman Eoff, for example, stated what others more or less imply, when he wrote:

The main fault of Timoneda is his complete indifference to good taste. This results in a constant repetition and a lack of variety. The phrase vista la presente, for example, becomes a monotonous reverberation and sentence after sentence begins with a participle, either present or past. This has a tendency to give the Patrañuelo more the appearance of a syllabus or a catalogue than a work of art. (18)

Miguel de Cervantes may have initiated this tradition of praising Timoneda as the transmitter of other people's work, while denigrating his own contributions, after he supposedly met Timoneda in 1580 upon returning from five years of Algerian captivity (Reynolds 17). Cervantes suggests in both Los baños de Argel (1582) and El viaje del Parnaso (1614) that Timoneda had earned eternal fame by publishing the plays of Lope de Rueda.1 In that same viaje, though, Cervantes offers this description of the battle between the great poets and the poetic hacks: "Tan mezclados están, que no hay quien pueda / discernir cuál es malo o cuál es bueno / cuál es Garcilasista o Timoneda" (98). For Cervantes, then, Timoneda was still a bad poet, despite his justly deserved fame as the publisher of Lope de Rueda.2

Coincidentally, it is Cervantes, or at least his enduring fame-and his self-proclaimed status as the first to write an original novela in Spanish-that has helped to hold Timoneda in that minor-writer status. Menéndez Pelayo's Origenes de la novela dedicates a full twenty-five pages to the writings of Joan de Timoneda, although he too is critical of Timoneda's abilities as a writer. He states at one point that Timoneda had hoped to overcome in El Patrafiuelo, the "infantil y ruda" nature of his earlier works, and chides him for claiming to be the original author of the patranas, rather than just their adapter (75). More importantly, Menéndez Pelayo characterizes Timoneda, and many of his contemporaries, as precursors to Cervantes, rather than as authors worthy of their own study. All of the thirteen pages he dedicates to El Patranuelo are used to discuss Timoneda's sources, and when he does refer to what he perceives to be Timoneda's contributions to the stories-such as Timoneda's adaptations-his comments are couched almost entirely in negative terms and usually present these contributions as defects and errors. The study of Timoneda as a precursor to Cervantes is important to understanding Cervantes and the context that gave rise to his Novelas ejemplares. However, it sheds little light on Timoneda himself and on the nature and meaning of his work. …

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