Bearded Waiting Women, Lovely Lethal Female Piratemen: Sexual Boundary Shifts in Don Quixote, Part II54
State University of New York, Buffalo
The human body changes, in its fictional presentation, in the second part of Cervantes' masterpiece.55 The overplus of beautiful maidens is gone. There is no luscious cluster like Zoraida, Dorothea, Luscinda, and Doña Clara de Viedma, so important in the inn-scene climax of Part I; the relatively simple grossness of Maritornes is gone and we have some really grotesque and some subtly re-sexed female creatures. One of the few beautiful women in Part II is the Duchess, whom we meet at first in the chivalric conceit of The Fair Huntress, but who we later learn is the perpetrator of a cruel hoax on Don Quixote where he is attacked in his room by a batch of clawing cats; her «fair» appearance is also undermined by our learning that she has —156→ two «fountains» one springing from each of her legs; these fountains, scholars tell us, are irrigations to drain some festering sores she has in her body.56 While the beautiful female bodies are no longer emphasized, death as a bodily reality draws near the surface of the text, with Sancho actually grasping the feet of a hanged man -one among many, in fact-, in a scene where «all the trees were full of human feet and legs» (p. 856). Killing rather than the more abstract topic of death becomes part of the action in a much more immediate way than it had been in the reported deaths of Part I, and it is placed in a generalized context of social reality; it is not limited to the special fields of chivalry or military valor. The bodies dangling from the trees have nothing to do with chivalry.
Killing is juxtaposed as well, not with sex, but with sexual boundary changes. Two women who are involved in killing are not only disguised as men, they are taken as lovely by the men in the story. One of these women, with the wonderful name of Anna Felix, is taken as most attractive even while she is still seen by everyone as a Turkish man. The Viceroy of Barcelona (along with everyone else who hears her story) readily forgets that due to her disguise in the role of a pirate, there has been a minor sea battle in which two Spanish sailors have just been killed. The other of these women, Claudia Gerónima, hears the rumor that her betrothed is about to marry someone else, and without troubling to confirm the report, rides out at once disguised as a man, carrying an arsenal of five lethal weapons: she/he enters the narrative as «a youth of apparently twenty, dressed in green damask breeches and a loose coat braided with gold, with a hat turned up in the Walloon fashion, tight-fitting boots, and gilt spurs, dagger and sword. He carried a small firelock in his hand and two pistols by his sides» (p. 858). This «handsome figure» (in close narrative proximity to all those bodies hanging from the trees) immediately tells that he is a she, and one who has just shot her lover with three guns. The man she tells this to, a robber chief named Roque Guinart, discovers that indeed her lover is on the point of death, and also that the shooting had been an error: her —157→ lover had not been about to marry someone else, and it must have been «ill-luck» that gave her such wrong information (pp. 856-60). Claudia cries and laments so convincingly that the robber, «though he was not used to weeping», gets a moist eye, and «The servants wept...» too.
These deaths are of a different tone than the deaths reported in battle of the Captive's tale in Part I (a matter of our side, the Spaniards, versus their side, the Turks), nor are they much like the death of the poet, Grisóstomo, who has already committed suicide for love, in Part I, when we first learn of him as we meet people on the way to his funeral; nor are the deaths of Part II buffered through literary convention, as in the easy write-off in death, unemphasized, of all three of the protagonists in the Tale of Foolish Curiosity in Part I. Here people are actually getting killed.
These changes in the presentation of the human body are bound to have an emotional impact upon readers; they give the novel a different feel or texture than it had in Part I, not merely a different formal arrangement of sequences, such as Casalduero pointed out. In my own book on the Quixote,57 I ignored this difference, but I'm sorry I did.
The momentous body change early in Part II -that of Dulcinea into the coarse peasant girl that Quixote sees, under the guidance of Sancho- is followed by deeper changes later on: Dulcinea in Quixote's dreamcave vision, where she is a mocking, immature, money grubbing woman placed in close proximity to a morbid ritual of a woman attending on a knight whose body is dead except for his voice, and whose heart has been cut out and preserved in salt. This is followed after other adventures by the reappearance of Dulcinea in the elaborate charades or burlas performed at the Duke's palace; this time she is again an extremely beautiful young woman, but she appears cheek by jowl with a male figure «plainly the very shape of Death, fleshless and hideous» (patentemente... la mesma figura de la Muerte, descarnada y fea), an appearance that disturbs Quixote, Sancho, and even the Duke and Duchess -but over which no one troubles to make the overwhelming visual connection, namely that Dulcinea's sensual beauty is now directly juxtaposed with this gruesomeness. No one comments either on the incongruity of this —158→ «silvery nymph», Dulcinea, speaking «with a masculine assurance and in no very lady-like tones» (p. 701). Further on, Cervantes takes care to point out that the impression was based on something more than masquerade: Dulcinea is played in this burla by «un paje» -plainly male, a page (p. 708). No one questions the disparity of this man / woman proclaiming herself to have the appearance of «a distressed beauty» (like all other distressed damsels, p. 702). Again, the juxtaposition is not death and sex but death and sex-change.
The male-toned Dulcinea reinforces the command that Sancho lash himself on his buttocks, 3300 times, an appeal that is followed by another one that Sancho just cannot turn down, this time by the character who claims to be a countess, but wears a long beard, the result of an enchantment. Her dozen waiting women likewise have beards. Again, the explanations of the burla cannot cancel the emotional impact: it feels different from anything in Part I to have a dozen heavily-bearded waiting women, «all thick with beards, some fair, some black, some white and some grizzled», around a bewhiskered countess (p. 720). Moreover, where Cervantes could have had a simple narrative report providing beards through a wave of Merlin's wand, he chooses to give a peculiarly tactile sense of sex-change perceived from inside the waiting women's bodies: «... the very instant he [Merlin] finished speaking we all felt the pores of our faces open, and a sensation as if we were being pricked all over them with needlepoints». (p. 720). The object of such realism cannot be mere verisimilitude; if Cervantes wanted to impress upon us how convincing the bearded waiting women's hoax was, he would not also at the same time nearly give the joke away at the onset, as the pretend countess begins her speech by referring to herself, in a voice «rather coarse and rough than subtle and delicate», as «this your waitingman -I should say waiting-woman» (p. 714). Instead of a clear case of a man cleverly disguising himself as a woman, we are given an unconvincing disguise that blurs sexual boundaries but is taken for real despite -or perhaps because of- the blur.
Although the pretend Dulcinea failed to convince Sancho to accept the whipping, the bearded woman persuades him to take a dangerous ride to attain her disenchantment; as in the later episodes of Claudia Gerónima and Anna Felix, «she drew tears from the eyes of all the spectators, and even filled Sancho's to the brim...» (p. 726). This is a change of heart after Sancho's first reaction, which was less sympathetic: «Wouldn't it have been better and more fitting to their —159→ case to have cut off half their noses from the middle upwards, even if it had made them talk with a snuffle, rather than to have clapped beards on them?» (pp. 721-22; «¿Cómo y no fuera mejor, y a ellas estuviera más a cuento, quitarles la mitad de las narices de medio arriba, aunque hablaran gangoso, que no ponerles barbas?»). There may be an echo here of «Melisendra desnarigada», the de-nosed Melisendra, a woman character in the puppet show who got in the way of Don Quixote's rage.58 It was his way of rescuing her from the Moors.
Now Sancho has to come to the rescue not only of the bearded waiting women but of his master's ladylove, Dulcinea. By whipping himself, Sancho will enable Dulcinea to return to her ideal form, a result that never occurs, although Cervantes could have made it happen if he had so chosen. What we are presented with is the repeated image of Sancho's buttocks, juxtaposed somehow with Dulcinea's fair cheeks, and in the context of Quixote's need to get on with the whipping. The connection on this basis between Sancho and his master is the most prominent body relationship to develop in the last half of Part II. No sooner does Sancho protest that he doesn't see «what my buttocks have got to do with these enchantments», than his master threatens, «I will bind you to a tree, naked as your mother bore you», and apply twice as many lashes as have been prescribed (p. 701). This expression is in body language, some of it female. Sancho's own language in response to this new proposal increases the sexual boundary confusion and the potential emotional impact: «my lord and master, who should be stroking my neck and wheedling me to make myself soft as wool or carded cotton, says that if he catches me, he will bind me naked to a tree and double the dose of lashes» (p. 703). And as soon as Sancho agrees to undergo the lashing, «Don Quixote hung on Sancho's neck, giving him countless kisses on his forehead and his cheeks» (p. 705). There is no escaping the body-to-body direction of all this imagery. A few chapters later, pressed by Quixote to apply the whip while the two of them are seated on a wooden bench, waiting to take off into the skies on a fearful adventure, Sancho protests again in unmistakably sexual language: «As the saying has it, 'you see me pregnant and you want me a virgin.' Moreover, here I —160→ am sitting on a bare board, and you want me to skin my buttocks».59 By this point the emphasis on Sancho's «two most ample buttocks, both to the air exposed» (Cohen, p. 701; «ambas sus valientes posaderas, al aire descubiertas»), has been established in the context of changing body boundaries and changing sexual divisions. As the fake Dulcinea points out, her pronouncement of the sentence against Sancho brings Quixote's body into a state of vulnerability quite unusual in the whole novel: she tells Sancho that if he will only look, he will see that his master's soul is visibly «stuck in his throat, not ten inches from his lips...» Quixote promptly confirms this, in some alarm: «On hearing this, Don Quixote felt his throat and said» to the Duke: «By God, Sir, Dulcinea has spoken the truth, for here is my soul sticking in my throat like the nut of a crossbow».60 In the very same speech in which Dulcinea makes this observation, she also refers to the compassionate bowels (las entrañas piadosas) of all who hear her story, and then urges Sancho to look closely at her eyes, «and see them weep thread by thread and skein by skein, making furrows, tracks and channels down the fair fields of my cheeks» (p. 702; «... los hermosos campos de mis mejillas»). The close-up view has the effect of enlargement, and more effectively brings into superimposition the two images, Sancho's buttocks and Dulcinea's cheeks. And these buttocks are to be exposed not merely to the air but to the whip. Again, I remind you that I am talking about how it feels to read all this body imagery, and not to the explaining away of the burla nor even to Sancho's eventual evasion of the lashes.
Sancho does not really get whipped, but Quixote does get pinched -painfully, and in large part by the Duchess herself, in a silent invasion of his room at the palace. Cide Hamete Benengeli, not a very accurate commentator, tells us that the pinching occurs at just that point when the Duchess heard the waiting woman, Doña Rodríguez, «expose the secret of her garden of fountains», those drains on her —161→ legs I mentioned earlier. When the Duchess heard this secret given away», neither she nor Altisidora», another of the unlovely women of Part II, «could bear it; and so they burst into the room, in a great fury and spoiling for revenge, to pinch Don Quixote and slap the waitingwoman in the manner described» (pp. 789-90). The fury and lust for revenge are there all right, but the actual break-in occurs later than Cide's recapitulation would have it. What intervenes between revelation of the secret and pinching and slapping in terrified silence, is Quixote's reaction to the news of his Duchess's two «issues» or «fuentes». «Can my lady the Duchess possibly have two such drains?» The «fuentes», a somewhat poetic or at worst a medical term, are downgraded to a couple of mere drains, «tales desaguaderos», which give out liquid amber («ámbar líquido»). The contrast of bad humours with this liquid (pp. 778-79) shows that probably Quixote meant to say «ambergris», rather than «amber», and the translator, J. M. Cohen, gives him the benefit of the doubt. What the Duchess hears, however, is an unidealized description of her body, made all the harder to accept by Quixote's Sancho-like efforts at deploying idealized vocabulary. What Quixote «should» be doing is to manfully deny the reality of the Duchess' body; what he finally says is that it is important to open «issues» for health, tacitly accepting that the beautiful Duchess is on the unhealthy side. Only then, at that point, does nearly a half hour of pinching begin. It is as if the great secret has been given away, not merely the secret of the fountains / drains, but that of the actual body in its grossness, vulnerability, and indifference to social class. To make the Duchess realize even fleetingly that she is an ordinary body is to question her entire life-rôle as the ostentatious actress of privilege. But it is not merely the Duchess who does not want, or dare, to realize the fact of the human body: it is virtually the entire cast of characters, whether of high or low status, with the exception of Sancho.
I will try to draw some implications of my argument together by offering a set of tentative conclusions. In the first place, let me acknowledge my method, which is to follow a maxim that I have given myself in reading the Quixote or other literature: pay attention to the body. Doing so often shows the body as a radical element. I believe this has been borne out once more. Second, Cervantes was writing about the body in a way more complicated than we have recognized. Shakespeare, his contemporary, also dealt with the implications of women disguised as men, in such plays as Twelfth Night, but —162→ he seems superficial in this regard when compared to Cervantes. Third, I propose that the increased body boundary confusion and its intermix with violent death is functionally related to the increased exploration, in the last part of the novel, of social authority. We have many chapters placed at the home of the Duke, and others with the Viceroy of Barcelona, while the story of the outlaw Roque Guinart is set against all those bodies hanging from trees by virtue of law and order. Body idealization in the meantime goes on merrily, notwithstanding its simultaneous denial. Don Quixote can believe in some virtuous potency of Dulcinea's, «stored within her» (p. 681, «encerradas») that will produce a great fortune and a lineage to be compared with the best that society has to offer. This praise of the woman's body is actually a condemnation, since the female body (or for that matter the male) can hardly fulfill the expectation that it enclose and finally supply the abstract values of class. No real woman, in other words, has any wonderful «vein» or part or «jirón» of that kind, and never could, to improve her blood («adoban la sangre»). The thorough confusion of the body with social metaphor and social control is consummately and critically presented by Cervantes. The implication, less comforting than the cautionary thought that social climbing in an aristocracy is a fool's occupation, is that those women who have a position in high society are in possession of the bodily virtue of lineage, or rather, that they are valued for this fantasy which they act out, not for their lives. Cervantes was not intent, in other words, on showing miscellaneous misbehavior and meanness in the society of Part II; instead he created a series of presentations of the body that show exactly what his fictional society cannot accept, and why: the human body itself.
Fourth, dealing with the body in The Quixote obviously requires going beyond the maxim, to pay attention to the body, and toward an aesthetic that makes conscious assumptions about the body and about body-text relationship. It is my contention that any responsive reader of Cervantes will eventually have to learn something about this area of theory, no matter how foreign it appears to be from the perspectives of the already practiced critical disciplines, and whether or not the critic chooses to adopt any of my own approaches to the problem of the body in literature.
Here I must first mention Octavio Paz, who has shown in his book, Conjunctions and Disjunctions, that in art, the buttocks are often a —163→ kind of alternate face to the face we all show.61 Paz draws his example from Quevedo, Góngora, and from the famous painting by Velázquez, «The Toilet of Venus», among others, but not, strangely enough, from Cervantes. Paz's analysis is designed to provide a basis for the comparison of the health of cultural epochs, whether in the Western or Eastern world; but his particular assumptions need not be accepted in order to grant the pertinence of his observations concerning buttocks and face, and to register the prominence of this conjunction / disjunction in the Golden Age.
In my own work with the problem of the body in literature, I have come to rely more and more on the still controversial thought of Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957).62 In Reichian terms, energy periodically moves from upper torso and head to lower torso and genitals, and back again, in a continuous rhythm that is healthy functioning. Cervantes, however, seems to have shown the kind of body life that results from civilized pressure: he arrives at a masculinized female head and the male buttocks, to the accompaniment of sentimental tears, much laughter, and killing. These parallels are what Reich called «functionally equivalent»; that is, the society depicted in the novel would not hold together without the bodily and sexual dislocations which sustain it. Clearly, any such relationship of society and body in the Quixote leads directly to a radical questioning of the highly destructive costs of civilized existence, irrespective of whether Cervantes or anyone else has an alternative to offer. My point is that the question is posed. I have not forgotten that Don Quixote himself dies, peacefully, and as a restored Christian.
He leaves behind him all the body —164→ imagery I have been discussing. This imagery may suggest why many of Cervantes' readers prefer to think that the pious deathbed can simply cancel the disturbances, personal and social, portrayed vividly in the previous one hundred and twenty-five chapters.