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ArribaAbajo The 'Knight of the Broken Lance' and His 'Trusty Steed': On Don Quixote and Rocinante

John T. Cull

College of the Holy Cross

La intención explícita de Don Quijote, intención generalmente descartada por la crítica moderna, es la de parodiar los libros de caballería. Como parte de dicha parodia, Cervantes crea un protagonista cómico cuyas fuerzas pueden menos que sus deseos: un ser literal y figuradamente impotente. Este estudio explora algunos de los símbolos repetidos de la impotencia humorística del protagonista, entre ellos el brazo inhábil y la lanza rota. Al mismo tiempo, se analiza la relación cómica entre amo sexualmente incapaz y caballo rijoso. El interés en lo erótico constituye otro rasgo del ideal caballeresco que el protagonista cervantino no logra imitar, y por tanto, es otro aspecto de la novela destinado a provocar la risa a carcajadas en el lector.

As part of the elaborate parody of the romances of chivalry in Don Quixote, Cervantes teasingly calls into question his knight's potency in a systematic fashion. The knights-errant that populate the libros de caballerías test their prowess in every arena, often including the erotic, as both Arthur Efron (41) and Daniel Eisenberg (Romances of Chivalry 82-83) have argued. One of the many failings of Don Quixote in his imitation of the knights of old is his inability to liberate himself from the moral restrictions that bridle «estos nuestros detestables siglos» (I.11, 157). In Don Quixote, Cervantes employs numerous strategies to hint humoristically that his protagonist's moral continence may be accompanied by a psychological or even physical impotence49. Even if we   —38→   give our hero the benefit of the doubt and allow that he is able to govern his baser impulses to mimic the virtue of chaste Amadís de Gaula, it is no little disappointment that he cannot hold the passionate reins of his frisky mount Rocinante, «la mejor pieza que comía pan en el mundo» (I.2, 85). This study will consider some of the apparent symbols of Don Quixote's impotence that he cloaks with vows of chastity. It will also examine the juxtaposition of a master who ineptly struggles to follow the path of virtue with a very carnal and worldly nag, an endless source of humor in the novel, and a constant suggestion of the knight's symbolic, and perhaps literal impotence.

One of the most obvious phallic symbols that the reader associates with Don Quixote is the brazo fuerte that he brandishes with pride on numerous occasions throughout the novel. Nevertheless, when put to the test, it is an arm that wilts at every encounter. Don Quixote himself inadvertently seems to associate his arm with his sexuality early in the novel, when he addresses the girls at the inn: «y el valor de mi brazo descubra el deseo que tengo de serviros» (I.2, 86). The arm, which metonymically comes to represent the knight, is boastfully termed fuerte, invencible, invicto, valeroso e invenerable, incansable and poderoso50. It   —39→   seems, however, that the only success his arm can muster is a figurative destruction of sexuality. In «The Beheading of the Giant: An Obscene Metaphor in Don Quixote», Revista Hispánica Moderna 39.4 (1976-77): 141-49, Javier Herrero argues that Don Quixote's beheading of the giant Pandafilando is an obscene metaphor of castration. Frightened or jealous of this symbol of potency, Don Quixote is determined to deflate what Herrero sees as a huge, erect phallus: «pienso, con la ayuda de Dios y de mi brazo, tajar la cabeza soberbia con los filos desta... no quiero decir buena espada» (I.30, 377). After a fashion, Don Quixote's attempt to quash sexuality is successful. In most other instances, Cervantes manages a humorous effect whenever Don Quixote proudly displays his valorous arm by making him unable to accomplish his boasts. The arm is literally and figuratively impotent.

There is one episode in the novel where Don Quixote's arm as phallic symbol is incontrovertible and unspeakably obscene. It is, of course, the scene at the inn where Maritornes and the innkeeper's daughter play their famous trick on the knight. Don Quixote fears what he imagines to be the sexual advances of the lady who, «vencida de su amor, tornaba a solicitarle» (I.43, 527). The novel's notorious ambiguity allows us to read an overtly hilarious admission of impotence into Don Quixote's words to his would-be admirer: «lástima os tengo, fermosa señora, de que hayades puesto vuestras amorosas mientes en parte donde no es posible corresponderos conforme merece vuestro gran valor y gentileza» (I.43, 527, emphasis added). Always the gentleman, Don Quixote nevertheless accedes to the request to allow his hand to be introduced through the hole of the hayloft to the lady, «por poder deshogar con ella el gran deseo que a este agujero la ha traído, tan a peligro de su honor» (I.43, 527). The parody of sexual penetration is obvious to any reader. The image really becomes obscene when Don Quixote proudly describes his virginal appendage:

-Tomad, señora, esa mano, o, por mejor decir, ese verdugo de los malhechores del mundo; tomad esa mano, digo, a quien no ha tocado otra de mujer alguna, ni aun la de aquella que tiene entera posesión de todo mi cuerpo. No os la doy para que la beséis, sino para que miréis la contextura de sus nervios, la trabazón de sus músculos, la anchura y espaciosidad de sus venas; de donde sacaréis qué tal debe de ser la fuerza del brazo que tal mano tiene.

(I.43, 528)                


The ladies, of course, slip a loop around Don Quixote's wrist and leave him dangling precariously. If we accept the imagery I ascribe to this episode, then our hero's lament is hilarious: «ni es bien que en tan poca parte venguéis el todo de vuestro enojo» (I.43, 528). Figuratively, Don Quixote is forced into sex against his will. He tries to extricate himself, but in vain: «tiraba de su brazo, por ver si podía soltarse; mas él estaba tan bien asido, que todas sus pruebas fueron en vano» (I.43, 529). That is to say, he is unable to complete the sex act. The knight «bramaba como un toro» (I.43, 529), but the «estirado señor» (I.43, 531) is unable to remove his arm. The episode culminates in a suggestion of castration, as Rocinante moves away and leaves his master suspended in the air: «cosa que le causó tanto dolor, que creyó, o que la muñeca le cortaban, o que el brazo se le arrancaba» (I.43, 531).

The lance is a second phallic symbol that merits further analysis. Helena Percas de Ponseti, in her discussion of Don Quixote's encounter with the lions, terms the lance «a phallic symbol» and «a weapon of earthly character» (Cervantes the Writer 47). Originally considered a noble weapon (Vale 114), the size of the lance as well as its shape obviously facilitated its association with the phallus. The lance was generally some twelve feet long, but other types of lances reached almost hyperbolic dimensions. The Spanish pike, a lance made of ash with a steel tip, was eighteen feet long and weighed more than ten pounds (Martin & Parker 36). Certain lances used by a band of mercenaries known as lansquenets reached lengths of twenty-four to twenty-seven feet (Demmin 414). The lance as an exaggerated phallic symbol, then, would seem an obvious association, and one which had at least one precedent in Spanish literature that Cervantes may have been aware of51.


Don Quixote is unable to effect his burning desire for conquests, and this failing is depicted visually in the form of broken and «dulled» lances in the novel. If the Knight of the Woeful Countenance brags often of the strength of his arm, the references to his lance are even more frequent. This primary weapon of the knights-errant was imbued with a deep symbolism:

-Se da al caballero una lanza, para significar verdad. Porque la verdad es cosa recta, que no se tuerce, y la verdad se adelanta a la falsedad. El hierro de la lanza significa la fuerza que la verdad tiene sobre la falsedad; y el pendón significa que la verdad se demuestra a todos, y no tiene pavor ni de la falsedad ni del engaño. También la verdad es apoyo de la esperanza; y esto, como otras cosas, vienen significadas en la lanza que recibe el caballero

(Lulio 66).                

If the lance represents truth, it is significant that Don Quixote constantly shatters or dulls his lances. His lances also seem to lack pendones, or banners, a shortcoming that could be interpreted as a castration image. The importance of the lance for chivalry is evident in the well-known name of a knight of the Arthurian tradition, derived from the weapon: Sir Lancelot. The name is tellingly rendered in Spanish as Lanzarote. Don Quixote wields his lance with the same pride in which he holds his «powerful» arm, with the same predictably funny results. His instrument, generally a phallic symbol, is rarely equal to the task, and therefore winds up broken or blunted.

Don Quixote's lance is first destroyed in the episode of the Toledo traders (I.4, 101), where a muleteer not only shatters it, but to add insult to injury, he beats the knight severely with one of its pieces. After recuperating at home, Don Quixote takes leave for the second time with Sancho Panza and a new lance in tow. It is not long, however, before this lance suffers the same fate as the first. In his joust with the windmills, Don Quixote's lance is again splintered (I.8, 130). To make up for this grave shortcoming in his arms, Don Quixote steals from the inn a lanzón, perhaps a more fitting symbol of his masculinity, since it is   —42→   substantially shorter than the normal lance. Not surprisingly, the lanzón also perishes at the inn (I.45, 543) in mock battle with the barber, an ironic and apt foe for Don Quixote, since our hero had symbolically castrated his adversary in the acquisition of Mambrino's helmet52.

Cervantes exploits the relationship between Don Quixote and his lance for comic undermining of his protagonist in several different ways in the course of the novel. Our hero literally depends on his lance, for example, by leaning on it for support (recostarse and arrimarse are the verbs employed) on at least two occasions (I.43, 526 & II.10, 105). This literal and figurative dependence on his lance suggests that Don Quixote feels powerless and emasculated when he does not have his lance at hand. Consider, for example, his reaction when surprised by Roque Guinart's bandits: «que si me hallaran sobre mi caballo, con mi lanza y con mi escudo, no les fuera muy fácil rendirme» (II.60, 495). Another strategy to use the lance as a symbol of Don Quixote's potency involves the size of the lance. We have already mentioned our hero's use of the shorter lanzón after breaking his first two lances. By contrast, consider the description of the size of Sansón Carrasco's lance while disguised as the Caballero de los Espejos: «la lanza, que tenía arrimada a un árbol, era grandísima y gruesa, y de un hierro acerado de más de un palmo» (II.14, 140). The simplest technique that Cervantes employs to figuratively pull the rug out from beneath Don Quixote and his lance is to make him brandish it ineffectively. We see this in the episode of the herd of the bulls (another symbolic adversary in their legendary sexual potency), when Don Quixote, «embrazando su escudo y tomando su lanza» (II.58, 480), is unceremoniously stampeded, his lance once again useless. Finally, there is a suggestion of impotence, or «blunted» lances, in something that Don Quixote says on arms and letters: «que nunca la lanza embotó la pluma, ni la pluma la lanza» (I.18, 226). A similar image is found in an ironic comment that Sancho makes on the «virtue» of Altisidora, though here arrow tips, and not   —43→   lances, are dulled: «la vergüenza y recato de las doncellas se despuntan y embotan las amorosas saetas; pero en esta Altisidora más parece que se aguzan que despuntan» (II.58, 475). Indeed, Altisidora strives to excite Don Quixote sexually. In short, Cervantes uses the arm and the lance, and of course the sword, throughout the novel to intimate that his protagonist is not nearly as potent as the knights-errant he attempts to imitate.

As another aspect of the parody of the romances of chivalry in Don Quixote, the hapless knight lives in mortal fear of sex and sexuality, as we have seen in the adventure of Pandafilando. Unlike certain lusty lancemen that grace the pages of the romances, Don Quixote finds all things carnal distasteful and even repugnant. The comic irony is evident: by rejecting sexuality so vehemently, our protagonist comes to imitate not the knights-errant that fill his fantasy, but rather the damsels in distress who chastely struggle to protect their virtue. Examples abound in the novel. The disaster at the inn during the nocturnal visit of Maritornes (I.16, 202) is directly attributable to Don Quixote's exaggerated concern for his honestidad. Again, the novel's ambiguity allows the reader to interpret our hero's explanation as an admission of impotence: «que, aunque de mi voluntad quisiera satisfacer a la vuestra, fuera imposible» (I.16, 204). Nevertheless, Don Quixote does experience temptations of the flesh in the novel, at times real and at times staged. On at least one occasion, the protagonist himself lets slip a desire for women which he usually manages to sublimate. Don Quixote is profoundly disturbed, perhaps in his role as «damsel in distress», when the duchess offers four doncellas to tend to his private needs: «así entrarán ellas en mi aposento, ni cosa que lo parezca, como volar... Déjeme... que yo ponga una muralla en medio de mis deseos y de mi honestidad» (II.44, 369).

The main function of Altisidora in the novel is precisely to test the limits of Don Quixote's personal decorum and to bait his masculinity. From II.44 to the end of the novel, the bumbling knight perceives her as a threat to his purity, and flees all contact with Altisidora. The nocturnal visit in which Don Quixote supposes Doña Rodríguez to be Altisidora intent on despoiling his innocence is important in that it constitutes an unambiguous declaration of what the reader has probably already concluded: the knight's virginity. Cervantes seems intent on turning the world topsy-turvy and poking fun at his protagonist by means of sexual inversion. His concern for his chastity is behavior more appropriate to the maiden than to the knight:


-¿Quién sabe si el diablo, que es sutil y mañoso, querrá engañarme agora con una dueña, lo que no ha podido con emperatrices, reinas, duquesas, marquesas ni condesas...? Y ¿quién sabe si esta soledad, esta ocasión y este silencio despertará mis deseos que duermen, y harán que al cabo de mis años venga a caer donde nunca he tropezado?

(II.48, 398)                

Though Don Quixote never actually capitulates to carnal desire in the novel, his integrity inviolate, there seem to be moments propitious for a fall from virtue. Thus, in spite of his better judgement and his wounds, Don Quixote is prepared to receive into his arms Maritornes, the imagined princess of the castle: «sentándose en la cama, a pesar de sus bizmas y con dolor de sus costillas, tendió los brazos para recibir a su fermosa doncella» (I.16, 203).

Cervantes provides Don Quixote with an iron-clad chivalric excuse for his aversion to sex in the novel. After the battle with the Biscayan, the sight of his damaged helmet so infuriates our knight that he takes a solemn vow «de hacer la vida que hizo el grande marqués de Mantua cuando juró de vengar la muerte de su sobrino Valdovinos, que fue de no comer pan a manteles, ni con su mujer folgar... hasta tomar entera venganza del que tal desaguisado me fizo» (I.10, 150, emphasis added). Although he renounces the part on seeking vengeance, Don Quixote swears to uphold the rest. In point of fact, he manages only to avoid sex, for later Sancho takes him to task for eating «pan a manteles» (I.19, 228). Whether Don Quixote refrains from intimate relationships out of fear or out of an exaggerated sense of chivalric honor, he would have Sancho believe that the disenchantment of Dulcinea is an urgent matter that prevents him from expressing his sexuality: «tú vives en descuido; yo muero deseando» (II.60, 492).

If we grant that Don Quixote is endowed with normal human desires, the novel is somewhat vague with respect to his ability to moderate his animal passion. One of the many manifestations of the theme of art vs. nature in Don Quixote is the role of reason and morality vs. passion and natural human instinct. Don Quixote is never decisive on the relative merits of the two contrasting (though occasionally harmonious) concepts. He justifies his own outbursts of rage by telling Sancho that «los primeros movimientos no son en mano del hombre» (I.20, 250; repeated, with a slight variation, in I.30, 379). However, when the knight discovers that his chronicler is Cide Hamete, he fears   —45→   that his passion for Dulcinea will have been treated indecently. It is indeed ironic that in amorous matters, Don Quixote contradicts himself by avowing that he has managed to moderate erotic «first movements»: «menospreciando reinas, emperatrices y doncellas de todas calidades, teniendo a raya los ímpetus de los naturales movimientos» (II.3, 59). By means of his contradictory discourse, Don Quixote undermines his lofty morals at every turn. This is another use of humor in the novel to contrast the protagonist with the knights he fails to imitate.

In addition to castration images implicit in the beheading of the giant Pandafilando, in the trick played on him at the inn by Maritornes and the innkeeper's daughter and in the surrendering of the yelmo de Mambrino, several others appear in the course of the novel. Their function is to cast comic aspersions on Don Quixote's imaginary sexual prowess. For example, in the battle with the Biscayan, as Sancho is quick to point out, Don Quixote emerged «con media oreja y media celada menos» (I.18, 217), a significant loss of person and armor. Uncharacteristically, Don Quixote laments the pain of this loss on three occasions (I.10, 150; I.10, 152 & I.12, 161). The most interesting allusion to castration does not directly concern Don Quixote, except in the contrast it creates with his own situation. Sancho and Doña Rodríguez, in front of the duke and duchess, discuss the verisimilitude of the historical ballad on the penitence of king Rodrigo. Lascivious Rodrigo was condemned to be buried alive with toads and vipers to atone for his carnal sins. After two days in the tomb, he was heard to lament: «Ya me comen, ya me comen / por do más pecado había» (II.33, 299)53. This rather shocking image of the mighty fallen because of succumbing to temptations of the flesh is perhaps an ironic commentary on Don Quixote's situation. The knight's figurative emasculation is a consequence of his fear of sex, while the monarch's literal castration results from indulging his desires. Both extremes lead to the same end.

At no point does our hero perceive this irony. Rather, he is doomed to wrestle futilely with the paradox of desire and moral restraint. By embracing the extreme of effeminate chastity in the   —46→   mistaken belief that it would make him more knightly, Don Quixote instead becomes an object of ridicule. The parodic intent of Cervantes is further enhanced by the depiction of Don Quixote's horse, Rocinante54. In physique, in temperament, and perhaps in spirit, Rocinante parallels his ridiculous master in most respects. As evidenced by his many literal and symbolic falls, Rocinante is a horse unequal to the chivalric task undertaken by Don Quixote. Nevertheless, if Rocinante's stumbles in battle are pardonable, his unabashed carnal excesses are a source of embarrassment and aggravation to a master who strives endlessly to hold the reins on his own animal passion.

Cervantes explores the tension between art and nature in a number of arenas in Don Quixote. We see this problematic antithesis embodied, for example, in the conflict between society and the limitations it imposes (art), and the theme of freedom (nature). As is his custom, Cervantes finds problems with both polarities. Freedom leads to abuse, as in the episode of the galley slaves, and society tends to be too restrictive of the individual's innate tendency towards creative expression.

Freedom vs. society therefore comes to constitute another example of problematic reality in the novel, fraught with irony and ambiguity. Cervantes uses Rocinante to explore this problem in the form of the demystification of the pastoral ideal. Freedom is absolute in the pastoral bower, according to the eclogues and idylls of Theocritus and Virgil, and this liberty extends to the realm of the erotic. Renaissance pastoral attempts to purge overt sexuality from the human love ideal, although reminders of the sexual anarchy of classical pastoral abound. The episode of the yangüeses evokes the entirety of the pastoral tradition. It begins with a typical description of a pastoral locus amoenus: «vinieron a parar a un prado lleno de fresca yerba, junto del cual corría un arroyo apacible y fresco; tanto, que convidó y forzó a pasar allí las horas de la siesta» (I.15, 190). Captured by the enchantment of the pastoral ideal, Don Quixote and Sancho allow their beasts the freedom to graze at will, «a su albedrío y sin orden alguna» (II.59, 483), perhaps an evocation of some anonymous octavas in vogue (Blecua 515). The lifting of the bridle   —47→   leads to predictable consequences: a beast (and presumably a man in similar circumstances), will follow his natural instincts when left unfettered: «No se había curado Sancho de echar sueltas a Rocinante, seguro de que le conocía por tan manso y tan poco rijoso, que todas las yeguas de la dehesa de Córdoba no le hicieran tomar mal siniestro» (I.15, 190-91). But unlike the humorous restraint shown by Don Quixote, Rocinante indeed becomes «restless at the sight of females» (rijoso55). His attempt to indulge in the erotic anarchy promised by the classical pastoral ideal leads to disaster, both for himself and the granters of freedom, Don Quixote and Sancho:

Sucedió, pues, que a Rocinante le vino en deseo de refocilarse con las señoras facas, y saliendo, así como las olió, de su natural paso y costumbre, sin pedir licencia a su dueño, tomó un trotico algo picadillo y se fue a comunicar su necesidad con ellas. Mas ellas, que, a lo que pareció, debían de tener más gana de pacer que de ál, recibiéronle con las herraduras y con los dientes56.

(I.15, 191)                

The arrieros beat Rocinante to the ground with their stakes to punish his boldness, then turn their wrath on Don Quixote and Sancho. The latter's lament entails, perhaps, the moral of the story: «jamás tal creí de Rocinante; que te tenía por persona casta y tan pacífica como yo. En fin, bien dicen que es menester mucho tiempo para venir a conocer a las personas, y que no hay cosa segura en esta vida» (I.15, 194). It is, of course, ridiculous to hold Rocinante to human standards of conduct, as Fernández Suárez has pointed out (170). Cervantes reiterates at chapter's end that the drubbings are due to «la demasiada libertad de aquel día» (I.15, 197).

Indeed, Rocinante always follows his instincts, much to the chagrin of his master, who would have his horse be superhuman, or «unnatural», like himself. The ensuing chapter may be interpreted as an indication that men too must pay the consequences of indulging their animal passions. The muleteer   —48→   had arranged to «communicate his needs» with Maritornes at night. The verb that Cervantes chooses to express the dallying, refocilarse57, is the same he used for Rocinante: «había el arriero concertado con ella que aquella noche se refocilarían juntos» (I.16, 201). As we have already seen, Don Quixote inexplicably opens his arms to receive his «fermosa doncella» (I.16, 203), and therefore he is made to pay the consequences of surrendering to his misplaced desires. On some level, Don Quixote seems to make a connection between his pecadillo and that of his nag: «y después me molió de tal suerte que estoy peor que ayer cuando los gallegos, que, por demasías de Rocinante, nos hicieron el agravio que sabes» (I.17, 207-08).

Don Quixote's faith in unreliable Rocinante, «flor y espejo de los caballos» (I.49, 577), is a great source of humor in the novel. In the trick played by Maritornes and the innkeeper's daughter, to which we alluded previously, Don Quixote manages to relieve the pressure on his arm by balancing on Rocinante: «no osaba hacer movimiento alguno, puesto que de la paciencia y quietud de Rocinante bien se podía esperar que estaría sin moverse un siglo entero» (I.43, 528-29). Again however, the natural instinct of sexual arousal causes Rocinante to betray his master's ill-placed trust:

una de las cabalgaduras en que venían los cuatro que llamaban se llegó a oler a Rocinante, que, melancólico y triste, con las orejas caídas, sostenía sin moverse a su estirado señor; y como, en fin, era de carne, aunque parecía de leño, no pudo dejar de resentirse y tornar a oler a quien le llegaba a hacer caricias; y así, no se hubo movido tanto cuanto, cuando se desviaron los juntos pies de don Quijote, y resbalando de la silla, dieran con él en el suelo, a no quedar colgado del brazo.

(I. 43, 531)                

In this instance, Don Quixote suffers the consequences, possibly because of his concupiscence in this adventure («Authorial   —49→   Strings» 54), but more likely because he has foolishly expected Rocinante to conform to human standards of behavior.

Time and again, Don Quixote and/or Rocinante bite off more than they can chew, and the result is usually a beating, complete with a literal and symbolic fall of one or both. This is the case, for example, when Rocinante, frightened by the bogiganga, streaks away «con más ligereza, que jamás prometieron los huesos de su notomía» (II.11, 117). Don Quixote has lost figurative and literal control of the reins of Rocinante, especially as concerns sexual matters. As a result of this and other moments of «freedom», both take a tumble, «ordinario fin y paradero de las lozanías de Rocinante y de sus atrevimientos» (II.11, 117).

Rocinante, «leal y bien acondicionado» (I.18, 225), just one of the many ironic epithets ascribed to him, apparently does not escape chastisement for his frisky indiscretions. When Don Diego de Miranda tries to hurry his mare past Rocinante, to avoid any indecorous behavior on the part of the nag, Sancho tries to allay his fear: «nuestro caballo es el más honesto y bien mirado del mundo; jamás en semejantes ocasiones ha hecho vileza alguna, y una vez que se desmandó a hacerla la lastamos mi señor y yo con las setenas» (II.16, 150). Sancho's hyperbolic understatement aside, the humor again depends on master and squire trying to force their beast to conform to human standards of behavior and morality. The use of the verb desmandarse to describe Rocinante's passionate nature is symptomatic of this absurd effort, for «going astray» has strong moral connotations. Man and beast are equally susceptible to the call of nature, notwithstanding Don Quixote's ridiculous protestations to the contrary. Consequently, the novel's events tend to punish Don Quixote for his outrageous efforts to reject his human nature. Poor Rocinante, in turn, suffers whenever he capitulates to his natural instincts. The former pays for rejecting the liberty that life offers him; the latter for taking liberties.

There is at least one subtle suggestion that frisky Rocinante's desire to disport is, like Don Quixote's, impossible to effect. Sancho, in asking Sansón Carrasco about the contents of the first part of the novel already in print, inquires about the episode of the yangüeses: «dígame, señor bachiller -dijo a esta sazón Sancho-: ¿entra ahí la aventura de los yangüeses, cuando a nuestro buen Rocinante se le antojó pedir cotufas en el golfo?» (II.3, 61). As Ordoñez Vila has indicated with reference to the «incapacidad física» of Rocinante, the expression «pedir cotufas en el   —50→   golfo» means «to ask for the impossible» (60). Ambiguity allows us to interpret this as an ironic comment on Rocinante's potency, although the more likely meaning refers to the moral restriction imposed on him by his master. Rocinante's sexuality also seems to be jokingly questioned in the account given of his friendship with Sancho's rucio. Once again, it is the novel's intentional ambiguity that leads the reader to explore beyond the literal meaning and question the authorial intention: «hay fama, por tradición de padres a hijos, que el autor desta verdadera historia hizo particulares capítulos della [la amistad entre los animales]; mas que, por guardar la decencia y decoro que a tan heroica historia se debe, no los puso en ella» (II.12, 122). The passage cited continues to arouse suspicions as it relates the occasions in which nag and ass came together to «scratch» each other until they were both tired and «satisfied» (II.12, 122). An ironic reading is certainly feasible.

P. E. Russell, in his attempt to recuperate the pre-romantic view of Don Quixote, suggests that «Cervantes simply wanted to give his readers something to laugh at» (313). Any suggestion of Don Quixote's impotence is not to be taken too seriously nor used as ammunition to mount an argument on his creator's sexuality. It is all part of the elaborate trick that Cervantes plays on his protagonist by making him a hilarious parody of the knights of chivalry. Don Quixote fails miserably in his imitation of the knights-errant. The would-be knight is fully aware of the lascivious pursuits of some chivalric heroes. He notes, for example, using the same word rijoso that is usually reserved for beasts, that:«de don Galaor, hermano de Amadís de Gaula, se murmura que fue más que demasiadamente rijoso» (II.2, 57). Don Galaor is nevertheless included in the list of the persecuted virtuous. One of the primary reasons for Don Quixote's failed imitation of the knights of chivalry is that he is a product of his times, unable to accept the moral laxity that underlies the actions of many of his fictional heroes. The paradox of virtuous deeds for the common good and libertine indulgences to satisfy the individual is one that the «knight of the broken lance» is never able to resolve.

Regardless of the reasons underlying Don Quixote's rejection of sexuality, it is clear that Cervantes systematically undermined his protagonist's chivalric aspirations by means of a figurative, if not literal, impotence. Modern criticism of the novel posits that Cervantes successfully intuited contemporary psychological theories   —51→   of sexual dysfunction. While I admit the validity of these interpretations, I believe that the symbols of Don Quixote's impotence that I have elaborated in this study, namely the limp arm and the broken lance, can contribute to the reader's impression of Don Quixote as a funny parody of the romances of chivalry. And with P. E. Russell, I would hasten to add that this rich vein of humor in the novel in no way negates its «profundity as a work of art, or its own kind of seriousness» (313).

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