A major theme of Rinconete y Cortadillo is creativity in its many guises. This may seem a heavy interpretive burden to impose on two scruffy sharpers astray in roguedom, yet literary characters need not wear a halo to embody their creator's aesthetic ideals. The apparent gap between theme and its fictitious incarnations is no real problem in Rinconete y Cortadillo. What does pose a problem is Cervantes' sovereign graciousness, his bestowal of maximum authority on his subjects. The author hides his own creativity behind that of his characters, three of whom -Rinconete, Cortadillo and Monipodio- create an identity, a language, a métier and a society for themselves. During this process, it would seem that Cervantes is happiest in the wings, invisibly nudging his characters on and off the stage, pointing them in the direction of the spotlight, and raising or lowering the curtain at the right moment.
It is misleading, however, to place the author in a position subordinate to that of his players, to leave him stranded in backstage darkness forever. At the end of the performance, the wily Cervantes reasserts his authority, claims credit for the success of his undertaking, and whispers its moral to those alert enough to hear it: the moral is the spectacle itself.—74→
This moral is determined by a pattern that emerges from the initial encounter between Rinconete and Cortadillo. The pattern threads its way into the story and ends by dominating it completely. It is spun from the four aspects of creative activity I just mentioned: identity, language, métier and society. Rinconete y Cortadillo resembles a tapestry whose cartoon, in miniature, is woven into one of its corners. But this magnification of theme is not the only source of interest in the story. Cervantes has his characters invent new structures for themselves, channeling their vitality into the civilizing mold of new circumstance. More important, Cervantes himself invents a new structure for new circumstance. The latter is the theme of creation, and its structural support is the fusion of two genres, theater and prose fiction, into a seamless whole.
Rinconete y Cortadillo opens with a tableau: two adolescents, anywhere from fourteen to seventeen years old and anonymous, are minutely described with regard to their clothes and hands. The reader, however, is struck by what Cervantes chooses not to reveal. As the boys' creator, he could easily tell us their names, their exact age, the color of their eyes and hair, their height and weight. His reticence in this respect contrasts with the precise setting into which he thrusts the boys. But perhaps it is not a question of reticence at all. A playwright may specify costume and setting, but would hesitate to preordain the exact age and physiognomy of his actors. Cervantes proceeds very much like a playwright. He also lets his characters speak and act on their own behalf. The static first paragraph of Rinconete y Cortadillois more like a prologue than anything else: the story really begins when the two heroes awaken to themselves, stir, and break into conversation72. Throughout the ensuing dialogue, Cervantes constructs the barest narrative scaffolding for the reader, a discreet reminder that Rinconete y Cortadillo is a story and not a play: «the oldest said», «the smaller one replied», «the bigger asked», «the —75→ smaller answered». Not once does he disclose the names of his protagonists with a «Pedro said» or a «Diego replied». Cervantes' tact is such that he declines to give this information until his characters do so, until, in their own good time, Pedro and Diego identify themselves. The reader learns their names after an interval of vaguely restive maneuvering during which the boys size each other up. These alignments, culminating in mutual self-identification, are a model of diplomacy. Indeed, the reader is left slightly agog at the boys' precocity.
Underlining this precocity is the linguistic inventiveness of Rinconete and Cortadillo. They transfer a verbal code -the formulae of courteous address- from an adult context to an adolescent one: «De qué tierra es vuesa merced, señor gentilhombre...?»; «Mi tierra, señor caballero...» They also use expressions and turns of phrase that one would guess had been learnt by rote: «esta miserable vida»; «Todo eso es muy bueno, útil y provechoso». But it is not their style to learn by rote. Rinconete and Cortadillo are too gifted verbally to parrot anyone. Moreover, they take pride in their verbal superiority, which adds to their self-confidence73. From the beginning, they brave the contingencies of life as necessary evils, as a tax on self-expression and independence.
Absolute freedom, as the cliché would have it, weighs heavily, and so Rinconete and Cortadillo decide to collaborate. Having drawn each other out and recognized their knavish compatibility, they now form a pact. According to Rinconete, an inscrutable design has brought them together: «... imagino que no sin misterio nos ha juntado aquí la suerte, y pienso que habemos de ser, déste hasta el último día de nuestra vida, verdaderos amigos» (p. 4)74. By way of substantiating this prophecy, the boys —76→ embrace. It is the physical and highly theatrical expression of their pledge of fidelity. The rite occurs -and here Cervantes is an astute psychologist- only after Rinconete derides Cortadillo's highflown account of his escape from Toledo and proposes a change of verbal style: «Eso se borre...; y pues ya nos conocemos, no hay para qué aquesas grandezas ni altiveces: confesemos llanamente que no teníamos blanca, ni aun zapatos» (p. 6). The boys thus tacitly agree to drop their linguistic disguise when alone together. They shall wear it only when performing for the world, which they are now ready to face.
Each boy is now an ally of the other. They form a society. As is the case with most societies, theirs will derive its strength from the union of private commitment and public ceremonial, of covert promise and overt proof.
The outsiders have become the insiders in a rehearsal of the entire Monipodio episode. Monipodio's clan -an alliance of mutual interests- is simply a variation on this scene, and the «saintly and praiseworthy ceremonies» to which Diego refers as he goes forth to embrace Pedro are the prehistory of the whole Seville adventure. Similarly, Monipodio's courtyard is the full-grown descendant of the «porch or lean-to» of the Molinillo inn.
Rinconete and Cortadillo must prove their friendship in dramatic form. Their first encounter with the world -represented by a muleteer from whom they win some money- gives them their chance. The promise of lasting friendship and the ritual embrace are consecrated here in practical terms.
The bravery of the lads in defense of their winnings and the lucky arrival of peacemakers -men on horseback on the way to Seville- prevent a drubbing at the hands of the muleteer. At once Rinconete and Cortadillo accept an invitation from the horsemen to go to Seville and depart right away. But Cervantes provides a coda to the episode. The innkeeper's wife, we learn, had overheard the conversation between Rinconete and Cortadillo and been amazed at «the good breeding of the picaroons». Her amazement no doubt stems from their verbal skills, a reaction that mirrors our own. Cervantes tries to spark in the reader a sense of wonder at the boys' flair, a joyful connivance in their mischievousness. He succeeds. In this respect, Rinconete y Cortadillo is akin to Alarcón's La verdad sospechosa, where García's spontaneous and poetic lies prove not so much deplorable as irresistible. In the presence of such —77→ inventive spirits, all conventional notions of morality are beside the point.
On the way to Seville, the boys resist the temptation to rifle their benefactor's luggage with admirable self-control. However, at the gates of the city Cortadillo's resistance collapses: «... no se pudo contener Cortado de no cortar la valija o maleta que a las ancas traía un francés de la camarada; y así, con el de sus cachas le dio tan larga y profunda herida, que se parecían patentemente las entrañas, y sutilmente le sacó dos camisas buenas, un reloj de sol y un librillo de memorias...» (pp. 7-8).
Can one «justify» this ingratitude? I believe so: the justification is psychological and aesthetic. That Cortadillo could not contain himself signals instinctive as opposed to premeditated behavior. Furthermore, the victim of his theft is not so much the owner of the satchel as the satchel itself, which Cervantes anthropomorphizes in a way that both recalls Lazarillo and foreshadows Dickens and Galdós. Finally, and most important, Cortadillo has gone about his work «subtly». The adverb suggests artistry. In short, Cortadillo was obliged to meet an artistic challenge and did so.
A similar challenge presents itself in Seville after Cortadillo lifts a purse of money from a sacristan. Cortadillo «comforts» the disconsolate sacristan with a brief sermon worthy of Pecksniff, and such is his joy in his linguistic superiority that he misuses a word for the sheer fun of it. He says, «... no quisiera yo ser el llevador de tal bolsa, porque si es que vuesa merced tiene alguna orden sacra, parecermehía a mí que había cometido algún incesto, o sacrilegio» (p. 11). By now the reader is unwilling to believe that Cortadillo can ignore the meaning of «incesto». In feigning ignorance, Cortadillo is acting out a rôle within a rôle, and his poor interlocutor is therefore twice deceived. Or rather thrice, since Cortadillo had deftly robbed him of his purse just a while before. The verbal dismembering of the sacristan is a kind of finishing touch, masterful in its cheeky gratuitousness. And as if to settle once and for all the boys' lack of venality, Cervantes prolongs the scene with a brilliant appendage: he describes how, all in a sweat, the sacristan wipes his face with a lace-trimmed handkerchief which Cortadillo no sooner sees than marks for his own. Its theft is the key to the boys' mentality in that it symbolizes the artistic temperament that must express itself at all costs. Once more, we are beyond —78→ mere covetousness75. We forgive Cortadillo his prank because it connotes intellectual superiority and because Cervantes betrays such a rich complacency in the telling:
The key words in this passage are «embelesado», «embelesamiento», and «sutilmente», Cortadillo's victory is all the more decisive because it relies not on any tool of previous manufacture, any secret weapon, so to speak. Instead, it sparkles with impromptu inventiveness, with the ability to hypnotize by force and magic of personality. The victory encompasses Cortadillo's whole being rather than any acquired mechanical skill. The adverb «sutilmente» had already been used by Cervantes to describe Cortadillo's disembowelment of the Frenchman's luggage: «... sutilmente le sacó dos camisas buenas». ... These three words -«embelesado», «embelesamiento» and «sutilmente»- relate to the act of creation and to the effect that a work of art may produce on the spectator or reader. If asked what sort of creation, I would answer «theater».
Rinconete y Cortadillo teems with spectators as well as actors or, to be more exact, with doubles: actor-spectators. We might recall the innkeeper's wife who overhears Rinconete and Cortadillo chatting at the inn. Similarly, Cervantes now provides a witness (a spectator) to the handkerchief sleight-of-hand. He is a —79→ young apprentice in Monipodio's mafia and will introduce Rinconete and Cortadillo to Monipodio himself.
To anticipate one of the conclusions of this study: Cervantes' creation of two youthful protagonists, each of whom serves as audience for the other, is theatrical in its very conception. When we read the following: «... se consoló algo el sacristán, y se despidió de Cortado, el cual se vino donde estaba Rincón, que todo to había visto un poco apartado del...» (p. 13), it is understood that Rinconete approves and applauds his friend's action. This interplay makes theater of the entire story. The boys have a panache and independence that disarm the reader because they «perform» for one another. Any question of moral sanction or condemnation is secondary at best. Hence the extraordinary three-dimensionality of Rinconete y Cortadillo: we readers are eavesdroppers too, very much like spectators in a theater.
This explains the importance of ceremony in the story. Unlike the picaroon, who confronts, alone, a paratactic world of infinite length and breadth, Rinconete and Cortadillo have been placed within a structurally hypotactic «given». Their initial encounter, as we have seen, is a feeling out, a probe, an attempt to find a common soil in which their relationship might flourish. There is never any doubt about the soundness of this relationship, pre-ordained by fate. Shrewd beyond their years, they recognize the advantages of alliance. Alliance, in this case, may be defined as empirically-oriented adventure, adventure which blossoms when Monipodio's scout, having descried Cortadillo's theft of the handkerchief, makes his entrance on scene. (The very mechanics of entrances and exits that usually govern the structure of a play, are nicely calculated throughout Rinconete y Cortadillo).
The approach of Monipodio's scout, Ganchuelo, is not unlike that of Rinconete to Cortadillo at the beginning of the story. It too is an offer of fraternity in which «gracias... secretas», when revealed, will cement a friendship76.
Ganchuelo's revelations come immediately and they are tantalizing, whetting the lads' curiosity. Always alive to opportunity, —80→ their intellect is quick to glean new knowledge. They have come to Seville as settlers as well as plunderers and will have to make peace with at least some of their neighbors. The same series of dualities that marked their first meeting -independence and interdependence, secrecy and candor, experiment and discovery- characterize their initiation into Monipodio's empire. They detect in this empire a blend of sophistication and naiveté that similarly informs their own relationship. This recognition is testimony to their good sense. Rinconete and Cortadillo are supreme realists.
Here, as in so many other works, Cervantes creates people who thrive on complexity. Their personalities are gregarious and expansive. Only rarely, as in the case of Tomás Rodaja after his metamorphosis, do we find in Cervantes a character that shirks life. It would not be an exaggeration to call Tomás the reductio ad absurdum of the picaroon: a fragile, monomaniacal victim of fear and estrangement.
One might almost call Rinconete and Cortadillo apprentices, or votaries of the ancient notion of imitatio. Their eagerness to pay homage to Monipodio marks an advance in the reader's opinion of them. Verbal and physical dexterity count for little beside self-knowledge, which they have in abundance. For Cervantes, self-knowledge can only result from communion with the world. In opening the world to Rinconete and Cortadillo, he assures their success in human terms. At the same time, he allows them to keep their essential selves in reserve, taking pains to indicate that no single interpretation of the world is definitive. Rinconete and Cortadillo may choose to join Monipodio's organization but may also choose to break with it. This, in fact, is what Rinconete contemplates doing at the end of the tale. The remarkable thing is that severance (more hypothetical than real) never suggests hardship, disgrace, orphanhood or solitude. Octavio Paz's «double meaning of solitude -rupture with one world and the effort to create another», may be true of the individual but is not true of the brotherhood77. Rinconete and Cortadillo constitute a brotherhood. They enjoy exemplary social health because they never extricate themselves from society in absolute terms. They will always be friends to one another. Furthermore, if we imagine every inner circle as the symbolic double —81→ of some other inner circle, we can easily project the future lives of Rinconete and Cortadillo: their trajectory will be a set of variations on the initial theme of friendship. (Note that their friendship has been preordained by a higher power -the author's). Since they enjoy the privilege of exclusivity ab initio, from the first pages of the story, they needn't see the world in terms of rupture and reintegration. The problem simply does not exist in these terms. In fact, the world will always come to them, for they comprise an inner circle. It is no accident that Monipodio's emissary addresses both lads in his first contact with them: «Díganme, señores galanes: ¿voacedes son de mala entrada o no?» (p. 13).
The emissary is an agent, a liaison officer, and an educator of sorts. His identity is at the service of his function (we only learn his name, Ganchuelo, as an afterthought later on). This function involves the presentation of one autonomous circle to another: Rinconete and Cortadillo are to meet Monipodio and his entourage. Cervantes handles the protocol as delicately as if he were describing a meeting of potentially fractious clans during a border war, and he succeeds, in this intermediary stage, in settling the superiority of Rinconete and Cortadillo once and for all.
For one thing, the boys are invited to accompany Ganchuelo to Monipodio's headquarters. The world, predictably, has come to them. Moreover, during their briefing in underworld mores they never relinquish their attitude of wry amusement. They remain detached, are not «taken in». Rinconete and Cortadillo see what Monipodio's emissary does not: that his world is only one aspect of the world at large. He, on the other hand, lacks this critical perspective. His allegiance to Monipodio is wholehearted, while theirs is tangential, oblique, and provisional. To be sure, he is their teacher, but his knowledge is merely picturesque. He clarifies but does not convert. And, more important, his verbal intelligence is limited to the acts of translating and defining. Rinconete and Cortadillo take up where he leaves off: his translations and definitions are grist for their sense of irony78.
Rinconete and Cortadillo savor only that which they can re-elaborate in ironic terms. Like anthropologists who have —82→ stumbled on an unrecorded tribe, they find in Monipodio's organization an uncharted island of aberrant wisdom and piquant usage. The startling data conveyed to them in matter-of-fact fashion must be verified in person. One can almost hear the boys ask themselves: «Is the fellow serious? Can he be so dull-witted as to miss the comedy in all this?» It is one thing to take a verbal code seriously -Rinconete and Cortadillo can hardly disapprove of that- but a topsy-turvy code of values is another matter.
As it happens, Rinconete and Cortadillo master both codes before even meeting Monipodio. As I said before, their superiority is established without question in this key interview with Monipodio's emissary79. On the verbal level, the tables are turned when Ganchuelo mispronounces a key word: «¿No es peor ser hereje, o renegado, o matar a su padre y madre, o ser solomico?» To which Rinconete replies: «-Sodomita querrá decir vuesa merced» (p. 16). We have come full circle. The educator has been transformed into the dunce. The fearsome tribal scout has been disarmed, exposed as a child playing adult games. It was brilliant of Cervantes to subject the word «sodomita» to the young man's garbled tongue. By mauling the word, Ganchuelo manifests his ignorance as to its meaning. Rinconete's correct pronunciation enshrines him as a man of the world, far more knowledgeable about the seamier side of life than Ganchuelo, the self-styled «veteran». (In this respect, Ganchuelo is typical of Monipodio & Co.: all the criminals are like children because their malapropisms nullify their ferocity)80.—83→
As for Monipodio's code of values, it is the object of Cortadillo's tongue-in-cheek remark: «... muero por verme con el señor Monipodio, de quien tantas virtudes se cuentan» (p. 16). Cortadillo's perspective is the same as Cervantes': that of spectator.
Rinconete and Cortadillo are brought to Monipodio's house, and told to wait in the patio. The anticipatory paragraphs leading to Monipodio's entrance are a clever piece of stagecraft81. Having begun with the setting -the patio and its adjoining chapel- Cervantes then populates the same by means of a series of verbs in the preterite. It is as if he were convening his troupe: «... entraron... entraron... entró... se juntaron... Llegaron...» (p. 17). Rinconete and Cortadillo are momentarily lost to view, off to one side. But they regain their bulk and —84→ substance the moment two ruffians, whose bizarre dress and demeanor give visual evidence of their calling, break the prevailing silence by asking Rinconete and Cortadillo if they belong to the brotherhood. With this verbal initiative, this societal bond that shatters the mock-awesome, mock-sacrosanct spell of the place, Monipodio is free to make his appearance. It is all expertly timed and beautifully symmetrical: the two older rogues address the two younger ones, the heirs approach the benjamins, at the very moment in which the founder of the clan and the symbol of its perpetuation comes to oversee a rite de passage. Everyone in the patio bows low to Monipodio except for the two bravos, who like peevish adolescents half-heartedly doff their hats to him and go to the opposite end of the patio. This slightly rebellious attitude on the part of the toughs, wherein psychological tension is inferred by means of gesture and physical displacement, testifies to Cervantes' knowledge of group dynamics as well as to his sense of the theater. Indeed, a Freudian would be delighted by the conspiracy against «father» Monipodio that is tacitly implied by the «sons'» joint restlessness.
A masterful description of Monipodio is part of the vignette just described. I shall only quote a portion:
Until this point in the story we have had no full-length view of any character. Earlier, Cervantes had emphasized dress, age, and gesture rather than physical traits. He now makes amends, so to speak, by highlighting Monipodio's stature, face, chest, and feet. Everything about the man is exuberant, disproportionate and out of scale. Where the other characters don disguises and assume various attitudes -student garb, eyeglasses, outlandish genuflections, swagger- it is Monipodio's nature and nakedness that unrestrainedly burst forth upon the reader's sensibility. He is «rustic and massive», primeval in the midst of artifice. Ironically, this «barbarian» has engineered a social order that is most —85→ delicately attuned to human psychology and to political reality. We must discover the source of his authority.
Monipodio rules in part by natural right. His physique is the repository of the strengths and energies that one associates with many patriarchal figures. But wed to this natural right is the divine right of the guardian angel, the arbiter of destinies, the mediator between the patio and the outside world. His authority derives from his power and the equitable dispensing of this power. His despotism, in short, is tempered by law, and the law is accessible to all members of the family. In this respect, Monipodio resembles the cadi of El amante liberal. Cervantes' admiration for the prompt and personal disposition of uncodified justice, spurning all legalism and the pettifoggery it encourages, suffuses his portrayal of Monipodio to the latter's advantage. Monipodio's methods are unorthodox but no less estimable for that: they reflect a benign and judicious nature.
At first blush, Monipodio's «Record of Knifings to be Given This Week» (along with his other services) hardly seems «benign» or «judicious». But these memoranda are only an account of duties to be discharged, a bookkeeping, rather than a depicting, of crimes. They are a shopping list, a ledger of punctilios. They also list commissions and not initiatives, which is to say that Monipodio's moral sphere of influence ends at the door of his patio. The outside world is the purview of corrupt police and of «gentlemen» who pay in advance to have enemy faces slashed. However, the main reason why Monipodio is absolved of all evil is that in a metaphorical sense he shares with Rinconete and Cortadillo an artistically exploitive view of the world.
The world is there for the taking, but the taking requires skill. A chaos, it awaits the hand of the artisan to give it a form and a contour. Having first disciplined his own nature, Monipodio has the moral suasion -universally acknowledged by the others- to discipline their unruly natures. This subordination of nature to law is high comedy of a most rarefied stamp. The members of Monipodio's gang are not so much criminals as compromisers: innocents.
Monipodio's ultimate gift to his domain is the gift of art. His reward to Rinconete and Cortadillo for their surrendering the sacristan's purse is the lace-trimmed handkerchief that Cortadillo had filched in a burst of virtuosity. Art, discipline, and morality (that which is good) are thus indissolubly united. All of —86→ Monipodio's efforts as peacemaker, mediator, and diplomat, as well as the rituals and bylaws that bolster these efforts, are designed to gratify his professional conscience and further his renown as a master thief.
With superb irony, Monipodio's rule of law promotes his own self-fulfillment because it forestalls the distracting eruptions of social upheaval. What better way for Cervantes to make the point than by presenting a troupe of actors, each of whom steals the spotlight, only to melt back into the ensemble once his or her time (or tantrum) is up? And what better way to convey the fragility of this rule of law and the «eternal vigilance» that its maintenance requires than to interrupt the performance with a spate of alarms? These prove to be false alarms, to be sure, but the company takes no chances before the all clear is heard.
Organization and vigilance have been entrusted to Monipodio. He has also been charged to invigorate the company with new players, to placate temperaments, and to ensure the success of the enterprise. He is the behind-the-scene puppeteer/impresario, the surrogate creator82.
Just as Rinconete and Cortadillo observe and applaud each other's antics, so each member of Monipodio's troupe is at once an actor and a spectator. We, of course, constitute yet another audience, a step removed from the play within a play. We were in the same position earlier, watching, in retrospect, the innkeeper's wife as she overheard the lads at the Molinillo inn.
Essentially, what we see during the unfolding of Rinconete y Cortadillo, the spectacle itself, is the incorporation of individual human beings into larger units governed by law. The practical equivalent of this government by law, its workaday proof, is friendship83. I said earlier, with respect to Rinconete and Cortadillo, —87→ that «their trajectory will be a set of variations on the theme of friendship»84. It was also stated that Monipodio's organization is an outgrowth of the boys' ritual embrace at the start of the tale. However, there are two major differences between the bonds forged by Rinconete and Cortadillo and those which tie the lads to Monipodio later in the story. Both differences emerge from Rinconete's statement, «... imagino que no sin misterio nos ha juntado aquí la suerte, y pienso que habemos de ser, déste hasta el último día de nuestra vida, verdaderos amigos» (p. 4). According to Rinconete, his meeting Cortadillo is not fortuitous. It is an auspice, and their union obeys a higher will than their own. The union is also permanent. The porch of the Molinillo inn is consecrated ground as Monipodio's patio never —88→ is (except for the author who created it). And Rinconete's eschatological projection in time hallows the relationship with Cortadillo as Monipodio's short-term holding actions -sentries, daily scares, and weekly drubbing lists- never can. A precedent for departure is set early in the story, when both lads tell how they left home after learning to exploit their father's professions. (With few exceptions, every motif in the first half of the story recurs in the second half.) The patio thus seems a byway or detour. Or an extended visit to the theater.
As we know, Rinconete and Cortadillo are never «taken in» by Monipodio. They do, however, linger in the company for a few months. At the end, Cervantes can hardly bear to see his heroes bid farewell to the «barbarous, uncouth, and impious» ringleader. In a story where so much is acted out before our very eyes, Cervantes' reluctance to show this farewell to Monipodio is significant, as if weaning Rinconete and Cortadillo from Monipodio were as poignant a decision as snatching a youngster from the tunny fisheries of Zahara (La ilustre fregona). Cervantes shuns this prerogative. Instead, he gives Rinconete and Cortadillo to the good stepfather for a time, and pledges to resurrect the whole cast, with further adventures, from the limbo where he now stores it:
From Rinconete's point of view, Monipodio's patio can never be a permanent home, because a home requires a spiritual commitment as well as an intellectual one. Even as a spectator, Rinconete will soon tire of the patio's theatricality. He will move on to something more challenging. But in the final paragraph of Rinconete y Cortadillo, Cervantes' own demands on art take precedence over his hero's demands on life. He permits Rinconete to leave the patio in theory, but in fact freezes him to the spot by having him recapitulate the goings-on therein. Cervantes thus —89→ allows Rinconete to assume the rôle of creator85. This is not a usurpation on Rinconete's part, but rather an act of generosity on Cervantes'. What is more, Rinconete's «summing up» -we must remember that he is literate- is an imposition of literary discipline in every way comparable to Monipodio's enforcement of social discipline among his followers. This is why Rinconete occupies the foreground at the end of the tale while Cortadillo hovers on the fringe of the reader's memory. In a shift of angle from a traditional third-person narrative to the style indirect libre, Cervantes slips the last drops of his story through the filter of Rinconete's sensibility: «... dábale gran risa...»; «... le cayó en gracia...»; «... le admiraba...»; «... reíase...»; «No menos le suspendía...»; «Consideraba...»; «... exageraba...»; «... le sucedieron cosas...» (p. 42)86.
In terms of his sensibility Rinconete briefly achieves parity with Cervantes, with the latter's consent and blessing. He also wins equality with Monipodio as a creation of mythic stature: «... se deja para otra ocasión contar su vida y milagros, con los de su maestro Monipodio...» Rinconete's life, mounted within its hagiographic catapult, may even surpass his master's in interest someday. As a literary subject he is bound to the patio for life: he will always be known as «Rinconete» and not «Pedro de Rincón». For it is here in the patio where Rinconete, Cervantes' proxy, learns to harness experience through reflection, just as his mentor, Monipodio, has learnt to tame nature through law. Cervantes could not bring himself to abandon these human embodiments of self-knowledge and self-discipline.
Perhaps Cervantes felt that authority is as vital an aspect of creativity as any other. Monipodio's authority allows his troupe to act with some degree of civility and thus guarantees its survival. On Rinconete's authority Cortadillo leads a more stable —90→ life than any he had known since leaving home, and will emerge someday from Monipodio's enclave into a complex world of moral choice. Cervantes' authority, of course, is rooted in his confidence as a storyteller. He persuades us to believe in him at every step along the way. His ability to gauge and manipulate our emotions is so great that he can afford the luxury of having a youngster speak for him. Cervantes knew that he and Rinconete and the reader share so deep an attachment, that all reactions to the events just chronicled are sure to be shared as well. Furthermore, he can no sooner bid lasting farewell to his readers than he can to Rinconete at the end of the story. The anonymity of his following is dispelled by its very existence.
Despite this, the paragraph that commemorates an emotional link between Cervantes, Rinconete, and the reader also transcends it. One of the parties -Rinconete- moves aside to let Cervantes and the reader clasp hands. Actually, Rinconete is given a gentle shove. The force that does the shoving is the same one that Rinconete had employed, first against the emissary and then against Monipodio: verbal irony. I quote from the last paragraph:
Cervantes twits Rinconete's sanctimonious indignation with a fusillade of adjectives that comically exaggerate this indignation. Rinconete's censure is bloated, the facts of the case don't warrant such airs. «After all», the author seems to say, «I've described a world in which lawlessness is not the exception but the rule. Transgressions of the law are the law. Everyone, therefore, acts a role in the theater I call Seville. Monipodio -that amiable brute- is my metteur-en-scène»87.—91→
We are left with the equation, theater equals theater. The equation leaves no room for Rinconete's moral judgments because he too -for all his spectator pretensions- is engulfed by the pageant. This does not mean that Rinconete is morally disqualified, but it does mean that his fulminations are a bit hypocritical. For his morality has always been that of the artist who sacrifices respectability to the proddings of his genius, or that of the magician whose pride in legerdemain is strong enough to survive any scruples about gulling the public.
One critic, in denying to Rinconete y Cortadillo any moralizing intent whatever, alleges that Cervantes' condemnation of the Seville underworld is pro forma, a stratagem to propitiate the reader. «The voice of art», he adds, summons the author back to Monipodio's world, which is inexhaustibly rich in novelistic possibilities88.
I believe that Cervantes' condemnation is more than a decorous feint, because he makes Rinconete do the condemning and then invalidates Rinconete's words. In so doing, the author denounces any moral restriction on the subject matter of art. He exposes the smugness and immaturity of those who declare some of life's raw materials out of bounds to the artist.
If Cervantes were a moralist in the usual sense, his view of Monipodio's patio would resemble the frightening picture of urban crime that Dickens draws in Oliver Twist89. But in a larger sense, there is indeed a moral, if not a moralizing intent, in Rinconete y Cortadillo. The work illustrates the redemptive quality of art. Monipodio and the rest partake of the veneration that we bestow on a masterpiece. Ultimately, this veneration is an act of obedience to the artist.
Cervantes the artist reveals himself through his characters: in moral terms it is precisely as artists that Rinconete and Cortadillo —92→ take on the challenge of life. First they captivate each other with an exchange of adventures and professional secrets. This mutual seduction is then legitimized by fiat, by a phrase in Cervantes' artistic credo: «... imagino que no sin misterio nos ha juntado aquí la suerte, y pienso que habemos de ser, déste hasta el último día de nuestra vida, verdaderos amigos».
The first part of this phrase is analogous to Cervantes' declaration of artistic liberty in Don Quijote: «En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme...»90 These statements differ, of course, in that Rinconete's is couched in terms of Sophoclean irony: its full meaning eludes him. Impenetrable truths, to the effect that «luck» has had nothing to do with his meeting Cortadillo, and that his freedom is contingent on his creator's, are beyond Rinconete's intuition. Yet both statements advert to the enigma of the artist's accomplishment as well as to its prerequisite freedom: the pendular sweep from secrecy to revelation and back again, the decision to allow one seed to abort and another to germinate, the mystery, as well as the freedom, of choice.
Rinconete y Cortadillo envelops these mysteries in a coherent structure that easily divides into three parts: tableau, action, and recapitulation or, if one prefers, prologue, spectacle, and critique. This scheme suggests why Cervantes saw fit to fuse two genres -theater and prose fiction- in a single work. Only by creating a spectacle in which the actors seem to speak and move of their own accord, could he show in situ that art is the conjurer of life. Only through recapitulation and critique could he submerge the minute details of spectacle in a single poetic tide, reclaim his delegated voices for himself, and on their behalf and his own salute the reader with a promise of more to come91. And only by means of this final promise could Cervantes balance out Part I of his story, the tableau/prologue. First page and last constitute a symmetry of expectation, a sense of delight in the artistic process that every reader has experienced on opening a work of fiction: «Where is the author taking us? Which way will the story go? What will the next installment be like?» There is literary —93→ magic in this, and a hint of that rude impatience and satisfaction that wed the first storyteller to the first public. In the aesthetic sense, Rinconete y Cortadillo is very much an «exemplary» novel92.