Further Observations on Violence in the Pastoral Novel
John T. Cull
A common misperception of the Spanish pastoral novels1, (attributable to those who don't bother to read them), is that they consist merely of elaborate courtly poses, replete with intolerable doses of decorum, ornate courtesies and excessive palavering on the wonders and complexities of the love experience2. This erroneous conception of the Spanish bucolic romances champions the notion that little happens in the course of the vast expanses of these seemingly interminable narrations. In point of fact, overt acts of violence constitute the primary source of peripeteia in these works. Violence, in all its divergent manifestations, is practically endemic to the Spanish pastoral novel.
The frequent eruption of acts of violence in the «libros de pastores» has no simple explanation. The least convincing argument, perhaps, is that these apparently gratuitous scenes represent a capitulation to audience demands; that is, a rather facile means of creating action and interest when the formulaic exchanges of courtesy, coupled with the ardent declarations of unswerving love, test the limits of a reader's patience and credulity to their extreme limits3. The author, according to this theory, anticipates audience reaction and makes an automatic concession to its implied dictate. Another unsatisfactory, though intriguing justification of the outbreak of violence in pastoral fiction, (supported by the tentative conclusions of recent scientific studies), lies in the chilling assertion that verbal or visual depictions of violence act as a sexual stimulant to both men and women, whether or not those representations are couched in a sexual context.
A more plausible motivation behind the numerous examples of violence depends on our acceptance of the pastoral mode as a vehicle to convey the concept of life as a pilgrimage. Undoubtedly, many of the Spanish pastoral novels present shepherds or pseudo-shepherds as «peregrinos de amor». Others, fewer in number, extend the concept of peregrinatio of love to embrace all of life, through the influence of the Milesian tale, the so-called Byzantine romance4. Acts of violence, in this explanation, serve as the hardships or trials that the individual must withstand in order to overcome the self and make spiritual progress. Acts of violence lend credence to the maxim that the unexamined life is not worth living. They prompt the observer to either become involved (to engage life directly), or to reflect on the moral-didactic significance of the incident for his own situation. Another possible contributing factor to the emergence of violence in the Spanish pastoral novels is disarmingly simple. This explanation revolves around the oft-proposed theory that these pleasant fictions are really nothing more than thinly veiled biographies or autobiographies, novelas de clave. That is, these tragic consequences of passion really did occur (though perhaps artistically embellished). The generally accommodating pastoral framework tolerated the incorporation of these acts of violence because of the precedents set by Theocritus with the good-natured roughhousing of the shepherds in his Idylls, and the more explicit allusions to war in Virgil's Eclogues5.
All of the preceding considerations on the explanation of acts of violence must be seriously considered, as violence is a rather complex phenomenon with no single cause. However, they are only marginally germane to the main focus of this analysis. The single most convincing reason behind the frequent appearance of acts of violence in these novels was argued by Barbara Mujica in her pioneering study, «Violence in the Pastoral Novel from Sannazaro to Cervantes»6. Mujica not only recognizes that violence is an essential element in the pastoral romances, but she correctly ascribes its cause, especially of amorous violence, to the conflict that arises when erotic sublimation yields to the repression of sexual impulses, which, in turn, explodes in an act of violence. This rage is alternately vented on the self, the beloved, or the real or perceived rival to the affections of the beloved.
Mujica, however, fails to develop the most enlightening insight of her essay: her mention that love was considered a real malady by physicians, and even moralists, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The mad lover, under the spell of amor hereos, was alleged to have his rational faculty overthrown by this infirmity. As a consequence, he could not be held responsible for his actions while suffering from this melancholic passion. Acts of violence, it can be argued, are triggered by biological imperatives over which the mind exercises no control. While not all of the Spanish pastoral novelists agreed with this morally dangerous denial of free will, virtually all of them, to a greater or lesser extent, exploited its inherent dramatic appeal7.
The plethora of
lovesick shepherds and shepherdesses in these romances is indeed a
natural outcome of what has been called
«the Renaissance perversion of
In myth, at least, pastoral love is the epitome of «free
love»: unrestrained indulgence in the erotic appetite with no
stigma of guilt or remorse attached. In its evolution from the
herdsmen of Theocritus to the shepherds (or disguised courtiers) of
the seventeenth century, the pastoral love experience underwent a
thorough transmutation. As the pastoral mode was used increasingly
as a vehicle to impart a moral-didactic message, the liberty to
indulge in erotic pastimes was severely curtailed. Eroticism, in
fact, was rarefied into an elaborate courtly entertainment, spiced
with suggestiveness and innuendo, but for the most part devoid of
substance. In this manner the authors attempted to stress the great
chasm that separated the theory of love from its practice. In other
words, the human love experience was enticingly showcased in the
deceptively pleasant logic of the Neoplatonists and poets, but at
the same time the authors undermined this false show of glitter
with the demythification of lovers effected through their actions.
It is indeed pertinent to note that the earliest critics of the
Spanish pastoral novels chided not the murders, rapes and attempted
suicides found at every turn, but rather the nefarious tendency of
these works of diversion to make their male readers more effeminate
Specifically, two related motifs that surface constantly in the Spanish pastoral novels can be brought to bear as evidence that the vast majority of violent incidents in these works are a direct or indirect result of love's lunacy. Both of the motifs in question serve to attenuate, and in some cases to justify, the impact of the episodes of amorous violence. The first of these is the often echoed classical dictum that «Fortune favors the bold»10. This maxim, which enjoyed great favor and diffusion in the Spanish Golden Age, is constantly used as a spur in the pastoral novels to encourage timid lovers to violence; a consecrated excuse to grasp by force that which is denied by the conventions of society. The second motif to be studied is a perfect complement to the first. For if the forcible seizure of the object of desire occasioned a moral or legal transgression, it could be readily forgiven with the expedient recourse to the «exculpation of the errors of love», usually rendered in Spanish as «yerros por amores, dignos son de perdonar»11. It is no exaggeration to affirm that shepherds and shepherdesses literally get away with murder in these novels, because their peccadillos or outrages were perpetrated while under the spell of love. While insane, the mad lovers could not legally be held responsible for their acts12.
Although it is possible to find examples of love-induced violence, (chaperoned with the encouragement that fortune favors the bold, then readily dismissed because the mistake was born of love), in virtually all of the Spanish pastoral romances, I will concentrate on only a few of the more pertinent manifestations. It is unfortunate, perhaps, (and doubtless significant), that the most graphic examples of amorous violence occur in the lesser-known novels. The more accomplished artists tend to cushion or attenuate the shock of graphic violence with distancing devices and other means of elaborating the raw materials of experience into an expression of art. I leave the question (or perhaps oxymoron) of the aesthetics of violence for a more propitious occasion.
The phenomena in question appear in Montemayor's Diana only in embryonic form. In the crucial discussions on the nature of love at the palace of Felicia, for example, the shepherds respond to the accusation levelled by the nymphs that the mal de amor engenders horrendous extremes (as opposed to the aurea mediocritas that they embrace), with the mock-epic rallying cry that:
The nymphs, as representatives and guardians of the prevalent moral order, and as adherents of the goddess Diana's vow of chastity, reject the validity of the shepherds' claims. What is politely debated on the theoretical level is graphically demonstrated in the most celebrated episode of violence in Montemayor's Diana, the attempted abduction and rape of Felicia's nymphs by the three wild men.
savages are the living embodiment of the lowest form of corporal
love described by Hebreo in his Diálogos de amor14.
Unable to repress their urges, the wild men boldly attempt to
satisfy their bestial appetites. This most extreme (though by no
means infrequent) cure of the love malady costs the savages their
lives. There can be no more eloquent de-mythification of the
shepherds' mistaken belief that fortune favors the daring. The
executioner herself, Felismena, voices, again in embryonic form,
the exculpation of their grave errors, which, on the surface, would
not seem to merit pardon:
«puesto caso que fuéssedes dellos
ofendidas, por otra parte vino aquella desorden con que sus varios
efectos haze a dar tal industria que los mismos que os
havían de servir os ofendiessen»
systematically undermines the beliefs and declarations of his
shepherds and shepherdesses in questions of love. The gulf that
exists between the conception of love's powers by the protagonists
and its actual effects, machinations of the author, is purposely
constructed to the detriment of the integrity of the lovers. Love's
alleged omnipotence is demythified and brought down to earth at
every turn. Montemayor, then, ultimately rejects the lovers' ploy,
as summarized in the two maxims under consideration, to attenuate
the seriousness of their transgressions while slaves to passion. In
fact, whenever the shepherds and shepherdesses are rebuffed in
their ardent beliefs on the strength of their passions, in this
novel and others, they enjoin the standard defense imitated out of
Hebreo, that one who has not experienced love cannot speak
convincingly to its effects15.
One example from Montemayor will suffice:
«-Señal es essa
-dixo Silvano- que no las sabes sentir, pues no las puedes
creer» (p. 199).
The episode of the three wild men is not, of course, the only hint of violence in the first Diana. Felismena alone kills six men. Celia expires from the love malady, and Arsileo and Arsenio seem to suffer violent deaths because of their mad love for Belisa. There is no question, however, that Montemayor rejects the determinism and violation of the doctrine of free will apparent in our two aphorisms.
Gaspar Gil Polo,
in his sequel to Montemayor's work, the Diana enamorada, is even more explicit
in his dismissal of the yerros por amor exculpation. Indeed, Gil Polo's
novel is one of the most staunchly antagonistic to the loss of free
will inherent in the malady of heroic love, and, to some extent, to
the equally problematic deus ex machina of the magic water Felicia offers
to the lovelorn shepherds and shepherdesses. The Diana enamorada deflates in no
uncertain terms the lovers' standard recourse to «yerros por amores, dignos son de
perdonar». It is Felicia herself, the supreme
symbol of chastity in the novel, who reproaches the lovers their
dubious and indefensible conduct:
«Diranme los amadores,
que no está en su mano dexar de ser vencidos de cupido, y
andar hechos sus esclauos. A mi me paresce que quien le sirue, se
le obliga, y se somete de propria voluntad: pues no hay animo que
de su libertad no sea señor. Por donde tengo por cierto que
este Cupido (si algo es) sera él desenfrenado apetito, y
porque deste, tan ordinariamente queda vencida la razón, se
dize que los hombres del amor quedan
Although all traces of amorous violence are erased from the slate
through the administration of Felicia's magic water, as was the
case in Montemayor's Diana, Gil Polo insistently
reiterates that his characters are morally responsible for their
actions, and that love is incapable of overthrowing free will. One
cannot help but wonder if this represents merely a personal
reaction on the part of Gil Polo, or if it is a gauge of more
widespread criticisms evoked by readers of the first
All of Antonio de
Lo Frasso's Los diez
libros de Fortuna de amor is, in a sense, an extended pun on
the maxim of «Fortuna favorece a los
atrevidos». The shepherd Frexano pursues his
shepherdess Fortuna relentlessly, and implores, boldly, that she
grant him the ultimate favor,
«esperando ser duo in
Frexano's histrionics and pathetic pleas for remedy fall on deaf
ears. He is not so readily favored by his Fortuna, who captures the
hidden intent of his stratagem:
«O quan bien saben los
hombres fingir lo que no sienten ni padescen, y todo por conseguir
sus malos intentos» (f. 43r). But the true
significance of this novel for the topic at hand is its recognition
of the only acceptable Christian solution to channel the amorous
fury and to circumvent any possible error caused by love. The
prevention of amorous violence that Fortuna espouses is certainly
an anomaly in the pastoral pleasance of antiquity, which eschews
the married state as counterproductive to pastoral otium:
«Brios de amor furiosos /
si los quereis aplacar / procuraos de
casar» (f. 101v). St. Paul's dictum of «Better to marry than to
burn» takes on a new meaning when considered in light of the
medical concept of love melancholy. Throughout the course of this
novel Fortuna, the heroine, manages to negotiate Frexano's verbal
assaults on her virginity successfully, as she ignores or exposes
his attempted deceits.
The technique of the depiction of violence in the Spanish pastoral novels takes on a new direction with Cervantes' La Galatea. Instead of preparing the reader for a violent moment by gradually leading up to it and softening its effectiveness with distancing devices, Cervantes prefers to portray violence in all its dramatism and brutality, in a totally unexpected explosion. There is, admittedly, a tendency to attenuate the harsh impact with subsequent explanations. The act of violence is no less jolting, but at least the witnesses to the apparent crimes, both inside and outside the novel, are persuaded that the acts of retribution are deserved and perhaps inevitable. What cannot be explained, except in terms of the pathology of the love sickness, are the numerous attempts in La Galatea of the characters to perpetrate violence directed at themselves. The suicides are always thwarted, but through fortuitous circumstances. It is never reason which prevails and sways the scorned lover back to the virtuous path. This alone is certainly effective testimony to the efficacy of mad love to prompt violence18. The entire process of violence is evident in Lisandro's seemingly atrocious homicide of Carino, which in turn involves another three murders, all of which stem from misguided love passions. Yet once the initially horrified observers of this ultimate act of violence find out that it is a deed of just vengeance, none is willing to impute to Lisandro any blame nor moral or legal responsibility: the retribution was enacted for the sake of love.
In addition to other attempted suicides because of scorned or unreciprocated love, Cervantes offers the almost obligatory instance of an old man who has foolishly fallen in love with a young girl. In this particular case, the potential of violence is never realized. The love fury is most volatile in sanguine youth, but it is still powerful enough to rekindle the fires of impotent, melancholic senectitude. For whatever reason, the other inhabitants of the bower are quick to pardon Arsindo's error, because it was born of love19.
eruption of scenes that inspire admiration in the Galatea
hints very strongly at the inconstancy of all things human. This
variability that results quite often in violence is attributed at
times to fortune, at other times to divine will. But while
Cervantes preaches convincingly against the pernicious effects of
excessive passion, he is quick to forgive the yerros de amor once reason is
overthrown. Indeed, he smiles benignly on his all too human
protagonists, with heartfelt Christian compassion:
«Cuando los casos de
amor, hermosa Nísida, con libres ojos se miran, tantos
desatinos se ven en ellos que no menos de risa que de
compasión son dignos» (I, 149).
Cervantes does not embrace a conception of fortune as a force that
can compel, but he does allow a forgiving view of frail human
nature that is quick to accept and to pardon excesses incurred in
the name of love.
I have already
stated that the Spanish pastoral novel is the scene of both
attempted and consummated violations. Decorum, among other
considerations, discourages the graphic depiction of these
assaults. The author must portray the attack with great delicacy.
In Bernardo González de Bovadilla's Primera parte de las nimphas y
pastores de Henares, the notion that fortune favors the bold
is conveyed in the final image of Palanea's plaint, as she reveals
the forcible rape committed by her pretender Melampo:
«O pastor descomedido / a
ti conuierto mis quexas / pues del amor compelido / has hecho lo
que has querido / y agora sola me dexas. / De mi clabel has cortado
/ la primera clauellina, / y con mil gustos gozado / de mi
hermosura diuina. / [...] / Mira ya deshecha y vana / la
esperança que me diste/ quando la rosa temprana / de mi
juuentud loçana / con mano osada
It is significant that Palanea herself attributes her offense to
Melampo's love malady. She accepts his illness as genuine, and not
a premeditated ploy to win her favors. This infirmity suffices to
pardon, or at least soften, the enormity of his otherwise
reprehensible aggression. A further attenuation is provided later
in the novel when Melampo agrees to do the honorable thing and
fulfill his promise of matrimony. This is one of the most violent
of the Spanish pastoral novels. At least five would-be lovers
mortally succumb, martyrs, either directly or indirectly, to the
passion or infirmity of love.
Not to be outdone
by González de Bovadilla's penchant for violence, Bernardo
de la Vega's. El
pastor de Iberia teems with attempted suicides and
passion-induced swoons. And more to the point, this novel is
liberally sprinkled with gratuitous acts of overt violence. In
many, though not all cases, the actual commission of the crimes is
somewhat mitigated by means of distancing devices, which buffer the
shock. In addition to murders, rapes and revenge (included, for the
most part, in the narration of a non-pastoral episode), Bernardo de
la Vega offers the anomaly of a homicidal shepherdess, Marfisa.
When the novel's heroine mistakenly believes that her Filardo has
been murdered, she kills the one she supposes to be the culprit.
Although all of the murders perpetrated merit investigation by the
proper authorities, no punishment is ever meted out to those
responsible. Time and again Bernardo de la Vega reinforces the
belief that love crimes are to be excused, no matter how grave the
attendant violence. Three brief samples will suffice:
«pedirle perdon de mis
passados yerros, que / bastan ser por Amor, para que tengan ligera
«Mi Marfisa podra dar /
la cuenta de mis dolores; / pues los yerros por amores / dignos son
de perdonar» (f. 129r) and
«facilitó su yerro
diziendo, que Amor le hizo passar el limite de la razon como
enemigo della.» (f. 96v)21.
unequivocal statement, perhaps, in any of the Spanish pastoral
novels of love's power to corrupt reason and thereby exonerate the
lover from culpability, is found in another of the lesser known
«libros de pastores»,
Jerónimo de Covarrubias Herrera's La enamorada Elisea. Fontano, the
novel's protagonist, states that:
«si el mal de amor
pudiesse refrenarse, no seria tenido por tan aspero e intolerable
como lo es. Y asi qualquier yerro que vn amante haga, no se a ha
reputar por obra suya, pues en efecto no lo es. Pues el amor es
quien a ello lo mueue»22.
We would be remiss not to mention in passing that Covarrubias
Herrera espouses, in the eclogues appended to the main narration,
the belief that fortune favors the bold in love's exploits:
«Porque no he detreuerme
entiendo / que la fortuna expele al temoroso, / y fauorece siempre
al que es osado.» (f. 140r);
«pues es cosa notoria y
muy sabida. / Que al animo valiente y esforçado, / se
muestra la fortuna alegre y sana.» (f.
«no desmayes que
ventura / fauorece al atreuido / y el medroso es expellido / en
qualquiera coyuntura.» (f. 194r).
The remaining Spanish pastoral novels are not devoid of other convincing examples of violence that is born of the madness of lovers. The process almost invariably revolves around exploits the lover would not undertake in a normal, dispassionate condition, and it is not unusual to encounter the concomitant escape mechanism of the exculpation of the errors of love when the question of responsibility is postulated. Especially telling are the cases of «heroic love» presented in the two Spanish pastoral novels contrahechas a lo divino. Both Lope's Pastores de Belén23 and Bartolomé Ponce's Clara Diana a lo divino24 create situations where fortune appears to favor the bold, only to subsequently demythify the illusion in time. That which lovers importune as a cure for the corporal malady of love sickness, (physical union with the beloved25), cannot be so readily dismissed, for it brings with it a resultant blight on the soul. He who indulges in a transitory flight of passion is not exempt from its moral consequences, the author of the contrafactum would argue. If the Spanish pastoral novels are to some extent morally exemplary, this, indeed, is one of the greatest lessons imparted.
By way of conclusion, a final conjecture on violence in the bucolic romances, which relates to the two motifs under consideration, involves one of pastoral's most cherished conventions. On the surface, the shepherds, in their figurative or literal Arcadias, have nothing but time to revel in their dalliances. Or, perhaps, time is depicted as standing still. The Spanish pastoral novel does not accept, however, the eternity of the moment, nor one of its logical conclusions, the hedonistic value of loving for the here and now in the face of the brevity of life. Rather, it imbues the topos of tempus fugit with an acute awareness of the immortality of the soul and the mortality of its temple, the body. Human love in all its fickleness is proof that the stasis of the bower is naught but deceitful appearance. Pastoral otium and human love both convey the false impression of immutability. However, both illusions must necessarily reach resolution or desengaño. The compromising of integrity is inescapable. The irresponsible, carefree life cannot last forever. The pastoral ideal does not really exist. If indeed pastoral unrelentingly withdraws from its most cherished illusion and points to the necessity of engaging in a give and take concession to the reality of surviving in the world, so too must the healthy lover settle for less than what the dictates of fantasy ordain. Acts of violence in the Spanish pastoral novel demythify acedia and serve as constant reminders of the shepherds' mortality. At the same time, these brutal acts, which quite often result in death26, persuade the prudent shepherd away from the illusory extremes championed in our two maxims, dangerous fictions both, and back towards the aurea mediocritas, back, if you will, into the fold after he has strayed from the path of moderation.