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ArribaAbajo The Critical Attitude in Rinconete y Cortadillo

Dian Fox

Columbia University

Un motivo fundamental de la Novela ejemplar Rinconete y Cortadillo es (por parte de la ventera, de Ganchoso, de Rincón y Cortado) la observación a la vez apreciativa y crítica de las acciones criminales. Nuestro gozo al leer de las actividades de los muchachos y los socios de Monipodio nos enreda a nosotros también en sus delincuencias. Con esta visión comprometida, Cervantes emprende la crítica en dos esferas: la social, específicamente condenando la inmoralidad de Sevilla; y la literaria, en una parodia cariñosa de la novela pastoril.

Y sin más detenerse, saltaron [Rincón y Cortado] de las mulas y se fueron con ellos, dejando al harriero agraviado y enojado, y a la ventera admirada de la buena crianza de los pícaros: que les había estado oyendo su plática, sin que ellos advirtiesen en ello; y cuando dijo al harriero que les había oído decir que los naipes que traían eran falsos, se pelaba las barbas, y quisiera ir a la venta tras ellos a cobrar su hacienda, porque decía que era grandísima afrenta y caso de menos valer que dos muchachos hubiesen engañado a un hombrazo tan grande como él.95

The evocation of admiratio in the reader, intimately related to the Horatian dictum that literature «delight and instruct», is a primary aim of Spain's Golden Age writers of fiction. E. C. Riley points out that Cervantes often promotes admiratio by creating an appreciative audience within the text with whom the reader will identify.96 According to Riley, Cervantes owes his characters' «literary self-consciousness» to the Italian novella and the pastoral novel, where some characters become the audiences for the stories of others. The lyrical nature of the pastoral novel enhances the rapport among author, reader, and characters by producing a «communion of emotions» (p. 33).


Although Cervantes' Rinconete y Cortadillo is frequently associated with the picaresque genre, Thomas R. Hart has recently shown that this Exemplary Novel is, in a fundamental respect, pastoral.97 The plot-pattern involves a temporary escape to a refuge apart from ordinary society, where a type of catharsis takes place. Throughout the story, a «sense of distance» (p. 287) separates Rinconete and Cortadillo from the group they visit. Just as the aristocrat disguised as shepherd is common to the bucolic interlude, the boys easily slip into and out of roles as circumstances demand. They are endowed with a perspective that gives them the intellectual and moral advantage over the unselfconscious members of Monipodio's fixed society. «The time the two boys spend with Monipodio», Hart suggests, «may be seen as another version of the sojourn in the pastoral oasis..». (p. 287).

Like the pastoral, then, Rinconete y Cortadillo bestows a critical attitude on the reader. Yet along with surveillance, enjoyment and participation are so fundamental to the work that the critical disposition of the observer is somewhat compromised. The gap between the boys and Monipodio's gang grows so crucially narrow at times that the telescoping pastoral vision begins to turn back on itself. Cervantes circulates the narrative point of view to produce a simultaneous distancing from and identification with the characters that accommodate a wide range of commentary. Rinconete y Cortadillo is social satire, in its ridicule at least of Seville. It infiltrates a stylized landscape to become a literary double agent, in its appropriation of the conventions of the pastoral novel to (fondly) mock the conventions of the pastoral novel.

The presence of the spectator (and often storyteller) in Cervantes' works is frequently as significant as the events witnessed. Although no character within Rinconete actually narrates the text, several appear whose handling of their observer-status is thematic. The reader follows the action through the eyes of a series of intermediaries whose collusion in the events produces a most felicitous conflict of interests.

Aside from the anonymous narrator, the first observers in the novela are Rincón and Cortado themselves, who listen to each other's stories. Unwittingly, they also disclose themselves to the innkeeper's   —137→   wife, standing nearby. She hears of the boys' intent to cheat the muleteer with the fiction of an honest card game, but keeps silent until afterwards, noting the «buena crianza de los pícaros». Ironically, the favorable judgment of them is passed by an accessory to their dishonesty: the woman tacitly condones their behavior by allowing them to victimize the muleteer. She briefly winks at the scheme for her own amusement.

Later, in Seville, the pattern repeats itself. The boys' dishonesty is again noted by a spectator of whom they are not aware. This time Cortado confounds the sacristan, pinching his purse and his handkerchief. Rincón has seen the whole thing from a distance, but someone else has watched them both: «abajo estaba otro mozo de la esportilla, que vio todo lo que había pasado y cómo Cortado daba el pañuelo a Rincón...» (p. 155). Either Ganchoso has an exceedingly short memory, or he, too is an accessory, not only to the theft but to the cover-up afterwards. During Monipodio's inquiry he claims ignorance of the crime.98

Roughly the first third of Rinconete y Cortadillo is spent establishing the primary narrative point of view, that through which the reader -as the definitive observer- watches the events. His spectacles are the boys themselves, who become spectators in tandem when they enter the Casa de Monipodio. Amused, they watch the activities of the ruffian group. That the boys in their turn fail to denounce the confraternity of criminals and remain as members for several months implicates Rincón and Cortado in the organized crime. Although they refrain mentally from completely immersing themselves in that life, they consort in the fiction of the pious brotherhood.

In fact, at the outset of the novela, their transgressions have already separated Rincón and Cortado from the respectable communities of Madrid and Toledo. They live, like the picaro, on the fringe of society. Although ragged and dirty, the boys address each other with comic elegance as «señor gentilhombre» and «señor caballero» (p. 136). They gild their delinquency in grandiloquence; for his thievery Rincón departed «desterrado por cuatro años de la Corte» (pp. 139-40), while «un espía doble» (p. 142) betrayed to the magistrate of Toledo Cortado's practice of disemboweling purses. This   —138→   wordplay inflates a high burlesque which is immediately deflated -part-way- by their own curiously equivocal recognition of it. Rincón declares: «pues ya nos conocemos, no hay para qué aquesas grandezas ni altiveces: confesemos llanamente que no teníamos blanca, ni aun zapatos» (p. 143). Oddly, Cortado's reciprocal confession simultaneously accepts and rejects the suggestion; he agrees with pretentious formality to leave off the pretense: «Sea así,... y pues nuestra amistad, como vuesa merced, señor Rincón, ha dicho, ha de ser perpetua, comencémosla con santas y loables ceremonias» (p. 143). The manner of speaking flagrantly undermines the message. Cortado is so taken with this play-acting that he drags his feet about leaving it behind, even knowing its absurdity.

The boys refrain from stealing from their traveling companions on the way to Seville not because it would be wrong, but «por no perder la ocasión tan buena del viaje de Sevilla, donde ellos tenían grande deseo de verse» (p. 145). Their moral detachment disinclines them to pass judgment on what they see in the city. Aligned with their perspective, we similarly forbear. The assumption of perspective is facilitated by our sympathy for them, itself in part a function of their age: although the boys are scoundrels, their condition is not yet indelible; their petty crimes seem a youthful lark. But our affinity for them is not entirely innocent: we take a sort of cathartic pleasure in their craftiness, just as we cheer on the clever adulteress over her doltish husband in an entremés; just as the innkeeper's wife enjoys the swindle of the muleteer. As manipulators, Rincón and Cortado belong among the «satanic surrogate poets» of the Cervantine world described by Alban K. Forcione and Patricia Kenworthy.99

Appropriately enough, the boys focus throughout the novela on the use and misuse of language. Their own relationship commences in the parlance of the court. Then Rincón and Cortado stumble over the vocabulary of germanía before their initiation: their guide (in a strange mix of ceremony and slang) greets them asking,

-Díganme, señores galanes: ¿voacedes son de mala entrada, o no?


-No entendemos esa razón, señor galán -respondió Rincón.

-¿Que no entrevan, señores murcios? -respondió el otro.

-No somos de Teba ni de Murcia -dijo Cortado-: si otra cosa quiere, dígala; si no, váyase con Dios.

-¿No lo entienden? -dijo el mozo-. Pues ya se lo daré a entender, y a beber, con una cuchara de plata: quiero decir, señores, si son vuesas mercedes ladrones...


The boys are soon correcting Ganchoso's own deformations of standard Castilian, such as «solomico» («Sodomita querrá decir vuesa merced» [p. 161]). From this point on they draw attention to the gangsters' malapropisms by repeating them, or simply register mentally the mistakes they hear in the patio. At the end of the story, the narrator re-emphasizes the language by reviewing the mistakes.

The attention to language contributes to the atmosphere of parody. Ruth S. El Saffar notes that the boys' reactions to the mistakes of the other characters «draw the reader's interest away from the words' meaning towards a focus on their surface. The verbal play also makes Monipodio's world appear less real -more like an artistic creation to be judged and criticized on the basis of its surface flaws».100 As a result, the members of the confraternity are caricatures. «Nada menos realista», declares José Luis Varela, «que Rinconete» (p. 447a). The types themselves -thieves, prostitutes, cutthroats- are real, but the words they utter are completely out of place.

On account of the abundance of religious terminology, Varela believes Rinconete specifically ridicules the religious community:

El gremio de Monipodio aparece aludido doce veces como Cofradía, Hermandad o Confraternidad; la voz Dios aparece diecinueve veces,... se cita o invoca a la Virgen, a San Miguel, San Blas, [etc.]...; términos del mundo eclesiástico son noviciado, congregación, ministro, ordenanzas, contrayente, iglesia, confesión, excomunión, confirmación, orden, jubileo, rosarios, hábitos, misas, quiries, gaudeamus, candelicas a los santos, padre, bendición.

(pp. 442b-43a)                

However, this aspect of the satire is developed only in the first few scenes at the patio. Inhabited by an array of bizarre comic types, the Casa de Monipodio is a microcosm and parody of legitimate   —140→   society, a cracked mirror showing the «seamy side»101 from an absurd angle. Furthermore, the brotherhood ministers to a cross-section of «respectable» Seville:

caen debajo de nuestros bienhechores el procurador que nos defiende, el guro que nos avisa, el verdugo que nos tiene lástima, el que, cuando uno de nosotros va huyendo por la calle y detrás le van dando voces: «¡Al ladrón, al ladrón! ¡Deténganle, deténganle!», se pone en medio, y se opone al raudal de los que le siguen, diciendo: «¡Déjenle al cuitado; que harta mala ventura lleva!» «¡Allá se lo haya; castíguele su pecado!» Son también bienhechoras nuestras las socorridas que de su sudor nos socorren, ansí en la trena como en las guras, y también lo son nuestros padres y madres, que nos echan al mundo, y el escribano, que si anda de buena, no hay delito que sea culpa, ni culpa a quien se dé mucha pena...

(pp. 168-9)                

Late in the patio scene Monipodio appropriates the language of the business and law communities. His organization functions with written ledgers, and according to the caveat emptor principle. One gentleman learns as the client that he is at the mercy of the gangsters' twisted interpretation of contracts. Having engaged the organization to slice up the face of a merchant, he complains that the service has been carried out on the intended victim's servant. In the subsequent litigation, Chiquiznaque justifies the substitution with some nimble manipulation of the common law that «quien bien quiere a Beltrán, bien quiere a su can»:

-Pues ¿no es lo mismo... decir: «Quien mal quiere a Beltrán, mal quiere a su can»? Y así, Beltrán es el mercader, voacé le quiere mal, su lacayo es su can, y dando al can, se da a Beltrán, y la deuda queda líquida y trae aparejada ejecución: por eso no hay más sino pagar luego sin apercibimiento de remate.

(pp. 206-07)                

Here Monipodio presides as judge. As is to be expected, he finds in favor of his own big business, in language financial and judicial.

It is no coincidence that Rincón and Cortado were themselves forced to leave Madrid and Toledo for offenses against the religious and economic communities: one pocketed the proceeds from pronouncing bulls while the other abused his trade by cutting purses. The difference is that Castile's justice prosecuted the culprits. Insofar   —141→   as their judicial systems work, then, Madrid and Toledo per se are exempted from the satire. Cervantes singles out Seville, which not only tolerates but colludes with its criminals. In Seville, Rincón and Cortado, join their element. The boys' misdeeds are generically the same as the crimes of the germanía. We who smile and wink at their conduct are, like Seville, implicated.

The social satire is therefore potentially just as broad as its readership, although Cervantes specifically lampoons the religious, business, and judicial communities of Seville. But the satire is literary as well as social firstly in the very general sense that it is anti-heroic. This type of fiction, related to the picaresque as a child of the Counter Reformation, springs in part from the desire to show the folly of earlier idealistic genres, especially the romances of chivalry and the pastoral. Alexander A. Parker suggests that such books as Pedro Malón de Chaide's La conversión de la Magdalena (1588) belong among «the religious writings of the last thirty years of the sixteenth century [which] are the influence that... can alone explain the transition from idealism to realism in the novel».102 The preface of La conversión contains an indignant attack on Montemayor's Diana, whose tales of worldly love might lead young girls astray.103

Like La conversión, the picaresque novel must show human nature at its nadir in order to depict the potential for spiritual redemption in even the most depraved among us. According to Parker, the picaresque novel (including Rinconete) arose «as a reaction to the romances -not as satire or parody, but as a deliberate alternative, a 'truthful' literature in response to the explicit demands of the Counter Reformation» (p. 22). The picaresque and its close relative Rinconete, then, express literary theory to the extent that a tradition comments on earlier literature by departing from it.

This hybrid of picaresque characters in a pastoral plot-pattern is, therefore, a literary reaction, at the least to the idealizations in character and setting of the romances. However, the response may in fact be quite specific. The Renaissance pastoral customarily follows a series of conventions culled from the classical tradition. Pioneered by   —142→   Theocritus and Virgil, the pastoral was revived and refined by Italian poets like Sannazaro and Tasso, and popularized in Spain by Garcilaso. Montemayor wrote Spain's prototype pastoral novel, Los siete libros de la Diana, in the mid-sixteenth century. In his footsteps the young Cervantes himself followed with La Galatea in 1585. Close to twenty years later,104 nearly every standard pastoral motif appears, slightly askew, in the patio of the Casa de Monipodio. The plot-pattern and sense of distance are the entrée into a burlesque of the pastoral's ideal landscape.

One of the most immediately striking and unrealistic aspects of life in the Casa is its benign atmosphere. Monipodio's gang is a model of harmony; no jealousy mars the occasion when Rincón and Cortado receive the leader's favor. On the contrary, everybody rejoices at their good sense and discretion as Cortado promises to maintain secrecy against all odds:

-¡Alto, no es menester más! -dijo a esta sazón Monipodio-. Digo que sola esta razón me convence, me obliga, me persuade y me fuerza a que desde luego asentéis por cofrades mayores, y que se os sobrelleve el año del noviciado.

-Yo soy dese parecer -dijo uno de los bravos.

Y a una voz lo confirmaron todos presentes, que toda la plática habían estado escuchando, y pidieron a Monipodio que desde luego les concediese y permitiese gozar de las inmunidades de su cofradía, porque su presencia agradable y su buena plática lo merecía todo.

(pp. 173-74)                

The incongruity of concord and hospitality in such a setting is a key source of humor. Monipodio's group is a sort of utopian society bound by a social contract which is a self-contained code of ethics. Richard L. Predmore points out that the members live «fieles a ciertas normas. Estas normas en sí son buenas; lo grotesco es querer aplicarlas a la vida criminal».105 Actually, the values of friendship, love, harmony, and devotion are professed by «legitimate» society; Predmore observes that these people truly adhere to their ideals insofar as they understand them. In their lack of hypocrisy the gangsters more   —143→   nearly resemble their idealistic literary predecessors than they do the two-faced characters of the picaresque novel.

The locus amoenus here is the antithesis of the garden or meadow where the pastoral usually takes place. The action occurs «en una casa no muy buena, sino de muy mala apariencia» (p. 162), an enclosure shutting out springtime and light. But like the pastoral, this «oasis» implies an outside world, from which it is an escape. When intruders threaten, the «pastores» scatter. The description calls to mind a rural rather than urban setting: «Nunca disparado arcabuz a deshora, ni trueno repentino, espantó así a banda de descuidadas palomas como puso en alboroto y espanto a toda aquella recogida compañía y buena gente la nueva de la venida del Alcalde de la Justicia» (pp. 203-04).

This perversion of the ideal community is peopled by appropriately repulsive characters. Instead of paragons of beauty and virtue, the members of the group are precisely the opposite. Their leader Monipodio is dark and foreboding, not «young, ruddy of looks, of golden tongue»,106 but an ugly middle-aged man who «representaba el más rústico y disforme bárbaro del mundo» (p. 165). Although Juliana la Cariharta considers herself an innocent «paloma duende» (p. 195), she and la Gananciosa are to the boys «afeitados los rostros, llenos de color los labios y de abayalde los pechos, cubiertas con medios mantos de anascote, llenas de desenfado y desvergüenza: señales claras por donde en viéndolas Rinconete y Cortadillo, conocieron que eran de la casa llana» (p. 178).

In Ovid's version of the Golden Age,

... Earth, untroubled,
Unharried by hoe or plowshare, brought forth all
That men had need for, and those men were happy,
Gathering berries from the mountain sides,
Cherries, or blackcaps, and the edible acorns.107

Hart points out that in La gitanilla, another Exemplary Novel with the pastoral plot-pattern, «the gypsies can easily content themselves with what they have because they do not hesitate to steal whatever they   —144→   want». This «illustrates very nicely the ironic displacement which Cervantes introduces into his treatment of one of the central themes of traditional pastoral, the importance of being contented with what one has» (p. 286). The same principle applies in Rinconete; Monipodio's society too finds an abundance of supplies, although here nature yields her fruits in city streets rather than meadows and mountain sides.

The sentimental themes are also typically pastoral. The subject of the pastoral is love, and the heart of the narrative at the patio is a raucous love story, the romantic spat between the prostitute Juliana and her pimp Repolido. In the central scene, Juliana plays the part of the distressed shepherdess. Her «dulce lamentar» goes as follows:

-¡La justicia de Dios y del Rey venga sobre aquel ladrón desuellacaras, sobre aquel pícaro lendroso, que le he quitado más veces de la horca que tiene pelos en las barbas! ¡Desdichada de mí! ¡Mirad por quién he perdido y gastado mi mocedad y la flor de mis años, sino por un bellaco desalmado, facineroso e incorregible!

(p. 186)                

She complains of mistreatment by her lover, who at least has had the delicacy to beat her in another locus amoenus, in the field «detrás de la güerta del Rey,... entre unos olivares» (p. 188).

A dialogue on the nature of love follows, between the girl and her friend la Gananciosa, who assures her,

«a lo que se quiere bien se castiga; y cuando estos bellacones nos dan, y azotan, y acocean, entonces nos adoran;... y lloraría [Repolido] de pena de ver cuál te había puesto; que estos tales hombres, y en tales casos, no han cometido la culpa cuando les viene el arrepentimiento; y tú verás, hermana, si no viene a buscarte antes que de aquí nos vamos, y a pedirte perdón de todo lo pasado, rindiéndosete como un cordero.»

(pp. 189-90)                

This is reminiscent of the «complaint and consolation» pattern of La Diana noted by Bruce W. Wardropper.108 La Cariharta soon realizes that «con cuan malo es, le quiero más que a las telas de mi corazón, y hanme vuelto el alma al cuerpo las razones que en su abono ha dicho mi amiga la Gananciosa...» (p. 190). She coquettishly plays hard-to-get when Repolido arrives, although finally the ideal of friendship   —145→   prevails -Monipodio admonishes: «Nunca los amigos han de dar enojo a los amigos, ni hacer burla de los amigos, y más cuando veen que se enojan los amigos» (p. 199).

Other traditionally pastoral motifs adorn the scene. just as idealized shepherds have typically sylvan names, those of Rincón and Cortado are altered to fit their new role. La Pipota even recites the carpe diem theme in her advice to the youngsters: «Holgaos, hijos, ahora que tenéis tiempo: que vendrá la vejez, y lloraréis en ella los ratos que perdistes en la mocedad, como yo los lloro» (p. 184).

The sine qua non of any pastoral is poetry and song. In the Casa de Monipodio, la Gananciosa comforts Juliana by suggesting that they write Repolido «un papel en coplas, que le amargue» (p. 190). The plan is heartily endorsed by Monipodio, who volunteers his secretarial skills, adding, «aunque no soy nada poeta, todavía, si el hombre se arremanga, se atreverá a hacer dos millares de coplas en daca las pajas; y cuando no salieren como deben, yo tengo un barbero amigo, gran poeta, que nos hinchará las medidas a todas horas...» (p. 191). The shepherd as poet is of course the cornerstone of pastoral literature.

The gangsters' affinity for music matches their enthusiasm for poetry, although they lack the oaten flute prized by their bucolic counterparts:

la Escalanta, quitándose un chapín, comenzó a tañer en él como en un pandero; la Gananciosa tomó una escoba de palma, nueva, que allí se halló acaso, y rascándola, hizo un son que, aunque ronco y áspero, se concertaba con el del chapín. Monipodio rompió un plato y hizo dos tejoletas, que, puestas entre los dedos y repicadas con gran ligereza, llevaba el contrapunto al chapín y a la escoba.

(pp. 199-200)                

Maniferro adds a classical touch as he garbles references to Orpheus, Eurydice, and Arion, proudly contending that «ni el Negrofeo, que sacó a la Arauz del infierno, ni el Marión que subió sobre un delfín y salió del mar como si viniera caballero sobre una mula de alquiler» (p. 201), among others, could top their music-making. As in Montemayor's Diana, where the shepherds «tañían sus instrumentos tan suavemente que junto con las divinas voces no parecieron sino música celestial»,109 the gathering enjoys the «voz sutil y quebradiza» (p. 201)   —146→   of la Escalanta. Her song is followed by those of compatriots in an abbreviated version of the singing contest, which concludes with Juliana's plaintive

«Detente, enojado, no me azotes más;
Que si bien lo miras, a tus carnes das.»

(p. 202)                

Whether or not Cervantes is taking direct aim at the pastoral or simply participating in the literary response to that type of literature, Rinconete y Cortadillo is a compendium a lo grotesco of conventions also found in the Églogas of Garcilaso, Montemayor's Diana, and his own Galatea. In fact, a major source of Rinconete's light-heartedness is its refusal to take itself seriously. Cervantes' own repeated recourse to idealization -from novel, to Exemplary Novel, to romance- takes the venom out of the sting. By the same token, our identification with the delinquent boys inclines us to judge them benevolently; we are all, ultimately, of one flesh.

If the picaresque novel's serious undertone is absent, its moral concern, which always finally reforms the protagonist, remains. The word «picaro» appears twice in the novela; once at the inn, applied by the innkeeper's wife to Rincón and Cortado; and once at the Casa de Monipodio in Juliana's reference to Repolido. The inn is merely a temporary stopping-place while the patio is a permanent refuge. That which they witness at the Casa de Monipodio holds up to Rincón and Cortado their own potential depravity. The boys learn to recognize their own folly by seeing a fully-grown version of it in others. Eventually they will renounce the underworld of Monipodio, and by implication, Seville:

finalmente, exageraba [Rinconete] cuán descuidada justicia había en aquella tan famosa ciudad de Sevilla, pues casi al descubierto vivía en ella gente tan perniciosa y tan contraria a la misma naturaleza, y propuso en sí de aconsejar a su compañero no durasen mucho en aquella vida tan perdida y tan mala, tan inquieta, y tan libre y disoluta.

(pp. 217-18)                

This time, the boys will leave voluntarily. They in their turn become honest judges who finally exile from their own lives the corruption of Monipodio and Seville.

This delayed repudiation after participation is schematic to Rinconete y Cortadillo. Although the reader cathartically enjoys the antics of the boys and their «foster family», he redeems himself by   —147→   accepting the exemplary conclusion.110 The reader (and the boys) leave behind the other observers, the innkeeper's wife and Ganchoso, whose submerged perspectives bind them to the fiction. The reader can love the characters without wholeheartedly embracing their morals. The author can condemn the city in which he lived and suffered for a time while exalting the rectitude of the rest of his homeland. At the same time, Cervantes allows himself to have a piece of bucolic cake, and critique it, too.