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ArribaAbajo Organic Unity in Unlikely Places: Don Quijote I, 39-41

Carroll B. Johnson

University of California, Los Angeles

La reunión aparentemente inverosímil del capitán cautivo con su hermano, y los episodios colindantes forman una estrecha unidad que integra tres niveles de creación y experiencia: la histórica vivida por Cervantes, sus contemporáneos y sus personajes; la ficticia creada por Cervantes y vivida por sus personajes; y otra ficticia creada por el cura y vivida por los demás personajes. Un detalle entre pintoresco e insignificante -el episodio de los corsarios franceses- sirve de nexo entre estos tres mundos y produce un ejemplo de aquella unidad orgánica tan cara a los new critics como desacreditada hoy.

The Quijote is like a wonderful living organism. To slice into it anywhere, to take a sample of tissue and examine it, is to be astounded by the complexity of its structure, the forests of capillaries and ganglia intertwined, functioning in bewilderingly complex harmony, sending their messages, providing their nourishment, acting and reacting to each other, pulsating with life. The episodes around and including the captive Captain's story (I, 39-41) offer an excellent example of this organic unity comprising different systems that function independently of, yet which are finally dependent upon, each other.32 Here is a psychotic old man's set-piece discourse on the virtues of arms over letters, his surprisingly clear-headed version of the medieval debate on the active versus the contemplative life. Here is an adventure story recounted by its protagonist and referable to the themes of Muslims and Christians, freedom and captivity, love between men and women, and the relations between fathers and children. Here is the tearful and improbable reunion of two long-lost brothers. Here are two more couples -one edging toward the upper age limits of the normally acceptable, and a pair of teenagers, at the opposite extreme-   —134→   who range themselves in a series with Cardenio and Luscinda, Dorotea and Don Fernando. None of this except the discourse on arms and letters has anything to do with the adventures of Don Quijote and Sancho, and in fact the Captain's long narration together with the attendant peripetiae were criticized by Cervantes' contemporaries to such an extent that it became necessary for Cide Hamete Benengeli to interrupt his narrative in II, 44, and account for their presence in his book.

In the pages that follow I should like to explore the relations between these various episodes and their apparently disparate themes, and to demonstrate their necessary interdependence within three distinct but inseparable contexts. These last may be characterized as the extra-fictitious one that includes Cervantes, his readers, and their historical situation, the principal fictitious one that asks us to accept Don Quijote, the Captain, Zoraida, the Oidor, Don Luis and Doña Clara and the rest as verisimilar characters who act as real people act, and finally the context of fiction within the fiction wherein the Captain and Zoraida become two characters in a fiction created and narrated by the Cura.33 Concretely, I shall propose a brief and apparently insignificant detail in the Captain's narration as the nerve center by means of which communication between the three contexts is effected.

Don Quijote's discourse is interrupted by the sudden arrival at Juan Palomeque's inn of Captain Ruy Pérez de Viedma and his lady, a beautiful Algerian named Zoraida. The story of who they are, how they fell in together, and how they have come to be in an obscure inn in La Mancha obviously cries out to be told. We readers, trained by the conventions of the classical epic and byzantine novel, join the assembled fictional company at Palomeque's in anticipating a retrospective narration by the Captain. This does not occur, however, until after Don Quijote has finished his peroration. The speech has the immediate effect of whetting our appetite for the postponed narration by interposing some apparently extraneous clichés -whose validity is, incidentally, accepted by all those present- between the   —135→   Captain's unexpected appearance and his subsequent explanation of it. As Francisco Márquez has pointed out, however, the subject matter of Don Quijote's discourse is not at all extraneous, for it provides the theoretical underpinnings, or overtly expresses the ideology that the lives of the Captain and his brother will act out with terrible irony in practice.34 With this in mind let us turn to the Captain's narration. Ruy Pérez de Viedma served his king as a soldier under the Duke of Alba in Flanders. He rose to the rank of alférez (ensign) under Captain Diego de Urbina. He participated in the battle of Lepanto. He was captured by Turks and taken to Constantinople. He witnessed the loss of La Goleta from his perspective chained to the oars of a Turkish galley. He became the captive of the King of Algiers, Azán Agá, or Azán Bajá (as Cervantes calls him elsewhere), and spent time in an Algerian baño, a kind of holding tank for Christians awaiting ransom. These exploits coincide with what is known of the life of a certain Alonso López, a soldier who served at many of the same places and knew many of the same people as Cervantes. These connections were made as early as 1947 by Jaime Oliver Asín and recently summarized by Helena Percas de Ponseti. Professor Percas concludes by remarking that all the scholars acquainted with life in Algiers in the 1570's, and Cervantes' own life from 1575 to 1580, consider the Captain's story of his adventures «rigorously historical and psychologically verisimilar».35 John J. Allen believes in addition that when Ruy Pérez affirms that he had served in Flanders and witnessed the executions of Egmont and Horn (1568), he is speaking for Cervantes himself. Allen considers it highly likely that Cervantes served in Flanders in 1567-68, then returned to Madrid, whence he departed for Italy in 1570.36 The first relation to arise from our consideration of all this is, then, that between Ruy Pérez and Cervantes himself, imposed by the similarities between their respective military careers. These careers are furthermore embedded in a real   —136→   historical context inhabited by Cervantes and his readers, members of that imperial Spain committed to the defense of Roman Catholicism as the state religion against Protestantism in northern Europe and Islam in the Mediterranean.

Let us pursue this last context a bit further and ponder the presence in the Captain's story of not one but two captivities among the Muslims: the Turks of Constantinople and the Berbers of Algiers. Cervantes would seem to be belaboring the perennially popular theme of moros y cristianos with an uncharacteristically heavy hand. And what are we to make of the apparently gratuitous excursion to Flanders with its explicit mention of the execution of two heretical rebels? Its only purpose seems to be that of reminding us of the Catholic-Protestant dimension of Spain's imperial conflicts, for like the episode in Constantinople it has no bearing on the Captain's involvement with Zoraida and escape to Spain. Finally, I should like to call attention to another fleeting encounter with some other non-Spanish Europeans toward the end of the Captain's story. I refer to the French corsairs who capture the little band of escapees from Algiers, rob them and set them adrift. This mini-episode serves artistically to retard the happy ending, the couple's final safe arrival in the Promised Land, by interposing one last obstacle. It has always seemed to me, however, that this advantage is more than offset by the gratuitousness of the encounter with the corsairs. If we turn from the artistic to the historical context we cannot fail to be struck by the fact that these latest antagonists are French, who as traditional enemies of Spain can be easily assimilated to the series involving two kinds of Muslims in the Mediterranean and the rebels in Flanders also present in the story.

I consider this assimilation to be of capital importance, for in my opinion it is the presence of these gratuitous Frenchmen that allows us to understand the relation between Cervantes as author and the Captain as narrator created by him, and to interpret the ideological statement intended by Cervantes and enunciated ironically through the Captain. The Frenchmen also become crucial in the Cura's consciously artistic recasting of the events of the Captain's narration into a fiction whose intention is not informative but frankly rhetorical.

The French corsairs who sink the little ship in which Zoraida and the Captain are traveling under the guidance of a renegade Spaniard who is apparently about to reconvert to Christianity are characterized by the Captain as greedy and materialistic. The fact that they   —137→   leave Zoraida's virginity intact is taken by him as merely an indication of their total dedication to the pursuit of wealth. The absence of lust proves for him only the overwhelming presence of greed. The French captain, however, proves to be generous and even kind. He sets our group adrift in a small boat so they can with any luck reach Spain, instead of throwing them all overboard wrapped in a sail as some of the crew seem to prefer. He provides them with biscuit and water and even gives forty gold escudos to Zoraida, who furthermore is allowed to retain her fine clothes. These men are not saints. They are, after all, professional thieves who relieve Zoraida of all the jewelry she is wearing, but neither are they the incarnation of evil.37 They are Frenchmen who fail to conform entirely to the stereotyped vision of them presented by the official rhetoric of imperial Spain. This fact is hardly surprising in Cervantes, who never allows himself to be taken in by the monolithic conceptions of the official ideology.

More surprising, perhaps, is the sudden but inconspicuous revelation that these Frenchmen who behave so courteously are not only French, but Protestant. Ruy Pérez allows this important fact to slip when he remarks that the pirate captain «dijo que él se contentaba con la presa que tenía, y que no quería tocar en ningún puerto de España, sino pasar el estrecho de Gibraltar ... y irse a la Rochela, de donde había salido».38 The identification of La Rochelle with the Protestant Reformation in France is too well known to stand in need of much elaboration here. A source as readily accessible as the Guide Michelin offhandly refers to the city as «la Genève française».39 It might be good, however, to review some aspects of the history of La Rochelle during the period that concerns us, and to attempt to relate them to Cervantes' text.


There were Protestants in La Rochelle prior to 1540. In 1568 a treaty was concluded which made Protestantism the exclusive religion of the place. This was modified to a situation of «peaceful coexistence» in 1571. In the same year La Rochelle was the scene of a national Protestant synod and a new credo was adopted. The wars of religion touched off by the St. Bartholemew massacre (24 August 1572) converted La Rochelle into a Protestant stronghold in the military as well as in the religious sense. The city was besieged, unsuccessfully, by the future Henri III in 1573.40 During the same period the Protestant government of La Rochelle commissioned private ships, corsairs, to prey on enemy (i. e., Catholic) shipping, with great success. Catholic shipping naturally included the Portuguese and Spanish colonial trade. Etienne Trocmé and Marcel Delafosse observe that «La Rochelle, comme les autres ports atlantiques, regorgeait de monnaies espagnoles, à la suite des échanges normaux, et aussi du fait des corsaires». They go on to recount that in September 1575, a certain Captain Varlet returned to La Rochelle with booty described as «dix ou douze quintaulx dor venantz des Indes pour le roy d'Espagne», and in 1577 Captain de Sore captured a Portuguese treasure ship between Cape Blanc and the Canary Islands.41

These anecdotes suggest, besides the activity of Protestant corsairs in general, the important fact that La Rochelle was by virtue of its location a great Atlantic power, the focus of routes running east and west across the Atlantic, or north and south along the Atlantic coast of Europe, from the Low Countries to Cape Blanc. Trade with the Iberian peninsula, for example was carried on principally along the north coast, at the ports of Pasajes, San Sebastián, Portugalete, Bilbao, Castro Urdiales, Laredo, Gijón, Avilés and La Coruña, where wheat, wine, salt, wax, leather, salted and smoked herring, butter and textiles were exchanged for wool, iron, sardines and sometimes a load of silver. A heavy volume of trade in spices was carried on with   —139→   Lisbon as its focus. Rochelais ships carried wheat and other European products to San Lúcar de Barrameda (Sevilla), Cádiz and Puerto de Santa María, sometimes pushing on to Málaga and Alicante to load with olives, oil, soap and wine. There were occasional shipments of wheat from La Rochelle to Valencia. Commerce with Mediterranean North Africa and the Levant was virtually non-existent.42

In short, there was a Rochelais presence in the Mediterranean, especially after 1568, but it was limited to trade in wheat at Valencia, the purchase of agricultural products at Málaga and Alicante, and occasional forays to Civitavecchia for alum. The volume of this Mediterranean trade cannot begin to compare with that carried on by the Rochelais in the Atlantic. The corsairs of La Rochelle were Protestant, their existence a function of the wars of religion in France. To say «corsair rochelais» was to say «corsair huguenôt». There were probably a few operating in the western Mediterranean, but the records show the great bulk of their activity in the Atlantic, frequently preying on the Spanish treasure fleets from America. The presence of Protestant corsairs from La Rochelle in the location related by Ruy Pérez de Viedma is historically possible but not likely. If Cervantes had wanted some evil Frenchmen, or just some Frenchmen for his story, he could more easily and with greater verisimilitude have based them in Marseille. The fact that he made them Rochelais, then, suggests that at least as much emphasis should be placed on their religion as on their nationality.43

The gratuitous presence of these French Protestants, together with the mention of the rebel heretics in Flanders and not one, but two periods of captivity among the Muslims in the Captain's story reveals a clear intention on Cervantes' part to treat not just the consecrated theme of moros y cristianos, but to extend his consideration to all the frontiers on which the official state religion of Spain was in conflict with other systems of belief, of government, of social organization and values. Put another way, the Captain's story offers Cervantes the possibility of engaging in an ironically critical examination   —140→   of the role of imperial, Catholic Spain in a world becoming increasingly, irredeemably pluralistic.

In this context the French Protestants assume particular importance, for with the Edict of Nantes (13 April 1598) France became officially a pluralistic society. Protestants were granted complete freedom of conscience and fairly extensive practice of public worship. Young Protestants were admitted to all schools without a certificate of Catholicity. Protestants could open schools of their own. Pastors' salaries were supplemented by government subsidy. Protestants were admitted to all employments and functions. Seats were to be reserved for Protestants on the Royal Council.44 If it is true, as Astrana supposes, that Cervantes wrote the Captain's story in 1589 and revised it for publication in 1602-1603, it is entirely possible that he was aware of the general outline of the Edict of Nantes and was moved to contrast the French solution to the problems posed by religious pluralism with the monolithic official mentality and its institutionalized apparatus of repression triumphant in his own country. In Spanish terms, the Edict of Nantes would amount to nothing less than the repeal of the estatutos de limpieza de sangre and even, perhaps, a return to the old Spain of the three religions, certainly a radical reordering of not only religious, but social and economic life as well. The Protestant historian Meschinet remarks that after the wars of religion, La Rochelle embarked on a period of prosperity, and that «l'activité intellectuelle qui y regne, joint aux développements imprimés au commerce et à l'industrie, lui mérite le nom d'Amsterdam française».45 Américo Castro quotes the Spanish Jesuit Fr. Pedro de Guzmán, a contemporary of Cervantes, on the social order at La Rochelle: «Sus gobernadores tienen singularísimo cuidado y atención en que... no haya ociosos, como cosa en que consiste gran parte de su felicidad», and proceeds to contrast this typically Protestant attitude with what obtained in Spain, where «el trabajo era cosa de moros o de cristianos nuevos», and «la felicidad colectiva nunca fue un ideal que el español se esforzara por alcanzar».46


The first and provisional conclusion to which our investigation of the presence of some unexpectedly good-hearted French Protestants in the Captain's story has led us is, I think, something to the effect that Cervantes was in full and total disagreement with the official rhetoric and its underlying ideology concerning the role of Spain as the defender of the Empire against the Turks, the Algerians, the Dutch and the French, and the defender of Roman Catholicism against Islam and Protestantism.

The foregoing observations are valid within the historical context inhabited by Cervantes and his readers. The fictional character Ruy Pérez de Viedma, who transmits Cervantes' anti-imperial message, appears to have no idea of the meaning of what he is saying. He continues to believe that the French are greedy and cruel, «nuestros capitales enemigos», even after he has experienced the reverse. It is characteristic of Cervantes' genius that he is able to create a sympathetic old soldier like Ruy Pérez who so closely resembles himself, and then turn him into a spokesman for majoritarian views totally incompatible with his own, thus using him -taking advantage of his innocence- to present, ironically, his own subversive message.

The foregoing insistence on Ruy Pérez' identity as a created character in a work of literature brings us, I hope, to the consideration of the fictional context in which he exists. He is a fictional personage who arrives at a fictional country inn peopled by characters as fictitious as himself, to whom he tells his story. The story, although historically verisimilar and «relevant» in the sense we have just seen, begins in the least historical manner possible. The Captain tells us that he was one of three sons, whose father gathered them together, divided his wealth among them and sent them into the world to seek their fortunes. This is clearly not the realm of history, but of folk literature, as Schevill and Bonilla observed long ago.47 The folktale is immediately married to the concrete social reality of sixteenth-century Spain, as we shall see. On the one hand, historical rigor demands that Ruy Pérez as the eldest son simply inherit his   —142→   father's title if he has one and his wealth in accord with the law of primogeniture, and it is here that the conventions of the folktale prevail. On the other hand, the possibilities open to the three young men as they set out from their father's home are the classic three defined by the sixteenth-century Spanish class and caste system: iglesia, mar, casa real.

The Captain begins his story by remarking that his father never had much money in the first place, but that in the montaña of León he was considered wealthy. He was too generous with what he had for his own and his family's good. The father's prodigality, he tells us, is the result of his having been a soldier for so many years. In order to avoid frittering away his entire estate and leaving his three sons with nothing, he divides his holdings into four equal shares, one for himself and one for each son. Each son is to choose one of the three possible careers open to young men of their station: «letras, mercancía, y el otro sirviese al rey en la guerra, pues es dificultoso entrar a servirle en su casa; que ya que la guerra no dé muchas riquezas, suele dar mucho valor y mucha fama» (I, 474). It will be noted that the father devotes more attention to arms than to the other two careers, doubtless because as an old soldier himself he understands the economic limitations of his profession, but as what Francisco Márquez has characterized as an example of «recia honradez castellana» he values it according to the old standards of fama and valor, and wants to make sure his family continues a proud tradition. Ruy Pérez, whose system of values is obviously much like his father's, chooses to follow him in the profession of arms. The middle brother takes his share and goes into business in America, and the youngest, «a lo que yo creo, el más discreto, dijo que quería seguir la Iglesia, o irse a acabar sus comenzados estudios en Salamanca» (I, 474). The youngest son, the discreto, refrains from making a choice and his decision either to enter the Church or continue with his law career meets no objection from the father.

The eldest son, who has acceded to his father's wishes and chosen the least financially remunerative career, «pareciéndome a mí ser inhumanidad que mi padre quedase viejo y con tan poca hacienda, hice con él que de mis 3,000 tomase los 2,000 ducados. Mis dos hermanos, movidos de mi ejemplo, cada uno le dio 1,000 ducados; de modo que a mi padre le quedaron 4,000 en dineros, y más 3,000 que a lo que parece, valía la hacienda que le cupo, que no quiso vender, sino quedarse con ella en raíces. Nos despedimos dél... no sin mucho   —143→   sentimiento y lágrimas de todos» (I, 475). The total value of the father's property was apparently 12,000 ducados. As his sons leave home and thereupon cease being his responsibility, the profligate old soldier finds himself with real property worth 3,000 plus 4,000 in cash or a total net worth of 7,000 ducados. The one most hurt by all this is of course the eldest son, Ruy, who has given up two thirds of his inheritance and stands to make the least money in his career. He tells a story that should embitter him toward his father, but which does not seem to have had that effect. We are dealing here, it seems to me, with another manifestation of the inability or unwillingness to exercize independent judgment and formulate conclusions empirically on the basis of real events that we observed in his narration of the encounter with the French corsairs. Just as it is inconceivable to him that the French should be anything but cruel and greedy, he appears unable to observe that his father is in fact not generous to the point of profligacy at all. Besides the tendency toward passivity and the habit of allowing himself to be overcome by external forces pointed out with great perspicacity by Francisco Márquez, I would go so far as to suggest that Ruy Pérez' behavior toward his father -his choice of career and his renunciation of most of his inheritance- is motivated by a strong desire to win the father's approval.48 We shall return to this matter later.

Twenty-two years have elapsed since the three sons left their father, and although Ruy Pérez, has written a few letters, «no he sabido dél ni de mis hermanos nueva alguna» (I, 475). He specifically refrained from writing his father from captivity in order to spare him the bad news and, one presumes, some dishonor, even though remaining silent eliminated the possibility of obtaining his freedom through ransom (I, 480). Now twenty-two years later, he is about to be reunited with his younger brother Juan, who had continued his law studies at Salamanca. Curiously enough, even after the Captain has ascertained that the Oidor who has just arrived with his daughter and retinue is in fact his brother, he refuses to come forward and effect the reunion. He is afraid his brother will reject him because of his poverty (I, 516). We can make some inferences concerning the motivation for this behavior on the basis of what we already know about Ruy Pérez. We should also, however, take the opportunity to find out what we can about his younger brother Juan.


He is seen first in terms of power, as an official representative of the repressive political order. He is preceded by a «squire» (escudero) who demands lodging for him and is undaunted when the Ventera tells him the inn is full. When she discovers who, that is, what he is, she becomes visibly disturbed, and she and her husband volunteer to give up their own room to accommodate him. «'Pues aunque eso sea,' dijo el escudero, 'no ha de faltar para el señor Oidor que aquí viene.' A este nombre se turbó la güéspeda, y dijo...» (I, 515). The Ventera's apparently generous behavior is clearly motivated by fear.

The Captain makes inquiries of the Oidor's servants and uncovers more information. This man is indeed his long-lost brother. He is a successful member of the letrado class which controlled the new imperial bureaucracy, on his way to Mexico to take possession of an important post in the Audiencia there. The position of oidor was an important and influential one. Senior positions in the letrado hierarchy comprised those offices known as plazas de asiento, that is, offices with life tenure that provided the office holders with retirement at half pay after twenty years of service. They included the well-paid, influential magisterial positions of oidor, fiscal and alcalde on all royal tribunals in Castile and the New World, and were monopolized by letrados.Salaries kept pace with, perhaps ahead of, the price rise. An oidor in a royal audiencia in the middle of the sixteenth century earned 150,000 maravedís a year, augmented by up to one half by an annual ayuda de costa. By 1600 oidores in Valladolid earned 300,000 mrs. a year. «Already substantial salaries were then boosted by the incalculable sums letrados clandestinely received in the form of bribes, gifts, kickbacks, embezzlements and the like. And inasmuch as letrados were exempt from royal levies and taxes, the riches they earned they kept or spent or invested in lands, governments bonds and annuities, trade and finance».49 Our oidor is a widower who has been further enriched by the opportune death of his wife in childbirth. He is accompanied by his teenaged daughter, Clara (I, 516).


From Juan Pérez the Oidor himself we learn first that he completed his studies and that «Dios y mi diligencia me han puesto en el grado en que me veis». In the next sentence he offers more precise information, namely that the merchant brother in Peru had been quite successful and had regularly sent money for their father's support, thus freeing Juan of that responsibility, and for Juan's own support at the university as well. His phrase «y yo asimismo he podido con más decencia y autoridad tratarme en mis estudios, y llegar al puesto en que me veo» (I, 518), is liable to two interpretations. The more straightforward is simply that his brother's money allowed him to avoid the rigors of student poverty so graphically evoked by Don Quijote in his discourse on arms and letters. The other possibility is that the brother's money gave Juan Pérez the wherewithal to ease his passage through the university and his entrance and rise in the profession by timely disbursements of cash. Although it is entirely possible that Juan Pérez never actually offered any bribes, it is clear that his success in the world has been due in large part to timely infusions of money. He emerges from his own self portrait, furthermore, as a man supremely concerned with wealth and social position, as his repetition of such phrases as «el puesto en que me veo», and «el grado en que me veis» makes clear. He is the polar opposite of his brother Ruy, who asks his new friends for «consejo qué modo tendría para... conocer primero si ... su hermano, por verle pobre, se afrentaba o le recibía con buenas entrañas» (I, 516).

This is the man to whom the Cura directs his narration -a version now consciously transformed into art- of the adventures of Captain Ruy Pérez, for the purpose of manipulating his emotions and controlling his reaction to his brother's poverty, to transform the   —146→   absence of wealth from grounds for repudiation into the source of sympathetic understanding and family solidarity. Before we examine the narration itself we should remark first on the difficulty of the Cura's enterprise, on the basis of Juan Pérez' overwhelming concern for wealth, position, appearances, and note at the same time some grounds for hope implicit in Juan's title of Oidor -literally 'Hearer,' as opposed to Juez 'Judge'- and his profession. Juan Pérez is a man whose life is devoted to listening to other people's stories and being influenced by what he perceives as their truth or falsehood. The fact that the Cura appears to have assumed automatically that he can be manipulated and his reactions controlled by an artfully told tale illuminates briefly but with piercing intensity, at least one man's opinion of the probity of the class of government officials to which Juan Pérez belongs and their efficacy in the performance of their duties.50 It also tells us something about Cervantes' ideas concerning the power of fiction and the practical importance of the narrator's art.

We do not know anything like the full extent of the modifications wrought by the Cura on the story we have previously heard from Ruy Pérez. The one that Cervantes-Cide Hamete chooses to pass on to us, however, the one that carries the whole rhetorical weight of the Cura's version, is the fleeting encounter with our friends the corsairs from La Rochelle. The Cura ends his story on a note of suspense by remarking that he does not know what became of Ruy Pérez and Zoraida after they fell into the hands of the French. He makes the French into villains by evoking the stereotyped image of them as cruel, greedy, and our enemies. He makes an implied contrast between Christians (everyone in the escape party, both Spaniard and Algerian) and Frenchmen, suggesting the latter's lack of charity, and he makes the French responsible for the Captain's poverty. We know that in fact it was the Renegade who dispatched the treasure Zoraida had brought from her father's house, and we also know the French were more charitable than they might have been. Nevertheless, the Cura «Sólo llegó al punto de cuando los franceses despojaron a los cristianos que en la barca venían, y la   —147→   pobreza y necesidad en que el Capitán y la hermosa mora habían quedado; de los cuales no había sabido en qué habían parado, ni si habían llegado a España, o llevándolos los franceses a Francia» (I, 518).

After hearing the Cura's narration of the Captain's story, the Oidor's eyes fill with tears -«lágrimas que, contra toda mi discreción y recato me salen por los ojos»- and he identifies the Captain as the brother he has not seen for some twenty years. He goes on to affirm that, had Ruy not been so careless in keeping his father informed of his situation, he could surely have been ransomed out of his Algerian captivity. «Del cual me maravillo, siendo tan discreto, cómo en tantos trabajos y aflicciones, o prósperos sucesos, se haya descuidado de dar noticia de sí a su padre; que si él lo supiera, o alguno de nosotros, no tuviera necesidad de aguardar el milagro de la caña para alcanzar su rescate» (I, 519).

This concern over letter writing brings up the themes of filial devotion and sibling rivalry, which we shall explore in a moment. For now let us continue with the Oidor's reaction to the Cura's narration. He is worried about what the rascally French might have done to his brother. «Pero de lo que ahora me temo es de pensar si aquellos franceses le habían dado libertad, o le habían muerto para encubrir su hurto» (I, 519).

So the modifications wrought by the Cura on the apparently insignificant detail of the French corsairs have proved to be of crucial importance in manipulating the Oidor's attitudes and preparing the way for the final reunion of the two brothers. On the one hand, the Oidor is convinced that the Captain's poverty is due to non-dishonorable circumstances beyond his control -the French took his money- and on the other, the suggestion that the French may be responsible for the Captain's death finally and forever transfers any ill-will the Oidor might be inclined to feel toward his brother onto the French. The stage is now set for the appearance of Ruy Pérez and Zoraida.

By depicting the Captain as a sympathetic character and truncating his narration with the vision of him in the power of the French corsairs whose rapaciousness he has deliberately intensified, the Cura has indeed manipulated the Oidor's feelings toward his brother. Cide Hamete reminds us, after we observe the Oidor's positive reaction, that we have been in the presence of a tale artfully told for a specific, rhetorical purpose. «Viendo, pues, el cura que tan bien había salido con su intención y con lo que deseaba el capitán...» (I, 519). And in a marvelous exercize of one-upmanship, when Ruy Pérez and Zoraida   —148→   come forward with all their poverty a cuestas, the Cura mobilizes everything he has learned about the Oidor's concern for money, position and appearances -even one of his favorite phrases- in the service of unwonted compassion toward his brother: «Los franceses que os dije los pusieron en la estrecheza que veis, para que vos mostréis la liberalidad de vuestro buen pecho» (I, 519-520).51

As we have seen, the Captain and the Oidor act out in their lives the antagonism of the careers of arms and letters theorized upon by Don Quijote. We shall return to this important theme at the conclusion of this study. We have also observed how the detail of the French corsairs functions in two different narrations to link Cervantes' vision of imperial Spain with its state religion to the human relationship between two fictional literary characters, and brings us back again to imperial Spain with its letrado bureaucracy. In the process we have mentioned only in passing another theme organically joined to the others we have been analyzing in this series of episodes. All the stories played out by the brothers Pérez de Viedma and their respective retinues -for Ruy, Zoraida and her history; for Juan, his daughter Clara and her teenaged swain Don Luis- are family stories, involving fathers and children in some relationship to other themes we have been discussing, notably religion, wealth and social position.

The case of Zoraida has already been admirably studied by Francisco Márquez. Suffice it to say here that the jewels Zoraida carries into the escape boat are those she has stolen from her father. She furthermore breaks her father's heart when she abandons him in favor of a religious faith which as Márquez has demonstrated never rises above the level of infantile fanaticism. The most intensely human encounters in the Algerian phase of the Captain's story are not those between himself and Zoraida, but those between Zoraida and her father, and they depict human and family relationships being torn asunder. Both simple love and filial obligation succumb before a powerful but misunderstood religious zeal. Another triumph for the official state religion of imperial Spain.


The case of Clara's suitor Don Luis is rather different. This young man has abandoned his father and apparently left him hurt and angry. The father has sent servants to overtake him and bring him home. The flight from home, however, has been motivated by that purest of sentiments, adolescent romantic love. Young Don Luis simply cannot stand to be separated from the Oidor's daughter Clara. His attitude toward his father betrays none of the calculated meanness that we observe in Zoraida. The Oidor, we recall, had taken his brother mildly to task for the latter's failure to keep his father informed of his whereabouts. He has, in a sense, established himself as the champion of filial obligation. Now he finds himself in a situation in which his own daughter has been the cause of another young man's failure to honor his responsibilities toward his father. If Juan Pérez de Viedma were to apply to Don Luis the same standards of filial obligation he insinuates when he criticizes his brother for not writing, he would immediately turn the young man over to his father's servants and send him home. In this case, however, the judge's insistence on filial obligation loses out to his desire -as a father- to make a profitable marriage for his daughter. Young Clara has already confided to Dorotea the social gulf that separates her from Don Luis. His father is a señor de lugares, a nobleman with vassals, «tan principal y tan rico, que le parecerá que aun yo no puedo ser criada de su hijo, cuanto más esposa» (I, 525).

When the Oidor takes Don Luis under his protection and refuses to send him home to his father, the young man falls to kissing his hands and bathing them in tears, «cosa que pudiera enternecer un corazón de mármol, no sólo el del oidor, que como discreto, ya había conocido cuán bien le estaba a su hija aquel matrimonio; puesto que, si fuera posible, lo quisiera efectuar con voluntad del padre de don Luis, del cual sabía que pretendía hacer un título a su hijo» (I, 538). The Oidor's ethical posture is here dictated by his vested interests, and by his own successful experience. He became wealthy himself through marriage and his wife's opportune decease; he knows what a profitable business matrimony can be. Don Luis is a wonderful catch for his daughter; his nobility and the promise of a title represent the culmination of the career of upward social mobility the Oidor embarked upon twenty years before when he decided not to go into the Church but to continue his legal studies. In addition, the ease with which the Oidor places his family's advancement ahead of what is obviously right reinforces the Cura's perception of him as a man who   —150→   can be swayed and gives us all cause to wonder what standards he might apply in the performance of his duties. Finally, the Oidor's attitude toward Don Luis and his father tends to confirm our earlier suspicion that his criticism of his brother the Captain for failing to write to their father was perhaps not motivated as much by any real feeling of filial obligation as by a spirit of rivalry and competition toward his older brother.

With this in mind, we should return to the relationships of the Pérez de Viedma brothers to each other and especially to their father. When the three go their separate ways following the division of their father's estate, the future Oidor goes directly to Salamanca to continue his legal training, thus indicating that he had no real intention of entering the Church as his father wished. The unnamed brother goes directly to Sevilla to embark for America and his merchant career by the most direct route, and Ruy Pérez, instead of enlisting in the army in Spain, decides to postpone his entrance into the service until after his arrival in Italy. This decision to postpone is mildly curious, but certainly not shocking. We can observe, however, a contrast between the future Captain's behavior and the resolve and alacrity displayed by his two younger brothers. This contrast is intensified when the Captain tells us he did not embark for Italy from Barcelona or Valencia, but from Alicante, a much smaller port and considerably out of the way from his starting point in the montaña of León. Furthermore, Ruy Pérez does not make his way to Italy to begin his career as a soldier on a military vessel where he might have made some useful professional contacts, but chooses «una nave ginovesa que cargaba lana para Génova» (I, 475).

Let us recapitulate. Ruy Pérez could have enlisted in the army directly in Spain, but he chooses to wait until he gets to Italy. He does not go by the most direct route, but chooses a relatively out of the way and less trafficked point of departure. He does not take passage on a military vessel, but on a merchant ship. Two conclusions emerge from this sequence of events. First, Ruy Pérez postpones his actual entry into his sovereign's service as long as possible, and second and more specifically, he demonstrates no real affinity for the profession of arms, displaying instead an interest in commerce. Had he not given his word to his father, he might plausibly have aborted his still embryonic military career and become actively involved in the wool trade he experiences tangentially on board the ship carrying Spanish wool to Genoa (there to be made into cloth and resold to the   —151→   Spaniards). The point, of course, is that he did give his word to his father, and Ruy Pérez is a man who keeps his word, in whom the old-fashioned values of honor and family are still operative. The apparently gratuitous detail of the merchant ship in his narration allows us to perceive the inner tension between his real, unspoken interest and his apparently ironclad devotion to the principle of filial obligation.

As we know, Juan Pérez takes his brother to task for failing to keep their father informed of his whereabouts. We know from Ruy himself, however, the reason for his apparent lapse in performance of filial duty: «Andaba yo al remo, sin esperanza de libertad alguna; a lo menos, no esperaba tenerla por rescate, porque tenía determinado de no escribir las nuevas de mi desgracia a mi padre» (I, 480). It would appear that Captain Ruy experiences his captivity as a form of failure to perform adequately in the profession his father had chosen for him, that is, as a failure in his duty toward his father. His refusal to write to the old man is explained by his reluctance to confess this failure to him possibly in combination with his desire to avoid bringing dishonor on the family name, that is, on the father himself.

In short, Ruy Pérez de Viedma has made great sacrifices, including the renunciation of two thirds of his inheritance, a career not of his own choosing, and the prolonged experience of captivity, in order to win his father's approval or at least avoid his censure. In the terminology of the age he lives in this concern for his father's approval is translated into such concepts as soldierly acceptance of unpleasant circumstances, and duty to the family, in a word, the recia honradez castellana evoked by Márquez, or the valor and fama insisted upon by the senior Pérez de Viedma himself.

Juan Pérez de Viedma has a totally different vision of his brother's captivity. After remarking on Ruy's (for him) inexplicable failure to write, he goes on to observe that had the family only been aware of his plight, «no tuviera necesidad de aguardar el milagro de la caña para alcanzar su rescate» (I, 518). Two ethical systems are in conflict here. The Captain is actually concerned with old-fashioned family honor and conceives of his duty toward his father in those terms. The Oidor, whose approach is much more «progressive», sees only an economic problem which can be resolved by a timely injection of money. These ethical systems are related to two different personalities. Ruy Pérez, driven by his desire to please his father and a series of authority figures who come after him and act as his psychic surrogates, has led a physically hard and financially unremunerative   —152→   life in which key decisions have been made by others: his father, his commanders, his captors, Zoraida herself. Juan Pérez is apparently relatively unconcerned about his father's approval, and does not hesitate to pursue the career goals he has chosen for himself. A word of caution is in order, however, for Juan's choice of profession -letras instead of his father's (and older brother's) armas- suggests a desire to compete with the father and surpass him, at least in terms of wealth and position (i. e., power). This intense competitive urge is of course a function of his relationship to his father and older brother and springs ultimately from a desire to win the former's approval and eliminate the latter as a rival for it.

Ruy Pérez did as his father requested, made a career of armas and in mid-life finds himself poor, somewhat if not entirely broken in spirit, and saddled with a much younger wife whose only real interest in him was as a pawn in the unconscious aspects of her struggle with her own father and, more openly, as a ticket to the Promised Land. Juan Pérez followed his own inclinations, entered the profession of letras and at approximately the same age finds himself wealthy, powerful, moving briskly up the administrative hierarchy, and with a daughter about to marry a titled nobleman. This is the real contrast between arms and letters, as Márquez and J. A. Maravall, among others, have observed.52

The foregoing discussion has led us around again to our starting point, Don Quijote's theoretical discourse on the relative merits of arms and letters. We have had occasion to join other critics in documenting how the lives of the Captain and Oidor act out Don Quijote's theme and demonstrate the unpleasant reality behind the official rhetoric concerning the superiority of arms. In view of what we have seen I should like to call attention to the startling aptness of the remarks of a mad knight-errant, who projects himself imaginatively into the Middle Ages, to historical reality at the dawn of the seventeenth century.

The relation between the two professions was incarnated in the medieval period in the figures of the knight and the cleric, respectively.   —153→   It is logical to assume that Don Quijote, himself an armor-carrying knight-errant, should conceive of his subject in those terms. In his discourse, however, our hero replaces the medieval knight with the sixteenth-century professional soldier, and the medieval cleric by the contemporary letrado, the two distinctively essential pillars of the emerging modern state, as Maravall has shown. Don Quijote is up to date.53 Furthermore, in his discourse he divides the profession of letters into its ecclesiastical and secular aspects and eliminates the former from his discussion. «Y no hablo ahora de las divinas, que tienen por blanco llevar y encaminar las almas al cielo, que a un fin tan sin fin como éste ninguno otro se le puede igualar: hablo de las letras humanas, que es su fin poner en su punto la justicia distributiva y dar a cada uno lo que es suyo, entender y hacer que las buenas leyes se guarden» (I, 466). Don Quijote's elimination of divine and insistence on human letters exactly foreshadows the same sequence of events in the life of Juan Pérez de Viedma. Don Quijote then evokes both graphically and sympathetically the poverty and physical discomfort that characterize the student's life and remarks that because it parallels the rigors of the soldier's, it constitutes the letrado's only claim to our sympathy and respect. We know, however, that Juan Pérez de Viedma did not experience the travails Don Quijote describes, for he was supported handsomely by his successful brother in Peru. In other words, it is not by coincidence but by design that Don Quijote's theoretical discourse meshes so well with the lives of the two brothers he is about to meet. Through it we are prepared to bestow our sympathy on this man of arms and encouraged to withhold it from this particular man of letters.


In the foregoing discussion I have attempted to insist not only on the organic relationship between the brothers Pérez de Viedma and the theoretical poles of Don Quijote's discourse on arms and letters, but on the psychic verisimilitude, the «roundness» of the brothers themselves as literary characters. Inconspicuous and apparently insignificant details -a merchant ship carrying wool to Genoa, a couple of strategically placed references to «el puesto en que me veis»- allow us to glimpse a past that continues to motivate the brothers' actions in the present and to project their future evolution. Their lives are novelizable in that they possess an inner history, verisimilar in that they spring from a particular fictionalized version of the universal human experience of fathers and sons. These considerations far outweigh the implausibility of their chance reunion at Juan Palomeque's inn. Finally, these lives are verisimilar in that they are inserted in the flow of real history -in terms of such general trends as the rise of the professional letrado class or the defense of empire with its official state religion, and specific incidents such as the execution of Egmont and Horn or the loss of La Goleta. «Circumstantial» details such as the French Protestant corsairs and the Genoese wool merchants join the particular trajectories of these fictional lives inseparably to the real experience of early seventeenth-century Europe because they act in the lives of the Pérez de Viedma brothers and impinge upon their relationship in the most direct way.