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ArribaAbajo Cervantes and the Novelization of Drama: Tradition and Innovation in the Entremeses

Cory A. Reed

University of Texas at Austin

Este estudio examina, desde una perspectiva teórica, los entremeses de Cervantes a partir de los elementos novelísticos que les dan su carácter original y único. Debido a la fuerte presencia en estas obras de una profundidad temática, la interiorización de personajes, la sátira, y el comentario social, los entremeses cervantinos pertenecen a lo que Mijail Bajtin ha llamado «drama novelizado», y rechazan las convenciones teatrales del teatro menor de la época. Uno de los rasgos principales de tal novelización es la irresolución temática y estructural que demanda la colaboración del espectador o lector para resolver un tema principal o una acción abierta. Por lo tanto, la irresolución novelística se puede entender como una de las causas principales del fracaso de estos entremeses como obras teatrales y su éxito como textos literarios.

In an era when the novel reigns supreme, almost all the remaining genres are to a greater or lesser extent «novelized.»

-Mikhail Bakhtin90                

Were Cervantes' entremeses bad theatre? If not, why were they perceived by both the writer and his contemporaries to be more suitable for reading than theatrical representation? Such questions have surrounded the interludes since their initial rejection (alongside eight full-length plays) by unnamed autores de comedias in the early 1600's. While it is certain that Cervantes' theatre was judged inadequate for the seventeenth-century stage, it remains to be seen exactly how his entremeses departed from the theatrical standards of the time or what it was precisely in these plays that made them unacceptable. Critical evaluations of these elusive   —62→   texts have shown them to be much more complex than performed entremeses, but have not examined in detail the internal mechanisms responsible for their intricacy.91 Nevertheless, the reconsideration of the interludes in light of recent theoretical approaches, including Bakhtin's theory of the novel and novelized genres, reveals that Cervantes' extensive use of novelistic elements in his drama may have rendered his entremeses unperformable within the context of contemporaneous theatrical production. Moreover, the «novelization» characteristic of Cervantes' theatrical work may also provide an important key to understanding his plays' release as texts for reading.

When Cervantes published his Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses nuevos, nunca representados in 1615, he essentially readdressed his unperformed drama to a reading public. The appearance of dramatic work in print was not an entirely unusual practice in the time; plays were frequently published (more often than not without the direct intervention of the dramatist) after their success had been proven on the stage. These collections, often plagued with inaccuracies and revisions, provided the means to extend the commercial windfalls of the seventeenth-century Spanish theatre beyond the lucrative business of public performance to include the reading market as well.92 Cervantes' collection, however, stands as a unique example in that his plays had not been influenced by the process of interpretation and revision by actors and directors which accompanies any theatrical production.


Only after his comedias and entremeses had been deemed inappropriate for the stage did he sell his scripts to a bookseller with the intention of releasing them for the reading public. Apparently Cervantes retained control over the content of his collection until its publication, presumably submitting his authoritative version to the printer as if it had been a collection of short stories. In addition, he was able to draft a prologue as an explanation of his plays' appearance in print and to direct the reader's understanding of the dramatic texts that followed. The printed volume of his comedias and entremeses, therefore, cannot be classified along with the published collections of commercially successful plays (like those of Lope de Vega, for example), but rather pertains to a new practice of publishing drama based on its value as readable literature, as a dramatic form which has been redefined for initial consumption by a reading audience.

In his prologue, Cervantes relates the roundabout manner in which his plays reached the press, thus beginning the debate over their allegedly problematic theatricality:

Algunos años ha que volví yo a mi antigua ociosidad, y pensando que aún duraban los siglos donde corrían mis alabanzas, volví a componer algunas comedias; pero no hallé pájaros en los nidos de antaño; quiero decir que no hallé autor que me las pidiese, puesto que sabían que las tenía, y así las arrinconé en un cofre y las consagré al perpetuo silencio. En esta sazón me dijo un librero que él me las comprara si un autor de título no le hubiera dicho que de mi prosa se podía esperar mucho, pero del verso nada... Torné a pasar los ojos por mis comedias y por algunos entremeses míos que con ellas estaban arrinconados, y vi no ser tan malas ni tan malos que no mereciesen salir de las tinieblas del ingenio de aquel autor a la luz de otros autores menos escrupulosos y más entendidos. Aburríme y vendíselas a tal librero, que las ha puesto en la estampa como aquí las ofrece.93

Clearly, Cervantes had originally intended his plays to be performed on the stage and, therefore, conceived each work initially with this end in mind. Only after being rejected by the autores de comedias of whom he speaks did he consider presenting them to the public through a different medium -in printed form. The prologue conveys the frustration Cervantes must have felt as a dramatist, but it is tempered with the understanding   —64→   that he was respected for his non-dramatic work, which may have inspired him consequently to consider the release of his drama exclusively in print.

In the «Adjunta al Parnaso», a fictionalized Cervantes (interestingly in the neo-dramatic form of dialogue) provides additional reasons for the redirection of the unperformed works to a reading public. Citing the necessity of an educated reader's undivided attention, the fictionalized dramatist («Miguel») offers the following explanation:

MIGUEL.-  Seis [comedias] tengo, con otros seis entremeses.

PANCRACIO.-  Pues, por qué no se representa?

MIGUEL.-  Porque ni los autores me buscan ni yo les voy a buscar a ellos.

PANCRACIO.-  No deben de saber que vuesa merced las tiene.

MIGUEL.-  Sí saben; pero como tienen sus poetas paniaguados y les va bien con ellos, no buscan pan de trastrigo. Pero yo pienso darlas a la estampa, para que se vea de espacio lo que pasa apriesa, y se disimula, o no se entiende, cuando las representan. Y las comedias tienen sus sazones y tiempos, como los cantares.94

This passage anticipates the same sentiments Cervantes would express one year later in his prologue. In contrast with the latter, however, the disillusioned dramatist here justifies the redirection of his drama by referring to and, in effect, acknowledging the internal complexity of his plays. For Cervantes, releasing his plays in print would afford the attentive reader the opportunity to understand «lo que pasa apriesa, y se disimula, o no se entiende, cuando las representan.» Certainly, Cervantes himself believed there to be more to his comedias and interludes than their entertainment value to a theatrical audience. He must have thought his dramatic work, if not in demand for theatrical representation, would be suitable as a form of privatized, even didactic, entertainment for a discriminating reader. Yet this must not prevent us from reading these works as pieces of theatre composed originally for the stage. The reader must bear in mind that Cervantes admits he had his comedias and entremeses (or at least six of each) already written before he decided to publish them, and that his decision to print them (not to write them) is   —65→   based on his desire to direct his plays to a more attentive and discerning audience.95 Any discussion of Cervantes' interludes must therefore begin with the fact that they are in essence works of theatre, conceived in accordance with certain dramatic principles and conventions, and they must be analyzed as such.

This rather curious occurrence, the publishing of plays before they had fulfilled their artistic potential in performance, has led generations of scholars to underestimate the rich theatricality of Cervantes' interludes. The failure of Cervantes' entremeses in their theatrical context leads to an obvious, but puzzling, question: why were his interludes not performed during his lifetime? Cervantes was recognized for his literary talent even in his own day, and today's reader certainly understands his genius. Nonetheless, Cervantes' mastery of literary prose and its conventions may, in fact, be partially responsible for the alleged theatrical inadequacy of his dramatic work. The writing of what we now call literature (writing for a reading public) is by definition substantially different from composition for the stage, where a number of complex semiotic systems are simultaneously at work. While the writer of prose fiction can (and, indeed, must) create a fictional world with verbal imagery and narrative style, the dramatist will also consider the languages of physical gesture and movement, voice quality, spatial relationships, and music, to name but a few. The dramatic text must be conceived with all of these elements in mind, since each one is an essential component which contributes as much to the overall understanding of the work as does the written text. Keir Elam reminds us:

Literary critics have usually implicitly or explicitly assumed the priority of the written play over the performance, the latter being more often than not described as a «realization» (actual or potential) of the former. The written text constrains the performance in obvious ways... Since, chronologically, the writing of the play precedes any given performance, it might appear quite legitimate to suppose the simple priority of the one over the other... But it is equally legitimate to claim   —66→   that it is the performance, or at least a possible «model» performance, that constrains the dramatic text in its very articulation... [and that] the dramatic text is radically conditioned by its performability. The written text, in other words, is determined by its very need for stage contextualization, and indicates throughout its allegiance to the physical conditions of performance, above all to the actor's body and its ability to materialize discourse within the space of the stage.96

As an aspiring dramatist, Cervantes most certainly understood the demands and practical restrictions placed on the written text by the intended performance, but his instincts as a novelist also affected the character of his drama. This is not to suggest that he in some way ignored the extra-literary dramatic codes while writing his drama, but rather that his highly developed sense of novelistic discourse may have overwhelmed the theatrical concerns of the interlude, at least in the eyes of the potential producers who rejected his plays. There undoubtedly was something about Cervantes' interludes which set them apart from the performed entremeses of the time, something which at first brought about their rejection for theatrical purposes, and simultaneously made them suitable for release in printed form. The differentiating factor, as we shall see, was their overt reliance upon novelistic elements.

Clear, simple distinctions between the «novelistic» and the «theatrical» are not easily made, especially today, when the aims and thematic concerns of each frequently overlap. Theatricality, as Elam suggests, can be defined by the need for stage contextualization, while the novel relies entirely on the written word for imaginative interpretation by a reader. Contrasts between the novelistic discourse and dramatic composition thus usually emphasize the fact that drama is a plastic, representational art, while prose narrative is a written art form. Each genre is also defined by its relationship to its audience: theatre-goers expect temporal, audio-visual entertainment while readers enjoy the more detailed private contemplation of the intricacies of the story or novel. Aside from such broadly-based generic differences, however, there evidently existed in the seventeenth century practical distinctions between theatre and novelistic prose which, perhaps, were more noticeable than those commonly observed   —67→   today. The commercial success of Lope de Vega in effect defined a specific set of guidelines for Spanish theatre, requiring relatively simple actions, and presenting characters as the subordinated agents of plot.97 Any definition of character in the comedia is limited to those qualities that are necessary and relevant to the exposition of plot events. Thus Fuenteovejuna's Comendador is narrowly-defined as a patently vile and dishonourable personage in order to make possible and justifiable his violent demise later in the work. Still, such subordination of character to plot does not require that each character be completely two-dimensional and devoid of internal conflict. Rather, the implication is that characterization in Golden Age drama typically serves to advance the plot. Conversely, novelistic prose examines the character as an individual and endows plot action with psychological and socio-historical relevance, the plot often serving to elucidate the complexities of character and its position in society.

In addition, the comedia's plot consists of a carefully-constructed sequence of events, linked together by dramatic causality, which, once discovered, reveals the thematic meaning of the work as a whole. The full-length play thus ends with the restoration of a previously-disrupted order, often employing poetic justice to punish those responsible for the initial disturbance. In the entremés, we see a further reduction of this neatly-composed formulaic style, necessitated by its situation between the acts of the comedia. As will be discussed later, characters are drawn almost exclusively according to stereotypical stock-figures, plots consist of one singular action, and the elucidation of thematic meaning is almost non-existent. In contrast, novelistic prose is not regularly constrained by formulaic structure. It is a freer, more flexible form that often explores the internal conflicts of its characters and favors the discussion of complex themes and issues. Novelistic prose is often characterized by thematic indeterminacy and openness, which requires the thoughtful collaboration of the reader for closure. These, precisely, are the elements that Cervantes developed not only in his prose works, but also in his drama, allowing his dramatic texts to execute some of the more profound aims of the novel, while still remaining, essentially, works of theatre.


Cervantes is best known (and justifiably so) as the father of the modern novel, who refashioned prose writing to such an extent that future generations of novelists would continue to follow his leads. Don Quijote and the Novelas ejemplares show his interest in experimentation and the exploration of the unlimited possibilities of narrative fiction. Nevertheless, Cervantes' drama sometimes has been called excessively traditional, especially when compared to Lope de Vega, whose comedia nueva virtually redefined both the production and reception of the dramatic arts in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain.98 While Lope, in his Arte Nuevo de hacer comedias, openly admits a disregard for Aristotle's precepts (and, indeed, for many classical artistic concerns) seemingly in order to cater to the tastes of an undiscriminating mass public, Cervantes continues defending the artistic integrity of more traditional drama, and explicitly defies Lope's position in a number of his own writings, including the Quijote.99 The resulting literary polemic has fostered a prevalent and perhaps too convenient impression that Cervantes and Lope were in complete disagreement concerning the value of contemporary dramatic conventions, and that Cervantes the «classicist» refused to accept Lope's innovations, continuing to reject them in his own theatrical works.100 Contrary to such reductionist critical   —69→   opinion, however, Cervantes' dramatic creations are not entirely neo-Aristotelian works whose traditional conservatism made them necessarily obsolete before they could reach the stage. Much in the same way he redefines the novella and creates the modern novel, Cervantes also attempts a change in the seventeenth-century conception of drama in Spain, but in a manner far different from Lope de Vega. Cervantes, in short, brings many of the thematic and structural characteristics of prose narrative to the composition of his «novelized» drama.

In his theatrical works as in his novels, Cervantes turns his critical eye inward in order to reconsider the mechanisms of plot, character, and theme: the mythos, ethos, and dianoia of Aristotelian tradition. As a result of changes in these internal components, Cervantes' interludes resemble works of prose fiction in certain ways and depart radically from the accepted drama of the time. William S. Jack asserts:

... they belong in some measure to the dialogued story of which Cervantes showed himself to be so complete a master in the Coloquio de los perros. It will be recalled that in speaking of one of his comedies, Cervantes says that it was found «larga en los razonamientos.» The same thing can be said of his entremeses. In this, he stands at the opposite pole from [Lope de] Rueda, but also it may be to some extent because of this that he could be the master who first really brought the form into literature of the highest class.101

Pointing to the relationship between Cervantes' interludes and the «dialogued story», Jack confirms the innovative manner in which Cervantes composed his plays, adding a novelistic depth of plot, theme, and character. The elevation of the lowly entremés, deeply rooted in the traditions of popular culture and theatrical representation, to the level of «literature»102 is precisely the effect created by the publication of Cervantes' dramatic works. What   —70→   was once primarily intended for a mass public is given an additional life as privatized entertainment for the educated reader. This is not to say that the interludes are more similar to novels in dialogue than to theatre, but rather that their novelistic elements include a greater development of the sketchy plots and character-types normally found in conventional interludes. Patricia Kenworthy has observed: «Just as Cervantes extends the boundaries of the form of the genre by including 'novelistic' passages, he extends the limits of subject matter available for dramatic treatment.» 103 Thus, the presence of novelistic elements in Cervantes' interludes not only allows the plays to function as reading material, but also effects changes in their theatricality.

As could be expected, Cervantes builds upon the popular foundation of the entremés by expanding its range of dramatic possibilities. To the traditional cast of rustic farmers, ruffians, sacristans, and barbers, he adds middle-class mayors, judges, doctors, merchants, and cleverly ingenious women to transform the stage into what Eugenio Asensio has called a «procesión de deformidades sociales» 104 constituted by characters from nearly all social positions. He then places these figures in original situations which extend far beyond the boundaries of the conventional entremés. The «malmaridada» of traditional lore is now asking for a divorce, an impossibility in Cervantes' Spain (El juez de los divorcios). The beautiful women of the courtly love tradition are transformed into prostitutes, their male counterparts into pimps (El rufián viudo). The exploration of the activity of the urban marketplace suggests a burgeoning middle class which reflects Spain's belated but imminent acceptance of the capitalist system (La guarda cuidadosa and El vizcaíno fingido). In short, Cervantes, fuses the popular, theatrical form of the traditional entremés and the more thematically profound composition of character and plot found in prose narrative. His characters are more complex and individualized,105 his situations suggest possible psychological interpretations, and his thematic content invites socio-historical analysis. Such intricacies, common in   —71→   twentieth-century short drama, but typically characteristic of prose literature in Cervantes' time, were entirely absent from the conventional entremés performed between the acts of the comedia.

In his insightful chapter titled «El entremés, fecundado por la novela», Asensio plainly states, «Cervantes remoza el entremés importando en su campo temas y técnicas de la novela.» 106 That Cervantes redefined the entremés by bringing to the theatre his masterful hand as a novelist is a sentiment shared by nearly all who have commented on his interludes. Jill Syverson-Stork sees Cervantes' dual life as dramatist and novelist affecting both his dramatic and non-dramatic work, observing of the former, «Cervantes' primary attention to characterization and the desire to expose his nation's problematical present may well have been the most important causes of his failure as a dramatist... his plays do tend towards the novelistic.» 107 Such novelistic elements may be particularly visible in the brief entremés, where temporal restrictions which demand a short, simple action may be incompatible with any depth of character or theme. It seems Cervantes the dramatist was never far removed from Cervantes the novelist, and his proficiency in the creation of prose fiction helped to enrich his dramatic production as well, in effect making a critical literary form out of a previously rough dramatic diversion.

Mikhail Bakhtin (cited above) argues that it is not at all uncommon for a work of drama to display certain characteristics of the novel. Indeed, he asserts that such «novelization» is almost unavoidable in any period in which the novel becomes a primary focus of literature. Consequently, aspects of novelization can begin to manifest themselves in other genres anytime after the appearance of the modern novel, but they do not reach a significant level of importance -or canonical recognition- until much later. This novelization is not due to any superiority of one genre over the other, but rather to the measure of plasticity inherent in the conception and execution of the novel. For Bakhtin, the novel defies canonization; instead it functions as a working literary influence which affects all forms of literature and the manner in which their verbal imagery is composed. Novelization, therefore, can be seen as a liberating process   —72→   which gives new life to an old form. It is an enrichment of a different genre, in this case drama, which opens up new possibilities, and not an elimination or replacement of its systems and codes. In his essay «Epic and Novel» Bakhtin states:

The novelization of literature does not imply attaching to already completed genres a generic canon that is alien to them, not theirs. The novel, after all, has no canon of its own. It is, by its very nature, not canonic. It is plasticity itself. It is a genre that is ever questing, ever examining itself and subjecting its established forms to review. Such, indeed, is the only possibility open to a genre that structures itself in a zone of direct contact with developing reality. Therefore, the novelization of other genres does not imply their subjection to an alien generic canon; on the contrary, novelization implies their liberation from all that serves as a brake on their unique development, from all that would change them along with the novel into some sort of stylization of forms that have outlived themselves.108

This idea of the novel representing an essence which seems unavoidably to permeate all types of literature is fundamental to the examination of the process of novelization in the time of Cervantes. Following Bakhtin's line of reasoning, one can conclude that the same historical, social, and psychological conditions which constituted and affected Cervantes' environment during the writing of the Quijote were also present during the composition of his drama. The same attitudes and thought processes that formed Cervantes' creative genius should logically influence both his prose and theatrical texts. It follows that since Cervantes was one of the first to master novelistic discourse in his prose writing, and, indeed, introduced the western world to the modern novel, his drama would also display a certain novelistic quality. Cervantes' interludes are not weakened, but rather strengthened by this occurrence; as some of the earliest examples of novelized drama, his interludes can be seen as being «ahead of their time.»

If the novelization of Cervantes' drama, therefore, is not entirely unexpected or surprising, what effect, precisely, does this process have on his plays? Bakhtin list a series of modifications which we can expect to encounter in any novelized genre:


[Novelized genres] become more free and flexible, their language renews itself by incorporating extraliterary heteroglossia and the «novelistic» layers of literary language, they become dialogized, permeated with laughter, irony, humor, elements of self-parody and finally -this is the most important thing- the novel inserts into these other genres an indeterminacy, a certain semantic openendedness, a living contact with unfinished, still-evolving contemporary reality (the openended present).109

At first glance, these attributes of novelized literature may not seem entirely unusual; in fact, they may appear quite ordinary regarding their application to drama. Most modern drama displays all of these characteristics in some way. But although novelized drama is the norm in the twentieth century, it was only beginning to take root in Cervantes' time. A permanent shift toward novelization in the mainstream short drama would not come at all in the seventeenth century. In Cervantes' interludes, however, we can easily see a number of concrete examples of these qualities.

Heteroglossia is visible in Cervantes' entremeses, just as it is present in the Quijote. Furthermore, the concepts of heteroglossia and dialogism presented by Bakhtin are absolutely related to the famous «perspectivism» which Américo Castro and Leo Spitzer, among others, have seen as a fundamental characteristic of Cervantes' works.110 All problems are «dialogized» and given perspective from which no single view of reality can be accepted as the entire truth, often by the simultaneous presentation of conflicting philosophies and language styles. The problematic ambivalence of language manifests itself most overtly in La elección de los acaldes de Daganzo through the comments of the rustic councilmen who argue about correct and appropriate speech   —74→   and how it affects our perception of truth. Additionally, language is used to deceive in El vizcaíno fingido (whose trickster-protagonist employs a stylized Basque dialect), La cueva de Salamanca (through the character of the wife who must convince her husband of her devotion, although she has none), and El viejo celoso (in which a woman's verbal expression of truth fools the jealous old man). In El retablo de las maravillas the power of the artistic word is shown not only to be capable of manipulating the characters on the stage, but also of deceiving the theatre-going (or reading) public, much in the same way the Maese Pedro episode in Don Quijote breaks through the borders of fiction to incorporate the reader as well.111 The increasingly illusory world of El retablo's play-within-a-play allows us to confuse the more verisimilar fiction of its framework play with reality itself, mirroring the characters' own relationship with the drama they are watching. As in Cervantes' prose creations, truth is rendered subjective in the interludes by the dramatist's novelistic and dialogic stance. Multiplicity of language styles is, of course, common in the interlude as a genre, but the fact that Cervantes problematizes language is an important feature related to the process of novelization. Cervantes is not content with the mere presentation of polyglot language in the entremés as empirical reality; he explores the limits and philosophical ramifications of language in his drama in a manner not unlike the presentation of language in the Quijote.

In pursuing Bakhtin's claim that humor and irony permeate the novelized text, one must proceed with caution, bearing in mind that the entremés as a genre itself capitalizes on the maximization of laughter and the comic. In the interludes of Cervantes, however, humor is indeed made ironic, and the above-mentioned «elements of self-parody» do enter the scene. Such irony in Cervantes' entremeses seems to be a characteristic quality which distinguishes his drama from more mainstream plays.112 The most overt examples are El retablo de las maravillas, La cueva de Salamanca, and El vizcaíno fingido, three plays of deception in which the audience maintains a full awareness of the dramatic   —75→   trickery taking place on stage, while the characters themselves remain in ignorance. Such irony generates much of the humor in these works; the audience or reader can laugh at the foolishness of the characters as they walk readily into their respective traps, seeming at once to be both gullible and deserving of their impending fate. Furthermore, this broad-based ironic humor allows Cervantes to engage in satirical self-deprecation. In El retablo de las maravillas, the charlatan Chirinos gives the Governor a lengthy speech on the vices of poets, and particularly dramatist, and La guarda cuidadosa has as its protagonist a foolish soldier-poet frequently identified as a semi-autobiographical figure of Cervantes himself.113 Juan Luis Alborg sees the presence of such satirical wit as the principal factor differentiating Cervantes' entremeses from their prototypes, the pasos of Rueda:

[La] agudeza satírica... bajo la aparente intranscendencia del juguete cómico, apunta también a muchos aspectos de la vida social, a prejuicios y rutinas, a veces a espinosos problemas, a conflictos de clases, y a todo género de hipocresías, intereses y egoísmos humanos. A diferencia de los pasos de Rueda, la gracia no es en las piezas de Cervantes de mera situación cómica, sino de sátira intencionada, lanzada contra ridículas debilidades o costumbres y corruptelas de las gentes de su tiempo.114

The satirical criticism of seventeenth-century Spanish institutions, prejudices, and hypocrisy is precisely the innovative brand of analytical profundity which sets Cervantes' interludes apart from the traditional entremés, and which is certainly more characteristic of prose fiction (as exemplified in the time by Cervantes' own Don Quijote) than of the teatro menor.

Most important, as Bakhtin has suggested, is the openendedness of novelized literature. Cervantes' interludes, much more so than mainstream interludes, take place in the «openended present» of which Bakhtin speaks. The results of the election in La elección de los alcaldes de Daganzo are postponed until the following day. The resolution of the student's deception of the nearly-cuckolded Pancracio in La cueva de Salamanca is never shown. The consequences of Lorenza's adultery in El viejo celoso   —76→   are left unexplored. In contrast, looking at some performed entremeses of the time somewhat similar in theme to those of Cervantes, we see a tendency to conclude on a note of thematic closure. La sacristía de Mocejón (anonymous) resolves an election, ending the interlude in the celebration of the chosen sacristan, and in the Entremés de un viejo que es casado con una mujer moza (anonymous), adultery is concealed, the deception of the old man reaches a well-defined and climactic conclusion, and the play concludes on a self-congratulatory note by those who have successfully fooled the jealous old man.115 Furthermore, the openness of the Cervantine interlude was not to be incorporated in the subsequent development of the género chico. Later in the seventeenth century, the stylized works of Quiñones de Benavente would come to define the conventional entremés by their strict adherence to contemporary theatrical demands requiring single actions, one setting, and complete closure which ensured -and perhaps, reinforced- their subordinate relationship to the comedia. His version of El retablo de las maravillas not only significantly reduces the scope of the Cervantine work (five characters and two secular «apparitions», as opposed to Cervantes' eleven personages and six visions of socially and religiously symbolic importance), but also avoids entirely Cervantes' chaotic ending of beatings and thrashings, opting instead for a traditionally closed conclusion which includes a celebratory song and dance. In addition, Quiñones de Benavente's work does not address the problematic themes of blood purity and racial intolerance which Cervantes leaves unresolved in the audience's mind and demanding attention116.

The structural and thematic open-endedness of Cervantes' interludes is thus entirely unique within the short drama of his   —77→   time and is consistent with the novelistic indeterminacy frequently expressed in his prose works. It is due in part to this irresolution that the interludes invite the intellectually contemplative analysis to which Cervantes referred when he suggested reasons for redirecting his drama toward the discerning reader. The open-endedness of Cervantes' interludes require the collaboration of the reader/audience in order to make sense out of the plays' thematic indeterminacy. These plays often leave the reader or spectator in a state of suspense, which can only be resolved by a thoughtful analysis of the works after they have concluded. In short, the thematic concerns of Cervantes' entremeses frequently extend beyond the structural framework of the plays themselves, and requires the active participation of the reader to provide closure. This open-endedness contrasts directly with the traditional entremés, whose location between the acts of a comedia required a closed conclusion that rendered its simple plot readily comprehensible to a passive audience -and easily forgettable by the beginning of the play's second act.

Since the interlude is generally a drama of action and the novel is frequently devoted to the presentation of character, the function of character in Cervantes' interludes also provides a glimpse into his process of novelization. Asensio notes the importance of the two-dimensionality of character in the traditional entremés, calling it a comedy of «figuras», not of true characters, but of stock types more closely resembling the mechanical puppets displayed in the traveling retablos of the time.117 Of Cervantes, however, Asensio claims, «Pinta no entes de una pieza -lo que llamo figuras- sino seres con una sombra de complejidad, con una alternancia de sentimientos que con intención moderna tendríamos la tentación de llamar caracteres.» 118 These characters are not the faceless stereotypes of the traditional interlude, but are based on realistic, probable situations which could happen in everyday life. They have individual names (Leonarda, Lorenza, Pancracio, Cristina, Ortigosa, etc.), instead of being denoted by the generic terms «bobo», «rufián», or «sacristán» and, although directly descended from the traditional stock-types of the entremés, they are put into individual circumstances which require often unique and original solutions. Amelia Agostini Bonelli de Del Río claims:


Lo que es en Lope de Rueda simplemente un rufián fanfarrón y pretencioso, adquiere en Cervantes mayor desarrollo y cualidades que le diferencian de los demás rufianes... En Lope de Rueda nos reímos de una burla o de un tipo cómico, pero raros son los personajes que se quedan en la memoria, porque el que es pillo es pillo y nada más; se les mira desde un solo punto de vista. De ahí su falta de flexibilidad. Con los de Cervantes pasa lo contrario.119

Cervantes' entremeses, consequently, make frequent use of the individualized character and not the «type» of the traditional interlude, or, perhaps more accurately, Cervantes individualizes the types themselves, transforming them into characters. For example, Cañizares in El viejo celoso is a character drawn from the novella tradition (and particularly reminiscent of Cervantes' own Carrizales in El celoso extremeño), and the «vizcaíno» in El vizcaíno fingido is not the stereotyped Basque of unintelligible speech, but rather an impostor -a Castilian who imitates the stereotypical Basque (an entremés stock-type) and uses stylized speech as a deception. As in Cervantes' other works, the simple base of the entremés tradition is problematized, encrusted with layers of artifice which establish each character's individuality on the stage. Another example is El juez de los divorcios, in which Cervantes presents the male characters as types («vejete», «soldado», «cirujano», and «ganapán») and the females as individualized characters (Mariana, Guiomar, Aldonza de Minjaca) who literally attempt to break out of the confines of their dramatic situation by asking for divorce. In La elección de los alcaldes de Daganzo, characters are individualized to the extent that their names reflect personal qualities (Estornudo, Panduro, Humillos, Pedro Rana), each of which is a slightly differentiated version of the stock-type of the fool. Even when Cervantes chooses to include traditional, stereotyped characters in his works, he modifies them slightly, often using the type as an agent of novelistic theme. In El retablo de las maravillas, for example, he links the names and personalities of the characters (Juan Castrado, Teresa Repolla, Juana Macha, etc.) to the play's thematic concerns of illegitimacy and limpieza de sangre, thus providing a continual, comic reiteration of the characters' anxieties.120


In brief, Cervantes bases his characters on the two-dimensional types of the interlude tradition, but he «novelizes» them along with the other elements of his drama. He enlarges his cast (up to fourteen characters in one play, in comparison with Lope de Rueda's maximum of six)121 and he places them into a series of plots, subplots, and frequent scene changes, which seems far removed from the simple plot and single scene of the traditional entremés. His characters, situations, and themes are just as vivid and fascinating in his drama as they are in his novels and short stories, and perhaps this is why his interludes were not seen as performable in 1615. While novelistic profundity is commonplace in today's drama (particularly in one-act play), Cervantes' novelized entremeses, with their many layers of textual complexities, may have been too intricate to function in a position subordinate to the then still «un-novelized» comedia without overwhelming it.

The appearance of novelistic elements in the composition of the interludes of Cervantes inevitably leads to a comparison between the short, one-act entremés and its equally brief prose counterpart: the novella. Indeed, a case can be made for regarding the two as «sister genres» in light of the unique manner in which Cervantes redefines them both, and considering how these two short literary forms are each related to a larger form, the comedia or the novel. Cervantes' novelization of the interlude thus creates an analogous relationship not applicable to the traditional entremés: the novella is to the novel as the entremés is to the comedia. If the novella and the interlude as understood by Cervantes are so closely related, then it logically follows that the master of the Spanish novella would also have much to contribute to the realm of short drama. Novelization and the subsequent redefinition of drama as a purely readable literary work implies a change in both the literary and the theatrical horizon of expectations which must have been met with a certain element of curiosity. Yet the examination of Cervantes' perceived relationship between the novella and the interlude reveals not only the alteration of the role of the dramatic work, but corresponding changes in the novella as well.


The most obvious similarity between the interlude and the novella is their structural brevity. Both forms are, by definition, short. The practical necessity of brevity in the interlude is, of course, a temporal concern. Since the interlude was a form of entertainment presented during the intermission of the comedia, concentration of the dramatic action into ten minutes or less was an understood prerequisite for the composition of an entremés. This alone may be one of the primary reasons the autores de comedias rejected Cervantes' interludes, as his interludes tend to be, on the average, three times the length of contemporary entremeses. Brevity in the novella, by contrast, seems to be a stylistic concern of the genre, not a practical problem defined by its position within another form of representation.

Length alone, however, does not justify drawing parallels between the two genres; the analogous relationship depends on each form's interaction with another, longer form. Certainly the entremés exists as a counterpoint to the comedia in performance, and this relationship has inspired some to view the interlude as a dominated genre, subordinated by the comedia, but also sustained by it.122 Any examination of the traditional interlude must therefore bear in mind its relationship to the comedia and to the theatrical spectacle as a whole of which it is part. The novella, however, does not normally interact with the novel in any fundamental way. Yet in Cervantes, we find examples of a complete reversal of the dependence of the entremés and the independence of the novella. The publication of his collected interludes at the end of the volume, separated from the text of his comedias and removed from the theatrical performance, extracts the interlude from its essential context, treating it more like a short story. Similarly, Cervantes inserts a completed novella, «El curioso impertinente», in the middle of the text of his novel, Don Quijote, much in the same way the entremés is embedded between the acts of the comedia.123 In a sense, Cervantes at time requires his interludes to act like novellas and his novellas to act like interludes.


For Cervantes, the entremés seems to be the «novella» of drama -a brief dramatic form in which a single thematic issue can be explored in depth.

If Cervantes was able to recognize structural and functional similarities in the interlude and the prose short story, then the publication of his entremeses must have helped this perception to be seen by others as well. Furthermore, the very act of printing his interludes creates an entirely new possibility for their reception which otherwise would have been impossible: the differentiation between a first and second (or subsequent) reading of the text. As Hans Robert Jauss points out, the second reading of a text allows for a more detailed analysis of meaning:

From now on, the reader will seek and establish the still unfulfilled significance retrospectively, through a new reading, from the perspective of the fulfilled form, in a return from the end to the beginning, from the whole to the particular. Whatever initially resisted understanding manifests itself in the questions that the first going-through has left open. In answering them, one may expect that from the particular elements of significance -in various respects still indeterminate- a fulfilled whole may be established on the level of meaning.124

The idea of a meaningful, «fulfilled whole» is precisely one of the goals Cervantes intended to achieve by the publication of his dramatic works, as is evidenced by his above-mentioned comment «pienso darlas a la estampa, para que se vea de espacio lo que pasa apriesa, y se disimula, o no se entiende, cuando las representan.» While the dramatic representation only allows a superficial analysis of the interlude by the one-time spectator (and this is further complicated by the interlude being physically surrounded by the comedia), the reading public Cervantes hoped for would be able to join the whole and the particular in a more comprehensive second reading. Such constraints of performance do not normally present a problem for the conventional entremés in that it is superficial by nature and should not require a «second reading.» In addition, the theatre utilizes a variety of communicative systems which assist the spectator in making his   —82→   «first-reading» analysis of the play as comprehensive as possible. The «reading» of the spectator is therefore different by definition than the analysis of a reader. The information contained within the theatrical piece must be understandable to the one-time theatre-goer, and a series of redundant theatrical codes helps the audience to process the information correctly. The sheer simplicity of the traditional entremés assured this proper reception would occur.

Cervantes' interludes, in contrast, are more complex and indeterminate. The author's very mention of wanting (in fact, demanding) a second reading, or at least a contemplative first reading, signals that he felt their content was capable of withstanding more intense scrutiny than a purely theatrical reception could afford, and that such a reading may be necessary to provide closure. This seems to imply that Cervantes was aware of the novelistic qualities of his interludes, and that they might be well received as reading texts. Cervantes' publication expands the reception of his entremeses, shifting his audience to the reader, and away from theatre-going oyentes, for whom a second or third reading for retrospective analysis of the works is not possible. Moreover, publication allows the interludes to be examined separately, free from the restraints of their position within the comedia, so they can be seen for what they are individually. This is a critical difference regarding Cervantes' plays in comparison with novelized drama in general. Whereas most of the novelized drama written after Cervantes (particularly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) has remained in the theatre as texts for performance, Cervantes' drama made its first appearance in print, as a text for reading.

The redirection of his drama to the reading public may also explain, at least in part, why Cervantes' novelistic innovations did not influence the subsequent development of the teatro menor in Spain. The extent of Cervantes' influence on the dramatic form itself is limited to the borrowing of only his most basic of plot elements, and sometimes characters, by those who later worked the genre into its definitive form. Just as Quiñones de Benavente (mentioned above) eliminated the thought-provoking theme of blood purity and greatly reduced the metatheatrical scope of the internal drama in his version of El retablo de las maravillas, «less is more» seemed to be the prevalent rule of thumb for the commercially successful composition of entremeses in the seventeenth century. Imitations of El viejo celoso and La cueva de   —83→   Salamanca were composed by other dramatists as well, but without the novelistic «baggage» which was probably viewed as superfluous in the context of theatrical performance. Cervantes' novelistic art was apparently not well understood or appreciated in the numerous imitations and appropriations of his drama. Ironically, despite these minor contributions to future entremesistas, it was Cervantes' non-dramatic work which provided the most sources for theatrical imitations by other dramatists in the seventeenth century125. Perhaps Cervantes' Comedias y entremeses continued to be received as reading texts, just like his prose work, throughout the remainder of the seventeenth century and therefore did not influence dramatic composition any more than his other works of non-dramatic nature.

By incorporating in his interludes the serious treatment of theme and interiorization of character generally associated with novelistic prose, Cervantes anticipated a movement which would not affect the performed drama of the canon for more than one hundred years after the appearance of his Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses. The resulting works display a level of thematic profundity and structural complexity radically innovative in their time, and fully modern even when judged by the standards of the twentieth century. Certainly, the characteristic elements of novelization in the entremeses do not approach the intricacy afforded the novel itself by its length and narrative style. In comparison with their counterparts in the novel, Cervantes' dramatic characters may seem more two-dimensional, his themes less fully developed, and his plots less involved. Yet, when compared with the traditional entremés, Cervantes' personages display additional dimensions, and his themes and plots seem highly developed. This is the effect of novelization; the conventional components of drama begin to take on qualities usually associated with the novelistic discourse without sacrificing their theatricality.

Cervantes may have succeeded in creating a new drama, departing from the constraints of conventional dramatic theory and practice, but while the modern reader or theatre-goer recognizes his ingenious innovations, they were evidently not appreciated in the seventeenth century. Here the question which opened this   —84→   study must again be addressed. Why was his drama not considered appropriate for performance and rejected by the producers and directors of his time? Certainly his entremeses may have been too complex to function as mere intermission entertainment between the acts of the comedia. The individualized characters, the overt satire of contemporary society, the double-entendre of heteroglot language, and the labyrinthian games of structure may have been excessively intricate for successful juxtaposition alongside (or, more precisely, within) the traditionally dominant comedia. The novelized interludes of Cervantes, in short, may have become too autonomous to succeed as a form subordinate to the conventional full-length drama.

Yet the most complicated aspect of Cervantes' interludes is their novelistic open-endedness, a quality which in itself may have been responsible for their poor reception as performance-oriented scripts. As Alban Forcione points out, Cervantes was obsessed with «the indeterminacy that characterizes all his greatest fiction» , often refusing «to endow his works with the rigid structure of definitive pronouncement.» 126 Indeterminacy seems to be a characteristic of his writing in general, not exclusively of his dramatic works. What, then, is so disturbing about the indeterminacy of Cervantes' interludes? The key distinction seems to be one of location, not some inherent problem with open-endedness in the genre of drama. Whereas open-endedness could conceivably conclude a theatrical performance (and, in effect, frequently does in modern drama), the irresolution of the entremés and its thought-provoking demands on the audience occur between two acts, in the middle of the performance. Since indeterminacy requires the collaboration of the audience to provide closure, this would be acceptable at the conclusion of a play, but would be problematic in the middle. Many comedias open their second acts with lengthy monologues which not only provide actors with the necessary time to change costumes, but also serve to reintegrate the audience into the plot of the play, after having been momentarily entertained by the entremés. It seems logical to assume that these monologues reflect the reality of an audience which needed to be reminded of   —85→   the comedia's action, even after having watched the closed, traditional interlude. An open-ended entremés which left the audience to contemplate its themes after its conclusion would be disastrously distracting as intermission entertainment. In order for an entremés to be effective in its context within the comedia, therefore, its thematic scope would have to be limited and closed so that the audience could make the rapid shift in attention to the comedia without leaving any loose ends from the interlude untied.

The novelistic indeterminacy of the Cervantine interlude is thus perhaps too complex to allow the audience to redirect its attention to another work (already in progress) immediately following its conclusion. The single plots, stereotyped characters, lack of intricate themes, and closure in the traditional entremés ensured that it would entertain, but distract as little as possible when the moment came to focus on the full-length play's second act. Cervantes' interludes violate this essential simplicity, breaking the conventions which ensure their successful consumption by the mass audience. The novelization and resulting indeterminacy of the Cervantine interlude disrupt the «spell» of mass entertainment, causing unrest and anxiety instead of holding the audience together while they wait for the main play to resume. The open-endedness may also help explain why Cervantes' drama has enjoyed relative success in the twentieth century, when one-act plays are either performed as independent, autonomous works or nearly always followed by an intermission if a series of one-acts is presented as part of one program. What may have been perceived as «bad theatre» in the 1600's due to its unconventional open-endedness is quite acceptable by today's standards, which encourage indeterminacy as a method of inspiring critical reflection in the audience.

As some of the earliest examples of novelized drama, Cervantes' interludes could not function within the definitive constraints imposed on theatrical production by seventeenth-century dramatic conventions. Yet while the novelization of Cervantes' drama appears to have been at least partially responsible for their rejection as theatrical scripts, the adoption of a more novelistic stance allowed them to be viewed as potentially successful (and lucrative) texts for reading. The very fact that his once-marginal interludes are today considered part of the literary canon, while the traditional, once-successful entremés has   —86→   been marginalized, suggests that the dramatist brought complexities to the genre of short drama which are only now being understood and appreciated.