Love and the Law in Cervantes


Yale University Press

Copyright © 2005 Roberto Gonz��lez Echevarr��a
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-10992-4

Chapter One

The Prisoner of Sex ( Quijote, I, 22)

More than chivalry or any other subject, the Quijote is about love. Chivalry falls within the theme of love, not the other way around. Both parts of the novel are like love laboratories, with samples of nearly every kind of relationship conceivable, and specimens of almost every kind of lover. The permutations seem infinite, and the burgeoning accumulation of stories makes the book sometimes seem like a baroque Decameron, held together by Don Quijote's peculiar madness and bizarre adventures. The gallery of lovers spans the entire spectrum: from damsels in distress to prostitutes, from would-be courtly lovers to seducers and cheats, from women dressed as men to men dressed as women and to a handsome young man dressed as a woman so as to be less attractive to other men. The couples range from Sancho and Teresa, peasants worried about marrying their children, to the duke and duchess, a bored, aristocratic middle-aged pair looking for entertainment. Juan Palomeque and his wife run a busy inn, where travelers can have a meal, a bed, and if the need arises Maritornes's favors-she the homely resident harlot whom Don Quijote takes for the yearning and beautiful landlord's daughter in the dark of night. Even the languid, bony Rocinante falls in love, but his advances to some mares are received with kicks and provoke a row in which his masters are again badly pummeled.

Love's adversaries in the Quijote are not giants and wicked knights, but the laws made to channel desire into social life, the laws that transform it into continuity and renewal within an orderly community ruled by the state and its codes, and embodied in the king and his representatives. In narrative fiction and the theater these laws lead young lovers to happy unions after a series of comic adventures, and married couples to tragic results after a series of errors. In Spanish Golden Age literature everything that happens before marriage is the stuff of comedy, and everything that happens after marriage the stuff of tragedy. Don Quijote's quest is the love of Dulcinea, as the pilgrim's was that of Beatrice in Dante's Divine Comedy. Every other goal is subordinated to this. The knight's love is what moves him and the plot and the overarching story under which the multiple love stories unfold. Of course, Don Quijote is an ageing bachelor and Dulcinea is essentially his invention. Besides, as a lover in the courtly tradition, his desire is not to marry Dulcinea, and it would be unlikely that as an hidalgo he would be willing to marry Aldonza Lorenzo, for whom he seems to have felt a more worldly, if undisclosed, desire. Still, Don Quijote's ardor is such as to make him into a criminal and fugitive from the law. Why is love so important in the Quijote and why do its effects continually make characters, not just the protagonist, run against or from the law? What is the result of the interplay of desire and interdiction, between love and its legal constraints in Cervantes?

There is no dearth of antecedents for this clash of love and the law, of course, going back to the dawn not just of the West but of civilization itself. The conflict between desire and interdiction is enabling to each: love was made for the law and the law to control love. One did not follow the other; they emerge together as a dyad, each depending on the other for its existence. There is, so to speak, no free love. Hence we have the myriad stories, from Genesis on, about lovers' transgressions. Human time, history, our fallen state, begin with the breach and in the breach, and are fraught with the memory of the infraction: Adam and Eve, Oedipus, all the rambunctious lovers in classical tradition and literature. Denis de Rougement has shown how, in the courtly love tradition to which Don Quijote is heir, love fabricates its own elaborate set of interdictions. Courtly love feeds on those prohibitions and cannot exist without suffering from them. There are harbingers in Boccaccio and Chaucer, but, until we arrive at La Celestina in 1499, the law was an abstract, transcendental, religious, or even aesthetic kind of prohibition in Western literature. It did not take the form of actual laws and ministers of the law out to punish the lovers by sanctions or by marriage. Even in a work of Cervantes' time (around 1620, just a few years after his death), Tirso de Molina's El burlador de Sevilla (translated as The Trickster of Seville), Don Juan's punishment is eternal damnation (this is the inaugural play of the Don Juan myth). His last words in the play, as he is pulled down to hell, are "��Que me quemo! ��Que me abraso!" (I am burning! I am being consumed!). In Cervantes, love is checked not by God but by the Holy Brotherhood, not by God's vicars but by the king's appointed agents-bailiffs, sheriffs, judges, prosecutors, and the like.

The reasons for this change are historical. Cervantes wrote after the consolidation of the first modern European state, which resulted from the Catholic kings' unification policies, and internal changes that shifted the crown's mandate from mostly judicial to executive. These policies included the establishment of the Inquisition in 1478, and the Holy Brotherhood at the Cortes de Madrigal in 1476, as well as the organization of an increasingly elaborate legal bureaucracy, a process decisively assisted by the development of moveable print. In his authoritative Imperial Spain, J. H. Elliott describes the Holy Brotherhood thus: "The Hermandad combined in itself the functions of a police force and a judicial tribunal. As a police force, its task was to suppress brigandage and to patrol the roads and countryside." The Inquisition and the Holy Brotherhood were institutions whose jurisdiction did not respect regional exemptions and immunities; they could cross boundaries that were often beyond the reach of ordinary courts. The bureaucracy improved and increased record keeping exponentially, which in turn led to the foundation of the great archive at Simancas, the Archivo General del Reino, by Philip II in 1588. It was the first state archive in modern Europe. Efforts to consolidate Spanish law by the Catholic kings and their successors, which harkened back to Alfonso el Sabio's Siete partidas in the thirteenth century, were only partially successful, in great measure due to the many local privileges (fueros) enjoyed by the fractious regions of the peninsula. (They may have seen the Partidas as the imposition of Castilian law on them.) But the penal system was strengthened, codified, and expanded, and the state bureaucracy began not only to print old and new laws but also to print and collect myriads of documents involving cases of all sorts.

This process had a decisive impact on literary history. It was from that archive that the picaresque novel emerged, creating a major new literary character and advancing the development of the modern novel and of literary realism in general. Spanish Golden Age literature, particularly the theater or comedia, fed on the conflicts provoked by the intent and reach of the new legislation, which was formulated to rein in the aristocracy and seal an alliance between the crown and the common people. Typically these are cases in which unruly noblemen take advantage of lower-class women, exercising their seigneurial rights, only to find that the laws of the kingdom do not protect them any more and that the peasants can defend themselves. I am thinking of well-known plays by Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, and Calder��n de la Barca such as Fuenteovejuna, Perib����ez, El burlador de Sevilla, and El alcalde de Zalamea. The new laws, centralization, and printing shifted the relations of power and control; they unsettled traditional ones in which ancient privileges, unspoken and largely unwritten rules and patterns of sexual commerce prevailed in isolated situations. There are stories of this sort in Cervantes' work, particularly in the Quijote, that we shall see in some detail later. The collision between love and the law is at the core of Spanish literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

In a society undergoing relatively rapid change, the conflicts generated by radical transition, be they economic, political, or social, flare up in or are at least symbolized by the turmoils of love, which are actually or potentially violent and can only be channeled through the law, which transforms erotic license into forced restraint. Through erotic violence or its transformation into the threatened violence of judicial punishment groups are renewed and merge with each other to forge new communities, and eventually a new state. Love's wars are the fire that keep the melting pot bubbling.

In the picaresque love appears only in the engenderment of the protagonist, who will be too young throughout the evolving plot to engage in erotic adventures. As in La Celestina, the p��caro emerges in a promiscuous low-class environment. L��zaro's mother has a child out of wedlock with a black man, Guzm��n's cannot ascertain which one of her lovers is the father of the protagonist, and Pablos's is notorious for her lasciviousness. This tawdry world will be represented in the Quijote by the prostitutes at the first inn and by Maritornes in Juan Palomeque's. This is lawless love, or love by the unwritten rules of the whorehouse and the criminal gang. It is a significant kind of commerce between love and the law in that it seems to be the least restrained, the closest to the more base instincts and desires-the truest, as it were. It is also the kind that was most represented in the law and its establishments: the courts, the prisons, and the archives. A magnificent document from the 1580s, Crist��bal de Chaves's Relaci��n de la c��rcel de Sevilla, provides ample documentation on all this, including the organization of sexual traffic in the jail itself, with its ranks of unsavory pimps, prostitutes, and corrupt officials. This is love under the law yet paradoxically outside of it. It is the penal side of the love-law relationship. The other side is the one that leads to marriage. Prison and the altar are the sites where love is captured in the net of the law.

Gris��stomo and Marcela, Dorotea and Fernando, Luscinda and Cardenio are all characters in the Quijote caught in complicated erotic predicaments leading to marriage. The difficulties are in some cases legal and reflect social and economic disparities similar to those found in the theater. Don Quijote's intervention in the imbroglios caused by Fernando, Dorotea, Luscinda, and Cardenio results in a comedy-like finale with multiple marriage vows that restore order. Later in the novel there are other, graver cases involving the captive and Zoraida, and in Part II yet others, such as the one in which Ricote's daughter is implicated. He is a morisco. In these cases the complications are still legal, but the differences are not just of social and economic class but of race and religion. In all, however, it is the presence of the law that gives a modern hue, a contingent, historical cast to these stories, which will not wind up with multiple murders, ascensions to heaven, or descents to hell. The punishments and rewards are more worldly and always include marriage as the ultimate solution and the provider of orderly closure to the narrative. The conflicts are not provoked by transgressions against morals or religious doctrine but by violations, or potential violations, of the law that need to be resolved in that realm as well as in the erotic. The legalistic tone of the Quijote is set relatively early in Part I, in chapter 22, when the knight and his squire set free twelve galley slaves. The episode also pits love against the law, though this has seldom (if ever) been noticed.

* * * The chapter of the galley slaves has been the object of much commentary, particularly the figure of Gin��s de Pasamonte, that picaresque author within the fiction who reappears in Part II as puppeteer Maese Pedro. (He is by then-literally-a small-scale playwright.) Much has been made too of the disparity between Don Quijote's sense of justice and that of the representatives of the law who keep the galley slaves. But the episode has a dimension that has gone unexplored and one minor character who has escaped attention, if the pun be allowed.

This is the episode in which Don Quijote and Sancho meet the twelve galley slaves being led to the coast by their guards, to be placed in the vessels where they will toil as oarsmen for varying lengths of time. The knight is keenly interested in the reason why these wretches are kept in chains, seeing this as an opportunity to exercise his chivalric duty to take arms against abuses and injustices. Ignoring the advice of the guards, but with their resigned acquiescence, Don Quijote begins to interrogate the prisoners about their individual crimes and punishments. It is like a court scene in which the knight plays the part of the judge, and also like many a theatrical piece that uses the device, including Cervantes' own interlude El juez de los divorcios (The Divorce Court Judge). The scene is also reminiscent of various episodes in Dante's Inferno in which the pilgrim asks the condemned about the nature of their sins to understand their corresponding penalties. Don Quijote hears about six cases, determines that the men have been unjustly or excessively punished, and forces the guards to set them free with Sancho's reluctant assistance. Once they are freed, Don Quijote demands that the men make a beeline to El Toboso, where they are to throw themselves at the feet and mercy of his lady love, the fair Dulcinea, to whom they will recount her suitor's grand deed. The prisoners, not surprisingly, decline, citing various reasons, not the least of which is that as fugitives of justice they must scatter and flee "single and divided, and each by himself endeavor to abscond within the bowels of the earth, in order to avoid the Holy Brotherhood, which will, doubtless, come out in search of us" (p. 161) [solos y divididos, y cada uno por su parte, procurando meterse en las entra��as de la tierra, por no ser hallado de la Santa Hermandad, que sin duda alguna ha de salir en nuestra busca (p. 246)]. Enraged, Don Quijote hurls insults at them and they reply with a hail of stones that leaves the knight, his esquire, and their mounts battered and humiliated.

The galley slaves' ingratitude and Don Quijote's high sense of forgiveness have been cited, the episode inviting all kinds of commentaries along ethical lines, contrasting divine and worldly justice and Don Quijote's aristocratic and obsolete conception of justice against the new judicial system that has gradually become the law of the land since the Catholic kings. Richard L. Kagan writes in his Lawsuits and Litigants in Castile: 1500-1700: "By the time Cervantes wrote about a pathetic knight setting out to preserve justice by means of chivalric valor and courageous derring-do, most of his readers would have equated justice with the world of lawyers, judges, and other 'men of the law.' In this legalistic world, the figure of Don Quixote was not so much a joke as an anachronism. He represented a mythical age in which justice was possible without the help of lawyers and a bevy of legal briefs, but there was no room for an aging knight errant in the labyrinth of Castile's courts."

The knight's act of freeing the men, as Sancho rightly observes with alarm, makes them, along with the former prisoners, fugitive outlaws. Theirs is a serious caso de corte, for they have committed a crime against the crown, setting free men condemned by the king's courts, whose representatives they have fought and injured in the process. The guard explains to Don Quijote that the prisoners are "gente de su Majestad" (p. 236) [slaves belonging to His Majesty (p. 153)]. Don Quijote's are grave crimes, made worse by the act having been committed in despoblado, or on the open road, far from cities and the control of the law. As they go into the Sierra Morena, so that Don Quijote can pine for Dulcinea and do proper penance for her, they are also in flight from the authorities, most specifically the Holy Brotherhood. Don Quijote, a prisoner of love, takes to the hills to make himself worthy of Dulcinea, following chivalric models. But Don Quijote, who has freed convicted criminals by violent means, is now himself a common criminal. From now until the end of Part I he will be sought by the authorities who, when they finally capture him, release the sad hidalgo to the priest and barber, aware that, given his mental condition, he would never be convicted. But Don Quijote is, nonetheless, sent home in a cage, a veritable prisoner of love and the law. This is the large story within which the one I would like to analyze falls.


Excerpted from Love and the Law in Cervantesby ROBERTO GONZ��LEZ ECHEVARR��A Copyright © 2005 by Roberto Gonz��lez Echevarr��a. Excerpted by permission.
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