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African Space and Abencerrajismo in Cervantes's El gallardo espanol: Arlaxa and the Deconstruction of the Heroic Comedia.

El gallardo espanol tradicionalmente ha sido interpretado como una comedia heroica que defiende valores patrioticos como la valentia y la nobleza a traves de la (cuestionable) gallardia de su protagonista Fernando de Saavedra. La trama de esta obra, significativamente situada en la problematica y desprestigiada plaza de Oran, presenta reminiscencias del Abencerraje y torna en recurso poetico la inverosimilitud y la desmesura argumentai para deconstruir el genero heroico. El personaje de Arlaxa, verdadero centro de la obra, sera fundamental en el desplazamiento del sentido hacia una indagacion sobre la naturaleza humana mas alla de diferencias religiosas, etnicas o incluso de genero.


THIS ESSAY OFFERS AN analysis of Cervantes's play El gallardo espanol that questions the traditional reading of the work seen as a heroic comedia extolling the patriotic values of Christian Spain condensed into a crucible of virtues such as courage, honor, duty, and gallantry embodied by its protagonist, don Fernando de Saavedra. (1) However, as we will see, such an interpretation is unsustainable if we take into account the daring and playful deconstruction which the heroic subgenre is subjected to in this text. Indeed, heroism is continually questioned through different strategies that could be understood as a series of shifts and displacements in the play. These include: the geographical site where the action takes place, Oran; the use of historical sources as the basis for an exercise in fictional inverisimilitude; the theatrical space that moves from Oran to the periphery of the citadel (all the main action takes place outside the walls); a characterization of Muslims and Christians that undermines stereotypes; the fact that the protagonist, don Fernando, voluntarily gives himself up as a captive who is pleased to adopt Moorish clothing and customs, and the parallel case of Margarita, who of her own will becomes a captive named Fatima; and the transfer of the axis of the play from the Christian protagonist don Fernando to his Moorish antagonist, Arlaxa, who occupies the displaced center of the play and becomes the catalyst of the action. In short, the existence of the character Arlaxa as the decentralized nucleus of the play turns this war story into an inquiry about what it means to be human. Ultimately, Arlaxa embodies the ideal of gallantry--exalted in the title of the comedia--that is neither Spanish nor masculine but feminine and Moorish.

In El gallardo espanol the treatment of space is ambivalent because we encounter a walled citadel that is primarily Spanish-Christian (Oran) inserted within Muslim Africa. The work participates in the particularities of what would become a trend in Baroque fiction with regard to the Muslim realm: representations tinged with proto-Orientalism characterized by exaggerated fantasies in the plot and characters. (1) However, the choice of Oran is replete with connotations that clash directly with the supposed heroic sense of the work. This Spanish presidio or plaza conquered by Cardinal Cisneros and Pedro Navarro in 1509 would be the site of one of the biggest failures endured over the period in the sixteenth century in which Spain had imperial aspirations regarding North Africa and the Mediterranean. Cervantes knew Oran firsthand because he was sent on an espionage mission a year after he was ransomed. Beatriz Alonso Acero documents over the last third of the sixteenth century the chronic poverty of Spanish soldiers who lived in the presidios of Oran and Mazalquivir, the scarcity of food, the indefinite delay in the payment of wages, and living conditions so harsh that they prompted riots and numerous desertions. The Duke of Maqueda, for example, explained to Felipe III the desperation that led soldiers to escape, try to cross the sea in poorly equipped boats, offer themselves to the Moors as slaves or renege: "las necesidades son tan grandes que no temen el morir, y tienen por partido el ser condenados a galeras" (158). The Marquis of Ardales wrote that "no hay hombre que quiera venir de Espana a servir como solian porque saben la necesidad que se pasa" (160). Oran's notoriety in the peninsula gave rise to enormous problems of recruitment: for example, in 1611 the count of Aguilar wrote about the arrival in Oran of 160 soldiers from a group of 800; the remaining 640 deserted when they learned where they were destined (93). Oran was also famous for the cabalgadas or cavalry expeditions to capture Muslims who were sold as slaves or freed for ransom.

It is significant that Oran, an utter dystopia, is chosen as a space in which to represent a utopia, a story of reconciliation between Christians and Moors who, despite being enemies in war, admire and respect each other. In this regard the displacement of the action from the Spanish citadel to the space outside the walls is essential: this African space becomes a literary place in which the hostility of the historical situation is rewritten to appear much more civil. (3)

El gallardo espanol was published in the 1615 collection Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses nunca representados. Cervantes, who failed commercially as a dramaturgical writer, took advantage of this unfortunate circumstance to create a theater in which he could allow himself a series of dramatic and literary licenses that might scarcely have been understood in live performance. As he writes in the prologue of the Viaje del Parnaso referring to his comedies, "Pero yo pienso darlas a la estampa para que se vea de espacio lo que passa apriessa y se dissimula, o no se entiende, quando las representan. Y las comedias tienen sus sazones y tiempos, como los cantares" (202). The following analysis is based on the premise that perhaps a reading of the theatrical text instead of a stage performance in an ideologically hostile environment in many ways is a partial response to the presumed invisibility of the notions that this work offers through an outlandish poetics. In fact, this work deliberately plays with nonsense and bewilderment as a way to present unthinkable ideas in Spain at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

A wide array of seventeenth-century literary texts narrate the cases of Christian men and women in situations of voluntary slavery, captivity, and servitude in Muslim territory. (4) This motif of voluntary slavery is manifested in a group of very particular works in which there is also a maurophilic or "neoabencerrajista" inclination (in reference to the classic work El Abencerraje) where the noble character of Moors and Christians puts them on the same level, allowing for friendship and respect over and above religious and cultural differences. Following this trend, Mariana de Carvajal's El esclavo de su esclavo is a notable example, and so to some extent is Cervantes's El gallardo espanol, although, as we will see, it is a text that appears to mimic abencejarrista ideals but that presents a more conflictive and problematic vision of otherness. El gallardo espanol enters fully into this category of voluntary slavery and also exhibits chivalric features that follow in the wake of El Abencerraje y la hermosa Xarifa (1561-1565) with noble characters on both sides who, although enemies in arms, are able to admire each other, fall in love platonically, respect promises, and grant favors and clemency. (5) In El Abencerraje as in El gallardo espanol, the bellicose background is not an obstacle for the separation of religion from war. Nonetheless, the most unusual feature of the play is the ease with which the Christian characters, without being obliged by the plot to do so, voluntarily offer themselves as captives and slaves and dress in Moorish clothes. Significantly, the ending of El gallardo espanol presents a double wedding of two couples, one Christian and another Muslim. This could be an imitation of the recourse of double weddings in the comedias de enredo between lords and servants, except that in this case Christians and Moors are dressed in Moorish style.

As a disconcerting work that undermines all the formulas, both in its poetics and in the treatment of the relations between Christians and Muslims in the Mediterranean world, El gallardo espanol is directly opposed to another Cervantes play, Los banos de Argel. In El gallardo, abencerrajismo is taken to the extreme until it becomes a disturbing version of it and poses unthinkable situations for the era in which it was written. It is a play in which the absurd dominates the historical and in which a hyperbolic utopia undermines the supposed exaltation of Spanishness.

Despite the apparent lightness and deliberate use of a bizarre and implausible plot, the meaning of El gallardo espanol is hard to untangle. Abencerrajismo and chivalry give way to a complex and disconcerting game in which, through a Muslim other, Christian characters are recognized and identifiable. (6) Undoubtedly, in the gallantry of these games of disguises and feigned identities there lurk certain cultural anxieties difficult to decipher. The most traditionally-minded critics have seen in this work a heroic comedia, a defense of Spanishness defined as gallantry. Others have seen an ethical dilemma represented in the character don Fernando between collective duty, war against the Moors, and individual interest--the supposed defense of his honor. The interpretation of this work has somehow been the victim of an inertia that equates heroism, historical reference, and epic varnish with the defense of ostensibly Spanish and Christian values. However, in this more ethical than epic work, Cervantes sketches a series of human values that neither deny nor affirm the theme of Spanishness because they situate themselves on a plane beyond differences of nationality, religion or even gender. To paraphrase Steven Hutchinson, this play implicitly poses the question: What is a person worth? (45, 69-79).

It is important to note that this work, which continually mixes the distinctive features of Christian and Muslim identities, has a solid historical background. (7) The action takes place in Oran and its environs and almost certainly has as sources Baltasar de Morales's Dialogo de las guerras de Oran (1593) and Luis del Marmol CarvajaFs Descripcion general de Africa, sus guerras y vicisitudes, desde la fundacion del mahometismo hasta el ano 1571 (1573 and 1599). The historical event that inspires the action is the resistance of Oran and Mazalquivir in 1563 during the naval offensive of the beylerbey of Algiers. (8) Cervantes ends his comedia recognizing the historical basis of this play whose values in defense of what is human are quite incongruous with the epic and heroic genre in which it is inscribed. Thus at the end of the play, he openly declares the experimental nature of his comedia in mixing history with "fabulous attempts"--or "inventions," as some critics have ventured: "De dar fin a esta comedia / cuyo principal intento / ha sido mezclar verdades / con fabulosos intentos" (3.3133-34).

I will briefly summarize here the main features of the argument of El gallardo espanol. The action is located in Oran where the protagonist don Fernando is challenged from outside the walls by the Moor Alimuzel to fight in a duel, which was the condition imposed by the beautiful Arlaxa for Alimuzel to win her favors. Arlaxa, in turn, openly declares to the enamored Alimuzel that she fell in love "by hearsay" with don Fernando when listening to his warlike exploits. Following the logic of courtly love, Alimuzel intends to please Arlaxa, who behaves like an archetypal lady of courtly love, by offering to bring to her alive and defeated the Christian who is the object of her passion. Ultimately, the duel does not take place because of a series of impediments, and don Fernando, to defend his honor since he has been challenged, decides to hand himself over as a slave to Arlaxa under the false name of Juan Lozano, declaring his loyalty to the Moorish side and his disenchantment with his own people. More than once during the play, don Fernando obliquely gives hints of an unpursued romantic interest in Arlaxa, while he becomes a close friend of the Moor Alimuzel, to whom he does not reveal his true identity and whom, inexplicably, he never challenges. Besides, speaking as his alias Juan Lozano, he repeatedly compares himself to don Fernando whom he calls his intimate friend and his exact copy on the Christian side: "Es otro yo" (2.1114), he says of his Christian double. Curiously, the disguise of don Fernando does nothing to resolve the alleged dishonor resulting from his not having duelled with Alimuzel at the beginning of the play. We will never know what his purposes were in becoming a voluntary slave and changing his name, which, surprisingly, the character himself will ask without hesitation: "Pregunto: en que ha de parar este mi disimular, y este vestirme de moro?" (3.2603). In one of the moments in which this unjustified voluntary change of sides is taken to the extreme, don Fernando becomes so comfortable on the Moorish side in the Christian attack on an aduar (nomad encampment)--reminiscent of the infamous cavalry raids--that he fights against his own comrades, proudly wearing his turban.

The other fundamental character in the work besides don Fernando, Alimuzel and Arlaxa, is Margarita, a Spanish maiden who also fell in love by hearsay with don Fernando. Following the trail of don Fernando disguised as a soldier and accompanied by her tutor Valmediano, Margarita arrives in Oran after touring Spain and Italy. Upon learning that don Fernando has gone over to the Muslim side, she decides to surrender to the Moorish enemy as a (male) slave. Later she declares she is a woman and, taking the name of Fatima, becomes a voluntary slave of Arlaxa. The new Moorish identities of don Fernando and Margarita give rise to a series of adventures enlivened by the continuous estrangement and confusion of the secondary characters who consider Juan Lozano and Fatima as miraculous doubles of don Fernando and Margarita. It appears as though their dressing in Moorish garb granted them a real identity and made the possibility of disguise unattainable. However, Cervantes adroitly handles the performative value of the disguise that allows him to take this literary device further by making his characters inhabit the space of otherness with a devotion and conviction that never ceases to amaze. In El gallardo espanol there is a real game of mirrors, and the motif of the double is openly resorted to in search of a fluidity and symmetry between the two cultures while eluding the religious difference that, predictably, is not neutralized in the outcome as the couples match up in line with the two religions. At the end of the work, during the Muslim siege of Oran, don Fernando in Moorish attire defends its walls by himself, achieving a victory and defeating his friend Alimuzel, whom he pardons from death and grants freedom. The play ends with the double wedding of the four main characters, all four dressed as Moors: don Fernando and Margarita, Alimuzel and Arlaxa.

Certain details place this work in an unclassifiable terrain within its time. It seems to me significant that the hero and protagonist is the object of the "hearsay" love (3.2254) of both Arlaxa and Margarita, and remains a "hearsay" hero until the final scene. It is also revealing that the North African Muslim characters are more faithful followers of the precepts of courtly love than any European in the work. Another important fact is that the characters say again and again that what they do is absurd: they themselves doubt what they are doing, especially Margarita and don Fernando when they go to give themselves over as captives. (9) An exasperated Christian character says of don Fernando dressed as a Moor: "no hay disculpa a tanto disparate" (2.1944). It is impossible not to relate don Fernandos declarations with the many desertions from the presidio of soldiers who reneged or gave themselves over as slaves: "Soy un soldado / que me he venido a entregar / a vuestra prision de grado / por no poder tolerar / ser valiente y mal pagado" (1.820-824). It is also surprising that Arlaxa falls in love with don Fernando when she hears about his warlike exploits against her own people, as if being on one side or another of war and religion were quite irrelevant: "[Oropesa] Cien moros ha muerto en trances, / siete en estacada sola, / docientos sirven al remo, / ciento tiene en las mazmorras. [...] / [Arlaxa]: Oh, que famoso espanol!" (2.1197-1200, 1205). In this play, war and religion are also differentiated as Christians and Moors address each other respectfully. Thus the Christian and Muslim characters take leave of each other: "Tu Mahoma te guarde" and "Tu Cristo vaya contigo" (1.475-76). Moreover, it is significant that in this play, surrendering to voluntary captivity and slavery means entering into a milieu of love, friendship, and even kinship as promises of fidelity are made, Moors and Christians show mutual admiration, and Arlaxa claims with delightful gall when confronted with Margarita's hostile brother that Margarita is not his sister but her own sister. All aspects of the work noted above, including the stark contrast between this story of deep human connections and the terrible reality of Oran, considered a hell by Cervantes's contemporaries, indicate that El gallardo espanol openly questions the heroism suggested in both its title and the war victory it narrates.

In El gallardo espanol Cervantes lets himself design a female character, Arlaxa, who dazzles in every way for qualities that would be unthinkable in any real woman of the time. Arlaxa is one of Cervantes's best and least-known characters who has also been neglected by critics. It should be noted that Cervantes situates this paragon of beauty and intelligence in the outskirts of Oran, a space that contrasts with the hardness and sterility of the closed and hostile world of the Christian citadel, the supposed nucleus of sacrifice and epic feats inspired by patriotic values. Given the political and military devaluation of a defensive plaza with less and less strategic value, it is doubtful that the contemporaries of Cervantes did not notice the gulf between the grandiosity of the military deeds shown in the play and the poor, sad reputation of the Spanish military post.

There are several details in the work that obfuscate the historical reality of the facts. In the play we are shown a large group of self-sacrificing and courageous Christian women, wives of soldiers, who refuse to be evacuated and freely choose to stay in the besieged fortress. The reality was that if it was difficult to recruit soldiers for the presidio, it was much more so to create a stable community of families. The shortage of Christian wives was a problem because the soldiers had relations with Muslim women, and some even contracted marriage with women who converted to Christianity. These conversions were considered opportunistic, and the children of these unions were viewed with much suspicion by the authorities. It was believed that the contact of soldiers with Moorish women could be the cause of desertions and even of the soldiers' reneging, and at best would pose a threat from within for the defense of the presidio. Once again, woman is seen as a strange element that endangers a healthy organism: in this context, the contact of Christians with Moorish women is considered a kind of "moral infection" capable of penetrating the heart of the citadel and corrupting the patriotic zeal of the defenders of the fatherland and the faith.

To resolve this problem, a drastic and widely known measure was adopted as of 1589: the forcible sending of Spanish prostitutes to Oran to avoid sexual contact between soldiers and Moorish women. As documented by Beatriz Alonso Acero, don Pedro de Padilla reported on the problem of the relations of soldiers with Moorish women to the War Council, which in turn suggested "que se desterrasen de estos reinos a aquellas plazas algunas mujeres enamoradas que por aca delinquen," even though there already were brothels with Christian prostitutes in Oran and Mazalquivir. Philip II consulted with his confessor, father Juan de Orellana, who did not hesitate to approve the measure if "por esta via se acomiese al embaucamiento de las moras." After receiving the support of his confessor, the king approved the measure with enthusiasm, involving himself personally in the details of its execution. All this was done in order to avoid the contact of Muslim women with the soldiers of the presidio (149-152). Taking into account this aspect of the intrahistory of Oran concerning the anxiety that Muslim women provoked even in the king, the character of Arlaxa has a much greater significance than that of merely an exotic and attractive figure in an orientalist work.

Arlaxa is, in effect, the true nucleus of the plot, a magnet that attracts to itself the dramatic action, and the live portrait of a magnificent, interesting, surprising, and powerful feminine character. All the other characters adore her without reservations: Alimuzel, the traitor Nacor, don Fernando, the kings of Cuco and Alabez, and even Margarita converted into Fatima will feel true admiration and filial love for the beautiful Mooress. Arlaxa defines herself as curious and capricious and as a virile woman (mujer varonil). She talks openly of her fantasies, saying that she likes to imagine strong warriors capable of tearing their opponents apart on the battlefield:
   Las alabanzas estranas
   que aplicaste a aquel Fernando,
   contandome sus hazanas,
   se me fueron estampando
   en medio de las entranas;
   y de alli nacio un deseo
   no lascivo, torpe o feo,
   aunque vano por curioso,
   de ver a un hombre famoso
   mas de los que siempre veo.
   Yo tengo un alma bizarra
   y varonil, de tal suerte,
   que gusto del que desgarra
   y mas alla de la muerte
   tira atrevido la barra.
   Huelgome de ver a un hombre
   de tal valor y tal nombre,
   que con los dientes tarace,
   con las manos despedace
   y con los ojos asombre.
   Further ahead she says:
   Gusto yo de un arrogante
   que bravea, hiende y raja. (1.700-29; 1.913-14)

Melveena McKendrick writes that "Arlaxa is another variation on the sexually assertive Mooress" (141). Although Arlaxa's assertiveness is undeniable, I think it is important to reflect on how this play deals with the widespread motif in Golden Age literature of the sensuality of the Mooress. (10) The African space allows Cervantes to envisage a female character who is not sexualized by stereotypical Christian fantasies of the harem, the odalisque, and the complacent and hedonistic Moorish woman but rather one who, paradoxically, shows an agency and a control of her own desires, moves without having to justify herself in the space of fantasy, and does not mix sexual desire with love. Arlaxa is as luminous as Dorotea but without the weight of honor as the gravitational center of her value as a woman. Arlaxa is presumed to have an honor that is never questioned, and she is capable of entering into a personal venture in which the defense of honor is not at the center of her being, which would be impossible in the design of a Christian heroine.

Arlaxa is allowed to freely express her fantasies and yet does not break the decorum of an honorable maiden. At all times there is a clear separation between fantasy and reality as she continues to be the mistress of her imagination and her desires. In fact, this also happens with Zoraida in Don Quixote when, with complete frankness, she tells the captive that she has chosen him for her husband because of his virile appearance, but that if he does not want her, she does not care as the Virgin will find her another Christian: "Muchos cristianos he visto por esta ventana, y ninguno me ha parecido caballero sino tu. Yo soy muy hermosa y muchacha, y tengo muchos dineros que llevar conmigo. Mira tu si puedes hacer como nos vamos, y seras alla mi marido, si quisieres, y si no quisieres, no se me dara nada, que Lela Marien me dara con quien me case" (1.40:457). As soon as she leaves North Africa, however, Zoraida loses her agency, her power, and her money. Arriving in Spain, she becomes a silent presence who depends on her own conversion and on the captive's promise of marriage, which significantly has not happened in the novel.

This complete lack of dissimulation, this almost innocent and uninhibited sincerity, curiously places these Muslim maidens at the antipodes of the wanton coquetry of, for example, Altisidora in Don Quixote. In Arlaxa there is no coquetry because there is innocence. Paradoxically, placing her outside the moral axis of honor does not make her less honorable. As a Mooress, Arlaxa can be drawn with attributes that would be impossible for a Christian protagonist: she is in control of her fantasies, she is not ashamed to declare them, she manipulates her admirers, she is sincere and friendly as well as intelligent, and never loses control over herself. Arlaxa does not give herself over to love, but rather defines love in her own terms and is comfortable being loved. Arlaxa inhabits her own center fully conscious of her own being. She can be shown as a "virile woman" who enjoys imagining acts of violence without this taking away an ounce of her attractiveness.

Arlaxa, besides having flamboyantly violent tastes, is beautiful, smart, curious, daring, compassionate, and empathetic. With unquestioning self-assurance, she orders and commands over the will of all the men in the play while never revealing any hint of feminine submission. For example, she is never attracted to the narcissistic hero don Fernando, which is her "hearsay" fantasy, while, unwittingly, she has him in her house under the identity of Juan, the slave, whom she does not even see as a man:
   que has de saber, si lo ignoras,
   que nunca para las moras
   los cristianos fueron hombres.
   Ya no es nadie el que es esclavo;

Exhibiting a natural superiority over all other characters, Arlaxa never falters in her exercise of power. She is the true gallarda africana, reminiscent of the "gallarda africana" in Luis de Gongora's splendid ballad set in Oran ("Servia en Oran al rey"), and in her, Cervantes deposits a portrait of the gallantry that in this work appears under the sign of a woman." Arlaxa is undoubtedly the protagonist of the work, its center and the personification of what it means to be human. El gallardo, in effect, explores the essential and profound bond that unites us by the fact of sharing the human condition, independent of creed, gender, or social position. This supposedly heroic comedia, set in an endless and meaningless border war, reflects on what unites us and, in its way, ridicules what separates us and finds human value on the other side of the wall, personified in an admirable feminine character.

Although in El gallardo espanol there is apparently a series of duplicities and equivalences between the two cultures, the Moorish and the Christian, the theatrical game is not as puerile as it may seem because in reality there is no symmetry between them. There is a difference between the Muslim side, which does not pretend to be what it is not, and the characters of don Fernando and Margarita, who indulge in a game of identity change that never ceases to be a game. El gallardo espanol manifests the frivolity of this game on the part of don Fernando and Margarita, a game that, far from being innocent, contains a series of anxieties regarding one's own identity. What happens with this simulacrum of submissions? Where do these exercises of identification lead? What do we make of these fluid identities among which all differences give way except the religious one? Throughout the play an equivalence between both religions is sought, although it is unnecessary for any of the characters to cross the irreversible line of conversion. What do these fictions of voluntary slavery tell us about a Christian society obsessed with playing at being "the other," but that ends up reverting to its first identity? Such games are perhaps only possible in the African literary space of the seventeenth century. There we find what we could define as simulacra, as Baudrillard understood the term, since this literary Africa does not simulate or imitate a historical reality. In this work the referents have been lost and we are faced with a kind of seventeenth-century post-truth. Don Fernando produces a web of stereotypes and cliches about "the other," about Islam and about slavery, which are revealed when he himself performs them by pretending to be who he is not.

What don Fernando does (and Margarita too, who does little other than trace his steps) is occupy the other's space through imitation and mimesis--albeit as Christian slaves in Moorish garb. Yet this appears to be paradoxical because the self-induced humiliation of these characters--who for no reason give themselves over to slavery--implies a narcissistic exercise in which there is a fantasy of superiority through a simulation of submission. The point here is that they submit to real slavery but at the same time they are sure that they will always find a path of return to their first identity. They yield to others control over themselves but do not take their own powerlessness seriously, which hints at a certain disdain for their Muslim masters. In this play there is a deep irony that destabilizes the ideological bases of Christian control and parodies the heroic genre through don Fernandos games of servitude. In effect, as a "hero" don Fernando is a disoriented character who does not know who he is. He considers it essential for his honor to fight with Alimuzel, but he never does so. He is loved "by hearsay" by a woman who does not recognize him when she has him in front of her. In sum, don Fernando tries to match up to the famous image of himself that nobody sees in him as he becomes ever smaller. The end of the work, instead of redeeming the protagonist, confirms his lack of solidity: don Fernando, disguised as a Moor, singlehandedly and unreservedly defends the exterior wall of the presidio of Oran in an unlikely imitation of the fantasy of heroism that he himself embodies.

This hollow heroism of don Fernando, which translates into an empty identity that needs to be filled by his pretending to be the slave of his enemy, is opposed to the fullness of Arlaxa's existence in which there is no room for shadows or doubts. In this story constructed on the basis of different displacements (of spaces, identities, historical references), the displacement of Christian values into an embodied fascination with Arlaxa is fundamental. With Arlaxa there is a displacement of values that slide from difference--understood as irreconcilable enmity--to admiration and affection. All this highlights the absurdity of Oran's political and military project.

The plot of El gallardo espanol is unlikely and absurd, but for that very reason it is an compelling literary exercise because it is able to formulate, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, a series of ideas almost unthinkable in that era. Among these are the criticism of Oran's military enterprise; the emptiness of the heroic, hackneyed, and outmoded values epitomized by a ludicrous hero; the downplaying of animosity between the Muslim and Christian sides; the celebration of human values and the presence of a superlative and admirable character who is none other than a Mooress--which is audacious given the terrible history of rejection of Muslim women in Oran. As El gallardo espanol presents a Utopian, deliberately bizarre vision of the relations between Christians and Muslims in North Africa, Cervantes plays with the poetic value of nonsense to imagine a world as enlightening as it is inconceivable at the time.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Mercedes Alcala-Galan is Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has published a book on Cervantes's poetics titled Escritura desatada: Poeticas de la representacion en Cervantes. She is also author of the book La silva curiosa de Julian de Medrano: Estudio y edicion critica, and has published some sixty articles on early modern literature. She is the co-author of two edited volumes: "Siyapor atrevido no sale con las manos en la cabeza": El legado poetico del Persiles cuatrocientos anos despues ( 'Humanista/Cervantes) and "Discursos sobre el cuerpo femenino: Mujer y sexualidad en la Espana de Cervantes" (forthcoming).

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(1) See the preliminary study by Luis Gonzalez Canseco in his edition of El gallardo espanol, where he summarizes prior criticism of this Cervantine comedia. Despite the different interpretations of the work, none of them problematizes its canonical inclusion in the heroic genre.

(2) I refer in other studies to the concept of "mirror characters" ("personajes espejo") as a Cervantine technique in which characters associated with Islam are deliberately conceived in such a way that "en su configuracion absorben todos los estereotipos, contradicciones, fabulaciones y dudas ademas de un reflejo del debate ideologico que envuelve un determinado proceso historico" (Alcala Galan, "Personajes espejo" 946-47). See also Alcala Galan ("Ricote").

(3) Maria Soledad Carrasco Urgoiti sees in El gallardo espanol the presence of a frontier that duplicates and displaces the historical frontier from earlier centuries around the Moorish kingdom of Granada (99-100).

(4) One notable example is Alonso de Castillo Solorzano's La ingratitud vengada, where the dejected Marisca] de Barcelona feigns being a slave of the beautiful Gerarda in Valencia for five years in which he saves her life three times and suffers countless humiliations. He finally reveals his true identity to her and angrily rejects her. The lady dies of sadness when she discovers that she has forfeited an advantageous marriage. Another canonical example is Maria de Zayas's La esclava de su esclava in which the protagonist, after being dishonored, has herself sold as a slave on two occasions in a game of self-humiliation and apparent devaluation of her own worth.

(5) Regarding the phenomenon of maurophilia inaugurated by El Abencerraje y la hermosa Xarifa, see Marquez Villanueva (175).

(6) Jean Canavaggio sees clear influences of frontier and Moorish ballads in this play (56).

(7) On the treatment of history and the marvelous as well as the reelaboration of Aristotelian theories of verisimilitude in this work, see Marie-Blanche Requejo.

(8) Regarding the historical backdrop, see Ahmed Abi-Ayad.

(9) For example, when she gives herself over as a captive (only later does she reveal her sex and status as a slave), Margarita says: "Procurare ser cautiva; / que, de la dura y esquiva / tormenta que siente el alma, / el sosiego, gusto y palma / en disparates estriba" (2.1543-47). She later insists on the same idea: "Estos pasos son testigos / que huyo de los amigos, / y, llena de ceguedad, / de mi propria voluntad / me entrego a los enemigos" (2.1707-11). The same notion of absurdity is apparent in the dialogue between Arlaxa and don Fernando when he gives himself over: "[Arlaxa] Luego, quieres ser cautivo? / [Don Fernando] De serlo gusto recibo; / dadme patron que me mande. / [Arlaxa] Que disparate tan grande!" (1.825-28).

(10) On the theme of the sexualization of Mooresses in early modern Spanish literature, see Alcala Galan ("From Mooresses to Odalisques").

(11) El gallardo espanol, in effect, has points of contact with a celebrated romance of Gongora (dated 1587) in which a Spanish soldier deliberates between his military duty and his love for a Mooress. The "gallarda africana" in this poem--who is also noble, beautiful, and both a lover and beloved--has similarities with the character of Arlaxa. The poem begins: "Servia en Oran al rey / un espanol con dos lanzas, / y con el alma y la vida / a una gallarda africana, / tan noble como hermosa, / tan amante como amada, / con quien estaba una noche, / cuando tocaron al arma." See Jammes (376-81).
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Author:Alcala-Galan, Mercedes
Publication:Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
Geographic Code:60NOR
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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