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ArribaAbajo «Las bodas de Camacho»: The Case for el Interés

Kathleen Bulgin

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Las bodas de Camacho (Don Quijote II, 19-21) no ofrecen una defensa inequívoca del matrimonio por amor, ni es el amor la preocupación exclusiva del episodio. Aunque el éxito de Basilio pareciera afiliar la pasión can el arte («industria»), desde una perspectiva cristiana el comportamiento del joven es menos que ejemplar. Por otra parte, las riquezas de Camacho, lejos de corromperle, se ponen al servicio de un amor menos egocéntrico, asociado con el orden, la imparcialidad y la liberalidad. El que la rivalidad entre Basilio el artista y Camacho, patrocinador de las artes, nos sea presentada por una diversidad de narradores complica aun más el asunto, hasta plantear el problema más profundo de la moralidad del quehacer novelístico.

The spectacle of the Bodas de Camacho provides a sumptuous contrast to the normally austere landscapes of the Quijote. Privation, of course, suits the ascetic and idealistic knight more than it does his earthy squire, and it is appropriate that Don Quijote should find his barren hillocks as congenial as does Sancho Panza the laden table of la venta. But the feast that so delights Sancho offers more than just «skimmings» («espuma»86) for both. It is the occasion for review -by means of a variety of devices- of a debate initiated in the tale of Grisóstomo and Marcela, and continued in the story of Cardenio and Luscinda, over the merits of romantic love. Grisóstomo dies of unrequited love, and it is decided that some of his writings will survive him so that others might learn of «el paradero que tienen los que a rienda suelta corren por la senda que el desvariado amor delante de los ojos les pone» (p. 124). Cardenio's love is frustrated by a traitorous friend and unsympathetic parents, and though all ends well, his passion drives him mad for a time. In both cases romantic love appears to cause more sorrow than joy.

Later, in the Bodas episode, marriage for love must defend itself against marriage for money, or against the marriage de convenance, since the lady's father has arranged the match. The outcome of the episode (Chapters 19, 20, 21 of Quijote II) seems to support the case for   —52→   romantic love: through trickery, penniless Basilio wins Quiteria from rich Camacho at the last minute. But the dénouement does not settle the matter conclusively; just because things happened as they did is no proof that they should have happened so, no more than, say, Sancho Panza should have been treated to his blanket-tossing after his master had refused to pay for their lodging. Moreover, it seems unlikely that a writer of Cervantes' complexity and discrimination, so imbued with the values of humanism, would have come down unequivocally on one side of a debatable issue, particularly if one takes into account conflicting implications that arise in the course of the narrative. Indeed, though there is much to be said in favor of Basilio's claim -and John Sinnigen in particular has defended it at length87- the episode is full of that ambiguity so characteristic of humanistic skepticism, and it involves far more than the question of marriage for love.

In addition to the stories of Grisóstomo and Cardenio in Quijote I, there occur in the early chapters of Quijote II incidents that anticipate the issues dealt with in the Bodas episode. The play actors of Las Cortes de la Muerte in Chapter 11 form a motley crew of pagan and Christian allegorical figures, three of which -the knight, Cupid, and Death- will be represented in the Bodas episode, and will serve to broaden the debate over marriage for love versus marriage for money. In Chapter 18, the Green Knight's son, Don Lorenzo, reads his sonnet about Pyramus and Thisbe, a tale which opposes parental authority to romantic love and to which one of the students in the Bodas episode will refer. As will be seen, the legend offers more than one clue to the interpretation of the Bodas episode. Like these foreshadowing incidents, Cervantes' simple story of a love triangle will give rise to debates that are theological, moral, and ultimately esthetic. And though Basilio's plight will no doubt claim most of the reader's sympathy, it will be difficult to dismiss altogether the less obtrusive Camacho.

Basilio's story is narrated straightforwardly enough by one of two itinerant students and concerns folk of the clase labradora. This is interesting, since the ethos of both generations -parents and children- of such a class would in general tend to favor practicality over romance, the peasantry normally having little use for the indulgences   —53→   of the courtly ethic.88 Quiteria's parents have promised her to Camacho the rich rather than to her longtime sweetheart Basilio. The narrator observes that Quiteria's pedigree is superior to Camacho's, but that «las riquezas son poderosas de soldar muchas quiebras» (p. 672), which, although it may have been meant ironically, is the first of many indications that Interés is not necessarily a bad thing. The narrator may have faith in the power of wealth, but he is nonetheless looking forward to a hitch in the proceedings. The «aparato» (p. 671) he anticipates is dramatic rather than culinary, and we must assume that he expects a tragedy, inasmuch as he is reminded of Pyramus and Thisbe in his telling of the story.89 The student concludes the first part of his account with a brief defense of Basilio, a natural athlete and poet, which arouses the sympathy of both knight and squire.

Cervantes' technique here and elsewhere is reminiscent of one exemplified in the Renaissance novella, in that a number of listeners comment upon a tale, thus adding to the sense its narrator has already made of it. When a tale elicits several variously informed opinions, and especially when these are likely to change in the course of the recital of the narrative, and when one must in addition take into account the character and motives of the people who express them, Cervantes' final statement will necessarily be a complex one. Both Don Quijote and Sancho initially support Basilio, but Sancho's   —54→   enthusiasm for «los que bien se quieren» (p. 673) -prompted no doubt by the narrator's sympathetic account of Basilio's accomplishments- provokes the knight to change his mind, and he launches into a homily on the subject of romantic love. The Don, who will eventually champion Basilio again, having twice changed his mind, here denounces romantic love, calling it blind. He argues that it is inspired by perversity, that is, inspired by wanting only what there is an obstacle to having: the woman wants either her father's servant, who would be socially unsuitable, or the stranger in the street, to whom she is attracted by his haughty air as well as by his gallantry. In doing so Don Quijote opposes the courtly ethic, with its emphasis upon the obstacle as the source of passion, to the «common» or orthodox tradition,90 which makes more of reason and farsightedness: «Quiere hacer uno un viaje largo, y si es prudente, antes de ponerse en camino busca alguna compañía segura y apacible con quien acompañarse» (p. 673). The force of these worldly-wise remarks on the subject of marriage is undermined by Don Quijote's own inexperience in such matters and by his own romantic idealism. But however qualified his advice, it stands nonetheless in defense of parental authority.

Here the narrator resumes his story, and Basilio loses a few points in the telling of it. The ill-favored suitor is now characterized as irrational, bestial, and despairing of life, none of which the good Christian should be. Sancho is quick to note the sin, as he comments «Dios lo hará mejor...; que Dios, que da la llaga, da la medicina» (p. 674), although Basilio, as it turns out, will survive with his own medicine. Whether because Don Quijote has persuaded him to entertain less sympathy for Basilio or because he is now more fully informed about the situation, Sancho begins to have reservations about marriage for love:

... entre el sí y el no de la mujer no me atrevería yo a poner una punta de alfiler, porque no cabría. Denme a mí que Quiteria quiera de buen corazón y de buena voluntad a Basilio; que yo le daré a él un saco de buena ventura: que el amor, según yo he oído decir, mira con unos anteojos, que hacen parecer oro al cobre, a la pobreza riqueza, y a las lagañas perlas.

(p. 674)                


This debate, now polarized even more by Don Quijote's refusal to participate, yields temporarily to another on the subject of art versus nature. The student narrator drops his story to demonstrate that book-learned skill is more effective than native courage and determination, as he bests his colleague in a fencing duel. This incident seems to place art in opposition to morality, inasmuch as the artist, whose respectability has been slightly impugned by Cide Hamete's reference to him as «el estudiante bachiller, o licenciado, como le llamó don Quijote» (p. 673),91 has triumphed over Corchuelo's «ánimo, que no es poco» (p. 675), and his trust in God. The duel is to some extent emblematic of the conflicts dramatized in Chapters 20 and 21, since the man who will lose to Basilio's trickery also has some virtues to commend him.

The original debate is resumed on a slightly different footing as Don Quijote and Sancho prepare to participate in the story they have been listening to. In Chapter 20, the antithesis wealth / poverty complicates the antithesis money / love, although money, it will be seen, is not necessarily antithetical to love. Sancho initiates the argument by defending practicality in such a way as to imply a theological sanction:92


Sobre un buen tiro de barra o sobre una gentil treta de espada no dan un cuartillo de vino en la taberna... Sobre un buen cimiento se puede levantar un buen edificio, y el mejor cimiento y zanja del mundo es el dinero.

(p. 679)                

His remark, of course, is an outrageous perversion of the words of Christ,93 but it forces the reader to consider wealth in the context of the teachings of the Church, and to regard it as a potential force for good. Don Quijote again refuses to argue, and he upbraids Sancho for talking too much.94 Nevertheless, Sancho's position in the debate is soon strengthened by the narrator's account of the wedding preparations. The description of the wedding feast is a kind of Rabelaisian tour de force reminiscent of the medieval preoccupation with feast and famine, carnival and Lent, hinting at the propriety of self-indulgence and extravagance in certain circumstances.95 It frames the enactment of the allegorical drama, concluding with Sancho's uncharacteristically inventive description of the feasting of Death (p. 686).


What is impressive about the wedding banquet is not so much its quantities of food, but rather its force as a metaphor for order in life and in art: every sort of cheerful industry and ingenuity has been brought to bear upon this spectacle. Far from being an orgy, with its implications of debauchery and disorder, the preparation and disposition of the dishes have been carefully conceived and executed. Moreover, the main dish envelops smaller delicacies:

Los cocineros y cocineras pasaban de cincuenta, todos limpios, todos diligentes y todos contentos. En el dilatado vientre del novillo estaban doce tiernos y pequeños lechones, que, cosidos por encima, servían de darle sabor y enternecerle.

(p. 680)                

It might be argued that the whole display constitutes a vulgarization of art -particularly since it appeals primarily to Sancho- but it is undeniably a striking argument in favor of plenitude, of the proper husbanding of wealth and natural resources, and therefore of Camacho himself. Don Quijote's eulogy to himself as keeper and provider at the beginning of the chapter would seem to support such a reading.96 The passionate and «disorderly» Basilio appears less attractive in this light. Nor is the appearance of Death in the midst of   —58→   such prosperity fortuitous: it suggests an authorial strategy aimed at establishing a parallel between a passion that consumes and Death «the Great Eater». Like Basilio, Death is undisciplined and disorderly. It is possible to see in Sancho's portrait both an oblique confession of his own gluttony and an allegorization of passion as destructive:

Tiene esta señora más de poder que de melindre; no es nada asquerosa, de todo come y a todo hace, y de toda suerte de gentes, edades y preeminencias hinche sus alforjas. No es segador que duerme las siestas; que a todas horas siega, y corta así la seca como la verde yerba; y no parece que masca, sino engulle y traga cuanto se le pone delante, porque tiene hambre canina, que nunca se harta; y aunque no tiene barriga, da a entender que está hidrópica y sedienta de beber solas las vidas de cuantos viven, como quien se bebe un jarro de agua fría.

(p. 686)                

The appearance of Death also has the effect, at least temporarily, of trivializing all debate except debate over salvation, and although Sancho's rustic characterization may seem comic to the reader, his idiom does the subject ample justice and enhances his role as an intelligent and reliable observer.

The second spectacle, the allegorical danzas habladas, is more complex -though it too proceeds from Camacho's camp- and warrants closer inspection. Although it could be argued that Camacho enjoys an unfair advantage in being able to command so many resources on his own behalf, it is curious that he should even have permitted the dramatization of Basilio's claim upon Quiteria, that is, the dramatic competition between Amor (Basilio) and Interés (Camacho). Is he foolish or simply fairminded? What is even more curious is Don Quijote's reaction to the piece: while he acknowledges Basilio's accomplishments and Camacho's wealth to be equally well staged, he sees the scales tipped in Camacho's favor:

Yo apostaré -dijo don Quijote-, que debe de ser más amigo de Camacho que de Basilio el tal bachiller o beneficiado, y que debe de tener más de satírico que de vísperas: ¡bien ha encajado en la danza las habilidades de Basilio y las riquezas de Camacho!

(p. 685)                

The dramatic contest has ended in a draw. What, then, has moved Don Quijote to remark that the scriptwriter must be a greater friend of Camacho's than of Basilio's?97 To begin with, Camacho has the   —59→   last word in the danzas habladas. Don Quijote cannot recall the entire sequence of dancers, yet if the followers of Amor and Interés continue to alternate, this would still be the case, although we cannot know what Posesión pacífica would have to say for himself. Moreover, the only salient attributes of Amor and Poesía are force («Yo soy el dios poderoso» [p. 683]). and suasion («tu fortuna / ... / será por mí levantada / sobre el cerco de la luna» [p. 684]), whereas wealth and love are conjoined in InterésSoy quien puede más que Amor, / y es el Amor el que me guía» [p. 683]). More important, however, is the role of Liberalidad, who is also moved by love: «que aunque es vicio, es vicio honrado / y de pecho enamorado» (p. 684). It would seem, then, that Camacho has more to offer than money, and that Cervantes' notion of liberalidad is moral as well as material, as will be seen in the conclusion of the episode. The final irony is that Camacho's virtues are just as capable of poetic expression as are Basilio's.

That Amor and Interés are compatible is borne out in the harmonious dancing that follows the danzas habladas, and by the fact that all ends peacefully. The crude gesture that destroys the castle suddenly focusses our attention upon Quiteria, yet its implications are not entirely unfavorable to Camacho. Interés is, of course, at fault in trying to woo Quiteria with his wealth, but it is significant that his efforts almost succeed: The castle walls are not sturdy enough to resist the force of his bolsón. The gesture condemns Camacho, but it also implicates Quiteria. The tumbled walls suggest a shaken resolve, and one is left to doubt the excellence of Quiteria's love for Basilio, and consequently, to question the purity of any human motive or desire. The fighting that ensues between Amor and Interés and their followers is subdued by savages,98 which suggests that the conflict is   —60→   incapable of resolution, at least by the combatants themselves. But peace is restored. The allegory, at least from this point of view, is a tribute to restraint, and therefore, like the wedding feast, a tribute to order. One may well ask, however, why the scriptwriter commissioned by Camacho should not celebrate his employer's victory in the contest rather than conclude with a tie. There is, of course, no answer to the question, since we do not know what instructions, if any, Camacho may have given to the beneficiado. It is possible that Camacho was so confident of his own claim that he was indifferent to the effects of such a dénouement. But it is also possible that his magnaminity (his liberalidad) obligates him to concede the validity of Basilio's claim. Whatever the explanation, the allegory is ultimately one of reconciliation, which will find its parallel in Camacho's acquiescence in his loss at the end of the Bodas episode.

The primacy of romantic love and the concomitant illegitimacy of Camacho's suit are made no clearer in Chapter 21. Sancho's rustic praise of Quiteria when he first catches sight of the wedding procession echoes and parodies earlier hyperbolic descriptions of idealized femininity. Her appearance elicits from him a comparison of her to a palm tree laden with dates, which echoes the Song of Solomon and burlesques the spectacle of meats and stews in Chapter 20.99 Even though we may wonder how Sancho should know any more about court finery than his master knows about wifely companionship, we are by now more inclined to take him seriously. At this point the rival appears, the trick is played, and the mortally wounded Basilio proves surprisingly eloquent and victorious.100 It has been argued that in all   —61→   these goings-on, the Church is on Basilio's side, yet it seems nonetheless that Basilio is playing a dangerous game.101, The priest warns him «que atendiese a la salud del alma antes que a los gustos del cuerpo» (p. 690). Basilio replies that only if he is granted his romantic wish first will he then have the strength to concern himself with his soul, to confess. This is quite a reversal of the ordinary sequence of events. When one is near death, there is only one means of appeal. Moreover, Quiteria's own hesitation to comply with Basilio's demand suggests that she is sensible of his impiety.102 But the priest's admonishments are useless. Quiteria steps forward, the vows are spoken and the trick revealed. Don Quijote, now wholly allied with Basilio, intervenes to defend him as he puts an end to the fighting between the rivals' supporters. His argument, however, slightly undermines the case for romantic love: «y advertid que el amor y la guerra son una misma cosa» (p. 692). Moreover, he comes close to contradicting his earlier pronouncement when he argues that «Camacho es rico, y podrá comprar su gusto cuando, donde, y como quisiere» (p. 693).103 But more significant than Don Quijote's arbitration is the example of Camacho, whose relatively gracious acceptance of his loss contrasts with Basilio's earlier unexemplary despair. Camacho is the true hero, and the true liberal in both senses of the word: having reasoned out his acquiescence in the matter, he then offers to continue the festivities for all. If one judges the episode from the point of view of orthodox Christian morality, Camacho would seem to come out ahead. In any event, he is certainly not a villain.

What to make of the whole? It is probably true that Cervantes would have favored marriage for love, or affection, or respect, over   —62→   marriage for money, or at least that he would have favored leaving the decision to the children rather than to the parents. John Sinnigen sees in the Bodas episode the triumph of romantic love.104 Yet it appears that that triumph is a qualified one, and that the dichotomies he regards as resolved remain essentially unresolved. For one thing, we do not know how the marriage turns out. Sinnigen contends that the fencing duel that establishes the superiority of art to simple determination to win «functions as a structural microcosm of the celebrated event that is to follow» (p. 161). But it does not follow, as he argues, that the success of Basilio's trick proves that romantic love is the one element crucial to a good marriage. The two cases are simply not analogous. Basilio's industria may succeed in getting him married, but it will not necessarily make him a good husband. Far from supporting the legitimacy of Basilio's claim, the two incidents seem rather to qualify their own poetic justice, since neither victim has been shown to deserve his fate.

Moreover, it would seem that Sinnigen's conception of love as it is debated in the Bodas episode is narrower than Cervantes'. Basilio's love is essentially a selfish love, and there is, as we have seen, too much in these chapters that points to the unattractiveness, if not the sinfulness, of such a passion: not only is there the characterization of Basilio as near suicidal and impious, there is also the allusion to the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, with its associations of sensuality and violence. The student's reference to this story can hardly be said to substantiate Cervantes' unqualified sympathy with Basilio; too many writers of the period treat it as comedy for us to rely upon Cervantes' serious use of it here.105 The wall separating Pyramus and   —63→   Thisbe is similar to the allegorical wall of the danzas habladas in that both represent the obstacle that intensifies passion.106 That the contest to win Quiteria ends in a draw implies that marriage for romantic love -the love inspired by obstacles that Don Quijote initially condemns- has not much more to commend it than marriage for money. Indeed, Basilio's love may diminish once he marries Quiteria and the obstacle no longer exists. As for Camacho, his love is unselfish, and his wealth, far from corrupting him, becomes the expression of his virtues. Not only is he a generous host, providing entertainment and food for his guests and employment for a large number of artists -writers, musicians, dancers, and actors- he is also liberal in the sense of tolerant. In the end, he relinquishes Quiteria in the same spirit with which he gives of his wealth. As is true of the tales of Grisóstomo and Cardenio, the Bodas episode does not so much denounce romantic love as it does the excesses of romantic love. At the same time, we should not assume that all rich men are scoundrels.

But the Bodas episode is not limited to providing simple advice for a simple dilemma by means of a suspense story with a trick ending. All of that is a framework of sorts, a loom, which permits a number of narrators and characters, all with varying talents, mentalities, and perspectives, to weave themselves in and out of the design of the cloth to greater or lesser effect. From the students, who demonstrate that art is superior to nature yet not invariably just, and who hope for a showdown at Quiteria's wedding, to the scriptwriter, who probably stands to gain something for his labors, to Don Quijote with his high-minded and contradictory visions, to Sancho, whose proverbial non-sequiturs often reveal the clearest and most cynical understanding of all, to Basilio with his self-centered obsession -there is no one who does not in some way alter our perception of the «debate» as it is first recounted (Chapter 19) and then acted out (Chapters 20, 21). The quest of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza involves the drama of Basilio, which soon involves the dramas of all the others, whether those dramas take the form of a duel, heated   —64→   dialog, allegory, or a dying wish, As one encounter gives rise to subsequent conflicts, these in turn alter and often redefine the controversy. As the characters and the contexts change, so do our responses. In other words, the primary fiction related by Cide Hamete -that is, Don Quijote's quest- engenders a variety of subordinate fictions, each with its own narrator, or «artist».

Thus it is that Cervantes' narrative technique tends to frustrate our effort to read his mind, to extract a simple message from any one episode. The art that enables one fencer to defeat another is the same art that enables Basilio to win Quiteria and that enables Cervantes to manipulate his reader. If the fencing duel is a structural microcosm of anything, it is of the questionable propriety of this legerdemain, of the novelist's enterprise. Where is the moral? Should we trust the integrity of Camacho's scriptwriter, should we share Don Quijote's sympathy for Basilio, or should we respect Sancho Panza's peculiar lucidity? The whole dialectic of the Quijote is forever qualified by such imponderables. Reading the Quijote is like reading the Decameron: you may be sure that nothing is quite as it seems. All seems to be deceit, but deceit that forces us to discriminate among deceits and that discourages any simplistic or reductive conclusion. As F. W. Locke has said, Cervantes describes a «'world' so large that it can be seen not all at once but in many perspectives... There are really no tricks in Don Quijote, we come to see, but ever so many ways of viewing the multiple realities of life».107 Yet Cervantes' art, if it is not trickery, nonetheless orders the complexity of human dilemmas in such a way as to make us more alert judges of them. Perhaps the most subtle argument in support of Interés-Liberalidad -and one which is particularly illustrative of the novelist's industria- is the fact that the title of the episode, «Las Bodas de Camacho», is a manifest lie. But the title contains some truth. It may not be Camacho's wedding, but it is his show, albeit one in which he is finally upstaged by a greater talent.