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ArribaAbajo Revision and Exemplarity in Cervantes' El celoso extremeño

Stephen H. Lipmann

Irvington, New York

Los comentaristas del final de El celoso extremeño no se han enfocado en la modificación del testamento de Carrizales a la luz del esfuerzo de Leonora para vencer a Loaysa. A la larga esta muestra de libre albedrío pone de relieve la incomprensión de Carrizales y la pertinacia de sus celos. Al modificar su testamento Carrizales intenta hacerse un ejemplo. Esta tentativa de imponer una ejemplaridad sobre unos hechos malentendidos corre parejas con la moraleja superficial del narrador al final. Además, Carrizales en efecto propone un nuevo final para la historia de su matrimonio, pero se resume esta historia en el «triste espectáculo» de marido y mujer desmayados con los rostros juntos, un cuadro vivo labrado por el autor.

Critics have generally assumed that Cervantes is the author of the manuscript of El celoso extremeño compiled by the Licenciado Porras, which predates the story's publication by several years.17 In both versions, the protagonist Carrizales marries a young girl and takes elaborate precautions to shield his wife from the attention of other males, virtually imprisoning her. In the Porras manuscript, the youth Loaysa penetrates these defenses with some help from the girl's dueña and seduces Carrizales' wife. But in the published version, Leonora resists Loaysa at the decisive moment and emerges victorious: Loaysa «se cansó embalde y ella quedó vencedora y entrambos dormidos18 Some earlier critics, such as Rodríguez Marín and Amezúa y Mayo, find the resistance of the inexperienced young girl to be unrealistic; Castro sees it as Cervantes' concession to «la 'ejemplaridad'.»19 Others have defended the revised ending, among them Rosales, Bataillon, and Casalduero.20 In the last decade, such critics as Ruth El Saffar,   —114→   Gwynne Edwards, A. F. Lambert and Alban Forcione have begun to explore in more depth the ironies and ambiguities which Cervantes' revisions produce.21

Among the problems for interpretation identified in recent criticism, two stand out. First, Carrizales never learns that his wife resisted her would-be seducer and remained loyal. Edwards finds this a source of irony, whereas Lambert suggests that the couple's failure to communicate adds to the pathos of the ending. Second, the narrator loses control over the characters, and his authority at the end of the story is radically diminished. El Saffar stresses the autonomy of Cervantes' characters and their capacity to transcend stereotypical behavior. She suggests that «the narrator becomes a mere interpreter at the point when the characters begin to speak and act for themselves... His fallibility becomes apparent» (p. 48). Lambert places more emphasis on the author's intentions. He believes that Cervantes «is letting go of the reader's hand to push him into a world where unproblematic readings do not work and ready made moral schemes are not entirely accurate» (p. 230).

The most penetrating and detailed study of narration at the end of the story is Forcione's. He argues that Cervantes' revisions make El celoso extremeño «a deeply moving affirmation of man's natural goodness and his capacities to exercise free will» (p. 83). Forcione establishes that Leonora's resistance is a radical departure from the traditional treatment of the May-December marriage motif, and he observes that the narrator breaks down as a reliable guide precisely when she defeats Loaysa. The narrator imposes a moralizing commentary on the events, and his grasp of what has happened is no better than Carrizales': «The traditional is inevitable for him» (p. 87). No one seems to understand the mystery that has unfolded: Carrizales affirms that his case is exemplary but this inadequate analysis only   —115→   serves to comment ironically on the ambiguities which distinguish this ending from the conclusions of traditional exemplary fictions. Forcione finally argues that the lack of clear exemplarity in the story's conclusion is itself exemplary. Cervantes deprives us of the guidance of a conventional narrator and forces us to make sense of the story's disturbing elements without help, just as Leonora was forced to meet the responsibility of making a moral choice on her own.

Forcione's erudite close reading subsumes much of the work of his recent predecessors, but his emphasis on the theme of freedom distracts his attention from Carrizales and produces some distortions in his commentary on the text. I will argue here that Leonora's exercise of free will underscores the lack of communication between husband and wife and dramatizes the persistence of Carrizales' jealousy to the very end. A crucial aspect of the ending, which Forcione and others have not considered carefully enough, is a revision carried out by one of the characters: Carrizales' rewriting of his will. This conscious attempt to make himself into an exemplary figure on close inspection reveals that his forgiveness of Leonora is informed by his jealous fears. In effect, Carrizales attempts to rewrite the story of his marriage, and fails. Cervantes intervenes to undercut both Carrizales' and the narrator's attempts to impose a specious exemplarity on the events; the author thereby suggests that no moral can be drawn and that the significance of his fiction lies in the couple's failure to communicate. Cervantes recreates their misunderstanding in the narration of the last paragraph, and he contrives a dramatic scene that sums up their marriage, an image which the narrator calls a «triste espectaculo» (p. 260).

As we approach the end of El celoso extremeño, we have every reason to expect that Carrizales will be cuckolded: he lies in a drugged sleep and Loaysa is alone with Leonora. The narrator pauses, not only to create suspense but to ridicule Carrizales, whose jealous precautions have apparently been all for naught. «Bueno fuera en esta sazon preguntar a Carrizales, a no saber que dormia, que adonde estauan sus advertidos recatos, sus recelos» (p. 242). The narrator then lists in detail all the measures that Carrizales took to insure his wife's chastity, among them his warnings to her, the high walls of his house, the exclusion of all male beings save a eunuch, and the large dowry he gave Leonora. Finally the narrator imagines how Carrizales might respond to the mocking question he has posed indirectly.

No podia dar mejor respuesta que encoger los ombros y enarcar las   —116→   cejas, y dezir: 'Todo aquesto derribó por los fundamentos la astucia, a lo que creo, de vn moço holgazan y vicioso, y la malicia de vna falsa dueña, con la inaduertencia de una muchacha rogada y persuadida.' Libre Dios a cada vno de tales enemigos, contra los quales no ay escudo de prudencia que defienda, ni espada de recato que corte; pero con todo esto, el valor de Leonora fue tal, que en el tiempo que mas le conuenia, le mostro contra las fuerças villanas de su astuto engañador, pues no fueron bastantes a vencerla»

(p. 244).                

The narrator conceives Carrizales as a comic figure, first absurdly jealous, then a complaisant if bitter cuckold who shrugs his shoulders and blames the young man, the evil dueña, and the girl's inexperience. The narrator also uses Carrizales' imagined answer to provide an explanation for the disaster before it happens. But the narrator is doubly wrong. Not only does Leonora emerge as the winner, making a mockery of his prediction, but Carrizales also abuses the narrator's expectations. When the jealous husband sees his wife asleep in Loaysa's arms, he prepares to take revenge, but his grief and anguish overcome him and he falls into a swoon; afterwards he takes the surprising course of forgiveness.

Carrizales' desengaño and the magnanimity of his forgiveness of his wife are rendered conditional by several factors. After he awakens, Carrizales does not speak directly to Leonora, who has no idea that he has seen her with Loaysa. He tells his wife to summon her parents because he fears he will die shortly. In the interim, the narrator stresses their mutual misunderstanding.

El la miraua con el embelesamiento que se ha dicho, siendole cada palabra o caricia que le hazia, vna lançada que le atrauesaua el alma... Lloraua Leonora por verle de aquella suerte, y reiase el con vna risa de persona que estaua fuera de si, considerando la falsedad de sus lagrimas

(pp. 250, 252).                

Carrizales' lengthy account of their marriage creates suspense in his audience, and makes his revelation of the truth as he understands it a coup de théâtre. When he finally describes the amarga vista of Leonora lying in the dueña's bed, asleep in the arms of a young man, his wife faints from shock. Only then, when she lies unconscious in his lap, does he speak directly to her, taking the blame and absolving her of guilt for what he assumes to have occurred.

The implications of Carrizales' rewriting his will are especially problematic. He intends to create an example of the love he bears her: «Quiero mostrarlo de modo que quede en el mundo por exemplo, si   —117→   no de bondad, al menos de simplicidad jamas oyda ni vista; y assi quiero que se trayga luego aqui vn escribano, para hazer de nueuo mi testamento» (p. 258). Carrizales' doubt concerning the meaning of his exemplo is revealing and well-founded. While his forgiveness has displayed bondad, he rather shows his simplicidad when he says,

«Mandaré doblar la dote a Leonora, y le rogaré que, despues de mis dias, que seran bien breues, disponga su voluntad, pues lo podra hazer sin fuerça, a casarse con aquel moço a quien nunca ofendieron las canas deste lastimado viejo; y assi vera que si viuiendo, jamas sali vn punto de lo que pude pensar ser su gusto, en la muerte hago lo mismo, y quiero que le tenga con el que ella deue de querer tanto»

(p. 258).                

Carrizales reveals that he believes not only that Leonora has been unfaithful to him but that she has rejected him for another man with whom she has developed a relationship. Though he has forsaken violent revenge, Carrizales remains imprisoned in his jealous fears.

By revising his will, Carrizales intends once again to shape Leonora's life, though he mistakenly assumes that her voluntad already is inclined in the direction he proposes. In effect, he is unconsciously trying to rewrite the conclusion of the tale of their marriage along the lines of farce. The jealous old husband will be eliminated and the rich merry widow will indulge her gusto with a more suitable mate. From a literary standpoint, his intended ejemplo is hardly unusual: the narrator's traditional expectations of what Carrizales would say and do are now fulfilled. Before Carrizales reveals to Leonora and her parents what he has seen in the dueña's bedroom, he lists the elaborate precautions he took to safeguard his honor, and the words he speaks to his unconscious wife echo the words that the narrator imagined he would say: «No te culpo, ¡o niña mal aconsejada!... porque persuasiones de viejas taimadas, y requiebros de mozos enamorados facilmente venzen y triunfan del poco ingenio que los pocos años encierran» (p. 258). He is behaving like the complaisant cuckold the narrator described, except that rather than shrug his shoulders, Carrizales is giving his wife away.

In the revised version of El celoso extremeño, Carrizales' misunderstanding of Leonora's relationship with Loaysa receives greater emphasis because of her innocence. When the wife in the Porras manuscript hears Carrizales dictating the instructions in his will that she should marry her lover, she interrupts with a repentant speech, vowing to enter a convent. Leonora interrupts at the same point. She   —118→   declares, «No os he ofendido sino con el pensamiento» (p. 262), and begins to explain «la verdad del caso» but faints again. Shock and grief cause the earlier swoons, and considering the situation from her perspective, one may see these motives at work here. She has fought to preserve the sanctity of her marriage, only to hear her husband urge that she marry the virtual stranger she has resisted.

The last paragraph of the story reminds us of the couple's inability to communicate, and the narration effectively reenacts their misunderstanding. First the narrator imposes a moral on the events which implicitly rewrites them. He echoes Carrizales as Carrizales had echoed him, saying that the story is an

exemplo y espejo de lo poco que ay que fiar de llaues, tornos y paredes quando queda la voluntad libre, y de lo menos que ay que confiar de verdes y pocos años, si les andan al oydo exortaciones destas dueñas de mongil negro y tendido y tocas blancas y luengas

(p. 264).                

He speaks of free will critically, as if Leonora had chosen to indulge her lust, a victim of persuasion and inexperience, when in fact she used free will to resist her passion and keep Loaysa at bay. The narrator seems not to have come to grips with this fact. But he then is compelled to confess that he does not know why Leonora «no puso mas ahinco en desculparse y dar a entender a su zeloso marido quan limpia y sin ofensa auia quedado en aquel suceso.» The narrator does not merely contradict himself: he articulates two irreconcilable perspectives. His failure to reach closure recapitulates the couple's failure to communicate.

Twice before, Cervantes has shown the futility of defining exemplarity. After Carrizales' death, Leonora reveals the impertinence of Carrizales' exemplary revision of his will. «Y quando Loaysa esperaua que cumpliesse lo que ya el sabia que su marido en su testamento dexaua mandado, vio que dentro de vna semana se entro monja en vno de los mas recogidos monasterios de la cuidad» (p. 262). But Cervantes' most dramatic comment on Carrizales' project occurs after his long speech to Leonora's parents. «Esto dicho, le sobreuino vn terrible desmayo, y se dexó caer tan junto de Leonora, que se juntaron los rostros: estraño y triste espectaculo para los padres, que a su querida hija y a su amado yerno mirauan» (p. 260). Cervantes assumes control over his self-dramatizing character and creates a tableau which supersedes Carrizales' intended exemplo.

The estraño y triste espectaculo of Carrizales and Leonora in a double   —119→   swoon recalls the amarga vista which Carrizales saw in the dueña's chamber when Leonora and Loaysa lay sleeping together after she had resisted him. In both cases, the viewers of the scene believe Leonora to be guilty when the reader knows her to be innocent. But more importantly, in each case the unconscious couple's physical intimacy suggests a bond that does not really exist. Carrizales wrongly assumes that Leonora loves Loaysa, and the tableau of Leonora and Carrizales, against the background of his jealousy and misconception, is likewise only the image of a loving couple. Lying together, face to face but unconscious, husband and wife become an ironic emblem of their marriage.

Forcione's interpretation of this scene is so different from mine that some comment seems necessary. Forcione believes that

The most poignant expression of the intimacy, intensity, and interiority which bless their relationship at this moment of its destruction is the embrace into which they fall when overcome with grief... Despite Cervantes's refusal to remove all ambiguity from Leonora's motivation and to allow Carrizales complete lucidity in his madness, the emphasis here is on maturity of feeling, genuine communication, and reconciliation... Cervantes clearly reveals that the liberty to know and choose is intimately connected with the liberty to love. The embrace of the dying couple, the most ironic moment of this intensely ironic tale, is in fact their first act of love

(pp. 79-80).                

There are certain distortions in this account of the scene. The couple do not embrace but faint at different times and fall by accident into their intimate pose. They seem to be the puppets of passion, not exemplars of freedom. More important, only Carrizales is dying, not the couple. Forcione's slip of the pen makes the tableau into a symbolic transfiguration: Leonora's death would lend credence to Forcione's vision of their unanimity and to his privileging what he sees as redemptive elements in Cervantes' revision. But in fact Cervantes insists on the isolation of Leonora from Carrizales, giving it emphasis in the last lines of the story. Carrizales remains zeloso, the victim of fears that prevent him from seeing Leonora as she is and understanding how she used her free will to preserve the sanctity of their marriage.

Forcione goes on to develop a polemical contrast between El celoso extremeño and La vida es sueño, «Calderón's dramatic monument to the desengañado vision... that was nourished by traditional ascetic Christianity» and that is the antithesis of the «optimistic view of man   —120→   and society which animate the Christian Humanist program of reform» (p. 82). Forcione focuses on the symbols of imprisonment in Calderón's play and Cervantes' novela. In the first version of the story, «The prison is truly 'resurrected' at the end, and it can be seen as an emblem of the earthly order» (p. 83); in the second version, «Cervantes destroys it entirely» (p. 84) with Leonora's act of will. By contrast, Calderón resurrects the tower at the end of La vida es sueño, as Segismundo recognizes that «he will rule in terror of divine retribution ('estoy temiendo en mis ansias')»; Calderón teaches that freedom can only be exercised properly if man can internalize the dungeon and all the fears associated with it: man must «flee the occasion» to resist the demonic forces within himself, as Segismundo flees the temptation of Rosaura's beauty.

A major difficulty with this elegant meditation is that Leonora's entry into a convent in the revised version is as much an ascetic resolution as the repentant wife's becoming a nun in the Porras manuscript. In context, both actions are recorded as flights from the lover and from «lo que sabria que su marido en su testamento dexaba mandado». Moreover, Segismundo's fears have the important function of isolating the protagonist at the close of the play and thus dramatically reiterating the isolation of the individual which informs to Calderón's representation of the life/dream metaphor.22 I have tried to show that isolation shapes the ending of the revised version of El celoso extremeño; there are other grounds on which Cervantes' vision in this story bears comparison with Calderón's. Two of the dramatist's best-known heroines find themselves in situations similar to Leonora's. In El médico de su honra, Mencia is blameless but becomes the victim of her husband's jealousy and sense of honor, and of misconceptions caused by their failure to communicate directly.23 More striking parallels can be found in El pintor de su deshonra. Serafina, though abducted by her former lover Álvaro, remains faithful to her husband Juan Roca while she is held captive, and she begs permission of Álvaro to enter a convent. By chance, Roca sees Serafina embracing Álvaro after a terrifying dream; this appearance of intimacy precipitates the final disaster. Though Carrizales forgoes violent revenge, his marriage also ends unhappily through a combination of   —121→   unfortunate coincidences, deceptive appearances, and his fundamental estrangement from his wife. And by allowing Leonora the exercise of her freedom, Cervantes unexpectedly creates a domestic tragedy from the matter of farce and the cautionary tale: like Serafina's, a tragedy of unrecognized virtue.24