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El Cid: History and Legend

In the early nineteenth century, bibliographical information available about the romances of chivalry was approaching a satisfactory state, and there began to appear a series of articles or catalogues devoted specifically to the bibliography of the romances of chivalry. Considering the handicaps he worked under, his work is a good one, marred only by his inclusion of works which no modern scholar would call romances of chivalry. Because he lived for some time in London, he was able to include information about the copies in the great Grenville collection of the British Museum now British Library , and those in the private library of Sir Thomas Phillipps, the greatest manuscript collector of all time 58 ; he also included, for the first time, information on the many unique Spanish items in the former Imperial Library of Vienna.

The only major source he did not have access to was the catalogue of Ferdinand Colon's library. His detailed and intelligent annotations were to give Gayangos' catalogue a usefulness and reliability the previous ones had lacked. In fact, it has been the basis for all subsequent bibliographies of romances of chivalry, including, indirectly, my own.

Of more lasting interest, however, are the analyses of a number of romances of chivalry which he provides. Since , when Gayangos published his volume, there have appeared only two studies of the romances of chivalry which even attempt any comprehensive coverage of them Because of his wide reading in Golden Age non-fiction, he was able to illustrate in some detail the increasing criticism to which the romances of chivalry were subjected in the sixteenth century. These are, however, his only real contributions. In Sir Henry Thomas published his classic study, Spanish and Portuguese Romances of Chivalry , in which he joined two earlier papers with others given as lectures at Cambridge University in Essentially a bibliographer, later to serve for many years as head of the British Museum's Department of Printed Books, Thomas worked extensively with that library's large collection of romances of chivalry.

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More than half of his study, however, is devoted to assessing the popularity of the romances of chivalry both in Spain and abroad. The discussion of the translations of the Spanish romances into other languages could have been written by none other than a competent bibliographer, and it is only very recently 71 that any attempt has been made to improve on his treatment of the subject.

El Cid

Since the publication in of the book of Henry Thomas there has been no attempt at a comprehensive treatment of the Spanish romances of chivalry. It is, however, not out of order for us to review the most important, though more limited contributions which have been made over the last fifty years.

Most of this work has, for obvious reasons, centered on the romances which are most accessible. Edwin Place, in particular, dedicated much of his career to working with this book, preparing a critical edition based on the earliest complete text, that of 72 , and wrote articles on its original language of composition 73 , its relationship with earlier chivalric material 74 , the date of Montalvo's redaction 75 , and to other problems related with the book Hall, Beyond this, it can safely be said that studies of the romances of chivalry have tended to deal more with tangential works, or with tangential aspects of the major works, than with the truly central works and questions.

More attention has been focused on the reading of romances of chivalry in the New World 91 than has been on the reading of them in Spain. Some recent theses suggest that this orientation of research on the romances of chivalry may be changing Nevertheless, in Chapter VIII have suggested some topics for future research and some avenues which are worth exploring. Like most forms of literature, the Spanish romances of chivalry were not created spontaneously nor ex nihilo.

Although their sudden popularity at the beginning of the sixteenth century might, on superficial examination, suggest a new phenomenon, they have antecessors and are derived from an earlier chivalric tradition.

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Like various other types of Spanish literature, they are directly derived from the literature of a foreign country: in this case, French Arthurian literature. In France the romance of chivalry was more of a medieval phenomenon than it was in Spain, more directly linked to the epic poetry in whose prosifications it began.

Although the surviving Spanish texts are neither complete nor numerous, it is clear that the Hispano-Arthurian literature was widely circulated among the nobility, as it was one of the few forms of fiction available in the Middle Ages, even to that class able to indulge itself with pleasure reading in an age of manuscripts.

Before proceeding to discuss the existing Hispano-Arthurian literature, it is worth pointing out that I am deliberately omitting, as irrelevant, discussion of a work which some readers might expect to find here: the Caballero Cifar , which, I am convinced, has little in common with the Spanish romances of chivalry as they were understood by Cervantes and other readers of the sixteenth century. Even a superficial examination shows how different the work is. It is presumably based on earlier sources, perhaps some Arabic ones, but in any event, it is clearly not French in inspiration, it is not primarily a tale of love and combat, of deeds done by a knight in love with a sometimes disdainful lady, and it is much more moral and didactic in its intent than the other romances Although there is some influence of Arthurian material, particularly in Book III 94 , the work is far from being primarily chivalric in orientation, nor did it have any discernible influence on the romances which were to follow it.

The supposed discovery of a source for Sancho Panza in the squire Ribaldo has been refuted so many times that it will not be further belabored here The present author can do little but summarize their conclusions. Prose literature is represented by texts of the Merlin, Lancelot, and Tristan families, though the texts are either fragmentary or relatively late. Northup University of Chicago Press, An unknown youth of royal descent falls in love with the wife or daughter of a king at whose court he serves.

The knight rescues his lady from an abductor, thus earning her love or promise of love; the lady, for erroneous reasons, spurns the knight, who abandons the court and lives in solitude. Eventually he learns his true identity and is reunited with the lady. Court intrigue and discord among factions of the nobility play a major role in both works, leading to a complicated plot structure.

Characters with magical powers, both friendly and hostile, appear in both works. There is an exaltation of adventure, honor, and love. This revised version, published in the sixteenth-century, was thus a link between the medieval and the Renaissance periods: a work of medieval inspiration, composition, and themes, but packaged and distributed in a way that Renaissance readers would find attractive. It had far and away the largest number of editions and copies printed, and has been, from its publication, the most widely read Spanish romance of chivalry, a distinction which it holds through the present day.

Even among those who had not read the work, almost all literate, and many illiterate Spaniards knew the name of the work, just as most recognize the title Don Quijote today. Variations on the basic pattern, such as the dama belicosa , are really minor. To use a protagonist who was not of royal blood, to have a visit to a realistic Spain or any other location the Spanish readers would know something about would have been felt as a major break with this venerable tradition, not to be made until the Lazarillo broke many conventions simultaneously.

Probably, though, the simple fact that the book contains a good story, with lots of exciting action, was most important. His assistance to Queen Briolanja of Sobradisa causes the jealousy of Oriana. Upon receipt of a letter assuring him of Oriana's good graces, he sets out to meet her at the castle of Miraflores, with further adventures on the way, but he must leave the court again after the mind of King Lisuarte is poisoned by treasonous advice from friends of Falangris, brother of Lisuarte. Once again we must emphasize the abbreviated and incomplete nature of this summary of a complicated series of characters and events, typically the despair of anyone who tries to summarize this book or any of the later romances of chivalry.

Surely, however, contemporary readers, with time to spare and an interest in a captivating, complicated narrative, must have found this very quantity of characters and events to be one of the most attractive features of the book. Although the number of events and characters does not allow for any great development of personality -characters are essentially static and unchanging, always good or evil if such is their nature- this deficiency by modern standards was not seen as such by readers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, whom, we may assume, were not interested in personality development, internal problems of the characters, or very much beyond the conflicts, loves, and prophecies found in the book.

Urganda is a mysterious character in herself, whose origin and function are not fully explained. In tracing the castilian history of the romances of chivalry, we could begin worse than by pointing out that the romances of chivalry, as a genre, are firmly centered within the sixteenth century, give or take a few decades at each end.

But as with most texts in the age of manuscripts, these were limited in their circulation. As stated in the preceding chapter, the Hispano-Arthurian texts are principally translations. As with most translations, the literary contribution they made, seen in a European perspective, is slight. The romances of chivalry, then, benefited greatly in their extraordinary popularity in the sixteenth century from the possibilities that printing offered, and in this sense the so familiar Castilian atraso , by which this chivalric material, medieval in inspiration, arrived in Castile later, has a positive side.

Because printed works, though still expensive by modern standards, were far cheaper than manuscripts, lesser nobles, and even some well to-do bourgeois, could share in the reading of the romances, something not possible in other countries at an earlier date. Yet still, contrary to a widely-held misconception, the romances of chivalry were not among the first books published after the introduction of printing in Spain in the last third of the fifteenth century. Not only such religious works as the Vita Christi of Mendoza and the Vida beata of Juan de Lucena, not only doctrinal works such as those of Cartagena were printed during the late 's, 's, and early 's, but also the novels of Juan de Flores and Diego de San Pedro were published, without, however, a single romance of chivalry being published in Castile during this period Printers turned their attention to chivalric material rather suddenly, in the final years of the fifteenth century and beginning of the sixteenth, as if motivated by a previously non-existent demand on the part of a body of readers -the nobles- not in a position, or not needing, during the final years of the reconquest, to divert themselves with this type of literature.

As with other forms of literature, the printers first began by publishing materials already available in manuscript; thus we see published a series of short, translated works with a chivalric flavor, such as Oliveros de Castilla , Paris e Viana c. We can only speculate about the reasons, and none of the potential reasons would completely explain the phenomenon. Printing, more compact than handwriting, and the use of paper rather than parchment or vellum made economically possible longer works than were possible in the age of parchment, and the in creased speed with which printed material could be read also made increased length desirable The language of the earlier works may have seemed archaic to the readers, and the style more primitive The Castilian readers may well have preferred more sober and action-filled romances, a taste already seen in the choice of foreign works to translate Before leaving this early period of the Castilian romances of chivalry, it is appropriate to mention the publication of a number of semihistorical works with some chivalric elements, either written shortly before their publication or, more often, written earlier and published for the first time in the early sixteenth century to satisfy the tastes of much the same public as that which read the romances.

However, quite apart from the question of their value as historical sources, the entertainment value of these semihistorical works can easily be seen. Their elaborate descriptions of castles and armor, the numerous and fully described battles and tournaments, the almost superhuman protagonists, show that they have more in common with the romances of chivalry than is usually realized Some books, in fact, have title pages with an illustration of a chivalric scene, indistinguishable from those of the romances of chivalry The romances of chivalry's greatest popularity in Castile coincides neatly with the reign of Carlos V During this time the composition and publication of new romances, and the reprinting of the classics of the genre, flourished as it never had before and never would again.

That this great popularity of the romances was due to the model of and encouragement from the royal court is beyond question. Although no romances were dedicated to Carlos, several were to members of the high nobility who formed part of court society. Other factors may have played some role in the romances' popularity.

Their harmony with the spirit which led to the conquest and colonization of the New World, basic parts of which took place during Carlos V's reign, may possibly have been an additional factor in their popularity Yet we can hardly help but conclude that the lack of interest in chivalric fiction of Carlos' more sober son, Felipe II, was a factor in the books' decline.

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It is hard to picture Felipe taking a romance of chivalry to read at the Escorial Similarly, none of the well-known authors of the period wrote a romance of chivalry: neither Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, nor Guevara, nor Jorge de Montemayor, nor even Ercilla attempted the composition of a romance, to say nothing of Lope, who tried virtually every other genre. Like historical writing, the chivalric romance was a form of literature in which innovation was seen as unnecessary -at least overt innovation, since there is a subtle evolution, found in the increasing sophistication of conversation and in the expanding love element and greater role of women.

We should also remember that the world portrayed in the romances of chivalry was one which would appeal strongly to a section of Spanish society, but only to a section. It was a simple world, devoid of subtle philosophical or religious concerns. An individual could win fame and fortune primarily through his military abilities, whether exercised in serious battles or in less serious activities such as tournaments; scholarship and the world of books played, in the romances, a very secondary role.

The knights-errant were often possessed of a crusading spirit and a religious element is always present. This is one of the ways these romances most reflect the values of Spanish culture, though ostensibly set in very remote kingdoms and epochs; this crusading spirit presumably influenced the young reader Teresa de Cepeda, and even more Loyola, also a reader of romances of chivalry Rivadaneyra's life of Loyola, BAE , 60, 14 b , who sometimes acted like a knight-errant a lo divino Rivadeneyra, pp.

Yet the knights' faith was the simple faith of the soldier, an uncritical acceptance of the correctness of Catholicism and the necessity of helping it, with arms, to vanquish infidels. For all of these reasons, then, it is not surprising that the intelligentsia were to turn against the romances. The criticisms to which we have previously referred began, logically enough, when the romances had become sufficiently popular to attract the critics' attention; the earliest comments are from the 's. However, these attacks rapidly deteriorated from sensible observations about the inherent defects of the books themselves to a series of complaints about the pernicious effects that they allegedly had on the souls of the readers, and how the books occupied time which might have been more usefully employed in reading more spiritually uplifting material.

In fact, the criticisms of the romances degenerated into a series of topoi , which were repeated by various moralist writers who had no direct knowledge of the works they attacked One effect of the criticisms was to place the authors of the romances somewhat on the defensive.

In the prologues and dedications of the later romances, in which the authors often discuss their works and their motives, there is a constant emphasis on the benefits readers would receive from them. In his concern for his subjects and for the persons he encountered in his travels, in his interest in seeing that justice was done and that right triumphed over wrong, in his humility, chastity, and calm temperament mesura , the hero of the romances of chivalry offered to the readers the supposedly beneficial picture of the ideal medieval ruler.

The knights are saints or Biblical figures, and encounter adventures either taken directly from the religious material or of clear religious inspiration. None of these romances achieved any great popularity, and there is considerable doubt whether they succeeded in supplanting the original romances of chivalry as escape reading for idle readers; perhaps instead they were read by a new class of readers who were unable, because of the criticisms of them, to read the original romances.

Although the criticism of the romances was followed by a decline in the composition of new romances, it has not been possible to establish the relationship between these two trends. There are many other alternative explanations for the declining interest of potential authors in the romances. The general rise in literary standards, due in greatest measure to contacts with Italy, gave rise not only to the poetry of Garcilaso but to the pastoral novel, which made a spectacular appearance on the literary scene in the 's.

The same period also saw the introduction of the Renaissance epic. The Lazarillo , with its anti-hero, as a response to the romances of chivalry has been suggested by many scholars But certainly one of the principal causes, if not the single most important cause, of the decline in composition of new romances was the abdication of Carlos V in favor of his son Felipe. That Carlos' reign ended in is no coincidence. Olivante de Laura , published in , bears a dedication from the printer rather than the author, which suggests that it had been written earlier.


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It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that the romances of chivalry disappeared even though the composition of new romances had been abandoned. The reprinting of the major romances, and even some of the minor ones, continued throughout the last half of the sixteenth century.