My image of detail from Salvador Dalí’s Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach (1938).
Unsurprisingly, the story of Cardenio’s madness concludes when he is reunited with Luscinda, and Fernando is persuaded by Dorotea: “You have conquered, O beautiful Dorotea, you have conquered because I do not have the heart to deny so many truths spoken together” (p. 318; and there it is again, truth – my literary kryptonite). Tender feeling, undeniable signs of love and repentance, and several pages later, Don Fernando displays “great love and courtesy” (p. 320) to Cardenio and Luscinda, who have knelt before him. Yes, apparently all’s well that ends well in this story that bears a remarkable resemblance to Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which, according to Professor Michael Delahoyde, makes sense:
The closest source of [The Two Gentlemen of Verona] seems to be Diana Enamorada, written in Spanish by the Portuguese Jorge de Montemayor in 1542 but not translated into English until 1598 (Asimov 465). The Felix and Felismena story had other incarnations, such as Felix and Philiomena (1585) and in Part I of Don Quixote in which the Valentine character is named Cardenio (Barton 178). The friendship theme, or friendship vs. love, could be found in the Palamon and Arcite stories, and perhaps Damon and Pithias (credited to Richard Edwards in 1565) was an influence (Barton 178).
For two weeks, though, I have been trying to recall where else I have encountered the material in the first interpolated novel. It was only by chance that I finally stumbled on a reading note from 2016. In April of that year, we attended the Shakespeare Project of Chicago’s staged reading of Stephen Greenblatt and Charles Mee’s Cardenio, after which I noted that only the Project’s excellence made the tedious work watchable. Although I may be drifting dangerously far from Don Quixote, I must share my favorite bit from the reading of Cardenio, spoken by the much maligned Doris:
To be honest, I’ve never understood
Why I shouldn’t tell the truth.
I mean the assumption that this is beneficial to the world,
to be nice, to be pleasant,
is just unproven.
[Is she suddenly close to tears?]
Difficult people are always the ones who advance civilization.
To be honest, I’ve never understood / Why I shouldn’t tell the truth. Yes, I am circling back to truth and storytelling, and I know I am not the only one who is struck by the following moment in this week’s reading: “[T]hey wanted the story to last longer; such was the charm with which Dorotea recounted her misfortunes” (p. 320). That such “complex and desperate affairs” (p. 321) resolve so readily into a charming story (narrated by one of that story’s victims!) boggles the mind – even one that has already suspended disbelief. Later, the priest recounts for Don Fernando and company the madness of Don Quixote, which provokes laughter and the observation that “it was the strangest kind of madness that ever affected an irrational mind” (p. 323). In the margins, I shouted, What?!?! Stranger, madder, more irrational than the story they just lived?!?!? (In the margins, one may indulge in frantic punctuation.) This is followed by a second interpolated novel (concerning the captive and Zoraida), which, however quickly, happily, and improbably resolved, shifts our focus, once again, away from the titular character. Whatever Cervantes is telling us about storytelling, he intends for us to notice how he positions narrators and listeners in the book’s nested narratives.
Speaking of nested narratives, in anticipation of attending the preview of “Salvador Dalí: The Image Disappears,” I recently read three short biographies of the artist and reviewed several books of his art. Of course, nothing compares to seeing paintings like Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach (1938) or, one of my favorites, Inventions of the Monsters (1937) in person. On Friday, as I jockeyed for ever closer positions to the works, I paused periodically to focus on what I could see from the intermediate distances. After all, the dog in Apparition is most apparent when you stand back; the burning giraffe in Monsters, when you lean in. Oh, I thought, what a collection of stories, dreams, nightmares, and visions Dalí’s work comprises! In one of those moments of synthesis that shape the reading and thinking life, I was reminded that discerning the many narratives at play in his paintings (in many works of art, period) is dependent on the viewer’s perspective. Our attempts to resolve or make sense of the narratives in a Dalí painting require that we see the work from multiple angles. Where I stand shapes which story I see, as well as my impressions of that story. By extension, then, I might posit that with Don Quixote, Cervantes not only reimagines how a novel can be structured (I am currently envisioning a nesting doll or onion) but also slyly critiques our relationship to stories. So much depends on, among other things, who is narrating and where the listeners are positioned in a narrative (to say nothing of the listeners’ prejudices and limitations; yes, I am looking at you, good priest and barber).
Two more notes:
(1) The Homer reference at the conclusion of Chapter XXXVII, in which Don Quixote describes academics as passing “through these shoals, these Scyllas and Charybdises” (p. 330), delighted me.
(2) You will find more about Greenblatt and his work on Cardenio here.