Digging up the past: the archeology of emotion in Cervantes' "Romance de los celos"

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Author: Steven Wagschal
Date: Fall 2007
Publisher: Cervantes Society of America
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,876 words

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NEARLY A DECADE AGO, Pedro Ruiz Perez pointed out that poetry was the most "unexplored territory" in Cervantes' writing (63), something which remains true today. For the most part, scholarship on Cervantes' poetry has tended to regard it in stark contrast with his novelistic production, that is, as retrograde, much in line with the author's own pseudo-appraisals of his poetry in various works as well with as those of his contemporaries (Ruiz Perez 63-65). (1) Proof of the poetry's relative worth is found, for instance, in the fact that Cervantes' verse was not selected by Pedro de Espinosa for the Flores de poetas ilustres de Espana (1605), a project bent on acclaiming the stylistic innovations of those who wrote "nueva poesia" in Italianate verse; rather, Cervantes' autochthonous poems were published in the more "backward-looking" Romancero general of 1600 (Ruiz Perez 65). Building on Ruiz Perez's observations, and by closely analyzing one of the poet's octosyllabic poems, I will argue that such a dichotomy between autochthonous and Italianate, and between backward- and forward-looking, misses the complexity of Cervantes' poetic endeavors. My object of study is Cervantes' "Romance de los celos" (c. 1593), which at firt glance may seem like an un-innovative poem, in a traditional Castilian meter, didactically expounding on a conventional theme: a warning to lovers about the dangers of jealousy. However, within the verses of this ballad--which indeed was published in the Romancero general of 1600--are contained an intricate set of exchanges between high and low culture, between art and literature, between allegorical and literal, and between past and present. Positing this level of complexity to a seemingly-simple text is warranted in part by the poet's claim in the Viaje del Parnaso (1614), that this ballad was among his own favorites: "el de los celos es aquel que estimo / entre otros que los tengo por malditos" (IV:40-42). (2) This article explores the richness of these various inter-related exchanges which, I argue, relate to Renaissance practices of imitation, ekphrasis, and archeology. Additionally, by demonstrating the merits of a close reading of one of Cervantes' less-studied poems, I hope to reduce, in a small way, the metaphorical "territory" described by Ruiz Perez.

Written as one laisse, this ballad's structure suggests a subdivision that is symmetrical, consisting of two long (I, III) and two short parts (II, IV). Section I (vv. 1-28) contains the description or ekphrasis of a mysterious, foreboding cave--la morada de los celos--by the first speaker, a shepherd who remains unnamed. This is followed by Section II (vv. 29-33) in which a third-person poetic narrator explains the context of the first utterance. Section III (vv. 34-56) is spoken, like the first, by another speaker, Lauso, who elucidates the meaning of the cave to his unnamed interlocutor. Lauso's speech is then followed by the third-person narrative voice's four-verse conclusion (Section IV):

Yace donde el sol se pone, entre dos tajadas penas, una entrada de un abismo, quiero decir, una cueva profunda, lobrega, escura, 5 aqui mojada, alli seca, propio...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A177671592