The Black Legend and the Golden Age Dramatic Canon

by Barbara Fuchs (University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA)

Published in LA LEYENDA NEGRA EN EL CRISOL DE LA COMEDIA. El teatro del Siglo de Oro frente a los estereotipos antihispánicos (2016)

Yolanda Rodríguez Pérez Antonio Sánchez Jiménez (eds.)

This essay examines how the canon of Hispanic Golden Age theater is constructed outside Spain, to consider, first, how it relates to Black Legend epiphenomena and, second, how it might be profitably expanded and diversified. I am interested not only in how our present-day canon came to be, but also in the critical and performance initiatives that might profitably change what otherwise seems like an unavoidable fait accompli. My premise is that the Black Legend impacts not only the content of specific works, but also the context in which they are received, particularly outside Spain. The discipline of literary criticism is not immune or impermeable to the Black Legend, and it behooves us as critics to identify the ideological contexts that mark the reception of Spanish literature in the longue durée. Just as Spain itself is tarred by the Black Legend, its literary production is understood according to the stereotypes and received wisdom that the legend fosters.

I. Black Legend Canons

«I hate your Spanish honor ever since it spoyl’d our English Playes».
Wildblood, in Dryden, An Evening’s Love (5.1)

«Anyone desirous of throwing light on the old English Drama should read extensively the less known works of the Spaniards».
George Henry Lewes, The Spanish Drama (7)

In my work on the uses of Spain and Spanish literary materials in early modern England, I have identified the persistence and utility of belligerent attitudes towards Spain, even at the moments of greatest English fascination with Spanish sources. Thus for much of the early modern period and well into our own time, literary transmission is imagined in terms of forcible taking or even looting, as appropriation is lionized into national heroism. This is what in The Poetics of Piracy I termed the «Armada paradigm» of Anglo-Spanish literary relations (Fuchs 2013). At least in Anglo-American contexts, this paradigm was alive and well throughout the twentieth century, if not into the twenty-first. A classic example is one of the very influential early Norton anthologies of Elizabethan poetry, from 1942, which was entitled The Golden Hind. In the prologue, the editors explain the symbolism of their title, which refers to the ship on which Francis Drake carried out his circumnavigation of the globe, looting and plundering Spanish possessions along the way: «Our title, taken from the name of Drake’s ship, seems to us an appropriate symbol of the riches the Elizabethans found in a new world and in the English language and of the spirit of freedom and defiance of tyranny which is the greatest link between their age and ours» (Lamson and Smith 1942). This kind of conflation between the riches of poetry, privateering, and a timeless English «defiance of tyranny» marks the Anglo-American stance towards Spanish cultural production across the centuries. The larger question I want to consider here is how this broader climate of an enduring Black Legend shapes the Hispanic theatrical canon, particularly in Anglo-American contexts.1

The long-term engagement of English letters with Spanish culture has been tinged with ambivalence at least since the Reformation. As Alexander Samson and others have shown, the fascination with Spanish letters paradoxically never waned, even at the times of greatest military and religious rivalry between England and Spain (Samson 2006, 2009; Darby and Samson 2009). Yet even as literary studies came into its own as a distinct discipline, it continued to reflect the Black Legend prejudices—and the imperial rivalries—that characterized the Elizabethan moment. While Shakespeare became canonized as a uniquely English author, a free spirit who might not conform to classical rules but who found direct inspiration in English nature, Spanish theater was generally characterized as a much more problematic reflection of the Spanish character. In the case of Shakespeare, nature denoted the untarnished and pure landscape that the poet channeled; conversely, when describing Spanish traditions nature meant a human nature marked by the genealogical taint of otherness. Especially in a comparative framework, Spanish theater was considered an extension of Spanish national traits.

Already in the late seventeenth century, John Dryden, who made extensive use of Spanish materials in his own plays, wrote «the first important English criticism of Spanish drama» (Loftis 1973: 3) in his dialogue Of Dramatick Poesie (1668). The comedia was an uneasy fit for Dryden’s neoclassicist preconceptions, especially when compared to the more recent French drama—one of the interlocutors decries the theater of Calderón for «being hurried from one thing to another» (Dryden 1668: 59). Nonetheless, Dryden favored the tragicomedy, and with it the long English tradition of turning to Spanish plots, from Fletcher until Dryden’s own time. Yet in his own play An Evening’s Love, or, The Mock Astrologer (based on Calderón’s El astrólogo fingido), Dryden has a character voice his reservations about Spanish honor in the drama, which I reproduce in the first epigraph above. John Loftis argues that Wildblood’s complaint is generalizable more broadly to the dramatists of the Restoration, «who treated the pundonor with casualness or contempt» (1973: 252). Loftis’ own account of this dynamic—unsupported except for Wildblood’s line—betrays the critic’s prejudices as much as the writers’: «Few of the better dramatists cared to approximate, without satirical comment, the Spanish gravity of manner and sensitivity to affront. Hence the paradox that the best renderings of Spanish plots, by Dryden and his younger contemporaries, are those most thoroughly anglicized…» (Loftis 1973: 253). Eliding the distance between Spaniards and their texts, Loftis has made up his mind about their character, as well as their characters. Moreover, the many critics who stress the English turn to Spanish sources in the drama, as does Loftis, beg the question of the difference between the corpora: whatever distinctive national characters marked the Spanish and the English, it remained eminently possible for a transnational drama to emerge.

A striking text in the development of a literary history marred by national prejudice is the colorful A Complete History of the English Stage (London, 1800), a survey by the composer, writer, and consummate man of the theater Charles Dibdin. Dibdin was a prolific song-writer and occasional collaborator with the famous theater impresario David Garrick; he composed some of the music for Garrick’s famous Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769. Dibdin’s assessment of Spanish theater in his History sets up a tacit contrast with Shakespeare, whom the era crowned as the epitome of Englishness, magically produced by English soil. At the same time, the critic betrays a certain envy of Spanish prolificness: although he is critical of the Spanish theater’s disregard for classical measure, he reluctantly acknowledges his admiration for the sheer number of Spanish plays. Even this praise, however, undergoes a tortuous rhetorical operation to become a criticism of Spanish facility:

The Spaniards have a great number of rhapsodies under the titles of chronicles, annals, romances, and legends. In these they find some historical anecdote, some entertaining adventure, which they transcribe without choice or exception. All the details they put into dialogue and to this compilation is given the distinction, PLAY: thus one can easily imagine that a man in the habit of copying with facility, could write forty of these plays in less time than an author of real genius and regulated habitude could put out of his hands a single act, for the latter is obliged to design his characters, to prepare, graduate, and develop his intrigue, and to reconcile all this to the rules of decency, taste, probability and, indeed, custom (Dibdin 1800: 1.138).

The comparison with Shakespeare is implicit but no less powerful for that: by implication, the Spanish playwrights do not possess the «regulated habitude» that a more decorous, less excessive corpus signals. Thus is the uncomfortable question of the sheer numerical superiority of the Spanish canon handled—there may be more plays, but they are superficial, mere copies, requiring nothing like what an author of «real genius» would need for a play.

Dibdin is ambivalent about Spanish theater throughout, recognizing the power of the comedia yet qualifying his praise with his account of the Spanish national character. He emphasizes the utility of Spanish materials for other literatures, returning to the long tradition of figuration that makes Spain the source for a second-order English extraction, whether by piracy, looting, or other forms of forcible taking (Fuchs 2013; Jones 1953).2 Spanish theater is the mother lode, providing the ore that other Europeans will mine to mint treasures:

The wit and humour that have so lavishly pervaded [Spanish theater], manifest the most luxuriant fertility in the genius of their dramatic writers; whose works, crude and irregular as they are, have served like a rich mine for the French, and, indeed, the English at second hand to dig in. Their wit, however, like their hard dollars, can never be considered as staple, but a useless mass of no intrinsic value till manufactured into literary merchandize by the ingenuity and labour of other countries (Dibdin 1800: 1.131).

Dibdin further characterizes the French and English use of Spanish sources as «plunder» (Dibdin 1800: 1.139), imagining the exploitation of Spanish theater in terms of European imperial rivalries. Spanish literature thus becomes the mine to be dug, the raw material to be manufactured into a valuable commodity. As the metaphor evolves, the French and the English become «theatrical chymists» who «have ingeniously extracted» from the «very rich materials» of Spanish theater «to ornament their own productions» (Dibdin 1800: 1.145). Dibdin here voices a fantasy of appropriation by which the Spanish New World wealth of minerals is transmuted into a literary lode available for English extraction.

Yet even this recognition of a valuable source is tinged with ambivalence. Most striking in this respect, perhaps, is Dibdin’s move to characterize Spanish literary production in racialized and genealogical terms, as tainted with Moorishness:

Spanish gallantry consists entirely of stratagem; and fancy is perpetually upon the stretch to bring about natural events by extraordinary means. Their manners are derived originally from the Moors, and are tinged with a sort of African taste, too wilde and extravagant for the adoption of other nations, and which cannot accommodate itself to rule or precision.

Impressed with an idea of that knight errantry which Cervantes so successfully exposed, Spanish lovers seem as if they took a gloomy pleasure in disappointment. They enter the lists of gallantry as if they were more pleased with the dangers of the tournament than the enjoyment of the reward; and, at length, when they arrive at the possession of that object with which they were originally smitten with a glance from a lattice, or a regard in a cloister through a thick veil; disappointment succeeds to admiration, and they grow jealous and outrageous to find that love is the very reverse of caprice, and that happiness cannot be ensured but by a long and intimate acquaintance with the heart.

On the other side, the lady, immured from the sight of men, reads romances, and heroically resolves to consider, as her destined lover, the first who has the address and the courage to rescue her from her giant father, and her monster duenna. Reason, prudence, mutual intelligence, purity of sentiments, and affection; these have nothing to do in the affair (Dibdin 1800: 1.140-41).

Theater, and literature more broadly, are here presumed to reflect national characteristics. Spain’s ‘Moorish’ or ‘African’ manners lie behind its extravagant plots, its histrionic affairs. Already in this account the anxiety about sexual propriety looms large—in the gallant’s outrageous jealousy, or the exaggerated protection of the lady— setting the stage for the characterization of Spanish drama as obsessively concerned with honra.

Although the Romantic triumph of Calderón in Germany at the hands of Schlegel and other critics somewhat countered neo-Classical prejudice, it failed to dislodge stubborn conceptions about the Spanish national character (Sullivan 1983: 4). As literary history became increasingly formalized on both sides of the Atlantic in the nineteenth century, it continued to be conceived as a discipline that shed light on national characteristics. «I have been persuaded that literary history… should be made, like civil history, to give a knowledge of the character of the people to which it relates. I have endeavored, therefore, so to write my account of Spanish literature as to make the literature itself the exponent of the peculiar culture and civilization of the Spanish people», claimed George Ticknor in a letter that accompanied a presentation copy of his signal History of Spanish Literature (1849), the first exclusive treatment of the subject, with six editions over the course of the century (Hillard in Kagan 2002: 106). In discussing Golden Age theater, Ticknor attributes Lope de Vega’s greatness to the way in which «he gave himself up to the leading of the national spirit» (Ticknor 1849: 2.229) in his plays. Yet even though he regards Spain as fanatically religious and characterized by an «over-sensitive honor» (Ticknor 1849: 2.257), he himself looks beyond. Even as he commends a number of other plays for how they channel the national character, Ticknor cannot help but praise a play like El acero de Madrid, which he compares favorably to Molière and in which he praises female agency and the proximity to «the manners of its time» (Ticknor 1849: 2.246-48). Although Ticknor does not reflect on the tension between an immutable national character and the manners of early modern Madrid, for the attentive reader the praise of the fashionable play complicates any claim for an unchanging Spanish character expressed in the national literature.

As Ticknor turns to considering Calderón’s wife-murder plays and the question of honor, he refutes the idea that Spanish sexual morality is «derived from the Arabs» (1849: 2.473), attributing it instead to «ancient Gothic laws» which far predate the Moorish invasion. Strikingly anticipating the recent work of historians who have urged us to reconsider the place of honra in actual social and legal contexts (Taylor 2008), Ticknor argues moreover that only the distance between the reality of early modern Spain and the excesses committed on stage in the name of honor would have protected the comedia from even greater censure than it received. Overall, Ticknor seems attached to his theory of national characters but able to see beyond it to the merits of individual plays, many of which in no way fit his own preconceived notion of a Spanish national character. Recent work on Ticknor’s extensive collaboration with—and dependence on—the Spanish polymath Pascual de Gayangos suggests that this may have influenced the Bostonian’s specific, fine-grained departures from the broad prejudice that he announces at the outset (Heide 2008).

In general, US histories of Spanish literature are less prejudicial than comparative works, even when they do invoke comparisons between Spanish classical theater and other European corpora. Thus Hugo Rennert, in his The Spanish Stage in the Time of Lope de Vega (New York, 1909), argues that «the Spanish comedia, especially as it is represented by three of its greatest writers, Lope de Vega, Alarcon and Calderon [sic], compares very favorably, as regards its moral tone, with the contemporary plays of England, Italy or France» (Rennert 1909: 266). Rennert acknowledges that the same, distinguishing high moral tone may not be found in Tirso de Molina, but notes the censure of the playwright in his own time. Even when Rennert foregrounds the national character of Spanish drama, he does so in order to praise it:

Whatever its subject-matter, whether mythology, history, or legend, all was translated into the Spain of the day; its characters not only spoke Spanish, but they were Spaniards in every vein and fiber. In a word, it was truly national in character, and herein lies one of the chief glories of the Spanish drama, which is shared only by England among the countries of modern Europe (Rennert 1909: 339).

Rennert in no way challenges the idea that Hispanic drama encapsulates and reflects a national identity; he simply valorizes that identity rather than condemning it.

Less nuanced is the treatment of Spain in a comparative early twentieth-century history such as Sheldon Cheney’s The Theater: Three Thousand Years of Drama, Acting, and Stagecraft (1929). Cheney’s chapter on Spain betrays his preconceptions from its very title— «The Chivalrous Theater of Spain». The figure he chooses to move his discussion from Italy to Spain— the vainglorious Capitano of commedia dell’arte, whom he rightly associates with Italian resentment of Spanish invaders (Cheney 1929: 242)—further underscores the chapter’s reliance on hallmarks of the Black Legend. Cheney depicts Spain as having essentially missed out on the Renaissance: it was «too fiercely Catholic to welcome that new freedom of thought», «an organized religion and an artificial code of honor ruling all men’s actions, drama and literature failed to take on that warm glow of humanism so notable elsewhere» (Cheney 1929: 244). Lope, for his part, «purveying to a mass public that demanded sensation, and asked constantly for racial flattery… failed to write any drama that has lived through the years with the best out of the Greek, English, French, and German theatres» (Cheney 1929: 250). If Lope’s plays are not serene or deep enough, Cheney argues, it is because Spain itself was too violent for such reflection (Cheney 1929: 251-252)—life was cheap, murder common. In discussing Calderón, whom he deems deeper and «the greater poet» than Lope (Cheney 1929: 256), Cheney focuses on El médico de su honra, as an illustration of the «over-punctiliousness that excuses even murder, which is so favorite a theme in Spanish drama and romance» (Cheney 1929: 256), and offers the soliloquy of Isabel in the last act of El alcalde de Zalamea to drive home his points about an excessive concern for honor (Cheney 1929: 258).

Even a text focused on Spain, such as Ernest Mérimée’s History of Spanish Literature, translated from the French and expanded by the Berkeley scholar S. Griswold Morley (1930), describes Calderón’s concern for honor as «so Castilian, so castizo» (Mérimée and Morley 1930: 376). Moreover, therein lies his greatness: «His most lasting claim to glory», the authors argue, «is that he was in his time the most perfect representative of the race as the centuries had molded it, the preeminently Spanish poet» (Mérimée and Morley 1930: 382). The authors include a direct citation of Menéndez y Pelayo to support their claim, although no source is given: «Calderón is ancient Spain with all its crossings of light and shadow, of grandeur and defects» (Mérimée and Morley 1930: 382). As this claim attributed to the eminent Spanish philologist suggests, the construction of an exceptional Spain, for better or for worse, was not solely the work of foreigners or Black Legend propagandists: Spaniards themselves manipulated Spanish difference to their advantage.

Unlike Ticknor, who expressed his skepticism about whether the place of honor on the Spanish stage matched historical reality, Mérimée and Morley claim that «nowhere more than at this point did the theater draw directly from contemporary manners, and it is probably because he gave more faithful and energetic expression than anyone else to essentially national passions that Calderón has remained so popular» (Mérimée and Morley 1930: 377). Yet the authors soon reveal their debt to a textual tradition of Spanish stereotypes that has little to do with any specific historical moment, but instead reiterates what is always already known about Spain. Stressing the purported historical precision of Calderón, they claim: «Psychologically his characters scarcely exist; historically they are very exact, so exact that one could compose a commentary on much of his theater with nothing else than the travel notes of Mme. D’Aulnoy» (Mérimée and Morley 1930: 379). Though critics disagree on whether D’Aulnoy, the popular late seventeenth-century author of fairy tales, ever actually visited Spain, they concur that she provides a highly fanciful, literary account of the place. Yet her influential and hugely popular sketches, published in 1690 as Mémoires de la Cour d’Espagne and in 1691 as Relation du voyage d’Espagne align perfectly with a stereotypical conception of Spain that is also privileged in accounts of Spanish theater. Thus R. Foulché-Delbosc, in his introduction to D’Aulnoy, completes a perfect tautological circuit with Mérimée and Morley: «But whatever misstatements and alterations we may observe in Madame D’Aulnoy, the whole air of the Travels is that of the Spanish drama of the seventeenth century and more particularly of the drama of Calderón» (D’Aulnoy 1930: lxx).3

The Calderón-D’Aulnoy circularity reminds us that canonicity privileges and promotes plays that tell us what we have always known, or thought we knew, about Spain. In this sense, the hypercanonicity of Fuenteovejuna, El alcalde de Zalamea, and Calderon’s wife-murder plays, to take some of the most salient examples, confirms the stereotypical conception of a Spain consumed by pundonor, while occluding other versions of Spain that are abundantly present in the corpus, as even Ticknor, malgré lui, recognized. The question then becomes how one might dislodge that canonicity and complicate long-standing prejudices about Spain by promoting plays that present a very different set of concerns. I turn now to a contemporary initiative at UCLA that addresses precisely these goals.

II. Diversifying the classics, or, What Lies beyond Shakespeare?

Although it behooves us as critics to understand where our canons come from and how they are constructed, the transformation of a purely scholarly or textual canon would only get us so far in challenging anti-Spanish prejudices, in that these texts are not part of a broader, public conversation in an Anglo-American context. Conversely, performance might help to dislodge these by now venerable prejudices, and the canon of plays that ensues from them if, instead of rehearsing age-old stereotypes, it could present a more varied—if not completely alternative—vision of Spain.

My own thinking about performance was radically marked by my tenure from 2011 to 2016 as director of the Center for 17/18th-Century Studies and the Clark Memorial Library at UCLA. Located in West Adams, some twelve miles from the main campus, the Clark offers a valuable alternative location for reaching diverse audiences, and its multiple lawns, amphitheater, and marble outdoor reading room provide a wealth of spaces for performance. It became one of my first goals as Director to expand our performance offerings, through an initiative I called ‘Arts on the Grounds.’ This included ‘L.A. Escena,’ a series designed to introduce Los Angeles audiences to the Hispanic theatrical tradition.

The creation of L.A. Escena was inspired by a number of factors: one, Out of the Wings, the British online database of Spanish-language theater for scholars and practitioners that takes seriously the proposition that in order to change literary canons we need to change the canon in repertory; two, the general lack of Hispanic classical theater in LA, a city of over 4 million speakers of Spanish (the main festival of Hispanic classical theater in the US takes place on the US/Mexico border, at Chamizal, Texas, while LA has nothing of the sort), and, three, the trend by well-meaning theatrical companies in Los Angeles, specializing in educational outreach to disadvantaged communities, to hispanicize Shakespeare, with titles such as Romeo and Juliet—A Zoot Suit Musical, or Much Ado about Nothing—Mariachi Style, rather than exposing schoolchildren to the very rich traditions of Hispanic classical theater. As is the case across the U.S., cultural capital is so profoundly bound up in Shakespeare that the most proximate and arguably most appropriate texts through which to give students in Los Angeles, or indeed broader audiences, an appreciation for the arts are neglected. The project gradually matured into what we call ‘Diversifying the Classics,’ an initiative to introduce and promote Hispanic classical theater—in the original, in translation, or in adaptations—in the Los Angeles theater scene and beyond.

Diversifying the Classics is a broad and long-term project, which encompasses five initiatives:

1) the L.A. Escena Performance Series of Hispanic classical theater and adaptations for Los Angeles audiences;

2) a Library of Translated Hispanic Classical Plays, envisioned as a digital resource for theater practitioners;

3) 90 Monologues from Classical Spanish Theater, a bilingual anthology of monologues for actors;

4) Classics in the Classroom, a program to introduce Hispanic classical theater to students via adaptations, the compilation of supporting materials, and connections with K–12 arts educators; and

5) a future Performance Studies Database, listing scholars in the field prepared to guide theater professionals approaching new and underrepresented texts. All materials produced by Diversifying the Classics are open-access, made available on the project website, as they are completed.

At the heart of the project is the translation initiative, which hopes not only to broaden the set of texts available to theatrical practitioners but also productively to complexify the canon of Golden Age plays that we have inherited in an Anglo-American context. As was evident at the 2013 Association for Hispanic Classical Theater conference on «The Comedia in Translation and Performance» held in conjunction with Laurence Boswell’s season of Golden Age plays at the Theatre Royal in Bath, translation continues to play a crucial role in the dissemination of this theatrical tradition beyond Spain itself. At the conference, directors and translators complained about the paucity of available plays, with a few plays translated over and over again while others languish untranslated. The actors’ constant reference to their Shakespearean training as they discussed their experience of working on Lope de Vega or Tirso de Molina, moreover, underscored how deep and wide the familiarity with Shakespeare runs, from school through university through professional training, so that any effort to expand the theatrical canon beyond Shakespeare would have to consider these multiple arenas. In recent years, Spanish companies such as Rakatá, too, have recognized the essential role of contemporary, vernacular translations in promoting Hispanic classical theater in Anglo-American contexts.

In January 2014, stimulated by the great discussions in Bath, I decided to convene graduate students and theater professionals in a translation workshop. The result was the «Working Group on the Comedia in Translation and Performance», which has met since then on a regular schedule during the academic year. It has included up to a dozen people, primarily graduate students from the UCLA department of Spanish and Portuguese, but also actors, writers, directors, and colleagues from other institutions. The initial goal was for the workshop to translate plays that had no published translation, with an eye to engaging theater groups in material that was fresh to them and deliberately crafted for performance. What does this mean, in practice? We decided early on that we would translate every line, every mythological reference, providing annotations as necessary and leaving it up to directors to decide where and what to cut. We aim for a language that is as accessible as possible, while avoiding anachronism. A great advantage of translation in this sense, of course, is that it makes the texts historical proximate, unless one is deliberately translating into ‘Shakespearese.’ (The translated corpus thus bypasses the problems of linguistic distance that seem to vex Shakespeare productions, leading one distinguished US venue, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, to commission translations and adaptations of Shakespeare plays into contemporary English [see link, consulted Oct. 30, 2015]).

Some plays are translated by the working group as a whole, with heavy doses of subsequent editing. Others are translated by individual members of the working group, or by members working in collaboration, and then workshopped by the larger group. When we need to translate an untranslatable pun, or render something that makes no sense in translation, we make a point of preserving the imagery that an actor would be able to work with, such as any clues to physical humor, or sexual innuendo. We decided early on against translating into verse, because while there are certainly some very successful examples, it seemed to us that it would be more difficult for actors in Los Angeles, and even across the US, to work with verse than with prose. It is also the case that the comedia’s highly flexible versification, with different forms for different registers, has no real equivalent in English.

More importantly, we decided early on that we would translate plays that challenged stereotypical understandings of Spain and its theatrical canon. Guided by these principles, the entire group has translated Guillén de Castro’s La fuerza de la costumbre (The Force of Habit) and Lope de Vega’s La noche toledana (A Wild Night in Toledo). I workshopped my translation of Lope’s Mujeres y criados (Women and Servants, Juan de la Cuesta, 2016), while Laura Muñoz and Veronica Wilson workshopped their version of Guillén de Castro’s Los malcasados de Valencia (Unhappily Married in Valencia). We anticipate that we will continue to translate at least one play a year.

We began with La fuerza de la costumbre, which one of the students in the group, Kathryn Renton, had attempted to translate for an earlier research paper (I should note that Dr. Kathleen Jeffs of Gonzaga University has also recently translated and produced the play, although it has not been published). The rudiments of the play have long been known to English-speaking audiences, through Beaumont, Fletcher, and Massinger’s Love’s Cure (published 1647), which bases its plot on Guillén de Castro, yet is far from an actual translation. The fascination of this text for modern audiences, as, arguably, for its first audiences, lies in its incredibly self-aware presentation of the constructedness of gender. The question it poses most insistently is whether gender can be learned and unlearned. Thus Félix and Hipólita, two siblings born of a secret marriage and separated at birth, are brought up in the habits of the opposite gender. Kept close by his mother’s side, Félix is timid and sensitive. Hipólita, trained by her father on the battlefield in Flanders, is fiercely attached to her sword. This is no mere occasional cross-dressing, but a long-term experience of living as the «other» gender. When the family is reunited after twenty years, the father, Don Pedro, insists on making the siblings conform to traditional gender roles. Helped along the way by their respective love interests, the two gradually assume traditional positions, but their journeys expose the limitations of the gender system. One key scene shows the siblings’ discomfort with their newly imposed gender identities, as Hipólita enters teetering precariously on her chapines:

Hip. I swear I cannot manage
a single step.
She trips on her platform shoes and hurls them away.
Hip. How can one be even-headed
when teetering on something so flimsy?
How can a woman,
standing on this cork,
on the verge of falling at every moment,
keep herself from tumbling in the end?
I refuse to wear these shoes,
this dress and this hairpiece—
useless concerns
and to such dubious ends.
D. Pedro. What is it, Hipólita? What’s wrong?
You look very nice.
Hip. I appeal to you, sir.
Rid me of this dress,
of this hairpiece
that smothers my head.
The thinnest strand of it
is a noose around my neck…
(The Force of Habit: 22-23).

For the working group, this play was a revelation for its wry humor, its irony, its strong argument for the force of nurture over nature. It launched extensive discussions about how we came to have a canon of Hispanic classical theater that is earnestly concerned with honor, full of wife-murder and revenge. Clearly, within the enormous archive that is the comedia there are also plenty of plays that cast a skeptical eye on such pieties. Many of the questions that animate the first part of this essay thus emerged from our practice as translators, as we confronted the profound challenge that La fuerza de la costumbre (The Force of Habit) posed to our own habits of thought about the Hispanic classical canon.

Yet, from the moment we sent our translation into the world, via a staged reading at UCLA by our frequent collaborators, Chalk Repertory Theatre, we began to see how complex it might be to assume that the contestatory reading of such a finely balanced play would prevail with audiences. To begin with, Ruth McKee, who directed the staged reading, decided that the character of the father, Don Pedro, sounded bombastic, redundant, and rebarbative, so she decided to cut many of his lines. This intervention, plus the casting of a very appealing actor in the role, immediately made Don Pedro into a far less objectionable character. This threatened to make the play a story about the characters finding their gender destiny—a conservative, reactionary reading that always lurks in the wings, particularly for readers or audiences all too ready to take hetero-happy endings as the last word. For this play this kind of reading is particularly problematic, as it is some sexual business behind a tree between Hipólita and her suitor that finally brings about her transformation. As Hipólita describes it afterwards to her mother:

We wrestled for a while, both of us determined to win, but dew on grass is as slippery as soap… I slipped, stumbled, and fell down at my enemy’s feet. And that was nothing, but after I fell he—oh mother—he did what I could never have imagined. He shook my soul, transformed my entire being, and he said: «So that you can see that you’re a woman, for you are». Well can I believe it! And now all I can do is cry because he’s gone and I love him, and so, dear mother, I am indeed a woman (The Force of Habit: 130-131).

Is this a rape, or a first, consensual sexual experience narrated through the generic parameters of decorum? It is very difficult to say. But it makes the adaptation and broader circulation of this text especially challenging, particularly as we envision it reaching school audiences in future stages of the Diversifying the Classics project.

Most tellingly, the complexities of La fuerza de la costumbre underscore the intricacy of the larger project: it is not a simple matter of recuperating Spain, or of a white legend to replace a black one. Instead, the texts we are translating are complex and multivalent—they deserve their status as classics precisely because they offer themselves up for multiple and at times contradictory readings. As we expand our corpus of translations, the texts themselves refute any simplistic or stereotypical understandings of Spain, offering instead a vibrant and complex vision of gender and class relations and of the performativity of identity in urban spaces, as well as a generalized skepticism towards social pieties of all sorts. Making canons is no easy matter, of course, but our hope is at least to promote these texts as an alternative vision of Spain, one that may well appeal to modern theater practitioners given its degree of female agency and its remarkably self-aware sophistication.

Diversifying the Classics breaks down for all the scholars involved the lines between arts outreach, performance, and research, encouraging us to expand the theatrical canon that we study, teach, and continue to canonize. In addition to the patriotic Lope of the plays discussed elsewhere in the volume LA LEYENDA NEGRA EN EL CRISOL DE LA COMEDIA. El teatro del Siglo de Oro frente a los estereotipos antihispánicos (2016), we find the irreverent and wry Lope of Mujeres y criados or La noche toledana. The move beyond Lope to study, translate, and produce playwrights such as Guillén de Castro or even Tirso de Molina (so problematic for Rennert), who are relatively neglected, also promises do much to right our sense of the comedia’s true range and possibilities. As the project evolves, so does our critical sense of the transformation of texts through performance, and, crucially, of the limitations of established canons, theatrical and otherwise.

I am grateful to Laura Muñoz for her research assistance with this essay.

Works Cited

Aulnoy, Marie Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville d’, Travels into Spain, ed. R. Foulché-Delbosc, London, Routledge, 1930.
Relation Du Voyage D’Espagne, ed. Maria S. Seguin, Paris, Desjonquères, 2005.

Castro, Guillén de, The Force of Habit, in <>.

Cheney, Sheldon, The Theatre: Three Thousand Years of Drama, Acting and Stagecraft, New York, Longmans, Green and Co, 1929.

Darby, Trudi L. and Alexander Samson, «Cervantes on the Jacobean Stage», in The Cervantean Heritage: Reception and Influence of Cervantes in Britain, ed. by J. A. G. Ardila, London, Legenda, 2009, pp. 206-22.

Dibdin, Charles. A Complete History of the English Stage: Introduced by a … Review of the Asiatic, the Grecian, the Roman, the Spanish, the Italian, the Portuguese, the German, the French, and Other Theatres and … Biographical Tracts and Anecdotes, vol. I, London, 1800, Digital text: <>.

Dryden, John, An Evening’s Love, Or, the Mock-Astrologer: Acted at the Theatre-Royal by His Majesties Servants, London, 1671, Digital text: <>.
Of Dramatic Poesie: An Essay, London, 1668.

Fuchs, Barbara, The Poetics of Piracy: Emulating Spain in English Literature, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

Hart, Thomas R. Jr., «George Ticknor’s History of Spanish Literature», in Richard Kagan, ed., Spain in America: The Origins of Hispanism in the United States, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 2002, pp. 106-121.

Heide, Claudia, «Más ven cuatro ojos que dos: Gayangos and Anglo-
American Hispanism», in Pascual de Gayangos: A Nineteenth-Century Spanish Arabist, ed. by Cristina Alvarez Millán, Claudia Heide, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2008, 132-158.

Hillard, George S., Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor, 2 vols., Boston, James R. Osgood, 1876, pp. 2.253-54.

Jones, Richard Foster, The Triumph of the English Language: A Survey of Opinions Concerning the Vernacular from the Introduction of Printing to the Restoration, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1953.

Lamson, Roy, and Hallett Smith, The Golden Hind: An Anthology of Elizabethan Prose and Poetry, New York, Norton, 1942.

Lewes, George Henry, The Spanish Drama: Lope de Vega and Calderón, London, C. Knight & Co., 1846, in < stream/spanishdramalope00leweuoft#page/n11/mode/2up>.

Loftis, John, The Spanish Plays of Neoclassical England, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1973.

Mérimée, Ernest, and S. G. Morley, A History of Spanish Literature, New York, H. Holt and Co., 1930.

Rennert, Hugo, The Spanish Stage in the Time of Lope de Vega, New York, 1909.

Samson, Alexander, «1623 and the Politics of Translation», in The Spanish Match: Prince Charles’s Journey to Madrid, 1623, ed. Alexander Samson, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2006, pp. 91-106.
— «“Last Thought upon a Windmill”?: Cervantes and Fletcher», in The Cervantean Heritage: Reception and Influence of Cervantes
in Britain, London, Legenda, 2009, pp. 223-33.

Smith, Dawn L, «El teatro clásico español en Inglaterra», La puesta
en escena del teatro clásico, ed. José María Ruano de la Haza, Madrid, Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico, 1992, Cuadernos de Teatro Clásico 8, pp. 299-309.

Sullivan, Henry W., Calderón in the German Lands and Low Countries: His Reception and Influence, 1654-1980, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Taylor, Scott K., Honor and Violence in Golden Age Spain, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2008.

Ticknor, George, History of Spanish Literature, London, John Murray, 1849.


1. The effects of the Black Legend are felt in performance as well as in scholarly contexts. Although she does not elaborate, Dawn L. Smith claims, in a survey of the very recent turn to productions of the comedia in England, «La comedia del Siglo de Oro fue una víctima más de la tristemente famosa Leyenda Negra nacida en el siglo xvi, que tanto deformó el punto de vista británico sobre España» (1992: 300).

2. Even a broadly sympathetic critic such as George Henry Lewes recurs to the metaphor: «It is not enough to say that our own writers pillaged [Spanish sources] without scruple. To express the obligation truly, we must say that the European drama is saturated with Spanish influence» (Lewes 1846: 6).

3. In her edition, María Susana Seguin cites a similar circularity in Hyppolite Taine’s reception of D’Aulnoy: «d’ordinaire, on ne connaît l’Espagne que par son drame, ses romans picaresques et sa peinture. Quand sur de tels documents, on essaie de se figurer la vie réelle, on hésite et on n’ose conclure, des pareilles moeurs semblent fabuleuses. Après avoir lu cet ouvrage, on les voit, on les touche […]; ni les livres ni les tableaux n’avaient menti; les personnages de Lope, de Calderón, de Murillo et de Zurbaran couraient les rues» (D’Aulnoy 2005: 8).

Literary Hispanophobia and Hispanophilia in Britain and the Low Countries (1550-1850)

Edited by Yolanda Rodríguez Pérez (2020)

“Spain has been a fruitful locus for the European imagination for centuries, and it has been most often perceived in black-and-white oppositions — either as a tyrannical and fanatical force in the early modern period or as an imaginary geography of a ‘Romantic’ Spain in later centuries. However, the image of Spain, its culture and its inhabitants did not evolve inexorably from negative to positive. From the early modern period onwards, it responded to an ambiguous matrix of conflicting Hispanophobic and Hispanophilic representations. Just as in the nineteenth century latent negative stereotypes continued to resurface, even in the Romantic heyday, in the early modern period appreciation for Spain was equally undeniable. When Spain was a political and military superpower, it also enjoyed cultural hegemony with a literary Golden Age producing internationally hailed masterpieces. Literary Hispanophobia and Hispanophilia in Britain and the Low Countries (1550-1850) explores the protracted interest in Spain and its culture, and it exposes the co-existent ambiguity between scorn and fascination that characterizes Western historical perceptions, in particular in Britain and the Low Countries, two geographical spaces with a shared sense of historical connectedness and an overlapping, sometimes complicated, history with Spain.”

The case studies presented in this edited volume presents a broader historical and theoretical context. It exposes the triangular literary, cultural and political relationship between Britain, the Low Countries and Spain in two very different – though strongly interconnected – historical periods, the early modern period and the nineteenth century. It contends that to fully understand how cultural representations of Spain and its cultural legacy have been forged, it is essential to expose the intricate historical dynamics of Hispanophobia and Hispanophilia. Furthermore, it exposes and problematizes certain historiographical biases regarding the cultural role of Spain and the historical asymmetry in the representation of Spain.

Yolanda Rodríguez Pérez and Antonio Sánchez Jiménez have earlier explored the paths of the Black Legend within the NWO project (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, 2013-2015) ‘The Black Legend and the Spanish Identity in Golden Age Spanish Theatre (1580-1665)’

The Black Legend is the perception/theory that Spaniards are especially tyrannical, cruel, intolerant, lustful, and greedy people. These powerful stereotypes prevent an accurate understanding of Early-Modern, and even contemporary Spain. This NWO project studied the Black Legend as an Early-Modern cultural dialogue, one in which Spanish intellectuals saw foreign prejudices as challenges that they needed to answer. It approach the Black Legend from an interdisciplinary angle by combining literary studies with theory on nation building, propaganda, and identity forming. In particular, it examines how the Black Legend influenced the Spanish self-conception during the Golden Age: how Golden Age Spanish writers received those ideas and how they used theater to respond to them, how commercial and court plays contributed to a nation-building process, and how even a nation already previously constructed, such as Spain, adopted foreign perceptions to reshape its own self-image.

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The Printing of the Second Part of Don Quijote

John O’Neill

The Printing of the Second Part of Don Quijote and Ocho comedias: Evidence of a Late Change in Cervantes’s Attitude to Print and of Concurrent Production as Practised by both Author and Printers

The Library, Volume 16, Issue 1, March 2015, Pages 3–23,

Published: 26 March 2015

THE TITLE OF CERVANTES’S Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses nuevos, nunca representados (‘Eight New Plays and Interludes, Never Performed’) provides us with an ironic reminder of his failure as a playwright in his later years.1 In the prologue he elaborates on the reasons for his inability to find an audience for his plays, telling us that, although he had enjoyed some success with the works for the stage that he wrote in the 1580s, his later plays, completed in the early part of the seventeenth century—by which time the new style of theatre championed by Lope de Vega and his followers held sway—did not arouse any interest amongst the autores, the all-powerful actor-managers who determined the repertoire of the theatre companies:

I did not find an actor-manager who wanted them, even though they knew I had them; and so I threw them into a chest, consigning and condemning them to perpetual silence. At the time a bookseller informed me that he would have bought them, had an actor-manager of some note not told him that much could be expected of my prose, but of my verse nothing.2

For much of the period of four hundred years that has passed since their publication, Cervantes’s plays have continued to attract much less attention than his prose fiction, although in recent years there have been signs that the originality of his theatre is gradually becoming more widely acknowledged. Jonathan Thacker, for example, states that Cervantes is ‘a far more important dramatic voice than has habitually been recognized’, and Pedro, The Great Pretender, Phillip Osment’s translation of Pedro de Urdemalas, was included in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Golden Age season of 2004.3 Most critics, however, still consider Cervantes to be a much less significant dramatist than the famous triumvirate of Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, and Calderón de la Barca, and that opinion is reflected in the fact that many of the full-length plays have yet to be either translated or performed.

The first edition of Ocho comedias, like the plays themselves, has generated little interest, yet the preliminares, or front matter, of this volume reveal a connection with the second part of Don Quijote that is of interest both to students of Cervantes and to bibliographers in general.4 The purpose of this study is to investigate the significance of that connection—a process that has involved looking at the difficult conditions under which Cervantes wrote and his changing attitude to print, and analyzing data relating to books produced at two different Madrid print-shops during a period of four years from the beginning of 1612 to the end of 1615. The results of the research provide new insights into the working practices both of Cervantes and of his printers, challenging assumptions that have been made about modes of production in Spanish printing-houses during the early-modern period, and thereby supplying an answer to a question that has been raised about the length of time it took to print the second part of the Quijote.

The items usually included in the preliminares were the privilegio or licencia, the fe de erratas, the tasa, and the aprobación. There might also be a prologue and a dedication to the author’s patron, as was the case with both of Cervantes’s books. A licencia was simply a licence to print the work, whereas the privilegio gave exclusive rights of publication to the author for a limited period—twenty years for the second part of the Quijote and ten years for Ocho comedias. The author could—and usually did—sell the privilegio to a bookseller, who would then make a contract with a printer.5 The fe de erratas was not, as one might perhaps expect, a list of typographical errors, but an official testimony that the printed work was a faithful copy of the original de imprenta, a transcription of the author’s manuscript prepared for the printer by a scribe, which had to be submitted to the censor for approval (the aprobación). The date of the fe de erratas therefore indicates when the printing of the body of the work was finished.6 The process of production was not, however, quite complete, since the fe de erratas was usually followed, in most cases just a few days later, by the tasa— the setting of the selling price of the book—although in some cases the order is reversed and the tasa precedes the fe de erratas. In certain books other material from the front matter may also carry a later date than the tasa. For example, in the second part of Don Quijote the dedication was signed by Cervantes on 31 October, ten days after the tasa and fe de erratas, and the final date in the preliminares is 5 November, when Gutierre de Cetina signed the third aprobación.

Printing normally began only after the privilegio had been granted.7 It would have been in the interests of all parties—author, bookseller, and printer—that this should be as soon as possible, but the precise date on which production began may have depended on other factors, such as the other work that the printer had on hand. Since printing was generally completed—with the possible exception of certain other items in the preliminares—by the date of the fe de erratas, the period between the dates of the privilegio and the fe de erratas can be described as the production window— the period during which production must have occurred. In the case of the second part of Don Quijote almost seven months elapsed from the granting of the privilegio, on 30 March 1615, to the signing of the fe de erratas, on 21 October.8 That was more than twice the length of time it took to produce the first part—a significantly bigger book financed by the same bookseller, Francisco de Robles, and produced at the same print-shop, the one that bore the name of Juan de la Cuesta, but was actually owned by María Rodríguez de Ribalde.9

Returning to the preliminares of Ocho comedias, one finds that the privilegio for that volume was granted on 25 July 1615 and that the fe de erratas is dated 13 September, which means that, while the second part of Don Quijote was in production, the printing of the collection of plays, financed by a different bookseller, Juan de Villarroel, was completed at another print-shop, that of ‘La viuda de Alonso Martín’ (the widow of Alonso Martín), in just two months.10 Ocho comedias consists of sixty-five sheets of quarto, five fewer than the second part of Don Quijote, but it would have been a far more complex project for a printer to set the volume of eight plays and interludes, especially since the full-length plays were written in a number of different verse forms.

If the unnamed bookseller mentioned in the prologue to Ocho comedias as having rejected the plays were Robles, that would provide us with a neat rationale for Cervantes’s placing them with another publisher and printer. However, the full explanation, it will be argued here, is more complex, and the key to understanding it, and also the delay in the production of the second part of Don Quijote, is provided by evidence that Spanish printers of this period had in place a system of concurrent production similar to the one described by McKenzie in his famous study of a Cambridge print-shop, operating over eighty years later.11 There is also strong evidence to suggest that Cervantes, who had a keen understanding of the way the printing business worked, had his own system of concurrent production in place, designed to expedite the publication of his late works. However, in order to appreciate fully the significance of the events surrounding the production of Cervantes’s works in Madrid in 1615 it is necessary first to place them in the context of his publishing history, which is characterized by a strangely uneven chronology and an uneasy relationship with print.

Few of Cervantes’s writings were published in the first sixty-five years of his life. His first novel, La Galatea, appeared in 1585, when he was thirty-seven years old.12 This pastoral romance was well received at the time, running to seven editions by 1618.13 In his aprobación to the second part of Don Quijote Francisco Márquez Torres recounts having met some French noblemen, one of whom ‘had almost managed to memorize it’.14 Even Cervantes’s rival Lope de Vega voiced his approval, through a character in La viuda valenciana (‘The Widow of Valencia’), who declares: ‘This is Galatea, if you want a good book then look no further’.15 Despite this success, twenty years passed before the publication of the first part of Don Quijote in 1605, a period that he refers to in the prologue of that work as ‘the silence of oblivion’ (‘el silencio del olvido’), and another eight years followed before the appearance of the Novelas ejemplares (‘Exemplary Stories’) in 1613.16 However, this trickle was followed by a deluge, with four more works printed in the last eighteen months of his life: Viaje del Parnaso (‘Journey to Parnassus’, November 1614), Ocho comedias (September 1615), the second part of Don Quijote (October 1615), and Persiles y Sigismunda, which he finished writing in April 1616, just before he died, and which was published posthumously early in 1617.17 Moreover, according to what Cervantes tells us in the various prol ogues and dedications of these late works, he was preparing three more works for publication when he died: the second part of La Galatea, Semanas del jardín (‘Weeks in the Garden’), and Bernardo. This late flurry of activity becomes even more remarkable when we consider that Cervantes was not only in his mid to late sixties but suffering from chronic ill-health with oedema.

The story of the printing of Cervantes’s works is, therefore, a curious one: sixty-five years of relative inactivity followed by a frenetic three years in which he seemed determined to publish as much as possible. The long gap between La Galatea and Don Quijote can, at least in part, be explained by the circumstances of his life, for during much of this period, from 1587 until 1597 or later, he was working as a government civil servant in Andalusia, first as a commissary for supplies for the Armada and then as a tax collector. These were demanding and stressful jobs, involving a lot of traveling and a considerable amount of paperwork, which would have left him with less time for writing. The period of eight years between Don Quijote and the Novelas ejemplares is, however, more difficult to account for. Why did Cervantes not seek to build on the extraordinary success of the Quijote, which had made him the most famous writer of prose fiction in Europe? The answer probably lies in the reservations he felt about the medium of print, which he expresses on two different points in the second part of Don Quijote: in the conversation between Don Quixote and Sansón Carrasco in Chapter 3, which I will return to later, and during Don Quixote’s visit to the Barcelona Print-shop in Chapter 62.

Don Quixote’s visit to a Barcelona print-shop in Chapter 62 indicates that Cervantes was very familiar not only with the technical aspect of printing but also with the way the business worked.18 Don Quixote witnesses the key activities that take place—composition of the formes by the typesetters, the operation of the presses, and correction of the proofs—and then strikes up a conversation with a man who is having his translation of an Italian work called Le Bagatele (sic) printed there. The translator, who is determined to have his book printed at his own expense, responds as follows to Don Quixote’s warning that he may end up with a lot of unsold copies on his hands, as a result of the shenanigans of printers: ‘“Well what would you have me do?”, said the author. “Do you want me to sell the rights to a bookseller, who’ll give me three maravedís for them and think he’s doing me a favour?”’19 It is a complaint that is echoed in Chapter 1 of the Fourth Book of Persiles y Sigismunda, by a Spanish pilgrim, whom Periandro and Auristela encounter in an inn near Rome, who is writing a book of aphorisms:

I won’t give up the rights to my book to any bookseller in Madrid even if he pays two thousand ducados for them. There isn’t a single one of them there who doesn’t want the rights for free, or for such a low price that it doesn’t benefit the author of the book.20

The translator’s experience probably reflects that of Cervantes, who had recently financed the printing of Viaje del Parnaso out of his own pocket, and who had ample experience of how little money could be made from writing novels and how the odds were stacked in favour of the bookseller when it came to selling the privilegio. In June 1584 Blas de Robles agreed to pay him 1336 reales for the rights to La Galatea, yet just eighteen months later he was in such dire straits that he needed to borrow more than four times that amount—204,000 maravedís, or 6,000 reales—in order to settle a debt.21 The success of Don Quijote had brought fame, but not riches, for even that bestseller, which ran to two editions in the first year, had earned him very little. He had sold the rights to the bookseller Francisco de Robles for 1500 reales, which, bearing in mind the rampant inflation that the Spanish economy was experiencing at the time, was probably an even worse deal than the one he had struck for Galatea.22 While the fact that he had not published anything for twenty years might explain his failing to profit from selling the privilegio of Don Quijote, it does not account for the similarly unfavourable arrangement regarding the rights to the Novelas ejemplares, which were sold on 9 September 1613 for just 1600 reales, at a time when Cervantes was famous throughout Europe.23 A playwright could make money from having their work performed on stage, but there was little profit in writing novels, even for an author as celebrated as Cervantes. In the aforementioned aprobación of the second part of Don Quijote Francisco Márquez Torres relates how, when asked by the French noblemen who were aficionados of Cervantes’s writing about the author’s ‘age, profession, status and wealth’, he replied, to their surprise, ‘old, a soldier, low-ranking nobility, and poor’ (‘viejo, soldado, hidalgo y pobre’).24 That picture of hardship is confirmed by Cervantes himself in the dedication to his patron, the Count of Lemos, in which he describes himself as ‘extremely hard-up’ (‘muy sin dineros’).25 These words, and those of Márquez Torres, who was a chaplain employed by the Archbishop of Toledo, one of Cervantes’s benefactors, are an ironic reminder that, while patronage may have eased his financial situation somewhat, it certainly did not make him comfortable.

Since the vast majority of the profits from printed books went to the bookseller, and since Cervantes, for most of his life, received little or no benefit from patronage, he had no great financial incentive to have his writings printed. The possibility of achieving celebrity was, of course, another motive, as Cervantes indicates in the prologue to the second part of Don Quijote:

I know only too well the temptations of the devil, and one of the greatest is to put the idea in a man’s mind that he can write and print a book that will earn him as much fame as money and as much money as fame.26

Here, and in the conversation between Don Quixote and the translator in the print-shop, Cervantes seems to be suggesting that the writer needs to choose between fame or profit. The translator makes it clear that his motives are purely mercenary: ‘I do not have my books printed to attain fame in the world, for I am already known for my work. I want profit. Without it, fame is not worth a farthing’.27 Choosing literary celebrity, however, as Cervantes had done, also involved risks, as we are reminded by the fact that the remarks in the prologue to the second part of Don Quijote are directed at an unknown writer going by the pseudonym of Alonso Fernández Avellaneda, who, in the autumn of 1614, had published a hostile sequel to the first part, in the prologue of which he had launched a vitriolic attack on Cervantes.28 The hijacking of his literary creation outraged Cervantes to such an extent that he changed the timetable that he had planned for the publication of his works, suspending work on Persiles to bring forward the completion of the Quijote. He expressed his contempt for Avellaneda at various points throughout the text, for example in the episode in the print-shop, which ends with the knight storming out, piqued by his discovery that one of the works being produced there is Avellaneda’s Quijote.

Don Quixote thinks Avellaneda’s book should have been ‘burned to cinders for its impertinence’ (‘quemado y hecho polvos por impertinente’), and goes on to stress the importance of truth in fiction.29 However, the book-trade does not make a distinction between works of fiction that are true and those which are false, and that lack of discrimination clearly infuriated Cervantes. It also irritated him that it was the publication of Don Quijote that had given rise to Avellaneda’s apocryphal sequel, as is clear from one of the items in Don Quixote’s last will and testament:

Item: I beseech the aforementioned gentlemen my executors that if by chance they should meet the author who is said to have composed a story that goes by the name of The Second Part of the Adventures of Don Quixote of La Mancha, they should, on my behalf, ask him, as insistently as possible, to pardon me for unthinkingly having given him the opportunity to write such a load of claptrap, because I leave this life with pangs of conscience for having given him the motive for writing it.30

That print could have negative consequences, and expose one to criticism or ridicule, was something that Cervantes had realized several years previously, when the first part of Don Quijote was published. It is a theme that emerges in Chapter 3 of the second part, in a conversation between Don Quixote and Sansón Carrasco, who, as the reader learns in the previous chapter, has brought news from Salamanca that Sancho and Don Quixote have become literary celebrities through the publication of the first book:

‘It often happens that those who have cultivated and achieved great fame through their writings either lose it completely or see it somewhat diminished when they hand them over to be printed.’

‘The reason for that’, said Sansón, ‘is that, as printed works are viewed at one’s leisure, it is easy to see their faults, and, the more famous the person who wrote them, the more they are subject to scrutiny.’31

Cervantes, in the Adjunta al Parnaso, the prose postscript to his narrative poem Viaje del Parnaso, is keen to stress an advantage, where plays are concerned, of the medium of print, which allows the reader to appreciate at his or her leisure what passes quickly in performance:

I am considering handing over the plays to be printed, so that one might see at one’s leisure what happens quickly, or is disguised or misunderstood when they are performed. Moreover, plays, like songs, have their seasons and their times.32

However, in the conversation between Don Quixote and Sansón, and again in the following chapter, Cervantes dwells on a major disadvantage of publication. Errors, once fixed in print, can be difficult to erase, both from the book and from the memory of the reader.

The most infamous of the faults in the first part of Don Quijote that Sansón Carrasco mentions is the narrative of the theft of Sancho’s donkey. In the first edition of Juan de la Cuesta reference is made to its having gone missing, but with no explanation as to how, between Chapters 25 and 29. In Chapter 42 the donkey reappears, again with no explanation. In the second Cuesta edition of 1605 an attempt was made to resolve the problem by inserting an episode in Chapter 23 in which Ginés de Pasamonte steals the animal, but the donkey is referred to six times, as if the theft had not occurred, before its recapture is described in Chapter 30.33 These discrepancies were all corrected in the Brussels edition of 1607, printed by Roger Velpius, but, astonishingly, only two of those corrections found their way into the third Cuesta edition of 1608.34 Cervantes decided to make light of the issue by incorporating these botched attempts at repairing the original error into the metafictional fun and games that characterize the second part of Don Quijote. When Sansón remarks that ‘before the ass reappeared the author states that Sancho was riding it’, Sancho retorts that ‘either the chronicler was mistaken, or it was carelessness on the part of the printer’, thus laying the blame on the fictional narrator, Cide Hamete Benengeli, or the actual print-shop of Juan de la Cuesta.35 That Cervantes felt the need to address the issue ten years after the error had first appeared in print demonstrates how much it bothered him. However, if he thought that his authorial sleight of hand would spare him further embarrassment, he was mistaken. Lope de Vega, who had been angered by some disparaging comments that Cervantes made in Chapter 42 of the first part, concerning his commercial attitude to the theatre, was certainly not inclined to let his rival off the hook. In Act III of Amar sin saber a quién (‘Loving, Without Knowing Who’) he refers not just to the original mistake, but to Cervantes’s attempts at exculpating himself, when the gracioso Limón, regarding the loss of an ass, says: ‘Tell us its colour, shape and name, for there is a man who is still waiting to find out what happened to a brownish grey mule. If you don’t, they will say it was “forgetfulness on the writer’s part”.’36 For Chartier the textual inconsistencies in the narration of the theft of Sancho’s donkey ‘point up the similarities that exist between Cervantes’s writing and certain practices of orality’.37 However, while such errors may have been part and parcel of the episodic, oral approach to storytelling in which Cervantes excelled, once fixed in print they laid him open to ridicule.

Cervantes therefore had good reason to develop ambivalent feelings about the medium of print, for although it made him famous, it also exposed him to criticism, some of it vicious, gave Avellaneda the opportunity to kidnap his hero, and made him very little money. However, in the period leading up to the publication of the Novelas ejemplares in 1613 any reservations that he felt about print probably began to be outweighed by a growing awareness, as a result of his age and ill health, of his own mortality, and the knowledge that the printed book was the only means whereby he could ensure that his writings would be preserved for posterity. Everything that he writes in the prologues and dedications of his late works is indicative of an author who is striving to complete, and have printed, as much of his work as possible. In the prologue to the Novelas he refers to Viaje del Parnaso as already having been written, even though the narrative poem was not printed until over a year later, at the end of 1614.38 He also announces that the volume of stories will be followed by Persiles, the continuation of Don Quijote and Semanas del jardín, a work that was never completed, the title of which suggests that it may have been conceived as another book of novelas.39 In the dedication to Ocho comedias he informs the Count of Lemos that ‘Don Quijote de la Mancha has put his spurs on, in his Second Part, in order to go and kiss Your Excellency’s feet’ and that Persiles, Semanas del jardín, and the second part of La Galatea will follow.40 In the prologue to the second part of Don Quijote and the dedication that follows it, dated 31 October 1615, he tells his readers to expect both Persiles, which he is ‘in the process of finishing’ and ‘will complete, God willing, within four months’, and the sequel to La Galatea, while in the dedication to Persiles, written just three days before he died, he indicates his intention to complete, if his health allows, not only Semanas del jardín and the second part of La Galatea but also Bernardo.41 Since that is the first mention of the latter work, whose title suggests a chivalric theme, it may have only existed in embryonic form.42 However, the consistency with which Cervantes refers to Semanas del jardín and the continuation of La Galatea from 1613 onwards makes it likely that these works were, indeed, at an advanced stage.

Taking into account what Cervantes himself tells us, and other information garnered from the front matter of the books written in the last few years of his life, it is possible to construct the following timetable for the production of his late works:

Links to notes 43 and 44

The schedule that Cervantes set for himself in the final four years of his life would have been demanding for any writer, but it is particularly remarkable when we consider that he was a man in his late sixties in poor health. In all but two months of the period of approximately fourteen months between mid September 1614 and early November 1615 Cervantes had at least one work at the printers. From 1612 he was not only writing continuously, but also making plans for the completion of as many as four other projects at the same time. This feverish activity reached its peak in the late summer of 1615, for, during August and September of that year, while he was writing Persiles, both the second part of Don Quijote and Ocho comedias were in production, with two different printers. Cervantes, who, as he indicates in Chapter 62 of the second part, was familiar with the ‘ins and outs of the printing business’ (‘las entradas y salidas de los impresores’), knew that printers had a system of concurrent production in place, which could produce lengthy delays.45 He had, accordingly, devised his own method of concurrent production, in order to ensure that as much of his writing as possible would be printed.

Garza Merino has stated that Spanish print-shops were organized around one major project at a time: ‘We know from surviving printing contracts that generally, once an edition had been agreed, it was a requirement that no other work would be accepted until the new one had been finished, which, barring exceptional circumstances, implied that the print-shop would organize itself around one project, apart from any small jobs that might be taken on’.46

Garza Merino is not specific about her sources, but her remarks would, at first blush, appear to be supported by a sixteenth-century document by Juan Vásquez de Mármol, the corrector at the Royal Printing-House (Imprenta de Su Majestad), listing thirteen conditions that an author could require a printer to meet before entering into a contract.47 The first of these stated that the printer was obliged to begin printing within a certain period, and not to abandon the process once begun.48 It is possible, however, to interpret that condition in different ways. An author or bookseller keen to see their book produced quickly might hope that it meant that the print-shop would focus exclusively on their job, whereas the printer could argue that dividing time between two or three jobs did not mean that the process of printing any one of them had been abandoned.49 In any case, Garza Merino’s views are clearly at odds with those of McKenzie, who, in his essay Printers of the Mind, which considered the records of the Cambridge University Press between 1696 and 1712 and of the London printing-house of Bowyer and Son between 1730 and 1739, found that ‘the Cambridge and Bowyer presses, like any other printing-house today or any other printing-house before them, followed the principle of concurrent production’, and that there was no evidence to suggest that any printing-houses of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did not habitually print several books concurrently.50 McKenzie’s findings are supported by what happens in the episode in the print-shop, for there Don Quixote witnesses three books being produced concurrently. The aforementioned translation of Le Bagateleis being set by a compositor, while two other books are being proofed and corrected: a work entitled Luz del alma (‘Light of the Soul’) and—much to the knight’s displeasure—Avellaneda’s Segunda parte del ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha.

Analysis of information contained in the preliminares of sixty-five books produced at the print-shops of Juan de la Cuesta and La viuda de Alonso Martín between 1612 and 1615, obtained from Pérez Pastor’s Bibliografía madrileña, shows that printers in Madrid, like their English counterparts at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries, and like those in the Barcelona printing-house described in the Quijote, did indeed operate a system of concurrent production. Table 1 shows part of the data that was collated: the key dates that indicate the production windows of seven other books printed at the Cuesta and Martín shops between 30 March 1615 and 5 November 1615, while Ocho comedias and the second part of Don Quijote were also in production. 

Production windows of seven other books printed at the Cuesta and Martín shops between 30 March 1615 and 5 November 1615

The table helps to explain a question raised by Rico, who, in his study of the printing of the two parts of the Quijote, was puzzled by the fact that the second volume took so much longer to produce than the first one. The privilegio for the first part was granted on 26 September 1604, while the testimonio de las erratas is dated 1 December, which means that printing was completed in a little over two months.51 The corresponding period for the second part ran from 30 March to 21 October 1615—nearly seven months, even though the second volume is significantly shorter, at 280 folios, than the first one (316 fols.).52 Since there are more errors—almost double the number—in the second part, Rico thought it unlikely that the delay in the printing of the second part could be ascribed to a slower rate of production, and was unable to find any other explanation than bad luck, going on to say that the standard of printing in Spain at this time was incredibly low, and that print-shops were poorly equipped, undermanned, and lacking typesetters and correctors who were sufficiently qualified.53 That explanation is, however, thrown into question by Moll’s assertion that the Spanish printing industry of this period, despite facing technical problems, had a number of well equipped shops, with skilled workers who had an in-depth knowledge of their business and were capable of producing books of quality.54

It seems that Rico did not take into account concurrent production and must have assumed, like Garza Merino, that work in the print-shop would have been organized around one project. If one takes into account the other jobs with which the Cuesta shop was occupied, the real reason for the delay becomes clear. The production window of the second part of Don Quijote overlapped with that of four other works: parts V—VIII of Herrera’s Historia general; a new edition of Nebrija’s Dictionarium; Murcia de la Llana’s Compendio;and the second edition of Salas Barbadillo’s El Cavallero puntual (‘The Punctilious Knight’).55 The first two of these books were very large projects—319 and 213 sheets respectively, in folio format. Indeed, it is quite conceivable that, even though the privilegio for the second part of the Quijote was granted on 30 March, production did not get fully up to speed until the beginning of August, when work on the books by Herrera and Nebrija was completed. It would then have shared production time with the Compendio, another work in quarto, whose fe de erratas precedes that of the Quijote by only eight days, and El Cavallero puntual, a work in the comparatively rare duodecimo format, the erratas of which is dated 9 November, just four days after the final date in the front matter of the Segunda parte— the aprobación of Gutierre de Cetina.56

That the second part of the Quijote took longer to produce than the first part was therefore nothing to do with bad luck, poor equipment or insufficient manpower, but rather can be attributed to the fact that the book was printed concurrently with at least two others, and possibly as many as four. This was normal practice in the Cuesta shop during the period in question, and it was also the case in the printing-house of La viuda de Alonso Martín, where Ocho comedias was produced. As Table 1 shows, the volume of plays, comprising sixty-five sheets in quarto, was printed concurrently with three others: a book of sermons of one hundred and twelve sheets, also in quarto, and two works in octavo, the Rhetoricae Compendium ex scriptis patris Ioannis Baptistae and Ledesma’s Romancero, comprising twenty-five and twenty-four sheets respectively.57  The fact that these books were not printed serially is demonstrated by the fact that printing of the body of the four works was completed in quick succession: Ocho comedias on 13 September, the Sermones on 22 September, the Rhetoricae Compendium on 5 October, and the Romancero on 13 October.

Gaskell has summarized the reasons for concurrent production as follows: ‘Books varied so much in size that a balance between composition and presswork could not have been kept if they had been printed serially… for, depending on the relative magnitude of their tasks and on accident, either pressmen or compositors would constantly have been waiting for the others to catch up. Printers therefore had several books in production at once… so that when a man came to the end of a stage in the work, he would be in a position to take up something else’.58

This meant that an individual book took longer to print than it might have done if all the workmen had concentrated on it alone; but also that, by using plant and labour less wastefully, all the books could be printed in less time altogether, and at less cost, than they would have been by serial production.

In most cases production would not, therefore, as Garza Merino suggests, have involved two typesetters working in synchronized fashion on one book in order to supply one or two pressmen, thus ensuring that by the end of the day one sheet of a run of 1,000 or 1,500 copies had been printed.59 The organization of work would instead, as McKenzie argues, have been far more complex and varied, with typesetters and pressmen taking up whatever work was to hand, in order that they should not stand idle. What McKenzie discovered in the records of the Cambridge University Press was that each compositor would work on two or three books simultaneously, and that, even when two compositors worked on one book, the usual practice was that one would take over where the other left off. Like the compositors, a press-crew would usually be working on several books simultaneously, and the most efficient system was not to try to maintain a relationship between a particular compositor and crew.60 If the method of production in Madrid at the beginning of the seventeenth century were similar, as the evidence presented here suggests, then any study of the printing of a Spanish book from this period cannot view the production of that volume as an isolated event, but also needs to take into account other works that were printed concurrently in the same shop.

Since it was based on efficiency, the system of concurrent production worked to the advantage of both printer and author. However, writers keen to see their work published as quickly as possible would not necessarily have seen it that way. Cervantes had already experienced the frustrating delays that this mode of production involved during the printing of the Novelas ejemplares. The privilegio for that work, which was printed concurrently with Aranda’s Lugares comunes (Commonplaces) and the second part of Illescas’s Historia Pontifical y Catholica, was granted on 22 November 1612, yet the fe de erratas was not signed until 7 August 1613, over eight months later.61 By 1615 the ailing author, now sixty-seven years old, had probably realized that, if he were to achieve his ambition of publishing as much of his work as possible before he died, and, in particular, to have his beloved plays printed, he was going to need the services of more than one printer. It may well have been the case, as Cervantes hints in the prologue to Ocho comedias, that Robles, the bookseller who financed both parts of the Quijote and the Novelas ejemplares, was decidedly unenthusiastic about the idea of publishing the plays, but, even if that had not been so, Cervantes, for whom time was running out, would have been keen for him to find another printer, since the Cuesta shop was already occupied with the second part of the Quijote and the other works which were printed concurrently with it.

In the event, Cervantes managed to interest a newcomer to the book trade, the twenty-five year old Juan de Villarroel, in Ocho comedias. His shortlived career in publishing began in 1614, when he financed an edition of Juan Pérez de Moya’s Arithmetica Practica.62 He also acquired the rights to a new edition of Fernando de Mena’s translation of Heliodorus’s Historia etiopica de los amores de Teogenes y Cariclea, which appeared in the summer of 1615, just before Ocho comedias, although the title page of that volume indicates that it was financed by Pedro de Bogia.63 All of these books were printed at the print-shop of La viuda de Alonso Martín, which had been run by Francisca Medina since her husband’s death in 1613.64 Villaroel clearly ran into financial difficulties, for on 6 November 1615 there is a record of his owing 1,500 reales to Medina for the cost of printing both the Arithmetica and Ocho comedias.65 In the prologue to Ocho comedias, Cervantes mentions, with scarcely veiled irony, having been paid ‘a reasonable sum’ for the volume of plays; but he was never actually paid in full, for in 1626, nine years after his death, his widow, Catalina Palacios Salazar y Vozmediano, mentioned in her last will and testament an amount of 400 reales that Villarroel still owed.66

Medina’s print-shop was an obvious choice for the volume of plays. It was situated in Calle de los Preciados, a little further away than the Cuesta shop in Calle de Atocha, but still just a ten-minute walk from where Cervantes was living at the time, on the corner of Calle de León and Calle de Francos (now known as Calle de Cervantes), and even closer to Villarroel, whose address on the title page of Ocho comedias is given as ‘plaçuela del Angel’ (now known as Plaza del Ángel).67 The Medina shop, which printed many classic works of the Spanish Golden Age, had already produced Cervantes’s Viaje del Parnaso, and had just recently, on 3 April, completed printing of the Sexta parte (sixth part) of the plays of Lope de Vega, Spain’s most celebrated dramatist.68 Moreover, while the Cuesta shop specialized in the folio format, the printing-house of Medina was noted for working in octavo—the format in which Viaje del Parnaso appeared—and quarto, which was the usual format for plays. In 1615 it produced eight works in quarto, comprising 568 sheets, as opposed to Cuesta’s three (113 sheets). Ocho comedias, a work of sixty-five sheets, was produced in just eight weeks, with the result that although the privilegio for the plays was granted a month later than that of the Sermones and over two months later than that of Ledesma’s Romancero—the two books with which it was printed concurrently—Ocho comedias was the first of the three works to be completed. The privilegio for the plays was granted four months later than that of the second part of Don Quijote, yet the production of the plays was completed six weeks before the printing of the novel was finished. The efficiency of the Medina print-shop was such that, on 24 September, just two days after completing work on Ocho comedias, it finished the printing of the Sermones, a work of almost double the size in the same quarto format, the privilegio of which had been granted just three months previously; and by 5 October it had managed to produce the twenty-five sheets of octavo of the Rhetoricae Compendium, having only started work after 12 September. These are impressive rates of productivity for three books that were printed concurrently, and are an indication that the Medina shop probably had four presses at its disposal. It may also have been able to distribute work to other shops, for, as Moll points out, this often happened when a book needed to be produced quickly, as, for example, in the case of the second Madrid edition of the first part of Don Quijote.69 Time was certainly of the essence where Ocho comedias was concerned, for Cervantes must have been anxious to see his plays printed before he died, and one imagines he would have conveyed his concerns to both Villarroel and Francisca Medina.

While Ocho comedias and the second part of the Quijote were at the printers, Cervantes was working hard to complete Persiles. He had long been aware that printers in Madrid worked on many jobs at the same time, with the result that authors could experience lengthy delays in the printing of their works, and had therefore developed his own method of concurrent production, which proved to be particularly important in preserving his plays for posterity. For much of his life he had felt ambivalent about print, and with good reason, for it had made him little money and had exposed him both to ridicule and literary piracy. Now, however, with his health failing, he worked feverishly to ensure that as much of his work as possible would be passed on to future generations. The printed book, whatever its shortcomings, was the storage medium that would ensure that his writing survived. The dedication to Don Pedro Fernández de Castro, Count of Lemos, dated 19 April 1616, just three days before his death, is a moving testament to his determination to keep writing as long as he still has the strength to hold his pen:

I still retain in my soul the vestiges and traces of Weeks in the Garden and the famous Bernardo. If, by chance, by good fortune (though it would not be fortune, but a miracle), heaven allows me to live, you will see them, and also the final part of Galatea.70

In presenting his last work, Cervantes, who knows he is dying, also offers his patron and his readers, present and future, the ghosts of unfinished projects, those that neither the print-shop nor the wider world would ever see.


1 Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Ocho comedias, y ocho entremeses nuevos, Nunca representados (Madrid: La viuda de Alonso Martín, 1615). In references to early editions, including titles and quotations, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and accentuation is reproduced as found in the source consulted, with the following exceptions, all of which have been regularized: the long ‘s’; where ‘u’ stands for ‘v’ (e.g. ‘auenturas’) and vice-versa (e.g. ‘Don Qvixote’); and where ‘i’ stands for ‘j’ (e.g. ‘trabaios’).

2 ‘No hallé autor que me las pidiese, puesto que sabían que las tenía; y así las arrinconé en un cofre y las consagré y condené al perpetuo silencio. En esta sazón me dijo un librero que él me las comprara si un autor de título no le hubiera dicho que de mi prosa se podía esperar mucho, pero que del verso nada.’ La entretenida, ed. by John O’Neill (London: King’s College, 2014), published online at All translations are my own.

3 Jonathan Thacker, A Companion to Golden Age Theatre (Woodbridge: Tamesis, 2007), p. 59. Miguel Cervantes, Pedro, The Great Pretender, trans. by Philip Osment (London: Oberon Books, 2004).

4 Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Segunda parte del ingenioso cavallero Don Quixote de la Mancha (Madrid: Juan de la Cuesta, 1615 ).

5 Fermín de los Reyes Gómez, ‘La censura del libro: legislación y consecuencias. La impresión del Quijote’, in Imprenta, libros y lectura en la España del Quijote, ed. by José Manuel Lucía Megías (Madrid: Imprenta Artesanal, 2006), pp. 159—80 (p. 163).

6 Gómez, ‘La censura del libro’, p. 165.

7 ibid. pp. 164—65.

8 Cervantes, Segunda parte, fols. [ii]r—[v]v.

9 When Cuesta joined the printing-house of Pedro Madrigal in 1599, it was jointly owned by Madrigal’s widow María Rodríguez de Ribalde (who had married Juan Iñiguez de Lequerica, and been widowed again), and their son, also called Pedro Madrigal. In 1604, after the younger Pedro died, his widow, María Quiñones, married Cuesta, who took over the running of the shop. Books produced there continued to bear his name until Ribalde’s death in 1626, even though Cuesta moved to Sevilla in 1607, abandoning his pregnant wife. Juan Delgado Casado, Diccionario de impresores españoles (siglos XV—XVII), 2 vols (Madrid: Arco/Libros, 1996), I, 175; Jaime Moll, ‘Juan de la Cuesta’, in Gran enciclopedia cervantina, ed. by Carlos Alvar, 10 vols (Madrid: Castalia, 2005— ), III(2006), 3020.[Note from Spanish Classic Books: more correct information at this link]

10 Cervantes, Ocho comedias, fol. [ii]r.

11 D. F. McKenzie, ‘Printers of the Mind: Some Notes on Bibliographical Theories and Printing-House Practices’, in Making Meaning: ‘Printers of the Mind’ and Other Essays, ed. by Peter D. McDonald and Michael Felix Suarez (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002), pp. 13—85.

12 Miguel de Cervantes, Primera parte de La Galatea, dividida en seys libros (Alcalá: Juan Gracián, 1585).

13 The other six editions were produced in Lisbon (1590), Paris (1611), Baeza (1617), Valladolid (1617), Lisbon (1618), and Barcelona (1618). See La Galatea, ed. by Francisco López Estrada and María Teresa López García-Berdoy (Madrid: Cátedra, 1999), pp. 124—25.

14 ‘Que alguno dellos tiene casi de memoria, la primera parte desta’; Don Quijote de La Mancha, ed. by the Instituto Cervantes, dir. by Francisco Rico (Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg/Círculo de Lectores; Centro para la Edición de los Clásicos Españoles, 2004), I, 669. References to this edition are by part, chapter (where applicable), and page.

15 ‘Aquesta es La Galatea | que, si buen libro desea | no tiene más que pedir’; cited in La Galatea, ed. Estrada & García-Berdoy, p. 99.

16 Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (Madrid: Juan de la Cuesta, 1605). For the quotation see Don Quijote, I, Prólogo; ed. Instituto Cervantes, p. 11. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Novelas exemplares (Madrid: Juan de la Cuesta, 1613).

17 Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Viage del Parnaso (Madrid: La viuda de Alonso Martín, 1614); Los trabajos de Persiles, y Sigismunda, historia Setentrional (Madrid: Juan de la Cuesta, 1617).

18 Don Quijote, II. 62; ed. Instituto Cervantes, pp. 1247—51.

19 ‘—Pues ¿qué? —dijo el autor—. ^Quiere vuesa merced que se lo dé a un librero que me dé por el privilegio tres maravedís, y aun piensa que me hace merced en dármelos?’; Don Quijote, II. 62; ed. Instituto Cervantes, p. 1250. The basic units of currency when Cervantes was writing were the copper maravedí, the silver real (royal), equivalent to 34 maravedís, and the gold escudo (shield), the value of which fluctuated, from 350 maravedíswhen it was introduced in 1535, to 400 maravedís in 1566, to 440 maravedís in 1609. The gold ducado, worth 375 maravedís or 11 reales, was an older coin, which was replaced by the escudo during the reign of Charles V, but still functioned as a unit of account in Cervantes’s time. See Bernat Hernández, ‘Monedas, pesos y medidas’, in Don Quijote, ed. Instituto Cervantes, pp. 941—47 (pp. 941—42)

20 ‘-No daré el privilegio de este mi libro a ningún librero de Madrid, si me da por él dos mil ducados; que allí no hay ninguno que no quiera los privilegios de balde, o, a lo menos, por tan poco precio que no le luzga al autor del libro’; Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, ed. by Carlos Romero Muñoz (Madrid: Cátedra, 2002), p. 635.

21 Krzysztof Sliwa, ‘Documentación’, in Gran enciclopedia cervantina,IV (2007), 3570—3646 (p22p. 3589—90).

22 Gómez, ‘La censura del libro’, p. 171.

23 Cristobál Pérez Pastor, Bibliografía madrileña, ó descripción de las obras impresas en Madrid, 3 vols (Madrid: Tipografía de los Huérfanos/Tipografía de la Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos, 1891—1907), II, 250.

24 Don Quijote, II, ed. Instituto Cervantes, p. 670.

25 Don Quijote, II, ed. Instituto Cervantes, p. 679.

26 ‘Bien sé lo que son tentaciones del demonio, y que una de las mayores es ponerle a un hombre en el entendimiento que puede componer y imprimir un libro con que gane tanta fama como dineros y tantos dineros cuanta fama.’ Don Quijote, II, ed. Instituto Cervantes, p. 675.

27 ‘Yo no imprimo mis libros para alcanzar fama en el mundo, que ya en él soy conocido por mis obras: provecho quiero, que sin él no vale un cuatrín la buena fama.’ Don Quijote, II. 62; ed. Instituto Cervantes, p. 1250.

28 Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, Segundo tomo del ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, que contiene su tercera salida : y es la quinta parte de sus aventuras (Tarragona: Felipe Roberto, 1614).

29 Don Quijote, II. 62; ed. Instituto Cervantes, p. 1251.

30 ‘Iten, suplico a los dichos señores mis albaceas que si la buena suerte les trujere a conocer al autor que dicen que compuso una historia que anda por ahí con el título de Segunda parte de las hazañas de don Quijote de la Mancha, de mi parte le pidan, cuan encarecidamente ser pueda, perdone la ocasión que sin yo pensarlo le di de haber escrito tantos y tan grandes disparates como en ella escribe, porque parto desta vida con escrúpulo de haberle dado motivo para escribirlos’; Don Quijote, II. 74; ed. Instituto Cervantes, p. 1334.

31 ‘Muchas veces acontece que los que tenían méritamente granjeada y alcanzada gran fama por sus escritos, en dándolos a la estampa la perdieron del todo o la menoscabaron en algo. —La causa deso es —dijo Sansón— que, como las obras impresas se miran despacio, fácilmente se veen sus faltas, y tanto más se escudriñan cuanto es mayor la fama del que las compuso’; Don Quijote, II. 3; ed. Instituto Cervantes, p. 713.

32 ‘Pero yo pienso darlas a la estampa, para que se vea despacio lo que pasa apriesa, y se disimula, o no se entiende cuando las representan. Y las comedias tienen sus sazones y tiempos, como los cantares.’ Viaje del Parnaso, ed. by Miguel Herrero García (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Instituto Miguel de Cervantes, 1983), p. 314.

33 El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, 2nd edn (Madrid: Juan de la Cuesta, 1605). The six occasions on which reference is made to the donkey can be found on fols. 109r, IIIV, 112r, 120V; 121r and 122r.

34 El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (Brussels: Roger Velpius, 1607). The six corrections are located on fols. 210r, 215r, 216r, 232r, 233r and 235r. El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (Madrid: Juan de la Cuesta, 1608). The two corrections can be found on fols. 96r and 98v.

35 ‘—No está en eso el yerro —replicó Sansón—, sino en que antes de haber parecido el jumento dice el autor que iba a caballo Sancho en el mesmo rucio. —A eso —dijo Sancho— no sé qué responder, sino que el historiador se engañó, o ya sería descuido del impresor.’ Don Quijote, II. 4; ed. Instituto Cervantes, p. 716.

36 ‘Dezidnos della, que ay hombre | que hasta de una mula parda | saber el sucesso aguarda, | la color, el talle, y nombre: | O si no dirán que fue | olvido del escritor’. Lope de Vega Carpio, Ventidos parte perfeta de las comedias(Madrid: La viuda de Juan Gonzalez, 1635), fol. 166r.

37 Roger Chartier, Inscription and Erasure: Literature and Written Culture from the Eleventh to the Eighteenth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), p. 34.

38 Miguel de Cervantes, ed. by Jorge García López, Novelas ejemplares (Barcelona: Circulo de Lectores/Galaxia Gutenberg, 2005), p. 16.

39 Novelas ejemplares, ed. García López, pp. 19—20.

40 ‘Don Quijote de la Mancha queda calzadas las espuelas en su segunda parte, para ir a besar los pies a V. E. […] Luego irá el gran Persiles, y luego Las semanas del jardín, y luego la segunda parte de La Galatea’; La entretenida,ed. O’Neill.

41 See Don Quijote, II; ed. Instituto Cervantes, pp. 677 and 679, and Persiles, ed. Romero Muñoz, pp. 117—18.

42 The title of Bernardo could be a reference to the legendary Spanish hero Bernardo del Carpio, who appears as a character in Cervantes’s play La casa de los celos, and is mentioned in El gallardo español and (several times) in Don Quijote.

43 The preliminares of Avellaneda’s Quijote do not include a privilegio, fe de erratas or tasa. The last date in the front matter is 4 July, which is when the second aprobacián was signed (fol. [ii]r). It is unlikely that a work of this size (sixty-eight sheets of quarto) could have been printed in less than two months, so the earliest date that it could have been published is September, which is the date that Canavaggio gives (Don Quijote, ed. Instituto Cervantes, p. CCCI). However, it is difficult to imagine that Cervantes, had he known about Avellaneda’s Quijote,would not have found a way of inserting some reference to it in the preliminares to Viaje del Parnaso, just as he did in the dedication to Ocho comedias and the prologue to the second part of Don Quijote. Such a reference could even have been added after the fe de erratas (11 November) and tasa (17 November), as was the case with the dedication of the Segunda parte. It therefore seems unlikely that Cervantes found out about Avellaneda’s Quijote until late November or December 1614.

44 Since Cervantes mentions having only six plays and interludes ready for publication in the Adjunta al Parnaso(see Viaje del Parnaso, ed. Herrero García, p. 314), he probably wrote the new material in the period of approximately five months between finishing Don Quijote and handing over the manuscript of Ocho comedias to the printers.

45 Don Quijote, II. 62; ed. Instituto Cervantes, p. 1250.

46 ‘Sabemos por los contratos de impresión conservados que, por lo general, cuando se acordaba una edición, se exigía que no se aceptara otro trabajo hasta que se acabara el recién admitido, lo cual, descartando las salidas de la norma que hubiera, implicaba la organización de la empresa en torno a un proyecto, al margen de los pequeños encargos que se aceptaran’; Sonia Garza Merino, ‘La cuenta del original’, in Imprenta y crítica textual en el siglo de oro, ed. by Francisco Rico, Pablo Andrés, and Sonia Garza (Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid, Centro para la Edición de los Clásicos Españoles, 2000), pp. 65—95 (p. 73).

47 Juan Vázquez de Mármol, Condiciones que se pueden poner cuando se da a imprimir un libro (Madrid: El Crotalón, 1983). The Condiciones are part of an autograph miscellany preserved at the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid (sig. Mss/9226, fol. 243r—v).

48 ‘Que el impressor se obligue a començar a imprimirlo dentro de tanto tiempo y despues de comenzado no dexe de proseguir en el so cierta pena.’

49 Neither the Dictionarium nor El cavallero puntual required a privilegio, since they were new editions, so estimates have been provided. If the speed of printing of the Dictionarium matched that of the Historia general,which was 319 sheets of folio and in production for nine months, then this work, which was almost exactly two thirds as long at 213 sheets of folio, would have been in production for six months. If, on the other hand, one assumes that production was at the average rate of 4. 5 sheets a week for folio at the la Cuesta shop between 1612 and 1615, printing of the Dictionarium would not have started until late September 1614. The only other work in duodecimo format, apart from El cavallero puntual, produced by Juan de la Cuesta in the period in question was the 1614 edition of Jorge Manrique’s Coplas (see Pérez Pastor, Bibliografía madrileña, p. 297). The production window of that book, which comprised 17 sheets, spanned seven months, from 21 June 1613 until 17 January 1614. If the 13 sheets of El cavallero puntual were printed at a similar rate, production would have started sometime around the beginning of June 1615. However, none of these estimates should be regarded as reliable, since, as this study shows, it is very difficult to calculate rates of production for works that are printed concurrently.

50 McKenzie, ‘Printers of the Mind’, pp. 25—26.

51 El ingenioso hidalgo, fols. [ii]rand [iii]v.

52 Segunda parte, fols. [ii]rand [v]v.

53 Francisco Rico, El texto del ‘Quijote’: preliminares a una ecdótica del siglo de oro (Barcelona: Ediciones Destino, 2005), p. 210.

54 Jaime Moll, Problemas bibliográficos del libro del siglo de oro (Madrid: Arco/Libros, 2011), pp. 118—19.

55 Antonio de Herrera, Historia General de los Hechos de los Castellanos en las Islas y Tierra Firme del Mar Oceano [General History of the Deeds of the Castilian People in the Islands and Mainlands of the Oceans], pt. V—VIII, 2 vols (Madrid: Juan de la Cuesta, 1615); Antonio Nebrija, Dictionarium (repr. Madrid: Juan de la Cuesta, 1615); Francisco Murcia de la Llana, Compendio de los Metheoros del Principe de los Filosofos Griegos y Latinos Aristoteles[‘Compendium of the Meteorological Observations of the Prince of Greek and Latin Philosophers Aristoteles’] (Madrid: Juan de la Cuesta, 1615); Alonso Jerónimo de Salas Barbadillo, El Cavallero puntual, pt. 1, 2nd edn (Madrid: Juan de la Cuesta, 1615).

56 Segunda parte, fol. [ii]v.

57 Sermones predicados en la Beatificacion de La B. M. Teresa de Jesus Virgen (Madrid: La viuda de Alonso Martín, 1615); Rhetoricae Compendium ex scriptis Patris Ioannis Baptistae Poza (Madrid: La viuda de Alonso Martín, 1615); Alonso de Ledesma, Romancero y Monstro imaginado (Madrid: La viuda de Alonso Martín, 1615). A romancero is a collection of romances (ballads).

58 Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p. 164.

59 ‘La práctica más común fue el reparto de la composición de un cuaderno entre cajistas que, trabajando sincronizadamente, fueran suministrando las formas a uno o dos tiradores diferentes, de manera que al cabo del día pudieran tener impreso un pliego, por lo menos, de una tirada corriente de mil o mil quinientos ejemplares’; Garza Merino, ‘La cuenta del original’, p. 73.

60 McKenzie ‘Printers of the Mind’, pp. 28—30.

61 Juan de Aranda, Lugares comunes de Conceptos, Dichos y Sentencias en diversas materias, 2nd edn (Madrid: Juan de La Cuesta, 1613); Gonzalo de Illescas, Segunda parte de la Historia Pontifical y Catholica (repr. Madrid: Juan de la Cuesta, 1613). See Pérez Pastor, Bibliografía madrileña, pp. 246—47, 26524.

62 Arithmetica Practica y Speculativa (Madrid: La viuda de Alonso Martín, 1615). Villaroel was granted a licencia on 4 December 1614 (see Pérez Pastor, Bibliografía madrileña, p. 351).

63 Historia etiopica de los amores de Teogenes y Cariclea (Madrid: La viuda de Alonso Martín, 1615). The licenciawas granted on 10 February 1615, and the last date in the front matter is 13 June, which is when the dedication was signed (see Pérez Pastor, Bibliografía madrileña, p. 334).

64 The only other work with which Villarroel was associated was Persiles y Sigismunda, but that was printed by Juan de la Cuesta, although Medina’s shop did produce an edition, in 1619 (see Pérez Pastor, Bibliografía madrileña, p. 481).

65 K. Sliwa, Documentos de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Pamplona: Ediciones Universidad de Navarra, S.A., 1999), p. 369.

66 ‘Él me las pagó razonablemente’; La entretenida, ed. O’Neill. Regarding the debt, see Sliwa, Documentos, pp. 371—72.

67 Jaime Moll, ‘Viuda de Alonso Martín’, in Gran Enciclopedia Cervantina, VIII (2011), p. 7639.

68 Lope de Vega, Sexta parte de sus Comedias (Madrid: la viuda de Alonso Martín, 1615). Other important works produced at the Medina shop included editions of Cervantes’s Novelas ejemplares (1622), Montemayor’s La Diana(1622), and Rojas’s Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea (1632).

69 Moll, Problemas bibliográficos, p. 120.

70 ‘Todavía me quedan en el alma ciertas reliquias y asomos de Las semanas del jardín, y del famoso Bernardo. Si, a dicha, por buena ventura mía (que ya no sería ventura, sino milagro), me diese el cielo vida, las verá, y, con ellas, fin de La Galatea’; Persiles y Sigismunda, ed. Romero Muñoz, pp. 117—18.

© The Author 2015; all rights reserved

Baroque Culture as a Concept of Epoch

Jose Antonio Maravall was born in Spain in 1911. He was professor at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, and associate professor at the University of Paris. He was a member of the Spanish Royal Academy of History and a visiting professor at many universities in the United States and Europe. He is the author of more than 30 books and articles. 

This article is the Introduction to his book La cultura del Barroco, first published in 1975, that is also available in English.

Among the different approaches valid for arriving at an interpretation of baroque culture —whose results, precisely because of its diversity, will always be incomplete —I have focused my inquiry on the meaning and range of the characteristics making up this culture, so that its nexus, with its social relations, will stand out from those relations on which it depends and to whose slow transformation it, in turn, contributes. Perhaps this point of view will give us a broader and more systematic panorama, but we also must accept an accompanying limitation: the baroque is no longer a concept of style that can be repeated and that is assumed to have been repeated in many phases of human history; it has come to be, in frank contradiction with baroque as a style, a mere concept of epoch. My examination presents the baroque as a delimited epoch in the history of certain European countries whose historical situation maintained, at a specific moment, a close relation, whatever the differences between them. By way of derivation, the culture of a baroque epoch can manifest itself (and has become manifest) in the American countries indirectly affected by the European cultural conditions of that time.

But my approach certainly does not define the baroque as a European epoch situated between two perfectly defined dates. Historical epochs are not snipped away and isolated from one another by the dividing line of one year or one date; rather, by means of the arbitrary intervention of the human mind contemplating them, they are separated from one another along a broad zone of dates throughout which they mature and afterwards disappear, being transformed into others, passing their inheritance on to others in a way that it cannot be refused. The baroque, then, runs approximately from 1600 (without discarding the possibility that certain advanced phenomena of baroque significance appeared some years previously, in the later times of Michelangelesque Mannerism and, in Spain, with the construction of the Escorial) to 1670-80 (a time of economic change and the first echoes of modern science in Spain; cultural, political, and economic Colbertism in France; the unimpeded emergence of the Industrial Revolution in England). One may discover baroque manifestations counting among the most outlandish and extreme until well into the eighteenth century, but the sense of the epoch is different. In Spain, the years of Philip III’s reign (1598-1621) encompass the period of transformation; those of Philip IV (1621-65) the period of its peak; and those of Charles II, at least in the first two decades, the final phase of decadence and degeneration, until a time of restoration toward a new epoch begins before the end of the century.{1}

The baroque, then, is a historical concept. It encompasses, approximately, the first three quarters of the seventeenth century, having its center of greater intensity and fuller significance between 1605 and 1650. If this zone of dates refers specifically to Spanish history, it is also valid (with slight adjustments) for other European countries. In Italy, however, with such names as Botero and Tasso, its beginning could be set earlier, at least in some aspects of art, politics, and literature.

I do not, therefore, use the term baroque to designate morphological or stylistic concepts, repeatable in culture, that are chronologically and geographically disparate. One may certainly establish certain relations between external, purely formal elements of the baroque in seventeenth-century Europe and elements present in very different historical epochs in unrelated cultural areas. A culture always has borrowings and legacies from previous and distant cultures. Let us recall the considerable and curious harvest of iconographic terms that Southeast Asia contributed to the European Middle Ages, as some of Baltrusaitis’ ingenious studies have revealed.{2} But these antecedents and influences do not define a culture. They tell us, at most, that a culture of a given period is open to exotic currents that are geographically mobile. Examples include the introduction of the cupola in pre-Roman Catalan art{3} or the title basileus that was used for some Asturian or British kings.{4} Perhaps we are required, in characterizing a culture, to point out the dependence on a distant tradition (as with Mozarabic art, which has a Visigothic base with Islamic elements;{5} or the Brahmanic metaphors that until the eighteenth century were used to express the European estatist conception of society).{6} But tnese cases do not represent intracultural kinship so much as isolated contributions that are integrated into different complexes. Neither the mere coincidence in the utilization of separate elements nor the repetition of formal elements whose connection occurs in very different systems can serve as a basis for defining cultures spanning centuries and geographic regions of very diverse characteristics. These morphological correlations, established in abstraction from many other aspects that one needs in order to define a cultural moment, say little or nothing to the historian. The seeking out and formulation of such morphologies are no more than a play of wit that ordinarily becomes limited to a pleasant arbitrariness. Nevertheless, in recognizing these correlations through space and time we are able to ground some generalizations whose application in other fields of knowledge is indisputable.

But we situate ourselves in the realm of social history, which is first and foremost history: its object is not to limit what is conceived in consideration of its observable data, so that their observation —and every possible resulting induction —is maintained only on the superficial level of aspects recurring throughout distinct phases of the human past. Rather, its purpose is to attain the most systematic knowledge possible about each of the periods it submits to study, without discarding the possibility that they will afterward be compared with great precision. Its orientation is to supplement concretely the best knowledge of each epoch, not to establish abstract generalizations, and its method takes into account the greatest quantity and most varied data obtainable from what an epoch might offer and then interprets them in the complex in which they are integrated. These data include some that reveal similarities or congruences with other epochs. All this effort is not directed toward discovering baroque periods all the way from ancient Egypt to present America, but to completing the panorama of connections between facts of a multiple nature that may lead us to a better knowledge of what the baroque was as a unique period of European culture during the seventeenth century.

In the following pages I will refer to phenomena from various fields, but I have no expectation of running across similarities or morphological kinships that from outside bring the facts together, nor across manifestations of a style that from within inspires economic, political, religious, artistic, or literary phenomena. Yet I believe that one can speak of a baroque at a given time, in any field of human endeavor. In 1944, I noted in my book about Spanish political thought in the seventeenth century that I could just as well have substituted the phrase “in the epoch of the baroque.”{7} Because such an expression would have still been unusual at that time, I decided not to use it in the book’s title. Some years later, in 1953, a specialist in the history of painting, who was speaking about the baroque as the epoch concept of the seventeenth century, expressed the need for a study on baroque political thought.{8} By this time, my book had already been written and would soon be published in French, with a preface by Mesnard wherein he stressed the basic formulation that the work was advancing. Some German authors have spoken, in another realm, of baroque theology, an expression —untenable today —that was easy to elaborate because the appearance and development of baroque culture were for a long time closely related to its religious element.{9} Today it has even become common to speak about baroque science, the baroque’s art of war, baroque economy, baroque politics, and soforth. Clearly in this one must proceed carefully. There can be a certain correspondence among external or formal characteristics occurring in one field or another. Undoubtedly certain aspects of the epoch’s architecture or pictorial depiction can be (by way of example) especially apt for containing a reference to the majestic condition of the baroque’s absolute kings. But, contrary to the arbitrary connection between cupola and monarchy proposed by Eugenio d’Ors,{10} Mousnier led me to observe that there is no seventeenth-century royal palace with a cupola crowning it at its center. I don’t know whether it would be possible to establish similarities between navigation technology and Gongora’s Soledades or between Quevedo’s Sueños and the economy of fleece. I am sure that attempts of this type would be entertaining to read, but I fear that they do little to add to our historical knowledge of the epoch.

My thesis is that all these fields of culture coincide as factors of a historical situation and have repercussions in it, some more than others. In their transformation, proper to the situation of each time, they come to be what they are by the combined and reciprocal action of all the other factors. That is to say, it is not that baroque painting, baroque economy, and the baroque art of war have similarities among themselves (or, at least, their similarity is not what counts, without discarding the possibility that some formal comparison might emerge). Instead, given that they develop in the same situation, as a result of the same conditions, responding to the same vital necessities, undergoing an undeniable modifying influence on the part of the other factors, each factor thus ends up being altered, dependent on the epoch as a complex to which all the observed changes must be referred. In these terms, it is possible to attribute determining characteristics of the epoch —in this case, its baroque character —to theology, painting, the warring arts, physics, economy, politics, and so on. It is in this way that the crisis economy, monetary upheavals, credit insecurity, economic wars, and (along with this) the strengthening of seignorial agrarian landholdings and the growing impoverishment of the masses foster a feeling of being threatened and of instability in one’s personal and social life, a feeling that is held in control by the imposing forces of repression that underlie the dramatic gesticulation of the baroque human being and permit us the use of such a name.

So the baroque is a concept of epoch that in principle extends to all the manifestations making up this epoch’s culture.{11} The new concept of epoch came to be identified by means of art in Italian culture; Burckhardt noticed that, after the Renaissance period and continuing for a specific number of years, the works he contemplated in Rome had, in their deformations and corruptions of previous models, characteristics appearing to belong to a time that was somehow different. Around 1887, in the churches he was studying, Gurlitt, a historian of Roman architecture, observed forms of Renaissance classicism that were lacking in order. At first glance these forms differed among themselves, certainly, but they were dislocated by the same whirlwind of a disordered expression, and all of its products could also be framed between specific dates. Thus resulted the first observations about the baroque, and the vacillating estimations regarding it emerged already in reference to a more or less defined epoch: the epoch following the classicist Renaissance. Wolfflin ventured to extend the new category to the more extensive area of literature. When the characteristics pointed out in this series of works were broadened to other fields, the concept of epoch defining this new post-Renaissance culture was already prepared and, with it, its extension to the diverse sectors of a culture and to the group of countries where it had spread.

As interest in the baroque continued to grow and research on it became more productive, the estimation of its works changed in turn and its interpretation became more complicated and better adapted. The investigative work and the positive valorization of the baroque stage in European culture had its starting point in Germany, from there passing rapidly to Italy, then Spain and England, and finally to France. There the weight of tradition, specifically of classicism— considered only a few years ago to be incompatible with the baroque — made comprehension of the baroque more difficult, at least until recent times (always with some exceptions that must stand as precedents, such as M. Raymond). At present, however, some of the most suggestive works proceed from French scholars. The change in the historical formulation of baroque interpretation can be illustrated with one of its most extreme expressions, taken from the sociohistorian Lewis Mumford, for whom the Renaissance comes to be the initial phase of a new epoch that reaches its fullest meaning in the baroque. According to his thesis, we can characterize the Renaissance, with all its purity of precepts, as the first manifestation of the subsequent baroque.{12} It is worthwhile to underscore this definitive recognition of a conditioning link between both periods and the appraisal of a highly positive value that one must attribute to the baroque in European culture. Certainly, I do not refer here to subjective personal appraisals regarding the works of artists, politicians, thinkers, or writers of the baroque epoch, which would be similar to attributing them with qualities of good or bad taste according to the preferences of each historian. In the eighteenth century, when the wordbaroque first emerged to qualify specific products of the creative activity of poets, dramatists, and the plastic arts, it was already tinted with a pejorative meaning. Inversely, in other circumstances —such as in Spain during the second quarter of this century —a heated enthusiasm arose around the gongorine movement for baroque creations. Here we have to dispense with such appraisals. Appealing to personal taste disrupts the perception of a cultural phenomenon; although its study takes into account appraisals of such a nature, we are ultimately liable for not seeing things with clarity. In a book that contains validcontributions but also serious limitations, V. L. Tapie, studying the baroque in comparison with classicism counterposes the permanent admiration produced (according to him) by a work of a classical character, such as Versailles, to the repulsion that contemporary good taste experiences before a baroque production.{13} But during the very years when Tapie was writing, the young reseacher J.G. Simpson considered Versailles to be saturated with baroqueness, despite its classicist details, and simultaneously tells us that its lack of restraint and proportion makes us lose ourselves there: “the grandeur turns into megalomania.”{14}

The participation of scholars from different countries in baroque studies has enriched and helped give a more precise direction to its interpretation. Although the Germans (Wolfflin, Riegl, Weisbach) insisted (more the first than the last) on formal aspects, they already brought out the connection with historical circumstances: the counterreformist renewal of the Church, the strengthening of papal authority, the expansion of the Society of Jesus —all of which led ultimately to the systematic positing of the baroque as the “art of the Counter-Reformation.” This interpretation, which was so influential for several years, gave maximum emphasis to the role of Italy, above all in art, and compensated by reserving for Germany the greater part of the literary baroque. Because of the recognition of Italy’s predominant role, it was possible better to appreciate something that we have pointed out: the nexus between classicism and the baroque, whose affirmation led H. Hatzfeld to say that “wherever the problem of the baroque emerges, the existence of Classicism remains implicit.”{15} Hatzfeld observed that keeping the Greco-Latin ideal and accepting Aristotle’s Poetics go together at the baroque’s origin (let us recall the role that Robortello’s Aristotelian poetics played in Lope). The panorama that Hatzfeld outlined regarding the evolution of the baroque movement is of interest:

With inevitable differences from generation to generation and with more or less ability, the theorizing Italy, Spain, which experimented with the Italian forms, and France, which, in slow maturation, came to its creations with a fully theoretical consciousness, harmonized their particular national literary and linguistic traditions in a baroque style. This is the same as saying that certain forms of the Italian Renaissance had become common to all of Europe, thanks to the mediation and modifying activity of Spain, and paradoxically culminated in French classicism.{16}

In granting the Mediterranean and Latin countries such a preponderant role in the appearance and development of baroque culture, we cannot forget the significance of such central-European figures as Comenius, whose work as a pedagogue and moralist is decisive in any attempt to define the baroque, nor, on the other hand, English literature and the art and thought of the Low Countries. From this new perspective, the baroque, while in force in Europe, covered more ground than it did in those already outmoded explanations that presented it as a complex of literary or pseudoartistic aberrations saturated with the bad taste that counterreformist Catholicism had cultivated in countries subject to Rome. At the same time, the period was accompanied by a complexity of resources and results that made it one of those most in need of study in order to understand the history of modern Europe. In any case, it can no longer be seen as a consequence following from a single factor, nor even from the varied consequences it provoked on the cultural plane; instead, it became manifest in connection with an extremely varied repertory of factors that together determined the moment’s historical situation and imbued all its manifestations with those interdependent and related characteristics that permit us to speak, in a general sense, of the culture of the baroque.

The transformations of sensibility that in recent times came to be tied to new social conditions —whose first phase of maximum critical tension was reached in the 1920s —awakened a new interest in certain productions of Spanish culture. Until then, under pressure of a pedagogical classicism, many of these productions had been cast aside; the recently awakening interest has resulted in the incorporation of the rich area of seventeenth-century Spain into the study of the European baroque. The rediscovery of El Greco, the growing admiration for Velazquez, Zurbaran, and Ribera, the appreciation of the theater, of the picaresque novel and even of the more trivial lyric poetry, and, finally, of economic and political thought have prepared the way for a more developed study of the Spanish baroque. Admittedly, the rise of Spanish baroque studies was favored by the tendency, vigorously followed in the diffusion of seventeenth-century studies, to link baroque creations with Tridentine Catholicism, civil monarchy, pontifical absolutism, and Jesuit instruction, factors that were widely developed in Spain. Even in Tapie’s book on the baroque, which dealt with France, Italy, central Europe, and Brazil, there was no mention made of Spain, although the fact would have proven unjustifiable from any point of view even at the time when the work was published. Francastel advanced the harsh objection that for this simple reason the work represented an improper development of the theme:

Tapie takes the Italian origin of the baroque as an absolute given; personally I believe that the baroque is not born in Italy but as a consequence of the forceful penetration of certain religious forms that arrived from Spain and also, undoubtedly, through the penetration of certain modalities of a taste that, without being Spanish, perhaps was linked to the social order imposed by Hispanicization.{17}

Previously, S. Sitwell had maintained that one must study Spanish examples to find the characteristics that define the baroque with greater clarity and a more general validity; hence the advantage of also making use of the Portuguese and Spanish-American examples that are related to them.{18} This author as well as another English author, Watkin,{19} in accentuating the Hispanic factor in the baroque, link it to a dependency upon Catholic and Hispanic religiosity. What is certain is that the Spanish component in the baroque has tended to be more and more amplified. For reasons similar to those of the English writers I have cited, Weisbach also utilized Spanish data to a great extent in making the baroque an art of the Counter-Reformation. But perhaps no one has taken this position to as much of an extreme as H. Hatzfeld: for him, the baroque is linked to far-removed and constant ingredients of the Spanish genius —certain aspects could already be discovered in Hispano-Latin writers (Lucan, Seneca, Prudentius); the forms of religiosity that make the Spanish spirit unique (in St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius) had a strong influence on its development; and, finally, one must take into account the presence of certain elements occurring in the Hispanic tradition (i.e., Islamic and North African elements). According to Hatzfeld, since the second half of the sixteenth century, Spain —penetrated with Italian culture in the sixteenth century, saturated with Italianism, present in Italy and influential there to a great degree —provoked an alteration in the circumstances in which the Italian Renaissance was developing and compelled writers and artists to seek new forms that led to the baroque. In the formation of the baroque it would be impossible to deny the circumstances of Hispanicization in Rome, Naples, and indirectly at other points on the Italian peninsula. Spain, which contributed so effectively to the breakdown and removal of the Renaissance order, rapidly assimilated the incipient baroque forms of Italy, carried them to maturity, and diffused them into France, Flanders, Italy itself, and also into the Protestant milieu of England and Germany.{20} Counterreform, absolutism, and baroque went together, betokened by their Spanish base, and even the baroque art produced in Protestant countries was found to have a relation to the Hispanic influence —a thesis that others had already stated without playing down (contrary to what Hatzfeld does) the creative value of the Protestant baroque.{21}

Baroque culture thus extended to the most varied manifestations of social life and human works, although different manifestations predominated in different places; the geographic zone to which this culture extended —without making distinction between original and derived production —encompassed all western European countries, from where it is exported to the American colonies or had repercussions in eastern Europe. Finally, given the multiplicity of human resources participating in it, no less than the extremely varied attributes of the groups where it developed, the baroque depended upon similar or connected circumstances of a historical situation and not on other factors —for example, on its popular characteristics or on the particular causes of an ethnic group.

On the other hand, after the valid criticism of A. Castro and others, it is today impossible to take seriously the reference to similarities of style in Latin writers of peninsular origin, the attempt to find Hispanic characteristics “from their most remote origins” (as it was postulated by M. Pelayo), or the belief of finding echoes of Lucan or Seneca in Spanish writers when they are deemed of high quality. The thesis is no more tenable that aims to recognize Islamic components, in an attempt to show a Hispanic predisposition toward the baroque; the same arguments militate against this as against the former, although not all of the many who have spoken about the subject — arbitrarily to a certain degree —are disposed to recognize it. Besides, in what North African or Islamic country has the baroque taken place, if this concept is endowed with a meaning somewhat more consistent than a certain tendency to decorative outlandishness that is so common to so many peoples in so many epochs and civilizations, and which plays a secondary role in the historical structure of the baroque?{22}

There remains the question of appealing to the Spanish character itself, which in this case refers to religious attitudes and more particularly to mystical ones. Frequently —and this is what Hatzfeld does —the baroque is combined with mysticism and both are linked to the Spanish character and spirituality. In Spain, however, mysticism was an imported form of religiousness that arrived from Flanders and Germany before passing, in turn, to Germany and France —leaving aside at each moment the case of Italy. Spanish mysticism was a shortlived and delimited phenomenon, and nothing remained of it in the seventeenth century when, inversely, French and above all German mysticism were thriving magnificently. There did exist forms of magical thought that cannot be merely equated with mysticism; on the other hand, they could be found in all of Europe in this same epoch. Finally, the aspects characterizing mysticism, at least as it occurred in Spain (with St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross) were straightforwardly different from those of the baroque; they were rather anti-Baroque, without being divorced from the common ground of scholastic philosophy that was present in both.{23} Of course, I am not including St. Ignatius here as a mystic. The Ignatian mentality was disseminated and came to fruition in almost all European countries. To discuss the correspondences of Ignatian mentality with baroque propositions — which occurred more in his followers than in St. Ignatius —we have to appreciate the results of the coinciding dependency with respect to the same historical situation.

The reader of the voluminous collection of Cartas dejesuitas — which spanned the lengthy Baroque — encounters abundant materials that reveal the mentality of the time. I shall make use of some of them in the following chapters. But although there were baroque writers who proved susceptible to Jesuit culture (Tirso de Molina, Salas Barbadillo, Diaz Rengifo, etc.), another body of opinion disagreed with what they were proposing as a new mode of acting and feeling. Barrionuevo tells us that for many it was an error to admit such writers in any republic at all.{24} In several of the first group of the Cartas (those dated from January to July, 1634), there is talk of numerous writings from diverse sources against the Society: one of them (February 23) says that “it was raining papers against the Society.” But we know that the king, in a harsh decision, gave the order to gather up the papers and condemn their authors, and he charged the Spanish Inquisition with carrying out the order.{25} These references continue to be valuable as an index: not everything remained in line with the Jesuits in the mentality of their contemporaries.

The baroque epoch was, certainly, a time of the faithful (which is not very significantly Jesuit, either, though it may not be entirely estranged), but of a faith that not only retained but reinforced its kinship with magical forms, which were frequently inclined toward superstitious manifestations—Volpe, Buisson, Granjel, and Caro Baroja have studied them in Italy, France, Spain, and elsewhere. The baroque mind was familiar with exalted and irrational forms of religious, political and even physical beliefs, and to a certain extent baroque culture displayed itself in support of these feelings. This doesn’t have anything to do with Spanish mysticism directly: not Spanish, because it was a phenomenon taking place extensively and vigorously everywhere; and not mysticism, because its ground of belief was saturated with the current of rationalization that sustained scholasticism. The Church, the monarchy, and other privileged groups that had to draw to themselves sectors of opinion exerted all possible pressure to strengthen these extrarational aspects so they could make use of them. This process had also taken place in other epochs, but in the seventeenth century both within and outside of Spain the question had become much more difficult. And that greater difficulty is explained by the quantitative increase in the population affected, by the individualist energies that had become more intense, by a comparatively richer information disseminated in the media of the city, and by the very complexity of the media available. It no longer sufficed to sculpt an exemplary “history” in the capital of a column, to paint it on stained glass, or to recount it with the innocuous simplicity of a hagiographic legend.{26} For the new time in which the European societies were living, one had to find the most adequate — we might even say the most rational —mode for utilizing every extrarational resource, and one had to possess the technology for its most efficient application.

But the preceding leaves much unsaid. Although religious life and the Church played a decisive role in the formation and development of the baroque —religion occupied a central position for Catholics and Protestants in the seventeenth century and was incorporated by political interests —the manifestations of that culture did not always or everywhere correspond with those of religious life, nor did the problems it poses for our knowledge of it derive from a religious spirit. In the entire Spanish baroque, the greatest weight must perhaps be attributed to the monarchy and the composite of monarchical-seignorial interests that it enveloped. When E. Male tried to link the art of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries to counterreformist influences (already pointed out by Dejob),{27} he scarcely mentioned Velazquez, and even this was in reference to the apocryphal portrait of St. Teresa.

The baroque, as an epoch of interesting contrasts and perhaps many times one of bad taste (individualism and traditionalism, inquisitive authority and unsteadying freedom, mysticism and sensualism, theology and superstition, war and commerce, geometry and capriciousness), was not the result of multisecular influences on a country whose character they shaped, nor did it result frominfluences that irradiated from one country that was supposedly endowed with such characteristics upon others related to it. Baroque culture emerged not from influences or character but from the historical situation. Consequently, whoever was connected with the historical situation participated in that culture, although in each case it varied according to the social position of the individuals in question. The baroque depended, then, on a certain state of society by virtue of which, and because of its breadth, all the societies of western Europe exhibited connected aspects. Within this framework personal and singular influences can be studied, such as those of Tintoretto or Veronese in Spain, of Bernini in France, of Botero or Suarez in the western monarchies. But what explains the characteristics of baroque culture is the condition of the societies in the general and particular circumstances as present in seventeenth-century European countries; within those circumstances, we must take into account the relation of religious and political power with the mass of subjects. Therefore, rather than a question of religion, the baroque was a question of the Church, and especially the Catholic Church because of its status as an absolute monarchical power. It is not any less connected with the other monarchies and inevitably with nearby republics that were related to countries of monarchical absolutism, such as Venice or the Low Countries.

When I speak of the baroque, I do so always in general terms; the national connotation that is present in this work serves only to introduce the nuances that vary the panoramic view when the vantage point shifts, although without losing sight of the whole. Saying Spanish baroque is equivalent to saying European baroque seen from Spain. Nowadays, it is possible and perhaps even appropriate to speak of the baroque in one country, while securing the theme within a general context. This geographic and historical consideration is parallel to another of a cultural type. The baroque cannot be abstracted as a period of art, nor even as a period of the history of ideas. It affected and belonged to the total ambit of social history, and every study of the subject matter, although legitimately becoming specialized, must unfold by projecting itself into the entire sphere of culture.

I intend this interpretation of the baroque, which will surely be debated, to be recognized nonetheless as applicable to those European countries in which that culture developed. The materials largely come from Spanish sources, and here I try to relate them to one another, placing them in the perspective of the history of Spain. But I take into account, when possible, diverse data from other countries, especially those most closely related with Spanish history. P. Vilar has written that “the drama of 1600 moves beyond the Spanish ambit and announces that seventeenth century, a severe one for Europe, which is today recognized as the time of a general crisis of society.”{28} Later I shall return to this concept of “general crisis.” The formation and development of baroque culture must be referred to that crisis, which offers a basis for explaining how it affects the whole of Europe. If only because of its peculiar situation and, consequently, the gravity of the characteristics of this crisis, Spain’s part in the history of the baroque and its weight in relation to other countries is manifestly considerable. Therefore I believe that it is important to situate ourselves along the perspective of Spanish history. In few occasions has Spain’s participation in European life played a role as decisive as in the seventeenth century. Its role was negative —using this word conventionally and, in this case, in a nonpejorative sense —because of the particular seriousness that this century’s economic and social crisis reached in Spain, and its role was positive —using this word not in its affirmative sense —because of the efficacy with which baroque expedients [resortes] were manipulated, with the early techniques of mass social operation in the ambit of the Spanish monarchy, in achieving the social and political effects of a conservative character.

I recognize, however, that mass society cannot be spoken of in rigorously socioeconomic terms except within the framework of industrial society. Even at the end of the seventeenth century, nowhere —not even in France after Colbert — is there scarcely a statistical change from the previous phase (except for the initial takeoff of England). In Spain there is not even this, despite the pathetic recommendations of Sancho de Moncada, Martinez de Mata, and Alvarez de Ossorio; economically, this previous stage, corresponding to the conditions that prepare for the takeoff (in Rostow’s terms, which are easily comprehensible today) can barely begin to be recognized during the century. The frequent use of the words manufacture and factory in an industrial sense and not merely traditionally would be a weak indication of what we are saying.{29} Soon we will have to emphasize this point from another perspective. Nevertheless, I have no doubts about applying the expression mass society. Why? The historian has to be aware that between traditional society and mass society, with its increase in population, there is an intermediate position in which society no longer exhibits the signs of its traditional period and offers others that will make possible the later concentration of manual labor and the modern world’s division of labor. Perhaps few things have changed economically, above all in the order of the modes of production; socially, however, changes of greater import can be discerned, changes that may have their origin in the early economic transformations but that far exceed them. It is a society of spreading anonymity. The bonds of neighborhood, kinship, and friendship don’t disappear, but they grow pale and are frequently lacking between those living nearby in the same locality (this is one of the most distinctly reflected phenomena in the picaresque novel). To a great extent, relations exhibit the character of a contract: in terms of houses (rent), workday (salary), clothes (buying and selling), and so forth; and to a considerable degree displacements of population occur (it suffices to think about the growth of cities and the rural exodus, which means that a considerable part of the population does not live and die in their place of birth).{30}

In such a way there appear social connections that are not interindividual, that are not between people known to one another. This alters the modes of behavior: a mass of people who know themselves to be unknown to one another behaves in a different way than a group of individuals who know they can be easily identified. Hence socially this is already a mass society, and at its core it produces that depersonalization that turns humankind into a totality of manual laborers within a mechanical and anonymous svstem of production.


{1} See Lopez Piñero, Introducción de la ciencia moderna en España (Barcelona, 1969); he distinguished periods for the crisis of Spanish historical thought that are close to those established here.
{2} J. Baltrusaitis, Le Moyen Age fantastique (Paris, 1955).
{3} See J. Puig y Cadalfach, Le premier art roman (Paris, 1928).
{4} See my Concepto de España en la Edad Media (Madrid, 1954); examples cited are on pp. 403ff.
{5} See Gomez Moreno, Las iglesias mozárabes, vol. I (Madrid, 1919).
{6} Ossowski, Estructura de clases y consciencia social (Madrid, 1944).
{7} See my Teoria española del Estado en el siglo XVII (Madrid, 1944).
{8} R. Huyghe, “Classicisme et baroque dans la peinture française du XVIIe siècle,” XVIIe Siècle, no. 20 (Paris, 1953).
{9} From Weisbach, Gothein, and many others, to the French translator of my work cited in note 7, who attempted to introduce the thought studied there “dans ses rapports avec l’esprit de la Contre-Reforme.” On the theme of baroque metaphysics and theology, see L. Legaz, Horizontes del pensamiento jurídico (Barcelona, 1947), pp. 93ff.
{10}  Las ideas y las formas (Madrid, n.d.).
{11} Sánchez Cantón, who did not think it inappropriate to broaden the concept to the liberal arts, instead asked for the closest chronological delimitation possible in “El barroco español: Antecedentes y empleo hispánicos de barroco,” in Manierismo, Barocco, Rococo [Convegno Internazionale, Rome, 1960], (Rome, 1962).
{12}  The City in History (New York, 1961), p. 351. Referring to the new epoch, L. Mumford makes this characterization: “The new pattern of existence sprang out of a new economy, that of mercantilist capitalism; a new political framework, mainly that of a centralized despotism or oligarchy, usually embodied in a national state; and a new ideological form, that derived from mechanistic physics, whose underlying postulates had been laid down, long before, in the army and the monastery” (p. 345). This is without a doubt an essential aspect of the question: the utilization of rational and mechanical elements that scientific thought and modern technology allocate for accomplishing magical, extrarational objectives, which in the Baroque was formulated with calculation. This is the epoch’s double perspective that I have been insisting on for many years.
{13}  Baroque et classicisme (Paris, 1957), p. 26.
{14} Joyce G. Simpson, Le Tasse et la littérature et I’art baroques en France (Paris, 1962),p. 112.
{15}  Estudios sobre el barroco (Madrid, 1964), p. 62. The passage comes from the study on “Los estilos generacionales de la epoca: manierismo, barroco, barroquismo.”
{16} Ibid., 106.
{17} P. Francastel, “Baroque et classicisme: histoire ou typologie des civilisations,” Annales: Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations 14, no. 1 (January-May 1951), p. 146. Tapie’s response in the same journal recognizes the large part played by Spain, whose shadow, according to his own words, was cast over the entire book. His subsequent monograph, Le baroque (Paris, 1961), corrected to a certain extent the previous absence, but it didn’t prove satisfactory in terms of his general posing of the question. One can see that Tapie is insufficiently acquainted with Spanish sources.
{18}  Southern Baroque Art (London, 1924) and Spanish Baroque Art (London, 1931).
{19} E. I. Watkin, Catholic Art and Culture (London, 1942).
{20} Hatzfeld, Estudios sobre el barroco. See in particular the article “La misión europea de la España barroca.”
{21} See Gerhardt, “Rembrandt y Spinoza,” Revista de Occidents 23, 1929.
{22} Hatzfeld, Estudios sobre el barroco, pp. 467-68.
{23} On Scholasticism in Spanish mysticism, see A. A. Ortega, Razón teológica y experiencia mística (Madrid, 1944); and Garrigou-Lagrange, “Saint Jean de la Croix,” La Vie Spirituelle, supplement, 1930. For a formulation in terms of the baroque, A. A. Parker, “Calderón, el dramaturgo de la escolástica,” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, nos. 3-4 (1935), 273-85, 393-420.
{24}  Avisos de don Jerónimo de Barrionuevo (see the correspondence on 2 October 1655), BAE, 221, vol. I, p. 199.
{25} Cartas de jesuitas, in MHE, vols. 13-19, published by Gayangos. The quote comes from vol. 13, p. 24.
{26} In chapter 3, we note a curious statement contained in La Pícara Justina that shows that the taste for hagiographies was not as common as has been supposed. The very fact that many of the stories and comedies of saints contain such a great percentage of grotesque realism —think about Santo y sastre, the title of one of Tirso’s comedies, in which hagiography made its appearance at the theater with St. Homobono ascending to the sky with his cross —reveals an undebatable realist erosion of supernatural elements.
{27}  De l’influence du Concile du Trente sur la litterature et les beaux-arts chez les peuples catholiques (Paris, 1884).
{28}  Crescimiento y desarrollo (Barcelona, 1964), p. 438.
{29} González de Celleorigo’s declaration that “every kind of manufacture necessary to the realm” was lacking because the increase in population already represented an incipient consciousness of it (Manual de la política necesaria y útil Restauracion a la República de España [Madrid, 1600]. fols. 12, 2).
{30} I am utilizing Tönnies’ categories, though only approximately.

Don Quixote Virtual Printing

[Based on DIY Quarto: Printing quartos in Shakespeare’s time]

Virtually Printing Don Quixote


Welcome to the Virtual Printing House

Try arranging pages into your own quarto edition of El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha.

We base this example on digital images of the BNE’s copy of the first printed edition of Don Quijote, in Madrid, 1605. One of our goals is to heighten the sense that you are viewing a freshly printed sheet.

Eight pages per sheet of paper

Take a single sheet of paper, print eight pages out of sequence, then with folding, create a readable text in what’s known as a gathering in quarto format. That is what the printers of Don Quijote did. To see how, drag and drop the text of four pages onto one side of a sheet of paper. Note the change in orientation for some of the pages. Then flip the sheet to “print” four additional pages. Fold to create one quarto gathering with the first eight pages of the play.

1r | [p. 1]
1v [p. 2]
2r [p. 3]
2v [p. 4]
3r [p. 5]
3v [p. 6]
4r [p. 7]
4v [p. 8]









For Don Quijote, the printers followed this process for eighty-two more sheets, to create eleven more regular gatherings, with eight pages each. To keep these sheets in order, each gathering was given an identifying letter of the alphabet as a “signature” by the printers. The text of Don Quijote started here with the letter A. Unlike England, where texts often started with the signature B, as printers left the A for materials like title pages, which were often printed last. In comparison, Hamlet has 12 sheets

The sequence of regular gatherings in Don Quijote runs from A through Z, then Aa through Az, Bb etc.

After the printing was finished, the sheets were folded and assembled in alphabetic order to be ready for sale.

Comic poetry in Golden Age Spain

In Golden Age Spain, most major “serious” poets also wrote superb and exuberant comic verse. Cervantes, Quevedo and Góngora are but three examples.

1. Cervantes

In his book Cervantes and the Burlesque Sonnet, author Adrienne Laskier Martín seeks ‘to contribute to a new understanding and reappraisal of Cervantes as both an accomplished poet and a comic genius. Indeed, these poems reveal the model of comicity that Cervantes utilizes in his masterpiece of humor, Don Quixote.’

by Adrienne Laskier Martín

This book is a revised version of author’s doctoral dissertation, written at Harvard University under the direction of Francisco Márquez Villanueva:

Cervantes, recognized as Spain’s greatest humorist, is especially alluring as a humorous poet since his festive corpus stands as a barely sampled treat waiting to be savored. It exemplifies his humor, the touchstone of all Cervantine literature, and at the same time confirms his substantial poetic gifts.

The purpose in this book is to provide an artistic analysis of Cervantes’s burlesque sonnets, a genre of which he was particularly fond and in which he excelled.

‘The burlesque sonnet is a rich vein within the comic verse tradition in Europe. And Cervantes was an excellent burlesque sonneteer. But what does “burlesque” actually mean? Although the origin of the word “burla” is unknown, it is apparently a Spanish creation whose later derivation, “burlesco” nevertheless derives from the Italian. The term means both a trick—”la acción que se hace con alguno, o la palabra que se le dice, con la cual se le procura engañar [an action or words used to deceive someone]” and mockery: “la acción, ademán, o palabras con que se hace irrisión y mofa de alguno, o de alguna cosa [an action, gesture, or words used to deride and ridicule someone or something]” (Autoridades, s.v. “burla “). The acceptations combine in burlesque poetry, whose purpose is to mock and ridicule someone or something, often itself. Burlesque can mock a literary style or movement or a specific work. It can also mock a person, a society, an institution, or even a nation. Burlesque is not specifically limited to literature, yet its richest expression is achieved through this medium. Burlesque is a certain attitude toward life and toward the object of the burla . Rather than criticize and censure bitterly as satire does, burlesque is festive and comic in spirit and in style. It does not imply satire’s superior stance with regard to its object. While satire tends to portray life as tragically flawed and vice-ridden, burlesque depicts life as ridiculous and, therefore, worthy of being ridiculed. This element of burla —of mockery and ridicule and of pulling a trick on someone or something—is essential to the aesthetic category of the burlesque. It must be allowed, however, that burlesque and satire cannot be rigidly separated and often overlap in practice.

Indispensible to a proper appreciation of the burlesque is the realization that it has its own aesthetic standards and conventions. Unfortunately, in the late twentieth century we still operate to an extent under the often prudish nineteenth-century canons of literary “good taste.” But the burlesque deliberately turns its back on “the beautiful” in its search for the festive image, the quick joke, the laugh. It does not seek harmonious, melodic language but one designed to ridicule and provoke laughter, to debase, and to shock our ears and even our sensibilities. Its concerns are not the intricacies of the soul, of love, or of metaphysics, but the parodic inversion of such sublime themes. This is not to say, however, that the burlesque is without its own profound philosophical “meaning.”

Paradoxically, through exaggeration, burlesque is a call to truth and antidogmatism. It bids us to cast aside the prevailing deadly serious world view so that we might see and enjoy ourselves in all our complexity: imperfect, illogical, and irrational, yet vital and irresistibly comical creatures.

2. Quevedo y Góngora

Along with his lifelong rival, Luis de Góngora, Quevedo was one of the most prominent Spanish poets of the age. His style is characterized by what was called conceptismo. This style existed in stark contrast to Góngora’s culteranismo.

Alix Ingber, Professor Emerita of Spanish at Sweet Briar College, USA, developed a web site with 115 translations of Golden Age Spanish sonnets to English:


And more poets translated:

Cantigas de Santa Maria

The following text is from the Introduction to the book The Notation of the Cantigas de Santa Maria: Diplomatic Edition, Manuel Pedro Ferreira (Dir.).


The Notation of the Cantigas de Santa Maria: Diplomatic Edition, dir. Manuel Pedro Ferreira, musicography by Rui Araújo, collaboration of Ana Gaunt and Mariana Lima. Lisboa: CESEM, 2017 [e-book], 3 volumes (2 tomes each):

The Cantigas de Santa Maria (CSM) is one of the major monuments of European medieval culture. It consists of a vast, carefully organized collection of devotional songs in Galician-Portuguese (419 songs), in praise of the Virgin Mary or narrating miracles attributed to her. The poetry was written and the music composed or transcribed at the royal court of Castile and León, centered in Seville, under the direction of King Alfonso X, called el Sabio (the Learned). Staves with musical notation, provided for hundreds of songs written in three books between approximately 1270 and 1285, offer an enormous amount of information on musical practice, in a well-defined spatial and temporal context.

The repertoire of the Cantigas de Santa Maria is impressive not only on account of the sheer number—more melodies survive for them than for all the lyrics of the southern troubadours — but also because of their variety and vitality. Musicologists, however, have paid surprisingly little attention to this repertoire (Higinio Anglés in the second quarter of the 20th century, and Gerardo Huseby and David Wulstan two generations later, were notable exceptions). Late and inadequate access to the sources, the language used, and the fact that this repertoire does not easily fit French theoretical models (the current yardstick for 13th-century music), among other reasons, caused a certain estrangement.

Higinio Anglés published the first complete musical edition in 1943, with an introduction of more than one hundred pages, followed in 1958 by two substantial commentary volumes. This was not only a formidable, but also an original and enduring musicological achievement (Higinio ANGLÉS, La Música de las Cantigas de Santa María del Rey Alfonso El Sabio, Barcelona, Biblioteca Central, vols. II-III, 1943-1958.). The monumental presentation of the edition certainly led many to believe that most musicological issues had been satisfactorily confronted and resolved. Nowadays, however, many of these issues deserve a fresh look, amongst them being the examination and evaluation of the manuscript sources.


Historia de la conquista de la Nueva España, de Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (1585)

On the fifth centenary of the arrival of Hernán Cortés to the Aztec empire, it is worth remembering one of the key books that tells the events that changed the world forever. And this one from the aztec point of view: the book of Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (1499-1590) entitled History of the conquest of New Spain or Book XII of the General History of the things of New Spain.

Book XII

This General History was the result of a long compilation process carried out between 1547 and 1585, initiated shortly after the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. It is also known as the Florentine Codex, since a version is in the Medicea Laurenziana Library of Florence, Italy. The complete codex can be consulted online at the World Digital Library (WDL)

But approaching this work requires first knowing the process of its elaboration and understanding how it has reached us, since it is about a complex document which offers a variety of information about Mexica culture in Náhuatl, Spanish, and Latin. It also contains pictographical images and ornaments which unite elements of precolonial writing with glyphs and European paintings. It is considered the result of a complicated transculturation process.

The Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España or General history of the things of New Spain is an encyclopedic work about the people and culture of the Aztec empire compiled by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan missionary who arrived in Mexico in 1529, eight years after the Spanish conquest by Hernán Cortés.

Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, circa 1499

The General history went through several stages between 1535 and 1585, and between Tlatelolco, Tepepulco, and Mexico City. The communicative interactions between Sahagún and the nahua elders he decided to interrogate were always mediated by a group of literate nahua, proud heirs of the legacy of their own people and proficient participants in the cultural tradition inculcated into them by the Franciscans fathers at the College of the Santa Cruz in Tlatelolco, established by the Spaniards in 1536.

Although Sahagún compiled two substantial náhuatl texts (which became Book VI ‘Rhetorical and moral philosophy’ and Book XII ‘History of the Conquest’ of the Florentine Codex) some years earlier, it was not until 1558 that he was officially commissioned by the Provincial of his order, Fray Francisco de Toral, to undertake a systematic investigation of the native culture by compiling in náhuatl what would be “useful for the indoctrination, the propagation and perpetuation of the Christianization of these natives of this New Spain, and as a help to the workers and ministers who indoctrinate them”

Thus, in 1558 Fray Bernardino settled in the convent of Tepepulco, today Tepeapulco in the state of Hidalgo, where with informants of the indigenous nobility he produced, between 1558 and 1561, his first handwritten works of the General History of the things of New Spain.

General History of the things of New Spain

Tepepulco materials, Náhuatl texts and paintings, were called by the great Mexican scholar Francisco del Paso y Troncoso First memorials. There are 88 folios that Paso y Troncoso selected and ordered from the so-called Códices matritenses (because there are in Madrid, at the Royal Palace Library and the Royal Academy of History) for its 1905 edition, with such a good feel that they are still being edited in the same way.

Between 1565 and 1569, already in the convent of San Francisco de México, Sahagún completes his General history in nine books and four volumes. The following years, 1569-1570, will be the most bitter in the life of Sahagun. The Provincial Chapter of his Order, to which he submits his writings, decides that they are “highly esteemed and should be favored” but, at the same time, he takes away his scribes. He himself, over seventy years old, can no longer write because of the trembling of his hands. And shortly after, the provincial Fray Alonso de Escalona (1570-3) disperses the writings of Fray Bernardino through the Franciscan convents of the Province of Mexico. Despite these obstacles, Sahagun managed, to continue his work.

By 1575 Sahagún recovers his manuscripts and, thanks to the interest shown by Juan de Ovando, president of the Council of the Indies, the new commissioner of the Order, Fray Rodrigo de Sequera, again provides Sahagún with scribes who are compiling the texts in Náhuatl and which dictates the Spanish text of its General history of the things of New Spain, which extracts and comments on the materials provided by the Indian informants.

However, from the year 1577, Philip II and with it the Council of the Indies, already dead Ovando, changed their position regarding the research on indigenous cultures: they were considered dangerous as they spread pagan ideas and encouraged rebel and independence spirit. This change in the treatment of indigenous cultures motivated the order of Philip II to confiscate the book of Sahagún.

It then was taken to Spain by Fray Rodrigo de Sequera. The work was bound in four volumes but later rebound into three. Each volume is arranged in two columns: on the right is the original Náhuatl text, on the left is Sahagún’s Spanish translation. The 2,468 magnificent illustrations, made by the students, are mostly in the left-hand column, where the text is shorter. The illustrations combine the syntactic and symbolic traits of the ancient Nahua tradition of painting-writing with the formal qualities of European Renaissance painting.

Later, the manuscript could have been gifted to Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici by Philip II or just escaped confiscation and were transported to a safe haven in Rome, in the library of this Cardinal, collector of exotic plants, precious stones, and wondrous objects from America, including feather paintings such as are described in detail in the manuscript. When Ferdinando renounced the red hat to succeed his late brother, Francesco I, as Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1587, he took the manuscript with him to Florence. Although he generally kept the existence of the book secret, he allowed it to be consulted for the ceiling frescoes painted by Ludovico Buti in the armory in the Uffizi in 1588. Retained in the Medici guardarobba for most of the grand-ducal period, the book entered the Medicea Laurenziana Library in 1783, and thenceforth has generally been known as the Codex Florentinus, Codice fiorentino, or Florentine Codex.

Therefore, what is commonly referred to as the Florentine Codex is a manuscript that consists of 12 books devoted to different topics, firstly completed around 1579, archived in the Medicea Laurenziana Library of Florence, Italy. Sahagún followed the typology of earlier medieval works in organizing his research into “the divine, human, and natural things” of New Spain and addressing these topics in order.

Book I ‘The Gods’ thus deals with the gods. It describes the principal deities in the Aztec pantheon, listing their distinctive physical features, attire, main functions, and the festivals dedicated to them. To make these gods more comprehensible to European readers, Sahagún sometimes likens them to figures from Greek and Roman mythology. Huitzilopochtli (“Uitzilobuchtli” in the codex) is called “another Hercules,” Tezcatlipoca “another Jupiter.” Huitzilopochtli was the patron god of the Aztecs, who guided them on their pilgrimage from Aztlán, the mythical “white land” of their origins, to the “promised land,” where in 1325 they founded the city of Tenochtitlan. He was the god of war and of the sun, huge, immensely strong, and warlike, and to him was dedicated one of the two shrines of the Templo Mayor (Great Pyramid) of Tenochtitlan. The other shrine was dedicated to Tlaloc, the lord of rain, who lived on the highest mountains where clouds form and was associated with the agricultural world and the fertility of the land. Huitzilopochtli, Tlaloc, and two other major gods are depicted on folio 10r. For Sahagún, religion was the key to Aztec civilization. As he wrote in the prologue to Book I, “in religion and the adoration of their gods, I do not believe that there have ever been idolaters more devoted to their gods, nor at such great cost to themselves as these [people] of New Spain.”

Book II ‘The Ceremonies’ deals with the feasts and sacrifices to the gods, made in accordance with the 20-day ritual calendar. It includes the 20 sacred canticles or hymns to the gods, which Sahagún gathered from oral testimony at an early stage in his research. This book also describes ceremonies involving human sacrifice, which so shocked the Spaniards when they arrived in Mexico. Sacrifices were offered so that the cosmic cycle might continue and the sun rise every morning. In a perennial process of regeneration, it was thought that Aztec gods died and then returned to life stronger than before, and it was their death that was “relived” in the sacrifice. The gods were embodied in the sacrificial victims—their ixiptla (images) or representatives—and received sustenance from human hearts and blood. The illustration at folio 84v depicts the sacrifice of the ixiptla of Tezcatlipoca, god of the night sky and of memory. The victim was to be a fit young man, without physical imperfections, who was granted a year to live at leisure, learning to play the flute and to carry “smoking tubes” in the manner of the chiefs and nobles. He was then carefully dressed and adorned and, after various ceremonies, taken to the foot of the pyramid where he was killed. The sacrificial victims were generally soldiers captured in battle, but they also could be slaves, men found guilty of some crime, or young women or children (offered to the deities of the rain and the waters). In battle, the goal was not to kill the enemy, but to take prisoners, who were grabbed by the hair and destined to be sacrificed. Warfare for the purpose of securing sacrificial victims is depicted in the illustrations on folio 74r and folio 74v of this book.

Book III ‘The Origin of the Gods’ deals with the origin of the gods, in particular Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, and includes appendices on the afterlife and on education. Aztec religion was permeated with stories about the birth, death, and return to life of the gods. This perennial process of regeneration was reflected in ceremonies involving human and other sacrifice and in the architecture of Tenochtitlan. The Templo Mayor (Great Pyramid) was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc and had separate shrines to each of these gods. This dual construction had great significance in Mesoamerican cosmology, symbolizing the two sacred mountains, Tonacatepetl (the Hill of Sustenance), and Coatepec (the Hill of the Snake). The shrine dedicated to Tlaloc, the god of rain, represented the mountain housing maize and other things that Quetzalcoatl stole from the gods to give to mankind. The shrine dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and of the sun, represented the mountain on which the god was born, already an adult and dressed as a warrior, his mother Coatlicue having generated him after she placed a feather ball in her lap. On the mountain the god defeated his sister Coyolxauhqui, the moon goddess, and his 400 brothers who were jealous of his birth. Once dead, they went to form the Milky Way. Among the noteworthy illustrations in Book III is the depiction, on folio 232v, in the appendix on education, of parents taking children to school. The nobles sent their children to the calmecac (row of houses), an extremely strict school reserved for the elite, where they received instructions on how to become “those who command, chiefs and senators and nobles, … those who have military posts.”

Book IV ‘The Art of Divination’ deals with the art of divination, or judicial astrology as practiced by the Aztecs, and in particular with the Tonalpohualli (ritual calendar). The Mesoamericans used two calendars, one solar and the other ritual. The Xiuhpohualli (solar calendar) had a cycle of 365 days divided into 18 months of 20 days each, plus five days considered inauspicious. The ritual calendar consisted of 260 days and was formed by associating the numbers from 1 to 13 with 20 different signs. A table that was principally used by priests in divination is reproduced in striking detail on folios 329r and 329v. Among the other illustrations in Book IV is a gruesome depiction of anthropophagy, or ritual cannibalism, which often was practiced as part of the rite of human sacrifice. Sahagún describes the sacrifice in relation to the festivals of Xipe Tótec, the god of spring and regeneration, and of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and of the sun (folio 268r). Prisoners were taken to the temple of Huitzilopochtli, killed, and their flesh consumed by the notables. By means of this practice, the strength of the enemy was consumed and assumed by their captors, in a kind of communion with the dead person and with the gods.

Book V ‘Omens and Superstitions’ deals with omens, auguries, and superstitions. As in Book IV, on divination, Sahagún cites ancient native traditions gleaned from questionnaires and interactions with Nahua elders. Sahagún’s enduring interest in this subject was scholarly and ethnographic, but fundamentally religious in its motivation. He believed that many of the conversions to Christianity claimed by Catholic priests in Mexico were superficial, and masked lingering adherence to pagan beliefs. As he wrote in the prologue to his work, the “sins of idolatry and idolatrous rites, superstitions and omens, and superstitions and idolatrous ceremonies have not disappeared altogether. In order to preach against these things or even to be aware of their existence, we must be familiar with how they were practiced in pagan times, [because] through our ignorance, they [the Indians] do many idolatrous things without our understanding it.”

Book VI ‘Rhetoric and Moral Philosophy’ is concerned with rhetoric and moral philosophy. It contains texts that Sahagún collected around 1547, in the earliest stage of his research into indigenous culture, from oral recitations by Nahua elders. Known as Huehuetlahtolli (Ancient word), these texts embodied, according to Sahagún, “the rhetoric, moral philosophy, and theology of the Mexican people, in which there are many curious things exhibiting the beauties of the language and very delicate things relating to the moral virtues.” Although he was repelled by Aztec religion, Sahagún was deeply impressed by the wisdom and beauty of the ancient texts, and he quotes at length, for example, a talk delivered by a Nahua father to a daughter who has reached the age of reason. An illustration of parents exhorting their children is at folio 80r. In the original binding, Book VI was the beginning of the second volume. It thus opens with a dedication to Rodrigo de Sequera, commissary general of the Franciscan Order and a great admirer of Sahagún’s work. A similar dedication originally was placed at the beginning of Book I, but it subsequently was torn out and survives only in a later copy of the codex.

Book VII ‘The Sun, Moon, and Stars, and the Binding of the Years’ is about the sun, the moon, and the stars. It contains an account of the creation of the sun and the moon in what the Aztecs called the “fifth age of the world,” which Sahagún drew from ancient poems and legends shared with him by the elders. The illustration at folio 228v depicts the rabbit in the moon. The ancient Mesoamericans claimed that the outline of a rabbit could be seen in a full moon, a visual effect that results from the combination of dark spots caused by the alteration of rises and craters on the moon’s surface, but which they explained mythologically. In the Aztec account, before the creation of the day the gods met at Teotihuacán to create the sun so that it might illuminate the world. For this to happen, someone had to sacrifice himself. The god Tezcuciztecatl (also seen as Tecciztecatl) volunteered, but another god was also required. Everyone else was afraid and no one stepped forward, so they turned to Nanahuatzin, who was covered with pustules, and he accepted gracefully. Both gods prepared themselves for sacrifice by doing penance for four days. Tezcuciztecatl performed self-sacrifice using feathers, gold, and sharp fragments of precious stones and coral, while Nanahuatzin used humble materials and offered up his blood and pus. A large fire was lit and all the gods gathered around it at midnight, but when the moment came for Tezcuciztecatl to throw himself into the fire to be transformed into the sun, he hung back. Nanahuatzin, in contrast, bravely threw himself into the fire and began to shine. Only then did Tezcuciztecatl, who was envious, follow suit to be transformed into a second sun. The gods had not reckoned on there being two lights of equal brightness in the sky, so one of them took a rabbit and hurled it into the second sun to diminish its brightness, which is how it came to be the moon, with the shape of a rabbit visible on its face.

Book VIII ‘Kings and Lords’ is concerned with kings and nobles, forms of government, elections of rulers, and the customs and pastimes of the nobility. In addition to being interested in these topics for their own sake, Sahagún was motivated by linguistic considerations to describe as many aspects of Aztec life as he could. It was only by doing so, he explained, that he could bring “to light all the words of this language with their literal and metaphoric meanings and all their manners of speech and the greater part of their antiquities, good and evil.” Book VIII is rich in illustrations relating to the Aztec way of life. The paintings at folios 219, 261, and 280–81 relate to clothing. They show the loom, how clothing was made, and textile patterns worn by the nobility. The majority of the Aztec population could only wear clothes made from agave yarn, undyed and without adornment, but the nobles wore colored cotton clothes decorated with shell or bone-and-feather patches. The illustration on folio 269r shows the game patolli, described by Sahagún as similar to dice, in which the players gambled jewels and other possessions by letting fall three large beans onto a large cross painted on a mat. The illustration on folio 292v depicts tlachtli, a ball game originally linked to the Mesoamerican view of the cosmos as the product of a clash between opposing but complementary forces, such as life and death, day and night, fertility and barrenness, and light and darkness. The struggle was reproduced in the game, as two teams representing opposing cosmic forces faced each other on a court, striving to bounce a heavy rubber ball as many times as possible against the side walls of the court. According to Sahagún, the game was a diversion of the nobility that had lost its earlier religious significance.

Book IX ‘The merchants’ is about merchants, officials responsible for gold and precious stones, and feather working. The pochteca (merchants) were an important group in Aztec society. They undertook long journeys in search of precious commodities and goods, and they were valued for the information they gathered in the lands they visited, which the Aztecs often used to plan wars of conquest. Pack animals and the wheel were unknown in Mesoamerica, so goods were carried on foot by tlameme (porters), who placed their loads in a cacaxtli (wooden frame), which was supported by a cord that went around the porter’s shoulders and forehead. Folio 316r contains an illustration showing porters with their loads. Arte plumario (feather art) was one of the minor arts practiced in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Feather-art products were reserved for the Aztec elite—the king, nobles, priests, and warriors—who wore items such as cloaks, fans, and headdresses principally for ceremonies. Folio 370r has an illustration showing artisans at work on a headdress. Also discussed in Book IX is smoking, which the Mesoamericans did during banquets and religious ceremonies, using both pipes that were filled with herbs and grasses or by smoking cigars made by rolling up tobacco leaves. Smoking is depicted on folio 336r.

Book X ‘The People, Their Virtues and Vices, and Other Nations’ is about Aztec society and covers such subjects as the virtues and vices of the people, food and drink, the parts of the human body, and illnesses and remedies. In this book, Sahagún describes the process of making chocolate from cacao beans, which is also depicted on folio 71v. The beverage made from pure cacao and spices was considered the greatest delicacy, and was reserved only for the nobles. Book X also discusses agriculture and food preparation. The Aztec economy was based mainly on agriculture. Farming was the responsibility of the commoners, who cultivated land assigned to them and the land of the nobles and rulers. The staple crop was corn, from which the Aztecs made a kind of bread. Preparing food was the task of women, and is depicted on folio 315r. While the commoners had a very simple diet, the elite ate richer and more abundant fare. Sahagún includes a long list of dishes flavored with different sauces. The last chapter in Book X, on “the nations who have come to inhabit this land,” includes two lengthy texts, derived from Sahagún’s questioning of Nahua elders, on the history of Mesoamerica. One tells of Quetzalcoatl and the Toltecs; the other gives an overview of the cultural evolution of the Nahua peoples.

Book XI ‘Natural Things’ the longest in the codex, is a treatise on natural history. Following the traditional division of knowledge common to many European encyclopedic works, the Florentine Codex deals with “all things divine (or rather idolatrous), human and natural of New Spain.” Thus, having dealt with higher beings and humans, Sahagún turns to animals, plants, and all types of minerals. For the discussion of medicinal herbs and minerals, Sahagún drew upon the knowledge of indigenous physicians, creating what the scholar Miguel León-Portilla has called a kind of pre-Hispanic pharmacology. The discussion of animals draws upon Aztec legends about various animals, both real and mythical. The book is an especially important source for understanding how the Mesoamericans used natural resources before the arrival of the Europeans. Many animals raised in Europe, such as cows, pigs, chickens, and horses, were unknown to Mesoamerican peoples. Instead they raised rabbits, xoloitzcuintli (a breed of hairless dog), birds, and, in particular, turkeys. They supplemented their diet with wild boars, deer, tapirs, birds, frogs, ants, crickets, and snakes. Other animals were hunted chiefly for their skins, such as the jaguar and other felines, or for their feathers. Book XI contains numerous illustrations of animals, including mammals (jaguar and armadillo), birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects.

Book XII ‘The conquest of Mexico’ recounts the Spanish conquest of Mexico, which took place between 1519, when Cortés landed on the coast with just over 100 men and a few horses, and 1521, when Tenochtitlan was taken and the Aztecs subjugated. The story is told from the perspective of indigenous elders who were living in Tenochtitlan at the time of the conquest and witnessed firsthand the events described. Sahagún gathered these accounts around 1553–55, when he was working at the College of Santa Cruz in Tlatelolco. The Náhuatl narrative begins with an evocation of the “signs and omens” that were said to have appeared before the arrival of the Spanish and concludes with the surrender of Tenochtitlan after an 80-day siege. By drawing upon primary accounts, Sahagún was able to capture the astonishment felt by the Aztecs and the trauma that followed their defeat at the hands of the Spanish. Among the key factors that determined the Spanish victory were the ruthlessness of the Spanish soldiers and of Cortés in particular, the use of horses and firearms, which the Mesoamericans had never seen, and Cortés’s intuition that the peoples of the Aztec Empire were prepared to join forces with him to shake off Aztec rule. Book XII contains numerous illustrations depicting scenes from the conquest, including the arrival of Cortés, an image of the Templo Mayor (Great Pyramid) in Tenochtitlan, battles between the indigenous people and the Spanish, and destruction of Aztec temples by the Spanish.

Book XII therefore contains the History of the conquest of New Spain, which can be read online in English, Spanish and Náhuatl, in the Early Nahuatl Library of the University of Oregon.

It can be said that there are at least four versions of this Book XII. The first version, with texts in Spanish and Náhuatl, was completed around 1579 and was delivered to Sequera as part of the twelve books later known as the Florentine Codex.

The second version of Book XII was done by Sahagún when, reviewing what he kept of his papers in 1585, he set out to correct and enrich his ancient nahua testimonies about the conquest. At the beginning of what was his new version he wrote down the following:

“When this writing [about the Conquest] was written, which has been over thirty years ago, it was all written in the Mexican language. Those who helped me in this scripture were old principal and very knowledgeable […] who were present in the war when this city was conquered.

In book XII, where it is about this Conquest, several defects were made, and it was that some things were put into the narration of this Conquest that were misplaced, and others were silent, that were poorly silenced. For this cause, this year of one thousand five hundred and eighty-five, I amended this book ”

So we have two editions of Sahagun from this book XII, one from 1579 and another from 1585. There is a third version of this book, only in Spanish, known by the end of the 18th century and named Tolosa Manuscript for having been stored in the Franciscan convent of Tolosa (Navarra). This copy, made around 1580, basically coincides with the Spanish text of Book XII of the Florentine Codex.

In addition, we can even consider a fourth version in Spanish. This is the complete translation of the original Nahuatl text, since Fray Bernardino’s Spanish translations are partial, adding and removing paragraphs throughout the book.

When in 1829 Bustamante began the editions of General history, he included the text of the Tolosa Manuscript as History of the conquest of New Spain, in Spanish, without illustrations and without the corrections made by Sahagún in 1585.

1829 Bustamante

Bustamante himself published in 1840 for the first time the version corrected by Fray Bernardino in 1585, although with a strange title: The Apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe de Mexico (full title in Spanish: La aparición de Ntra. Señora de Guadalupe de México. Comprobada con la refutación del argumento negativo que presenta D. Juan Bautista Muñoz, fundándose en el testimonio del P. Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún; o sea, Historial Original de este escritor que altera la publicada en 1829 en el equivocado concepto de ser la única y original de dicho autor).

In later editions various editorial solutions have been given to the existence of different versions of the same work:

So far there are no satisfactory critical editions of the History of the conquest of New Spain, although at least we have the possibility to check online the different versions and get an idea of the evolution of this peculiar book:

  1. General history of the things of New Spain, or Florentine Codex, Book XII, circa 1579 ( Text in Spanish and Náhuatl, two columns, with illustrations. The Spanish text does not correspond to a complete translation of the Nahuatl text. (References: CN1, CS1)
  2. History of the Conquest of Mexico, published by Carlos María de Bustamante in Mexico, 1829, separated from the General history of the things of New Spain. It bears the title: “Twelve book of how the Spaniards conquered the city of Mexico”( Spanish text taken from the Tolosa Manuscript, copy of the 1579 text made around 1580. No illustrations. (Reference: CS2)
  3. The appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe of Mexico. Proven with the refutation of the negative argument presented by Juan Bautista Muñoz, based on the testimony of Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún; that is, Original History of this writer that alters the one published in 1829 in the wrong concept of being the only and original of said author, Mexico, 1840 ( Contains the Spanish text of the latest version of Sahagún, written in 1585, of the History of the Conquest of Mexico. (Reference: CS3)
  4. General history of the things of New Spain, prepared by Joaquín Ramírez Cabañas, with a preliminary study by Wigberto Jiménez Moreno, in five volumes, Mexico, 1938. Volume IV contains Book XII that deals with the Conquest of Mexico ( Includes the Spanish text of the Tolosa Manuscript and, in notes, the variants of the Sahagún text of 1585. It also includes a full Spanish translation of the Náhuatl text in the Florentine Codex. No illustrations. (References: CS1, CS2, CS3, CS4)
  5. History of the conquest of New Spain (Book XII of General history), which can be read in the online version in English, Spanish and Náhuatl of the Early Nahuatl Library of the University of Oregon, 2000-2018 ( Contains the illustrations of the Florentine Codex and the texts in Spanish, Náhuatl, with the Spanish text translated into English, and the Náhuatl text translated into English. (References: CN1, CS1, CS4, CE1, CE2)

Other references:

Wolf, Gerhard, Joseph Connors, and Louis A Waldman, ed. 2012. Colors Between Two Worlds: The Florentine Codex of Bernardino de Sahagún. Florence: Villa I Tatti.

Cortés, Velázquez and Charles V, by J. H. Elliott

Introductory Essay by J. H. Elliott to Letters from Mexico. Translated, edited, and with a new introduction by Anthony Pagden. Revised edition published by Yale University Press in 1986.

Cortés, Velázquez and Charles V{1}

When Cortés landed on the coast of Mexico on April 22, 1519, he was on the point of committing himself to an enterprise of un­known proportions against an enemy of unknown character and strength. After the meeting with the Totonac chief Tentlil on Eas­ter Sunday he knew at least that, somewhere in the interior, there lived a powerful ruler called Motecuçoma, whose dominion in­cluded the peoples of the coastal plain. But this fact of Motecuçoma’s existence was the fact he most needed to know. From Easter Sunday, 1519, a single, supreme objective established itself clearly in his mind. He must reach Motecuçoma and somehow induce him to acknowledge the supreme overlordship of Juana and her son Charles, the sovereign rulers of Castile.

Although everything else was surrounded by innumerable uncertainties, the central objective of Cortés’s Mexican strategy was therefore clearly defined, and he pursued it undeviatingly until it was triumphantly attained. The march into the interior, the entry down the causeway into Tenochtitlan on November 8, the taking of Motecuçoma into custody on the fourteenth, and the “volun­tary” donation of Motecuçoma’s empire to Charles—these repre­sented the critical moments in an exceptionally hazardous but care­ fully calculated military and political exercise, which worked with greater precision than even Cortés himself could have dared to hope. Within nine months of landing, he had made himself master of Motecuçoma’s empire in the name of the sovereigns of Castile.

The magnitude and the brilliance of this achievement can all too easily obscure the fact that Motecuçoma was in some respects the least dangerous of the enemies whom Cortés had to face, and that he had more to fear from some of his own countrymen than from the emperor of the Mexica. From the moment of his hasty departure from Santiago, in Cuba, he found himself in a highly equivocal position, both in relation to his immediate superiors and to the Spanish Crown.

Technically, Cortés was commanding an expedition on be­half of the governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez, who himself was merely the deputy of the hereditary admiral of the Indies, Diego Colón (Columbus). Velázquez, however, was an ambitious man, eager to conquer new lands in his own right. To do this, he must somehow break free from Colón’s jurisdiction, and obtain from the Crown his own license to explore, conquer and colonize. In the two or three years before the dispatch of Cortés, he had made a number of moves directed toward this end. In 1517 and 1518 he had sent out the exploring and trading expeditions of Hernández de Córdoba and Juan de Grijalva; and for the second of these expedi­tions he had taken care to obtain authorization from the Hieronymite governors of Hispaniola, who were the Crown’s direct repre­sentatives in the Indies, and were independent of Diego Colón. He had also dispatched, in succession, two personal agents to the Span­ish Court—Gónzalo de Guzmán, and his chaplain, Benito Martín —to urge the Crown to grant him the title of adelantado of Yuca­tán, with the right to conquer and settle the newly discovered lands.

Apart from some further lucrative trading, Velázquez’s principal purpose in dispatching Cortés in the wake of the two pre­vious expeditions of Hernández de Córdoba and Grijalva seems to have been to keep his claims alive during the period when he was impatiently awaiting the outcome of his initiative at Court. This would explain the nature of his instructions for Cortés, dated Octo­ ber 23, 1518.{2} The purpose of Cortés’s expedition, according to these instructions, was to go in search of Grijalva’s fleet (of whose return to Cuba Velázquez was still unaware) and of any Christians held captive in Yucatán. Cortés was also authorized to explore and to trade, but had no permission to colonize. The reason for this was that Velázquez himself was still awaiting such authorization from Spain, and had no legal authority to confer a right that was not yet his.

Recent changes in Spain, however, made it reasonably cer­tain that Velázquez would soon secure his title of adelantado, and the rights of conquest and jurisdiction for which he was petition­ing. Ferdinand the Catholic had died in 1516, and in September, 1517, Charles of Ghent arrived in Castile from Flanders to take up his Spanish inheritance. Charles’s arrival in the peninsula was fol­lowed by a purge of the officials who had governed Spain and the Indies during the regency of Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros. Among the councilors and officials who acquired, or returned to, favor with the coming of the new regime was the formidable figure of the bishop of Burgos, Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, the councilor prin­cipally responsible for the affairs of the Indies during the reigns of Ferdinand and Isabella. Fonseca had always had fierce enemies and devoted partisans; and among the latter was Diego Velázquez, who was married to Fonseca’s niece.{3} There was every reason, then, to assume that he would use all his newly recovered influence to sup­port the pretensions of Velázquez.

Cortés, who kept himself well informed of what went on at Court, must have been well aware that, with the return to power of Fonseca, the tide of events in Spain was moving in Velázquez’s favor. If he were ever to be a great conqueror in his own right, it was therefore essential for him to act with speed, and to obtain as much freedom for maneuver as possible. Cortés, who had been quick to learn the tragic lessons of the Spanish Caribbean, had grasped the crucial fact that the key to empire was settlement. It was exactly this which Velázquez’s instructions denied him. But Cortés was skillful enough to secure the insertion of a clause which gave him a certain amount of latitude. Velázquez admitted that it was impossible to foresee all eventualities; and he authorized Cortés, in the event of unexpected emergencies, to take such meas­ures as would conform most closely to “the service of God and their highnesses.”{4} Clearly, Velázquez did not know his man. Cortés had his own ideas about God’s service, and Their High­nesses’, and they were not quite the same as those of the governor of Cuba. Thanks to Article 27, he was now empowered to take such measures as he might consider necessary, and which were not specifically covered by his instructions. But this useful legal weapon, which he had devised to justify an unauthorized act of settlement, would be rendered useless if Velázquez should receive permission to conquer and settle while Cortés was still in Cuba. Hence the indecent haste of his departure from Santiago. On no account must he still be accessible when Velázquez’s warrant arrived from Spain.

In sailing so precipitately from Santiago, Cortés had there­fore defied his own immediate superior, Velázquez, and had poten­tially antagonized Velázquez’s powerful friends at Court. He knew well enough the grave risks he was running. But to Cortés and his friends—Puertocarrero, the Alvarado brothers, Gonzalo de Sandoval—the risks paled before the attractions of the anticipated prize. Nothing could more quickly obliterate the stigma of treachery and rebellion than a brilliant military success and the acquisition of fab­ulous riches. If new peoples were won for the Faith, and rich new lands won for the Crown, there was reason to hope that the original defiance of Velázquez would be regarded as no more than a pecca­dillo, and that Velázquez’s friends and protectors would be silenced by a fait accompli.

The king was the fountainhead of justice. It rested with him to punish the wicked, reward the good, and forgive the occasional act of insubordination—especially when the act was committed, as it would be this time, in the king’s own interest and for the greater glory of God. It was well known that God had specifically en­trusted the sovereigns of Castile with the task of winning for the Church the peoples of the newly discovered Indies, and that this divine mission had been confirmed by decision of the papacy. Cortés, therefore, would from the first act in the name of the king, in order to further this providential mission; and then, insofar as he had offended against the letter of the law, would throw himself on his mercy. This meant that, from the moment of his departure from Cuba, Cortés totally ignored any claims to jurisdiction of Veláz­quez or Colón and behaved as if he were directly subordinate to the Crown alone. Any Indians he met as he cruised along the Mexican coast were regarded as being already the vassals of the Crown of Castile,{5} by virtue of the papal donation. Similarly, he took formal possession of the land at the Tabasco River in the name of the Crown, in spite of—or, more accurately, precisely because of—the inconvenient fact that Grijalva had already taken formal possession at the same spot, on behalf of the governor of Cuba.

That Cortés and his close associates were banking on even­tual vindication by the Crown is further suggested by the jocular exchange on board ship just before the landing at San Juan de Ulúa, as reported by Bernal Diaz.{6} Alonso Hernández de Puertocarrero came up to Cortés, quoting a snatch from one of the romances in the Castilian romancero general:

Look on France, Montesinos,
Look on Paris, the city,
Look on the waters of the Duero,
Flowing down into the sea.

The lines came from the ballad of Montesinos, who was exiled from court because of a false accusation by his mortal enemy, Tomillas. Montesinos, the innocent exile, was seeking permission from his fa­ther to return to court in disguise and take service with the king, in order to avenge his wrong. If Montesinos was Cortés, then Tomil­las, his enemy, was Velázquez; and Cortés could hope to resolve his difficulties, as Montesinos resolved his, by taking service under the king. “He who takes the king’s pay,” continued the ballad, “can avenge himself of everything.” Cortés promptly responded in kind, with a quotation from another ballad about another exile: “God give us the same good fortune in fighting as he gave to the Paladin Roland.”

Success in arms, and resort to the highest authority of all, that of the king himself—these were the aims of Cortés and his fel­low conspirators as they prepared in April, 1519, to compound their defiance of Velázquez by a landing which would mark the real beginning of their attempt to conquer an empire. They were concerned, like all conquistadors, with fame, riches and honor. But behind the willful defiance of the governor of Cuba there existed, at least in Cortés’s mind, a philosophy of conquest and colonization which made his action something more than an attempt at self- aggrandizement at the expense of Velázquez. He entertained, like so many Castilians of his generation, an exalted view of the royal serv­ice, and of Castile’s divinely appointed mission. Both the divine and the royal favor would shine on those who cast down idols, extir­ pated pagan superstitions, and won new lands and peoples for God and Castile. But there was a wrong way, as well as a right way, of going about this great work. In the Antilles, the Castilians had gone about it the wrong way, with disastrous consequences. Cortés had seen with his own eyes how captains and soldiers whose sole con­cern was the quest for gold and the capture of slaves and booty had destroyed the islands and peoples discovered by Columbus only a generation ago. The extension to the New World of a style of war­ fare reminiscent of the war against the Moors in medieval Spain had made a desert of a paradise and had left even the Spaniards them­ selves shiftless and discontented. The failure of Grijalva’s expedi­tion had only served to drive home the lesson already learned by Cortés—that conquest, to achieve any long-term success, required intelligent colonization. Whether Velázquez had learned the same lesson seems doubtful; and Cortés could always point to the ab­sence from his instructions of any order to colonize, to prove that he had not. But in any event Velázquez would be given no oppor­tunity to put the question to the test. Cortés would conquer Mex­ico, and not only conquer it but settle it as well.

It was, then, with the intention of establishing a permanent settlement that Cortés dropped anchor in the harbor of San Juan de Ulúa on April 21, 1519. But some careful preliminary maneuvers were needed before he could openly flout Velázquez’s orders by formally founding a town. There was a strong faction of Veláz­quez’s partisans in the expedition, headed by Francisco de Montejo and Juan Velázquez de Leon. This faction had first to be neutral­ized, and the rank and file of the army be induced to support Cortés. The first months on Mexican soil were therefore taken up, not only with reconnaissance surveys designed to discover the na­ture of Motecuçoma’s empire and the extent of his power, but also with attempts to detach the soldiers from their adherence to Veláz­quez’s men. This was done with considerable skill, by playing on their desire for gold and land. Bernal Díaz’s account{7} suggests how cleverly Cortés forced the Velázquez faction into the open with a demand that the expedition should return to Cuba—a demand with which Cortés seemed ready to comply. At this point the troops, whose expectations had been aroused and now looked like being dashed, came out with what seemed to be a spontaneous demand that the expedition should continue.

Cortés had been given his cue, and the Velázquez faction had been outmaneuvered. But although the practical difficulties in the way of settlement had been overcome, there still remained the problem of finding some legal justification for disregard of Veláz­quez’s orders. It was at this point that Cortés’s knowledge of Castilian law came into its own. That great medieval compilation, the Siete Partidas of Alfonso X, dating from 1256-1263, presented a cogent picture of the organic unity that should naturally prevail between the king and his subjects, bound together in mutual concern for the upholding of the commonweal against selfish private interest. In the context of events in the New World in 1519, Veláz­quez and his friends could be depicted as self-interested officials, moved by greed and ambition, while Cortés and his army repre­sented the true community, motivated by concern for the com­monweal and the desire to serve God and the king. Whereas the private interest of Velázquez busied itself solely with trade and barter, which would fill his own capacious pockets, the common­ weal demanded an expedition of conquest and colonization, which would promote the true interests of the realm.

It was in pursuance of this simple but time-honored political philosophy that the remarkable events of June and July, 1519, were enacted. According to the Siete Partidas, the laws could only be set aside by the demand of all the good men of the land. On the soil of Mexico, these were clearly the rank and file of Cortés’s army, and it was in deference to their demand that he now set aside his instruc­tions. They were united in agreeing that the expedition should not return to Cuba but should remain to attempt the conquest of Motecuçoma’s empire; and they formally constituted themselves a com­munity—the Villa Rica de Vera Cruz—in order to ensure that the king’s interests were upheld. As a municipality, they then proceeded to appoint the usual municipal officials, the alcaldes and regidores. From this point, Velázquez’s instructions were regarded as inoperative, and the authority conferred by them on Cortés was deemed to have lapsed. Supreme jurisdiction in Mexico now resided in the municipality of Vera Cruz, and the charade was duly com­pleted when the municipality, acting on behalf of Charles and Juana, appointed Cortés alcalde mayor and justicia of Vera Cruz, and captain of the royal army.

The effect of this brilliant legalistic maneuver was to free Cortés from his obligations to his immediate superior, Velázquez, and to make him directly dependent on the king. But what seemed plausible enough in Mexico was bound to seem highly implausible in Cuba and at the Spanish Court. Clearly it was essential to win support in Spain for an action which Fonseca and his friends would certainly represent to the king as an act of open rebellion; and this became all the more urgent with the arrival at San Juan de Ulúa on July 1 of a ship commanded by Francisco de Saucedo bearing the not unexpected news that Velázquez, by royal decree of Novem­ber 13, 1518, had been appointed adelantado of Yucatán, and had been granted the right to conquer and settle. Now that Velázquez had obtained his authorization, Cortés’s action seemed to lack even the shadow of legality.

Everything now depended on the successful presentation of his case at Court, where the Fonseca group would certainly do all in its power to destroy him. If possible, Charles and his advisers must be reached and won over before they had time to learn from Velázquez himself of Cortés’s act of rebellion. For this purpose, Puertocarrero and Montejo, who had been detached from the Ve­lázquez faction, were appointed procuradores, or representatives, of Vera Cruz, with full powers to present the municipality’s case to the king in person. To assist them in their mission, they were to take with them, as a gift for the king, all the gold and jewels brought to Cortés by Motecuçoma’s envoys, together with the tra­ditional royal fifth of all the booty so far acquired. They took with them, too, such documentation as was needed to justify their cause. This documentation included the “lost” First Letter of Relation of Cortés—unless, as is perfectly conceivable, he never wrote such a letter, for it would necessarily have involved a number of personal explanations which could well have offered embarrassing hostages to fortune.

The most important document carried to Spain by Puertocarrero and Montejo was the letter from the new municipality of Vera Cruz, addressed to Charles and Juana. This letter, which customarily replaces Cortés’s “missing” First Letter, bears all the stamp of his personality, and was no doubt written largely to his dictation. It should therefore be read, as it was written, not as an accurate historical narrative but as a brilliant piece of special pleading, designed to justify an act of rebellion and to press the claims of Cortés against those of the governor of Cuba.

For all Cortés’s eager insistence that he was providing a “true” relation,{8} he displayed a masterly capacity for suppression of evidence and ingenious distortion. Great care was taken to play down the expeditions of Hernández de Córdoba and Grijalva, and the awkward fact that the latter had taken formal possession of the land was quietly ignored. The letter also missed no opportunity to blacken the reputation of Velázquez—”moved more by cupidity than any other passion” {9} —and to suggest that his financial contribution to the expedition was insignificant. The persistent denigration of Velázquez only served to emphasize, by contrast, the loyalty and the high ideals of Cortés himself, as a man passionately determined to serve God and the king by extirpating idolatry, converting the heathen and conquering rich new lands for the Crown of Castile. At the same time, Cortés was careful to imply that he broke with Velázquez’s instructions only under pressure from the popular will, as represented by the army. It was the soldiers, eager to convert a trading expedition into a military and colonizing enterprise, who had demanded a change of plan; and Cortés, after due deliberation, had accepted their demand as conducive to the royal interest.

Having offered this tendentious explanation of the founding of Vera Cruz, the letter then dwelt at some length on the alleged riches of the country and on the abominable customs of its inhabitants. The object of this was to appeal both to Charles’s cupidity— an appeal skillfully reinforced by the gift of Motecuçoma’s treasures—and to his sense of religious obligation, as a ruler specially entrusted by God and the Pope with the duty of winning new peoples to the Faith. But the letter’s real climax came only after the description of Mexico and the Mexicans, and consisted of a direct appeal to Charles and Juana “on no account to give or grant concessions to Diego Velázquez … or judicial powers; and if any shall have been given him, that they be revoked.” {10} Since the arrival of Saucedo, Cortés was perfectly well aware that Velázquez’s commission had in fact already arrived. Ignorance, however, was the better policy; and Cortés drove home his request with a final denunciation of the governor of Cuba as a man of such patent wickedness as to make him totally unfitted to receive the least token of royal favor.

The first letter from Mexico, then, was essentially a political document, speaking for Cortés in the name of his army, and designed to appeal directly to the Crown over the heads of Velázquez and his friends in the Council of the Indies. Cortés was now involved in a desperate race against time. Montejo and Puertocarrero left for Spain on July 26, 1519, with their bundle of letters and the gold; and unless, or until, they could persuade Charles to sanction retrospectively the behavior of Cortés and his men, Cortés was technically a traitor, liable to arrest and persecution at the hands of an irate governor of Cuba, fully empowered to act in the royal name. The danger was acute, and the blow could fall at any time, perhaps even from within Mexico itself. For there was still a strong group of Velázquez partisans in the expedition, and these men would do all they could to sabotage Cortés’s plans. But Cortés, who had his spies posted, was well aware of the dangers. The friends of the governor of Cuba appear to have been plotting to send him warning of the mission of Montejo and Puertocarrero, so that he could intercept their ship. The plot was discovered, the conspirators arrested, and two of them, Juan Escudero and Diego Cermeño, put to death.{11}

This abortive conspiracy seems to have convinced Cortés that it was not enough simply to cut the bonds of legality that tied him to Cuba. He must also cut the physical links. This was probably the major consideration in his famous decision to scuttle or beach his ships, although their destruction would have the added advantage of enabling him to add their crews to his tiny army. Once the ships were destroyed, all contact with Cuba was broken. A garrison was left at Vera Cruz under the command of Juan de Escalante, and the army began its march from Cempoal into the interior on August 16, knowing that it had openly defied the governor of Cuba and that there could be no turning back.

As long as Cortés could command the loyalties of his army —and this would ultimately depend on his ability to capture and distribute the fabulous riches of Motecuçoma’s empire—he was now reasonably safe from subversion within the ranks. But he was a good deal less safe in the rear than he had anticipated. Montejo and Puertocarrero had received strict instructions to avoid Cuba and make straight for Spain, but Montejo had other ideas. Needing provisions—or perhaps prudently hedging his bets—he chose to put in on the west of the island to make a brief visit to his estate. He arrived on August 23, left letters for a friend, and, on his last night, displayed the Mexican treasures to his major-domo before sailing again on the twenty-sixth. The major-domo duly informed Velázquez, who immediately dispatched two ships in pursuit of the procuradores. But their pilot, Alaminos, took the ship by a new route through the Bahamas Straits, and Montejo and Puertocarrero made their escape into the Atlantic and thence to Seville.

Thwarted of his prey, Velázquez made two moves which were to be crucial for the future course of events. Gonzalo de Guzmán, who had already acted on his behalf at the Spanish Court, was sent back to Spain again in mid-October to counter the activities of the Vera Cruz procuradores, and to convince the Crown and the Council of the Indies that Cortés was a traitor and should be treated as such. Simultaneously, Velázquez began to organize an army to be sent to Mexico against Cortés. News of these preparations greatly alarmed the judges of the highest tribunal in the Indies, the Audiencia of Santo Domingo. Conflicts among rival bands of conquistadors were all too common an occurrence, and the Audiencia was anxious to prevent still more shedding of blood. It therefore sent the licenciado Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon to halt the preparations, but Velázquez was in no mood to listen to the Audiencia, and the expedition was already preparing to sail by the time of the licenciado’s arrival.

At a time when a smallpox epidemic was raging in Cuba, Velázquez felt unable to lead his army in person, and handed over the command to one of his more reliable but less intelligent friends, Pánfilo de Narváez. The army, twice the size of that of Cortés, set sail from Cuba on March 5, 1520, accompanied by Vázquez de Ayllón, who clearly felt that, having failed to prevent it from sailing, the least he could do was to act as a witness and perhaps as an umpire. He was rewarded for his pains by being placed under arrest when Narváez landed at San Juan de Ulúa on April 20.

During the autumn and winter of 1519, therefore, at the time when Cortés was securing the submission of Motecuçoma and had established himself precariously in Tenochtitlan, he was faced with the prospect of a military confrontation with his immediate superior, the governor of Cuba, who himself was acting in defiance of the Audiencia of Santo Domingo. The outcome was likely to be determined on the battlefield, in an internecine struggle of Spaniard against Spaniard, which could well jeopardize and even destroy Cortés’s uncertain hold over the Aztec empire. But in the Spanish monarchy of the sixteenth century a military solution could never be final. Legality was paramount, and the key to legality lay with the king.

Everything therefore turned on the success of Montejo and Puertocarrero in Spain. They duly reached Seville at the beginning of November, 1519, only to find their country on the verge of revolt. Charles had been elected Holy Roman Emperor on June 28. Once elected, his immediate aim was to extract the largest possible subsidies from the Cortés of the various Spanish kingdoms, and then to leave for Germany. When the procuradores arrived in Seville, the emperor was still in Barcelona, heavily preoccupied with plans for his departure; and the Castilian cities were beginning to voice their dissatisfaction at the prospect of heavy new fiscal demands and an absentee king.

At this particular moment the chances of winning the emperor’s support for a still-unknown adventurer on the other side of the world hardly looked very promising. It was also unfortunate for the procuradores that Velázquez’s chaplain, Benito Martín, happened to be in Seville at the time of their arrival. Martín persuaded the officials of the Casa de la Contratación to embargo their ships, together with the Mexican treasure, and so deprived them of their most powerful argument, gold. In spite of this, Montejo and Puertocarrero set out for Barcelona, accompanied by the most faithful of Cortés’s agents in Spain, his own father, Martín Cortés de Monroy. They reached Barcelona near the end of January, 1520, only to find that the emperor had already left for Burgos. But their visit to Barcelona at least enabled them to make a number of influential contacts, and they were lucky to find there Francisco Nuñez, a royal official and a cousin of Cortés, who agreed to act as his legal representative. From Barcelona they moved across Spain in the tracks of the emperor, finally catching up with him at Tordesillas, near Valladolid, early in March. Here, seven months after leaving Vera Cruz, they could at last petition the emperor in person to confirm Cortés in his position as captain general and justicia mayor.

Their petition was fiercely contested, not only by Velázquez’s agent, Gonzalo de Guzmán, but also by his patron, the bishop of Burgos. Fonseca’s position, however, was not quite as strong as it had been. Charles’s Flemish advisers were falling out with Fonseca and his friends, whose collective reputation in the affairs of the Indies had been tarnished by the denunciations made before the emperor in December by that zealous apostle of Indian liberty, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. Above all, there was Motecuçoma’s treasure to speak on behalf of Cortés. The precious gold objects and the delicate featherwork had created a sensation in Seville, and such treasures could hardly be left indefinitely impounded in the hands of the officials of the House of Trade. On the emperor’s orders, the treasure was dispatched from Seville and reached him early in April, although Cortés’s friends were able to allege that not everything was there, and that Fonseca had deliberately held some of it back. As was to be expected, the treasure powerfully reinforced the arguments of Montejo and Puertocarrero, who put their case again at Coruña, just before Charles was due to sail. The emperor deferred his decision, but declined to follow Fonseca’s advice and declare Cortés a rebel. This at least was an encouraging start, and the procuradores gained another victory when a royal decree, dated May 10, 1520, ordered the officials in Seville to return their confiscated funds.

When Charles sailed for Germany on May 20, therefore, Cortés’s friends could claim at least a partial success. Their gold, too, would now come into its own. But there was still a very long way to go, and the political climate was menacing. Castile was now in open revolt. Fonseca remained a highly influential figure, and his brother was the royalist army commander. In these circumstances, it was easy enough to tar Cortés with the same brush of rebellion as the Comuneros of Castile. Both in the Indies and in Castile, the emperor was faced with treason and revolt. Could the rebellions be crushed, and the emperor’s authority be preserved? As far as Mexico was concerned, Fonseca pinned his hopes on the expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez. But in fact, a few days after Charles left for Germany, the fate of Narváez had been decided. Cortés, marching back to the coast from Tenochtitlan, outmaneuvered, defeated and captured him on May 27.

Narváez’s defeat left the governor of Cuba a ruined and broken man. Cortés had defeated Velázquez—geographically his nearest enemy—but he was still without news from the Spanish Court. Moreover, his march to the coast to defeat Narváez had fatally weakened the Spanish position in Tenochtitlan. When Cortés got back to the capital on June 25 it was already too late. The behavior of Alvarado and his men in Tenochtitlan during Cortés’s absence had precipitated an Indian uprising, and neither Cortés’s troops, nor the diminished authority of Motecuçoma, proved sufficient to quell the revolt. Motecuçoma, rejected by his own subjects, died his strange death on June 30. During the course of the same night, the noche triste, the Spaniards made their famous retreat from Tenochtitlan. Cortés might have defeated the governor of Cuba, but he had also lost the empire he had promised to Charles.

It was during the autumn months of 1520, while Cortés was preparing for the siege and reconquest of Tenochtitlan, that he wrote the Second Letter. This letter, like its predecessor from Vera Cruz, is both more and less than a straightforward narrative of events, for it, too, has an essentially political purpose. Cortés, when writing it, was influenced by three major considerations. In the first place, he still did not know what decision, if any, had been reached in Spain on his plea for retrospective authorization of his unconventional proceedings. In the second place, he had by now heard the news of Charles’s election to the imperial throne. Finally, he had won a new empire for Charles and had proceeded to lose it. His letter, therefore, had to be so angled as to suggest that, at the most, he had suffered no more than a temporary setback (attributable to other men’s crimes), and that he would soon be in a position to render the most signal new services to a king who had now become the mightiest monarch in the world.

With these considerations in mind, Cortés carefully contrived his letter to convey a predominantly “imperial” theme. Its opening paragraph contained a graceful allusion to Charles’s new empire in Germany, which was skillfully coupled with a reference to a second empire across the Atlantic, to which he could claim an equal title.{12} This reference set the tone for the document as a whole. The fact that Cortés was no longer at this moment the effective master of the Mexican empire was no doubt inconvenient, but could be played down as far as possible. For the thesis of the letter was that Charles was already the legal emperor of this great new empire, and that Cortés would soon recover for him what was rightfully his.

The entire story of the march to Tenochtitlan and the imprisonment of Motecuçoma was related in such a way as to support this general thesis. Motecuçoma, by his speeches and his actions, was portrayed as a man who voluntarily recognized the sovereignty of Charles V, and voluntarily surrendered his empire into his hands. Whether Motecuçoma did indeed speak anything like the words which Cortés attributes to him will probably never be known for certain. Some passages in his two speeches contain so many Christian overtones as to be unbelievable coming from a pagan Aztec. Others, and in particular the identification of the Spaniards with the former rulers of Mexico wrongly banished from their land, may be an ingenious fabrication by Cortés, or may conceivably reflect certain beliefs and legends, which Motecuçoma himself may or may not have accepted. Whatever its origins, the story of the expected return of lords from the east was essential to Cortés’s grand design, for it enabled him to allege and explain a “voluntary” submission of Motecuçoma, and the “legal” transfer of his empire—an empire far removed from the jurisdiction of the Audiencia of Santo Domingo and from the Caribbean world of Diego Colón and Velázquez—to its rightful ruler, Charles V .

Motecuçoma’s death at the hands of his own subjects left Charles the undisputed master of the field. It was unfortunate that the Mexicans were now in open rebellion—a situation which could only be ascribed to the nefarious activities of the governor of Cuba, acting through his agent Pánfilo de Narváez. But although Narváez’s invasion had nearly brought disaster, the tide had now been turned, because God was on the emperor’s side. With divine help, and through the agency of that most loyal of lieutenants, Hernan Cortés, the land would soon be recovered; and what better name could be bestowed upon it than that of New Spain?{13}

It is clear that this entire letter was superbly designed to appeal directly to Charles over the heads of Fonseca and his friends in the Council of the Indies and the imperial entourage. But Fonseca was still far from ready to admit defeat. It was always possible that Cortés would suffer the fate of other conquistadors, and be unseated by conspirators among his own men. The abortive plot of Antonio de Villafaña during the siege of Tenochtitlan{14} showed that Velázquez still had his friends, and that this was by no means an unreasonable hope. There was a chance, too, that Fonseca could rid himself of Cortés by more subtle means. With Narváez’s defeat, military overthrow had become unlikely; but as long as Charles V declined to pronounce on Cortés’s status, he remained intensely vulnerable to legal action.

When news of Narváez’s defeat reached Spain, Fonseca persuaded Adrian of Utrecht, who headed the regency government during Charles’s absence in Germany, to appoint a royal official to intervene in Mexico. The chosen official was Cristóbal de Tapia, a royal inspector in Hispaniola. He received his commission in April, 1521—the month when the Castilian Comuneros were defeated and crushed at Villalar—and he was apparently ordered to take over the government of New Spain, and, if possible, to arrest Cortés and ship him home. Tapia landed at Vera Cruz on December 4, 1521, four months after Cortés’s army had captured Tenochtitlan. The Aztec empire had been destroyed; but, for all his success, Cortés was in a delicate position. To defy Tapia, who had come to New Spain as the legally appointed representative of the royal authority, would be the height of imprudence, and yet to surrender the empire into his hands would be intolerable.

Once again, however, as the Third Letter makes clear, Cortés showed himself equal to the occasion. Carefully avoiding a personal meeting with Tapia, who would at once have presented him with a royal warrant, he sent a Franciscan, Fray Pedro de Melgarejo, to greet Tapia, and no doubt to pass him an appropriate bribe. At the same time, he had recourse to the device which he had already employed at the beginning of the conquest, and arranged another “spontaneous” assertion of the popular will. The representatives of the various municipalities of New Spain, usefully reinforced for the occasion by the rapid founding of the new town of Medellin, met Tapia at Cempoal on December 24, 1521, and went through the time-honored Castilian procedure followed by those who were prepared to obey but not to comply. With honor thus satisfied on both sides, Tapia took the next ship back to Hispaniola, a wiser, and no doubt a richer, man.

Tapia’s intervention provided Cortés, in his Third Letter of May 15, 1522, with a diabolus ex machina, equivalent to Narváez in the Second Letter. While the letter related in great detail the siege and capture of Tenochtitlan, it also enabled him to smear by implication all those royal officials who placed their own interest before the emperor’s. It was scarcely necessary to contrast their conduct with that of Cortés, who had not only conquered an empire for Charles, but was now offering him yet another vision of fabulous riches—a vision, this time, of the Spice Islands of the Pacific and the world of Cathay.{15}

It must have been bitterly frustrating for Cortés that, in spite of all these services, no word of royal approval had yet been received. This could only be explained, he concluded, by the machinations of his enemies, who were concealing the truth from the emperor. Nor could there any longer be real doubt that the chief among these enemies was Fonseca, the bishop of Burgos. It was Fonseca who had been responsible for the unwelcome intervention of Tapia. It was Fonseca, too, who was responsible in 1523 for a further challenge to Cortés’s position—the intervention of Juan de Garay.

In 1521 Garay, the governor of Jamaica, obtained from Fonseca a warrant authorizing him to conquer and colonize the Panuco region, to the north of Vera Cruz. He landed at Panuco in July, 1523, with an army of four hundred infantry and 120 cavalry. This could easily have been another Narváez affair, and Cortés at once recalled his captains, now dispersed over Mexico, to meet the new challenge to his authority. It was this challenge which he described in the opening pages of his Fourth Letter of October 15, 1524, where for the first time Fonseca is mentioned by name.{16} Tapia and Garay, like Narváez in the Second Letter, are portrayed as self-interested men whose ill-chosen and ill-timed intervention in the affairs of New Spain placed the imperial authority and the achievements of Cortés at risk. Cortés himself emerges, not for the first time, as the loyalist, confronted by a quartet of enemies—Fonseca, Diego Colón, Velázquez and Garay—united in their sinister machinations to accomplish his ruin.

By the time this letter was written, however, Cortés’s battle for recognition had long since been won. During the course of 1521 the balance of power in the emperor’s councils had perceptibly shifted. This year, which saw the defeat of the Comuneros, saw also the siege and capture of Tenochtitlan. If Fonseca’s brother had emerged victorious in Castile, Fonseca’s enemy had emerged victorious in New Spain; and as more and more wealth flowed in from Mexico, something of the significance of Cortés’s achievement began to be realized. His agents were lobbying hard in the regency council of Adrian of Utrecht, and duly convinced the regent that the bishop of Burgos had done the emperor an ill service in persistently supporting the governor of Cuba. He therefore deprived Fonseca of jurisdiction in the suit between Cortés and Velázquez, instituted to determine which of the two could rightfully lay claim to the spoils of New Spain.

Charles V returned to Spain in July, 1522, and received Cortés’s representatives in audience the following month. After hearing their arguments, he confirmed Adrian’s decision, but appointed a new tribunal to receive representations from both parties and to reach a final verdict. This tribunal, which included among its members the grand chancellor Gattinara, eventually decided in Cortés’s favor. It was left open to Velázquez to sue Cortés for debts, but it was ruled that Velázquez’s financial contribution to the original expedition, even if it were larger than that of Cortés, did not entitle him to claim credit for the conquest of Mexico.

The tribunal’s recommendations were accepted by the emperor and embodied in a decree dated October 15, 1522, which named Cortés governor and captain general of New Spain.{17} At last, some three and a half years after his original act of insubordination, Cortés had received the vindication for which he and his agents had worked so hard. The original strategy, so tenaciously pursued, of appealing directly to the sovereign over the heads of his officials, had yielded its expected dividend. Cortés was no longer a rebel— another Comunero—but the emperor’s official governor of the newly conquered realm of New Spain.

The news, however, still had to reach Cortés. It was conveyed to Mexico by his brother-in-law Francisco de las Casas, and his cousin, Rodrigo de Paz, who in due course secured appointment as Cortés’s personal secretary and major-domo. When Garay landed in July, 1523, it had not yet come, but it arrived in September, just in time to give a decisive turn to events. Cortés at once had the contents of the emperor’s decree publicly announced in Mexico City—now rising on the ruins of Tenochtitlan—along with those of another imperial decree forbidding Garay to interfere in the affairs of New Spain. Copies of the decrees were also dispatched to Garay, who saw that he was beaten and gave up without a fight. He duly traveled to Mexico City to visit Cortés, and died there suddenly on December 27.

One after another, then, Cortés’s opponents and rivals, from Velázquez to Garay, had been worsted in the intricate political game which Cortés had played with such skill since the moment he first took ship for Mexico. It was a game whose ground rules he had studied closely, and which he had fought with every weapon at his command. Events in Mexico itself were crucial, because success in Mexico was the prerequisite for success at Court. However skillful the maneuvers of Cortés’s relatives and agents at home in Spain, their chances of success ultimately turned on Cortés’s ability to conquer Motecuçoma’s empire and to replenish the imperial coffers with Mexican gold. But Cortés knew well enough that victory in Mexico would be nothing without victory at Court, and the entire presentation of his case through his letters to the emperor was most cunningly designed to bring this about.

He achieved what he intended to achieve; and yet, in the end, his very success proved his own undoing. By consistently emphasizing his own absolute loyalty to the emperor, he had delivered himself into the emperor’s hands. His acutely sensitive political antennae, which had told him that he must win at Court if he were to win at all, failed him at the very moment of success. For if the Court could make a man, it could also unmake him; and there were reasons enough for unmaking Cortés.

When Fonseca fought his protracted battle with Cortés, he may to some extent have been motivated by personal animosity, but at the same time he was profoundly conscious of his position as the Crown’s principal minister in the government of the Indies. It was the policy of the Castilian Crown, firmly laid down in the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, that no subject should be permitted to grow overmighty, and that acts of insubordination should be promptly punished without fear or favor. In persecuting Cortés, Fonseca was doing his duty, even if he did it with some personal relish. But Cortés, in the end, proved too strong for him. The intuitive political genius outmaneuvered and outclassed the bureaucratic mind.

The bureaucratic mind, however, is distinguished by its tenacity; and even if Fonseca himself had failed, his successors in the government of the Indies could hardly afford to let Cortés get away with his success. If the Crown’s authority were to be effectively established on the far shores of the Atlantic, acts of private initiative must at all costs be curbed. It was symptomatic of the Court’s concern at the very magnitude of Cortés’s success that the decree of October 15, 1522, appointing him governor of New Spain, should be accompanied by another, appointing four royal officials to assist him in government.{18} Already the bureaucrats were preparing to wrest power from the military in New Spain.

The four officials—Alonso de Estrada, Gonzalo de Salazar, Rodrigo de Albornoz and Pedro Almíndez Chirinos—duly arrived in Mexico in 1524. In the course of this same year, Cortés’s two great enemies, Velázquez and Fonseca, both died: Velázquez in June and Fonseca in October. But each in his way secured a posthumous revenge.

Once central Mexico had been conquered, Cortés turned his attention to the west and the south. As part of the project for southward expansion, Pedro de Alvarado was dispatched in 1523 to conquer Guatemala, while another of Cortés’s captains, Cristóbal de Olid, was given the task of occupying Honduras. Olid, a former partisan of Velázquez, left Mexico for Havana in January, 1524, to collect reinforcements. In Cuba he met Velázquez, now approaching the end of his life, and was persuaded to defy Cortés, as Cortés himself had once defied the governor of Cuba. Once Olid reached Honduras and had taken possession, he disavowed Cortés’s authority. Velázquez had obtained his revenge at last.

The terrible news of Olid’s treachery helps to account for the bitterness of Cortés’s Fourth Letter. Having at last, after years of waiting, secured the authority that he regarded as rightfully his, he found himself betrayed by one of his own captains, at the prompting of his old enemy, Diego Velázquez. The irony of the situation rubbed salt in the wound. But his fresh denunciations of the archvillain, Velázquez, were this time accompanied by a highly imprudent threat to send a force to Cuba and arrest Velázquez for trial in Spain.{19} Nothing could have been better calculated to alarm the already nervous members of the Council of the Indies. Cortés’s proposal to take the law into his own hands, and pursue a personal vendetta in the royal name, could only be regarded as conclusive evidence of the dangers in leaving Cortés in untrammeled exercise of his powers. The emperor’s reaction was predictable enough. A special juez de residencia, Ponce de León, was appointed in November, 1525, to visit New Spain and conduct a full inquiry into Cortés’s activities.

The threat to arrest the governor of Cuba was not the only misjudgment made by Cortés after receiving the news of Olid’s treachery. Francisco de las Casas was sent to bargain with Olid, who promptly took him into custody. Cortés, in exasperation, then decided to lead a force to Honduras under his own command to deal with his insubordinate captain. The Honduras expedition, which provides the theme of the Fifth Letter, was an extraordinary saga of heroism and suffering. Cortés emerged from it alive, but a different, and in some ways a broken, man. A heightened religious intensity pervades the letter, as if Cortés had suddenly been made aware of man’s weakness in face of the inscrutable ways of a Providence that had seemed for so long to be on his side. The Cortés who staggered ashore at Vera Cruz on May 24, 1526, so thin and weak that people had difficulty in recognizing him, contrasted strangely with the arrogant royal governor who had set out as if on a triumphal procession a year and a half before.

Yet, from the moment of its conception, the Honduras expedition seemed such a wild undertaking that it is questionable whether Cortés had not already lost his touch. The long years of waiting for the emperor’s approval had imposed an intolerable strain upon him, perhaps sufficient in itself to affect his judgment. But it is just as likely that the unwelcome presence of royal officials also played a significant part. As soon as the bureaucrats began to arrive in any number, Cortés would cease to be the real ruler of New Spain. Already by the autumn of 1524 he was beginning to feel hemmed in, and the decision to leave for Honduras may well have been prompted by an impulsive desire to escape into a world where he could again enjoy the delights of supreme command.

Whatever the balance of motives, Cortés’s decision proved to be the most disastrous of his life. No one else in New Spain enjoyed even a shadow of his personal authority, and his departure was the signal for anarchy. As soon as his back was turned, his enemies came out into the open, and the old faction feuds reasserted themselves in a vicious quarrel over the spoils of conquest. The old Velázquez faction, which had felt cheated in the distribution of booty and land, turned for leadership to Gonzalo de Salazar. The followers of Cortés, for their part, grouped themselves around the person of his major-domo, Rodrigo de Paz. There was virtual civil war in Mexico in 1525, and Paz was captured, tortured and killed. But the unexpected news of Cortés’s survival, and of his imminent return to New Spain, encouraged his followers to launch a counter-offensive; and when Cortes made his triumphal entry into Mexico City in June, 1526, he returned to a capital once again controlled by his own partisans.

But the triumph of 1526 was ephemeral. The violent faction feuds in New Spain merely confirmed the determination of the Council of the Indies to bring it under the effective control of the Crown. A few days after Cortés’s return to the capital, Ponce de León arrived to conduct his residencia, and suspended him from his office of governor. The net was slowly closing on Cortés, and each new official pulled it a little tighter around him. Fonseca’s hand stretched beyond the grave.

Embittered by the apparent neglect of his services, Cortés de­cided to seek redress, as he had always attempted to seek it, with the emperor in person. He left Mexico for Spain in March, 1528, and was duly accorded a magnificent reception at Court. He was raised to the nobility with the title of Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca, and the emperor confirmed him in the possession of numerous vassals and vast estates. But he did not reappoint him to the governorship of New Spain. When he returned to Mexico in 1530 he returned with no office or special authority, and he found that the royal offi­cials assiduously kept him at arm’s length. In the Spanish-style bureaucratic state that was being constructed on the ruins of Motecuçoma’s empire, there was no place for the conqueror of Mexico. In 1540 he retired to Spain, where he lived out the remaining seven years of his life, a disappointed and disillusioned man. He had played the game according to the rules, but these had been laid down by the Spanish Crown. And Cortés, who had devoted such time and thought to their study, had overlooked the most important fact of all: that those who devise the rules are likely, in the last round, to win the match.

J. H. Elliott


In the following notes Cedulario refers to Cedulario Cortesiano, compilación de Beatriz Arteaga Garaz y Guadalupe Pérez San Vicente. Publicaciones de la Sociedad de Estudios Cortesianos No. I, Mexico, 1949.

Below, p. number refers to pages in the book Letters from Mexico. Translated, edited, and with a new introduction by Anthony Pagden. Revised edition published by Yale University Press in 1986.

{1} This brief survey has drawn heavily on the illuminating studies of Cortés and his ideas by Victor Frankl: “Hernán Cortés y la tradición de las Siete Partidas”; “Die Begriffe des Mexicanischen Kaisertums und der Weltmonarchie in den ‘Cartas de Relacion’ des Hernán Cortés”; “Imperio particular e imperio universal en las cartas de relacion de Hernán Cortés.” Frankl’s critical reassessment of Cortés as a reliable source for his own exploits is to some extent inspired by Eulalia Guzmán, Relaciones de Hernán Cortés a Carlos V sobre la invasión de Anáhuac, an annotated edition of the first two letters which is often shrewd and penetrating in its judgments but is vitiated by the author’s antipathy toward Cortés. The most interesting and suggestive attempt so far made to reconstruct the political scene in Spain and the Indies in the first decades of the sixteenth century is to be found in the massively ambitious biography of Las Casas by Manuel Giménez Fernández, to which his Hernán Cortés y su Revolución Comunera en la Nueva España may be regarded as a useful pendant. In addition to these works, I have also made use of the following: Robert S. Chamberlain, “La controversia entre Cortés y Velázquez sobre la gobernación de la Nueva España, 1519-1522,” and his “Two unpublished documents of Hernán Cortés and New Spain, 1519 and 1524”; Richard Konetzke, “Hernán Cortés como poblador de la Nueva España”; José Valero Silva, El Legalismo de Hernán Cortés como instrumento de su Conquista; H. R. Wagner, The Rise of Fernando Cortés.

{2} Cedulario, doc. 1.

{3} The relationship is reported by Francisco López de Gómara, Cortés, The Life of the Conqueror by His Secretary, p. 327. Giménez Fernández, Hernán Cortés, p. 53, suggests that the “niece” was a daughter.

{4} Clause 27, Cedulario, p. 30.

{5} Below, p. 452, n. 15.

{6} Chap. 36. Frankl, in “Hernán Cortés y la tradición de las Siete Partidas,” was the first to appreciate the cryptic references in the exchange.

{7} Chap. 41.

{8} Below, p. 18.

{9} Below, p. 5.

{10} Below, p. 37.

{11} Below, p. 51.

{12} Below, p. 48.

{13} Below, p. 158.

{14} Below, pp. 277-278.

{15} Below, pp. 267, 327, 444.

{16} Below, p. 289.

{17} Cedulario, doc. 2.

{18} Cedulario, doc. 3.

{19} Below, p. 332.

Charles V / Carlos V

2000 International Congress. Carlos V y la quiebra del humanismo político en Europa (1530-1558): Madrid, 3-6 July 2000

The idea of Empire and humanism / La idea del imperio y el humanismo 


Empire and political relationships / Imperio y relaciones políticas 

Charles V and the Low Countries / Carlos V y los Países Bajos 

Charles V and the moriscos / Carlos V y los moriscos 


Institutions and power elites / Instituciones y élites de poder 


Art and culture / Arte y cultura 


The Indies during the reign of Charles V / Las Indias durante el reinado de Carlos V

Religiousness and Inquisition / Religiosidad e Inquisición

Economical and financial aspects / Aspectos económicos y financieros