In Golden Age Spain, most major “serious” poets also wrote superb and exuberant comic verse. Cervantes, Quevedo and Góngora are but three examples.
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.’
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: http://sonnets.spanish.sbc.edu
And more poets translated: http://sonnets.spanish.sbc.edu/Poets.html