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Comparative Literature Studies 43.4 (2006) 498-514

Sancho Panza, Illiterate Literary Critic, and the Unmasking of Generic Conventions in Don Quixote
William Worden
University of Alabama

Cervantes destaca a Sancho contra toda aventura, a fin de que al pasar por ella la haga imposible. Esta es su misión. No vemos, pues, cómo pueda sobre lo real extenderse el campo de la poesía. Mientras lo imaginario era por sí mismo poético, la realidad es por sí misma antipoética.

[Cervantes sets Sancho against every adventure so that his involvement makes the adventures impossible. This is his mission. We do not see, then, how the field of poetry can extend itself over the real. While the imaginary was poetic in itself, reality in itself is anti-poetic.]

—José Ortega y Gasset, Meditaciones del Quijote

In the film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, a spoof of a highly codified genre (the James Bond spy thriller), the film's villain, Dr. Evil, is having dinner with his rival, Austin Powers, when his teenage son, Scott Evil, enters. The following dialogue ensues:

Dr. Evil Scott, I want you to meet Daddy's nemesis, Austin Powers.
Scott Evil Why are you feeding him? Why don't you just kill him?
Dr. Evil In due time.
Scott Evil But what if he escapes? Why don't you just shoot him?
What are you waiting for? [End Page 498]
Dr. Evil I have a better idea. I'm going to put him in an easily escapable
situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.
Scott Evil Why don't you just shoot him now? Here, I'll get a gun.
We'll just shoot him. Bang! Dead. Done.
Dr. Evil One more peep out of you and you're grounded.1

Dr. Evil knows, as does the film's audience, that it would be unthinkable to kill Austin Powers; generic conventions of the spy thriller prohibit such resolute and irreversible action.2 Scott Evil, however, seemingly unaware of the rules that govern the filmic universe he inhabits, injects humor into the situation by making plain—to the audience, if not as successfully to his father and Austin Powers—the absurdity of Dr. Evil's reluctance to finish off his nemesis. As a character in the spy film but not of the genre (in which villains do not typically have teenage children), Scott Evil plays the complete outsider who fails to understand the norms of the world in which he lives. His question of "Why don't you just shoot him now?" draws attention to the preposterous nature of the dinner scene that filmgoers have been watching. While Scott may appear to be totally ignorant of the codes governing the conduct of both his father and Austin Powers, it must also be remembered that his lines have been written by a screenwriter (Mike Myers) thoroughly conversant with generic conventions and intent on lampooning them. Through Scott Evil, then, Myers succeeds in making us laugh at the ridiculousness of the thoroughly established and accepted rules of the spy thriller.

This study will show how, in much the same way, Miguel de Cervantes makes use of Sancho Panza in Don Quixote to expose for the reader of his work the often absurd nature of the literary conventions of his day. Before making the case for the squire's recurrent interactions with and commentaries on literature throughout the novel, it should be noted that as a matter of course, critics fail to take Sancho into account when writing about Don Quixote's multitudinous observations about written texts.3 While they have analyzed the relationship to literature of Don Quixote, the Canon, Ginés de Pasamonte, and any number of other characters in the work, scholars have excluded Sancho from consideration of the literary within the novel simply because he cannot read. In fact, at first glance the persistent lack of critical interest in the figure of the squire as he relates to literature would seem...


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