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MLN 116.2 (2001) 235-249

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Lazarillo, Guzmán, and Buffoon Literature

Victoriano Roncero López

In order to determine the relations that exist between picaresque literature and buffoon literature, we must first answer the following questions: What is buffoon literature? What are the thematic or structural characteristics that define it? When did it arise, and when did it disappear? We should immediately make it clear that this is not a type of literature that has a particular generic form: there are poems, chronicles, and novels that all fall under the heading of buffoon literature. Hence we must consider those particular thematic characteristics which define certain works as forming part of our suprageneric category.

The first characteristic may be stated as follows: buffoon literature is defined by the presence of a buffoon either as the author of the novel, chronicle, or poem, or as the protagonist of the work. As we know, the figure of the buffoon first appeared in classical Greece and continued in Rome until the fall of the Empire, reappearing in the Italian city-states of the eighth and ninth centuries (Doran). In this medieval reappearance the figure of the buffoon was closely associated with that of the madman or fool, terms that were applied to characters that were stupid, that ignored the problems of this world, and that could thus receive the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, whose words would be reproduced by their mouths.

In Spain the first reference to the buffoon appears in the anonymous Libro de la nobleza y lealtad, dedicated to the canonized king Fernando III; this buffoon is mentioned as an albardán (Menéndez [End Page 235] Pidal 23), which was a word of Arabic origin, shortly thereafter replaced in Castilian by the word truhán. In the fifteenth century we find the first truhanes identifiable by name: Mosén Borra, who was Fernando de Antequera's buffoon, and Davihuelo, who was a member of the first Trastámara court and was attacked in poems by Villasandino and Baena. In one poem Villasandino calls him a "loco endiablado / con su cara endiablada" (Baena 208) and in another says, in stronger terms, that the buffoon es "Fijo de algunt vil barbudo / e de vil puta barbuda / . . . // Mientes, vil puerco ensuziado, / con tu lengua ensuziada, / matador de alma criada / qu'el Señor ovo criado" (Baena 210). But the important thing is that some of these buffoons have voices of their own. This is true in the cases of poets writing for the court of Juan II of Castile; their poems have reached us as part of the cancioneros put together, from time to time, as gifts for the king (see especially the Cancionero de Baena or the Cancionero de Palacio). Alfonso Álvarez de Villasandino, Juan Alfonso de Baena, and Antón de Montoro, the so-called "ropero de Córdoba" (Márquez Villanueva 1982), among others, wrote poems, participated in burlesque debates, formulated and answered ridiculous questions, with the sole intention of amusing the king and the nobility, demanding in exchange a small reward: Álvarez de Villasandino asked that the Condestable "lo fesiesse rey de la faua" (Baena 222-23); on other occasions he asked Doña Catalina, the king's mother, or Prince Fernando, for money to buy an estate in Illescas or a mule. The case of Antón de Montoro is different. In one poem addressed to the Condestable Lucas de Iranzo he complains that the latter gives him mere sardines when he wants to eat shad, a more esteemed and delicate fish (Montoro 86); in another he asks a nobleman to punish his steward, who, when he gives him the quarter of a lamb that he is owed, first removes the shoulder (la espalda), which leads to a pun at the end of the poem (Montoro 107):

y, señor, dalde tal calda
de palabras o de mano
que me dé mi quarto sano,
o dadme vos el espalda.

The tradition of the buffoon as writer continues into the sixteenth century. An important case is that of the Emperor Charles V's...


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