Rewritings, Sequels, and Cycles in Sixteenth-Century Castilian Romances of Chivalry: “Aquella Inacabable Aventura.” by Daniel Gutiérrez Trápaga
Daniel Gutiérrez Trápaga’s monograph studies the evolution of a century’s worth of libros de caballerías, focusing on how the genre’s sequels and cycles influenced its development. The work contains three chapters—each with various subheadings—, as well as an introduction and conclusion. The author begins by noting that there were eighty-seven libros de caballerías written during the span of a century, and that the genre is crucial to the development of fiction in the Western canon, both in its early-modern and modern forms. Thanks to several scholarly editions of these works, he notes, we are able to study them as unique literary examples as well as collectively as a genre. The book, therefore, presents a “diachronic analysis of the main intertextual practices (rewritings, continuations, and cycles) in the libros de caballerías as a way to understand the transformation of the genre” (13).
The first chapter, “From Arthur to Amadís: Medieval Romance Cycles and the Foundation of the Libros de Caballerías,” explains the relationship of these works with Latin texts and the literary practices of imitatio and auctoritates in the context of hypotexts and hypertexts. The author notes the significance of “intertextuality” and that medieval works engaged not only with their contemporary culture, but also with their literary past. The result of this engagement formed the bedrock of the Arthurian cycle and Grail legend. Soon, prose began to overtake verse as the preferred medium to share these stories, marking a change from the former’s sole designation as a mechanism for truth-telling. The Arthurian legend began to steadily trickle into the Iberian Peninsula through the Camino de Santiago, for example, but the marriage between Alfonso VIII of Castile and Eleanor of England, as well as the presence of Catalan troubadours, also accelerated the transmission process. The Caballero Zifar, for example, exemplifies the traditions of imitatio and compilatio, while revealing that “the authors of original Castilian romances were familiar with the Arthurian tradition, its textual practices, and historiographical topoi” (38). Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo produced a magnum opus with Amadís and the Sergas de Esplandián, marking the beginnings of a cyclical tradition in sixteenth-century Spain. [End Page 118]
Chapter 2, “After Montalvo: the Development of the Amadís Cycle,” divides chivalric romances into two categories: heterodox (that deviate from certain narrative elements of Montalvo’s works) and orthodox (that align closely with Montalvo’s narrative elements). Beginning with the heterodox branch, Ruy Páez de Ribera’s Florisando (1510) openly clashes with Montalvo’s use of magic by rejecting its presence within the text, and instead celebrates religious values while prioritizing verisimilitude and didactics. Florisando aimed to improve upon its hypertext, namely the Sergas, establishing a new religious and moral tone to the Amadís cycle. Florisando is followed by Juan Díaz’s Lisuarte de Grecia (1526), which adheres to the heterodox blueprint but reintroduces characters from Sergas, all while cultivating a Christian view of chivalry. Feliciano de Silva dominates the orthodox branch of the Amadís cycle, authoring two key works: his Lisuarte de Grecia (1514) and Amadís de Grecia (1530), both commercially successful. Feliciano picked up Montalvo’s plotline while ignoring Páez de Ribera’s contributions to the cycle through Florisando. Fifteen years after publishing Lisuarte de Grecia, Feliciano published Amadís de Grecia, where, according to Gutiérrez Trápaga, he became aware of the heterodox branch of the cycle and reacted against it. The author notes that Feliciano was “a meticulous and insightful reader [who] mastered the intertextual topoi that articulated the historical claims of the libros de caballerías and their literary implications” (99), and that “the literary experimentations of Feliciano kept chivalric romance alive and guided its transformation, making him a central figure in the history of Castilian fictional narrative” (111).
Chapter 3, “The Espejo de príncipes y caballeros Cycle,” analyzes what Gutiérrez Trápaga terms the “most sucessful cycle of the genre during the second half of the sixteenth century” (113). The Espejo de príncipes y caballeros (I) by Diego Ortúñez de Calahorra was translated into English, French, and Italian, and followed the biographical model of the Amadís cycle while focusing on heroic accounts of the knight Trebacio. Although entertainment remained a priority over didactics with this branch, humanists such as Juan Luis Vives argued against these stories. The Espejo de príncipes y caballeros (II) by Pedro de la Sierra follows Espejo I while leaving the door open for a sequel; however, as the author notes, “the muses were unkind [and he] never published a sequel” (137). Espejo de príncipes y caballeros (III) by Marcos Martínez represents the last libro de caballerías printed in the seventeenth century, and it is a faithful [End Page 119] continuation of Espejo II. As with previous works, its plot does not reach a definitive conclusion, leaving a cliffhanger for whomever might appear next to continue the cycle.
Along with careful reflections that summarize his study, Gutiérrez Trápaga’s conclusion astutely observes that our current media make frequent use of sequels for commercial reasons, “rather than arising from narrative or ideological motivations” (169), citing examples from popular culture such as superhero franchises and the James Bond films. Also, he recognizes Feliciano de Silva again as a “central figure of Castilian prose and literature” (170). Just as a good libro de caballerías leaves its audience wanting more, the author ends by noting: “Why not read [the second part of Don Quijote] in terms of the intertextual battles and cyclical traits of the libros de caballerías? The same could be done for other early-modern works of genres such as the pastoral and picaresque novel” (170).
The author has carried out a noteworthy analysis that fills an important gap in the understanding of early modern Spanish literature, particularly prose fiction. In doing so, he brings the Castilian libros de caballerías into the discussion with chivalric texts from Britain and France, which—due to the popularity of the Arthurian cycle—tend to dominate discussions about European fictional chivalric literature. In addition to linking some of the key works from this genre together through an insightful application of sequels and cycles, the author spotlights several opportunities for future scholarship. Questions of gender, for example, appear unanswered. In one case, Feliciano de Silva writes a scene where Amadís dresses as a female slave; in another, an Amazon named Claridiana (Espejo I) acts as a knight and rescues another knight in distress, a scene that reverses traditional gender roles. These are but two examples mentioned but not fully explained, thus leaving the potential for further examination at one’s fingertips. The book also has wide-ranging appeal for comparative literary scholars, although it would have constituted an improvement in accessibility had the author included translations of citations in languages other than English. This small shortcoming notwithstanding, Gutiérrez Trápaga successfully moves the discussion of this genre forward through what is sure to be a cornerstone study of libros de caballerías. [End Page 120]