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C H A P T E R III The Dialogue Between the Canon and Don Quixote THE dialogue between Don Quixote and the Canon of Toledo is, as all critics have agreed, Cervantes' most complete and profound statement of a theory of literature. As the practical focus of this dialogue is the libro de caballerias, it becomes fully meaningful only when examined against the background of the literary polemic surrounding the romanzi in Italy and the romances of chivalry in Spain. For basically the discussion is a reasoned debate between the apologists for a type of artistry best exemplified by the chaotic fantasies of the romanzi and the advocates of a type of artistry which encompassed both certain aesthetic values of the romanzi and a classicist theory of poetry. It is important to note at the outset that the Canon of Toledo, who speaks for the latter group, is deeply sympathetic to the pleasurable appeal of the romances. His attitudes toward literature are in no way to be identified with the rigidly puritanical school of critics exemplified by Luis Vives. As we shall see, his evaluation of the chivalric romance is marked by the same spirit of reconciliation which informs Torquato Tasso's critical engagement with the works of Ariosto, Boiardo, and the other writers of the romanzi. Although his attack on the medieval genre utilizes all the traditional weapons, his intention is not destruction but rather purification. He envisions a new type of prose fiction, which, while eliminating the flaws which moralists and classicists attacked in the romances and adhering to the dominant Aristotelian aesthetic criteria, would continue to produce the pleasure of variety on which its chivalric ancestor was based. Indeed his position contains in concentrated form the entire evolution in critical tastes which we have followed in the preceding two chapters, from the negative moralizing that marked early Renaissance evaluations of the romances, through the new aesthetic orientation that accompanied the emergence of the Aristotelian critical dogma, to the constructive attempt of Tasso to reconcile the new and the old in the perfect heroic poem and the gradual recognition of Heliodorus' Ethiopian History as a prose epic which solved all the aesthetic problems raised by the romances. 91 Cervantes & the Classical Aesthetic THE CANON'S CRITIQUE OF THE ROMANCES The canon begins his remarks on the romances of chivalry with the traditional moralistic censure of their harmful effects on readers. Recalling the Platonic condemnation of poetry, he refers to the romances and their authors as perjudiciales en la repiiblica. The notion that literature is subordinate to the aims of the state was popular in the period, and it appears more than once in Cervantes' numerous discussions of poetry. Its most important evocation occurs later in the present context when the curate suggests that play­ wrights and romancers should submit their works to a learned rep­ resentative of the court who would evaluate their aesthetic and didactic qualities and then decide to prohibit or approve their rep­ resentation or publication. Continuing the moralistic attack on the genre, he likens the romances to the Milesian fable, which con­ temporary criticism regarded as the most decadent type of fiction in its lack of truth and its erotic subject matter.1 At this point the canon abandons the moralistic line of argument and proceeds to the common negative evaluation of the romances on aesthetic grounds. Granting that the genre by its very nature leans more heavily on the delectare than the prodesse for its justifi­ cation, he maintains that legitimate pleasure can be aroused by a work of literature only if it observes certain rules which the ro­ mances constantly violate. His two points of attack put the dialogue squarely within the tradition of the polemic which had dominated much of Italian critical writing of the second half of the sixteenth century—the controversy over Ariosto and Tasso. As has been pointed out above, the attacks of the "ancients" on the romanzi had been 1 Both Clemencin and Rodriguez Marin attribute this comparison to Vanegas de Busto's prefatory remarks to a work of Cervantes de Salazar in 1546. It is well to observe that by Cervantes' time the association of the chivalric romance with the Milesian fable was so widespread that the author could have found it in almost any one of the theoretical works which he knew. Actually, the present context, in which it is juxtaposed to the Aesopian fable, suggests not the unsophisticated moralizing context of Vanegas de Busto...


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