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C H A P T E R V The Critical Examination of Literary Theory in the Persiles LITERARY THEORY AS A THEME OF THE PERSILES IT is CLEAR that the Canon of Toledo's plan for the ideal book of chivalry was Cervantes' general formula for the Persiles, and it is tempting to believe that the hundred pages which the canon claims to have written and abandoned are Cervantes' first sketch of his final work. Just how far the composition of the Persiles can be related to the suggestive literary dialogue is conjectural. Nevertheless, Cervantes' desire to follow the classical rules—unity, verisimilitude, decorum, the legitimized marvelous, rhetorical display, moral edification , and instructive erudition—is everywhere evident in the Persiles, both in subject matter and structure and in the various comments of the self-conscious narrator concerning criteria governing his creative and selective processes. In view of the author's submission to classical theory, the last thing which we would expect to find in the Persiles is a continuation of his critical engagement with the neo-Aristotelians. And yet it is there throughout the work, usually as an undertone sustained in a dialogue within the narrative voices, but on two occasions as an undisguised literary debate. It is the dialogue which we have heard before, between the canon and Don Quixote and between their subsequent incarnations in the dramatic situation of narrating artist vs. critical audience. What is more astonishing, however, is that, although the canon would seem to have had his way at last in Cervantes' creation of his prose epic, the literary debates which it contains, like those of the Quixote, generally move toward the assertion of an anticlassical position on literary theory. To be sure, the anticlassical spokesmen of Cervantes' final work must face opposition that is far more stubborn than that which Don Quixote, Master Pedro, and Cide Hamete Benengeli overcome in the Quixote. In the debates of the Persiles, victories are often ambiguous and shift freely from side to side, particularly when they appear in the narrator's commentary. Their ambiguity suggests that 169 Cervantes & the Classical Aesthetic Cervantes himself was caught up between two conflicting views of art and that the untroubled disengagement from classical theory which we observe in the Quixote was, in the composition of the Persiles, a slow and painful process. The introduction of problematic aspects of contemporary literary theory and the assertion of an anticlassical point of view on literature bring a double ambivalence to the total context of the Persiles. On the one hand the prose epic presents, alongside of the traditional heroic deeds and conflicts, the personal drama of Cervantes as a creative artist in the production of the work. Indeed, if there is any actor or any action of the Persiles which is treated "novelistically," it is the personality of its creator and his trials in creating the work.1 On the other hand, by introducing the anticlassical voice and allowing its triumph, Cervantes appears to be undermining the aesthetic foundations of his work even as he is building upon them. THE INTERLUDE OF THE COUNTERFEIT CAPTIVES The episode of the counterfeit captives (Persiles, III, x) reveals Cervantes' mastery of the art of the entremes. The brief dramatic scene, consisting almost entirely of dialogue, moves rapidly toward a crisis, the moment of potential disaster and highest comic intensity , and concludes with the happy resolution of the crisis. Two former captives in Algiers have become entertainers, wandering through the villages of Spain, reciting the history of their sufferings, and illustrating it with various pictures on a portable canvas. Periandro , Auristela, and their fellow pilgrims arrive in a village and discover that the captives are performing their show. In the audience are the two magistrates of the town, who comment on the performance of the captives. One of the magistrates, who has been a prisoner in Algiers, begins to suspect the veracity of the performers' historia and decides to put them to a test, demanding detailed information about Algiers. He quickly catches the youths in the lie, and deter1 1 do not wish to exaggerate here the similarity of the Persiles and the Quixote. In spite of the inclusion in the Persiles of the drama of its creation and Cervantes' literary debate with the neo-Aristotelians, the differences between the two works are far more important than their similarities. However, I do not agree with M. Singleton that there is in the Persiles "casi nada de Io que preocupaba al...


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