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Miqeul de Cervantes >> Don Quixote (page 72)


CHAPTER XLVIII

IN WHICH THE CANON PURSUES THE SUBJECT OF THE BOOKS OF CHIVALRY,WITH OTHER MATTERS WORTHY OF HIS WIT

"It is as you say, senor canon," said the curate; "and for thatreason those who have hitherto written books of the sort deserve allthe more censure for writing without paying any attention to goodtaste or the rules of art, by which they might guide themselves andbecome as famous in prose as the two princes of Greek and Latin poetryare in verse."

"I myself, at any rate," said the canon, "was once tempted towrite a book of chivalry in which all the points I have mentioned wereto be observed; and if I must own the truth I have more than a hundredsheets written; and to try if it came up to my own opinion of it, Ishowed them to persons who were fond of this kind of reading, tolearned and intelligent men as well as to ignorant people who caredfor nothing but the pleasure of listening to nonsense, and from allI obtained flattering approval; nevertheless I proceeded no fartherwith it, as well because it seemed to me an occupation inconsistentwith my profession, as because I perceived that the fools are morenumerous than the wise; and, though it is better to be praised bythe wise few than applauded by the foolish many, I have no mind tosubmit myself to the stupid judgment of the silly public, to whomthe reading of such books falls for the most part.

"But what most of all made me hold my hand and even abandon all ideaof finishing it was an argument I put to myself taken from the playsthat are acted now-a-days, which was in this wise: if those that arenow in vogue, as well those that are pure invention as those foundedon history, are, all or most of them, downright nonsense and thingsthat have neither head nor tail, and yet the public listens to themwith delight, and regards and cries them up as perfection when theyare so far from it; and if the authors who write them, and the playerswho act them, say that this is what they must be, for the public wantsthis and will have nothing else; and that those that go by rule andwork out a plot according to the laws of art will only find somehalf-dozen intelligent people to understand them, while all the restremain blind to the merit of their composition; and that forthemselves it is better to get bread from the many than praise fromthe few; then my book will fare the same way, after I have burnt offmy eyebrows in trying to observe the principles I have spoken of,and I shall be 'the tailor of the corner.' And though I have sometimesendeavoured to convince actors that they are mistaken in this notionthey have adopted, and that they would attract more people, and getmore credit, by producing plays in accordance with the rules of art,than by absurd ones, they are so thoroughly wedded to their ownopinion that no argument or evidence can wean them from it.

"I remember saying one day to one of these obstinate fellows,'Tell me, do you not recollect that a few years ago, there werethree tragedies acted in Spain, written by a famous poet of thesekingdoms, which were such that they filled all who heard them withadmiration, delight, and interest, the ignorant as well as the wise,the masses as well as the higher orders, and brought in more moneyto the performers, these three alone, than thirty of the best thathave been since produced?'

"'No doubt,' replied the actor in question, 'you mean the"Isabella," the "Phyllis," and the "Alexandra."'

"'Those are the ones I mean,' said I; 'and see if they did notobserve the principles of art, and if, by observing them, theyfailed to show their superiority and please all the world; so that thefault does not lie with the public that insists upon nonsense, butwith those who don't know how to produce something else. "TheIngratitude Revenged" was not nonsense, nor was there any in "TheNumantia," nor any to be found in "The Merchant Lover," nor yet in"The Friendly Fair Foe," nor in some others that have been writtenby certain gifted poets, to their own fame and renown, and to theprofit of those that brought them out;' some further remarks I addedto these, with which, I think, I left him rather dumbfoundered, butnot so satisfied or convinced that I could disabuse him of his error."

"You have touched upon a subject, senor canon," observed thecurate here, "that has awakened an old enmity I have against the playsin vogue at the present day, quite as strong as that which I bear tothe books of chivalry; for while the drama, according to Tully, shouldbe the mirror of human life, the model of manners, and the image ofthe truth, those which are presented now-a-days are mirrors ofnonsense, models of folly, and images of lewdness. For what greaternonsense can there be in connection with what we are now discussingthan for an infant to appear in swaddling clothes in the first sceneof the first act, and in the second a grown-up bearded man? Or whatgreater absurdity can there be than putting before us an old man asa swashbuckler, a young man as a poltroon, a lackey using finelanguage, a page giving sage advice, a king plying as a porter, aprincess who is a kitchen-maid? And then what shall I say of theirattention to the time in which the action they represent may or cantake place, save that I have seen a play where the first act beganin Europe, the second in Asia, the third finished in Africa, and nodoubt, had it been in four acts, the fourth would have ended inAmerica, and so it would have been laid in all four quarters of theglobe? And if truth to life is the main thing the drama should keep inview, how is it possible for any average understanding to be satisfiedwhen the action is supposed to pass in the time of King Pepin orCharlemagne, and the principal personage in it they represent to bethe Emperor Heraclius who entered Jerusalem with the cross and won theHoly Sepulchre, like Godfrey of Bouillon, there being yearsinnumerable between the one and the other? or, if the play is based onfiction and historical facts are introduced, or bits of whatoccurred to different people and at different times mixed up withit, all, not only without any semblance of probability, but withobvious errors that from every point of view are inexcusable? Andthe worst of it is, there are ignorant people who say that this isperfection, and that anything beyond this is affected refinement.And then if we turn to sacred dramas- what miracles they invent inthem! What apocryphal, ill-devised incidents, attributing to one saintthe miracles of another! And even in secular plays they venture tointroduce miracles without any reason or object except that they thinksome such miracle, or transformation as they call it, will come inwell to astonish stupid people and draw them to the play. All thistends to the prejudice of the truth and the corruption of history, naymore, to the reproach of the wits of Spain; for foreigners whoscrupulously observe the laws of the drama look upon us as barbarousand ignorant, when they see the absurdity and nonsense of the plays weproduce. Nor will it be a sufficient excuse to say that the chiefobject well-ordered governments have in view when they permit plays tobe performed in public is to entertain the people with some harmlessamusement occasionally, and keep it from those evil humours whichidleness is apt to engender; and that, as this may be attained byany sort of play, good or bad, there is no need to lay down laws, orbind those who write or act them to make them as they ought to bemade, since, as I say, the object sought for may be secured by anysort. To this I would reply that the same end would be, beyond allcomparison, better attained by means of good plays than by thosethat are not so; for after listening to an artistic and properlyconstructed play, the hearer will come away enlivened by the jests,instructed by the serious parts, full of admiration at theincidents, his wits sharpened by the arguments, warned by thetricks, all the wiser for the examples, inflamed against vice, andin love with virtue; for in all these ways a good play willstimulate the mind of the hearer be he ever so boorish or dull; and ofall impossibilities the greatest is that a play endowed with all thesequalities will not entertain, satisfy, and please much more than onewanting in them, like the greater number of those which are commonlyacted now-a-days. Nor are the poets who write them to be blamed forthis; for some there are among them who are perfectly well aware oftheir faults, and know what they ought to do; but as plays have becomea salable commodity, they say, and with truth, that the actors willnot buy them unless they are after this fashion; and so the poet triesto adapt himself to the requirements of the actor who is to pay himfor his work. And that this is the truth may be seen by thecountless plays that a most fertile wit of these kingdoms has written,with so much brilliancy, so much grace and gaiety, such polishedversification, such choice language, such profound reflections, and ina word, so rich in eloquence and elevation of style, that he hasfilled the world with his fame; and yet, in consequence of hisdesire to suit the taste of the actors, they have not all, as someof them have, come as near perfection as they ought. Others writeplays with such heedlessness that, after they have been acted, theactors have to fly and abscond, afraid of being punished, as theyoften have been, for having acted something offensive to some kingor other, or insulting to some noble family. All which evils, and manymore that I say nothing of, would be removed if there were someintelligent and sensible person at the capital to examine all playsbefore they were acted, not only those produced in the capital itself,but all that were intended to be acted in Spain; without whoseapproval, seal, and signature, no local magistracy should allow anyplay to be acted. In that case actors would take care to send theirplays to the capital, and could act them in safety, and those whowrite them would be more careful and take more pains with theirwork, standing in awe of having to submit it to the strict examinationof one who understood the matter; and so good plays would beproduced and the objects they aim at happily attained; as well theamusement of the people, as the credit of the wits of Spain, theinterest and safety of the actors, and the saving of trouble ininflicting punishment on them. And if the same or some other personwere authorised to examine the newly written books of chivalry, nodoubt some would appear with all the perfections you have described,enriching our language with the gracious and precious treasure ofeloquence, and driving the old books into obscurity before the lightof the new ones that would come out for the harmless entertainment,not merely of the idle but of the very busiest; for the bow cannotbe always bent, nor can weak human nature exist without some lawfulamusement."

The canon and the curate had proceeded thus far with theirconversation, when the barber, coming forward, joined them, and saidto the curate, "This is the spot, senor licentiate, that I said wasa good one for fresh and plentiful pasture for the oxen, while we takeour noontide rest."

"And so it seems," returned the curate, and he told the canon whathe proposed to do, on which he too made up his mind to halt with them,attracted by the aspect of the fair valley that lay before their eyes;and to enjoy it as well as the conversation of the curate, to whomhe had begun to take a fancy, and also to learn more particulars aboutthe doings of Don Quixote, he desired some of his servants to go on tothe inn, which was not far distant, and fetch from it what eatablesthere might be for the whole party, as he meant to rest for theafternoon where he was; to which one of his servants replied thatthe sumpter mule, which by this time ought to have reached the inn,carried provisions enough to make it unnecessary to get anythingfrom the inn except barley.

"In that case," said the canon, "take all the beasts there, andbring the sumpter mule back."

While this was going on, Sancho, perceiving that he could speak tohis master without having the curate and the barber, of whom he hadhis suspicions, present all the time, approached the cage in which DonQuixote was placed, and said, "Senor, to ease my conscience I wantto tell you the state of the case as to your enchantment, and thatis that these two here, with their faces covered, are the curate ofour village and the barber; and I suspect they have hit upon this planof carrying you off in this fashion, out of pure envy because yourworship surpasses them in doing famous deeds; and if this be the truthit follows that you are not enchanted, but hoodwinked and made afool of. And to prove this I want to ask you one thing; and if youanswer me as I believe you will answer, you will be able to lay yourfinger on the trick, and you will see that you are not enchanted butgone wrong in your wits."

"Ask what thou wilt, Sancho my son," returned Don Quixote, "for Iwill satisfy thee and answer all thou requirest. As to what thousayest, that these who accompany us yonder are the curate and thebarber, our neighbours and acquaintances, it is very possible thatthey may seem to he those same persons; but that they are so inreality and in fact, believe it not on any account; what thou art tobelieve and think is that, if they look like them, as thou sayest,it must be that those who have enchanted me have taken this shapeand likeness; for it is easy for enchanters to take any form theyplease, and they may have taken those of our friends in order tomake thee think as thou dost, and lead thee into a labyrinth offancies from which thou wilt find no escape though thou hadst the cordof Theseus; and they may also have done it to make me uncertain inmy mind, and unable to conjecture whence this evil comes to me; for ifon the one hand thou dost tell me that the barber and curate of ourvillage are here in company with us, and on the other I find myselfshut up in a cage, and know in my heart that no power on earth thatwas not supernatural would have been able to shut me in, whatwouldst thou have me say or think, but that my enchantment is of asort that transcends all I have ever read of in all the histories thatdeal with knights-errant that have been enchanted? So thou mayestset thy mind at rest as to the idea that they are what thou sayest,for they are as much so as I am a Turk. But touching thy desire to askme something, say on, and I will answer thee, though thou shouldst askquestions from this till to-morrow morning."

Title: Don Quixote
Author: Miqeul de Cervantes
Viewed 197427 times

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