In the introduction to his translation of Don Quixote (Spanish: Don Quijote), first published by Penguin in 1950, Mr J M Cohen comments on the patriarchy of the Spain of 1600, as reflected in the work. After condemning the “pastoral convention” of “too eloquent” shepherds and goatherds, which Cervantes appears to accept, the translator goes on to say:
Another feature of our book which takes the contemporary reader aback is what we may call its sexual morality. This is based on a crude scale of values by which honour is preserved so long as any seduction, is covered up by marriage.
Mr Cohen refers (appropriately) to Don Fernando’s seduction of Dorotea, and his abandonment of her, followed by his abduction of Luscinda, in love with Cardenio. (This story takes up several chapters of Book One.)
But there is more variation and depth in the work that Mr Cohen allows. Take the case of Marcela (also in Book One).
On his travels, Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza hear the tale of the death of the shepherd Grisóstomo: allegedly, he has died of a broken heart, because the beautiful Marcela has rejected his suit.
Grisóstomo’s friends (and the man himself, in the long poem he leaves behind) go so far as to accuse Marcela of cruelty.
Marcela herself suddenly appears, and she states her case both to the dead man’s friends and to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Marcela accepts that Heaven has made her beautiful; but she argues, forcefully and eloquently, that she is in no way to blame for the shepherd’s death:
Yo conozco, con el natural entendimiento que Dios me ha dado, que todo lo hermoso es amable; mas no alcanzo que, por razón de ser amado, esté obligado lo que es amado por hermoso a amar a quien le ama….Y, según de yo he oído decir, el verdader amor…ha de ser voluntario, y no forzoso. Siendo así, como yo creo que lo es, ¿por qué queréis que rinda mi voluntad por fuerza, obligada no más de que decís que me queries bien? Si no, decidme: si como el cielo me hizo hermosa me hiciera fea, ¿fuera justo que me quejara de vosotros porque no me amábades? Cuanto más, que habéis de considerer que yo no escogí la hermosura….
[Book 1, Chapter 14, Academies’ edition, 2004]
With the natural understanding that God has given me, I recognize that what is beautiful is worthy of love. But what I don’t understand is that just because a woman is loved because of her beauty, she’s obliged to reciprocate this love….And according to what I’ve heard, true love…must be voluntary and not forced. If that’s true, and I believe it is, why do you want to force me yield my free will simply because you say love me? Tell me – what if Heaven, which made me beautiful, had made me ugly instead? Would it be right for me to complain because you didn’t love me? What’s more, consider this: I didn’t choose to be beautiful….
[translated by T Lathrop, Alam Classics (Richmond, Surrey), 2014]
And Marcela goes on to remind her listeners that beauty is only skin deep – it is inner purity that matters. She finishes by saying that she values her own freedom above all.
Good for her!
Marcela’s arguments are persuasive; and Don Quixote himself is persuaded. He sticks up for Marcela, and he says:
Ninguna persona, de cualquier estado y condición que sea, se atreva a seguir a la Hermosa Marcela, so pena de caer en la furiosa indignación mía. Ella ha mostrado con claras y suficientes razones la poca o ninguna culpa que ha tenido en la muerte de Grisóstomo y cuán ajena vive de condescender con los deseos de ninguno de sus amantes; a cuya causa es juso que, en lugar de ser seguida y perseguida, sea honrada y estimada de todos los buenos del mundo, pues muestra que en él ella es sola la que con tan honesta intención vive.
Let no one [of] whatsoever [estate or condition] dare to pursue the beautiful Marcela, under the penalty of incurring my furious wrath. She’s shown with clear words and solid reasons that she has had little or no blame in the death of Grisóstomo, and how distant she is from yielding to the desires of any of her suitors. Far from being pursued, she should be honoured and revered by all good people in the world, since she shows that she’s the only one who lives by such virtuous intentions.
[tr T Lathrop, modified by DRH]
Good for him!
And, after the burial has been completed, the parties go their separate ways.