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Although physical injury was not the object in this sport, which was often a game among friends, it was not uncommon for someone to be hurt. A sort of impromptu tournament, semi-serious, which the knight might encounter was the paso , in which someone would block the road, or a bridge, and the knight could not continue his travel unless he admitted something unacceptable that his lady was less beautiful than another, for example , or defeated in battle the knight maintaining the paso.


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That this type of adventure antedated the Spanish romances, and is found in the fifteenth-century Passo honroso -itself a reflection of literature -, is so well known as almost to make it unnecessary to mention it here. Along with tournaments and pasos , battles are also an essential part of the romances of chivalry, and here again the knight-errant is able to show his exceptional abilities.

Always held for a serious and just reason -to repel an attack, for example- the battles are invariably bloody affairs in which many are killed , unless, as occasionally happens, the two sides to a conflict decide to have a limited number from each side determine, through fighting, the outcome The protagonist is usually not a main participant at the beginning of a battle, since he remains calm and somewhat detached, and the duty of fighting would first be assumed by the person s the knight is aiding.

But when the knight-errant, the hero of the story, has his anger aroused, he becomes a terrifying opponent. He wields his sword and charges through the battle, cutting off heads and arms, penetrating armor with the force of his blows. Not unusual is the blow which descends through the helmet, the neck, and part of the trunk, severing an opponent almost into two parts. There is often a religious element to these battles, in which the knight, though not necessarily a Christian, helps the Christian side, which will in any event be more deserving for other reasons.

Women and love usually play a secondary role in the Spanish romances of chivalry, serving more as background, or providing motives for action , than taking part in the action themselves. Ladies did not travel for pleasure or amusement; in fact, except for women in search of assistance or carrying out some vow, they did not travel at all unless forced to by evil-doers. We can summarize by saying that both literally and figuratively, women are the spectators at the tournament.

Love, of course, was seen as a refining element, felt to improve men, and the knight will fall in love at some point with the woman he will eventually marry, though not much significance was given to the marriage vows, to judge from the number of children conceived out of wedlock.

But love was still a pretext for adventures, rather than a main focus of attention. The knight's courtship of his lady, consequently, will usually be secret, and beset with external difficulties, even if the lady is agreeable, which is not always the case, especially at the beginning The romance will usually end with the marriage of the knight perhaps a joint marriage, together with some of his friends or relatives , the birth or conception of a son, and the protagonist's accession to the throne Women in need of assistance, ranging from queens to humble servant girls, are the basis for many of the knight's deeds The protagonist will not resist the request to help such a deserving person Adventures with the supernatural will also present themselves to the knight, though not in the sense the Quijote has given us to understand.

He will not be pursued by enchanters; more often he will have sabios with some magical powers -those consistent with Christianity, usually- who will be working to help him, and may determine the course of the plot But the knight will still have to combat with unnatural beasts of all sorts , penetrate obstacles created by magic in order to reach some protected place, fight and find the inevitable weak point of a combatant with magical gifts, or travel in a boat, carriage, or other conveyance sent and moved by magical means.

He may be misled by apparitions, or be held enchanted in a castle or island for a period of time So far we have been discussing the ways in which the romances of chivalry are similar, and they can seem surprisingly similar and even monotonous to the casual reader. But this is merely a reflection of the fact that the customs of another age, seen from the perspective of some five hundred years, will seem uniform and will not reveal their nuances and details until one is familiar with the broad generalities.

One would scarcely expect the readers of the romances to purchase and read numerous works if these were all seen by them to be identical. The differences were what made the romances, as a genre, possible.

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The travels that the knight undertook were thus similarly varied -he might travel to China, at one end of the world, or to England, at the other. The romance may have numerous subplots, with many simultaneous stories and many secondary characters, sometimes taking center stage for a period of time.

However, this is a difference of degree, for even those romances concentrating more specifically on one protagonist had, by modern standards, an extremely confusing number of characters. The types of adventures encountered by the knight, the problems he is beset with, the ways in which he is tested, the various and diverse fantastic beasts or magical apparitions, the military situations, all could provide for variety within the standard framework of the romance.

Even the various and seemingly endless and uniform tournaments actually have subtle differences within them to maintain the readers' interest, just as each soccer game, for example, is different, though to one who has not seen many games and does not understand the strategy, they will all be alike. Within the limitations provided by the ideal of knighthood and by implication, manhood to which the knights of the romances must conform, the various protagonists of the romances of chivalry are in fact diverse individuals.

One may be more interested in love than another; one a more constant lover than other. One knight may have a particularly fierce temper, and though a calm, even excessively calm, individual normally, particularly fierce temper, and though a calm, even excessively calm, individual normally, become a particularly terrifying warrior when he is aroused. Though all the protagonists of the novels are exceptional fighters, their interests in music, poetry, and travel, to cite a few examples, may vary.

A knight may have an overriding purpose or goal which stays with him and underlies his varied actions through much of the romance -finding the secret of his ancestry, for example- or such a general purpose may be lacking, and his motivations be more specific and of more limited duration. We see also in the romances attempts by the authors to impress and divert the reader through creation of specific set pieces, often with reference to well-known Classical events.

The author may state that his readers are about to see a new battle of Troy, fought over a woman more beautiful than Helen. A series of chapters may be centered around a particularly marvelous castle, with transparent walls, extremely elaborate and rich decoration, and superlative inhabitants Several times in this chapter I have referred to the Spanish nature of the romances, and it is worth referring to it once again in conclusion. The world presented in the Spanish romances of chivalry is an idealized version of Spain itself, not so foreign as to be truly surprising, just enough so as to be entertaining.

The values are Spanish, and all characters save clearly identifiable outsiders share them. The value system is more specifically that of the Spanish nobility at the end of the Middle Ages and beginning of the Renaissance; the only difference is that the characters endorse these values so firmly, just as they themselves are obviously idealized individuals-ones that the readers, perhaps, would like to identify with. The romances of chivalry, then, presented to their Spanish audience a world which was familiar in its basic values even though different in details.

For this reason it was a reassuring world, one free of the moral and political confusion characteristic of early modern Spain and of most other times as well. Black is black and white is white in the romances of chivalry, heroes and villains are clearly distinguished; women are either virtuous or common, beautiful or ugly. The books, while entertaining to the spirit, were relaxing to the intellect, as one would expect from a type of literature which was essentially escape or pleasure reading.


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One should not be surprised that the romances were as popular as they in fact were. While Montalvo's works have been edited and studied in depth for over a century, the works of Silva, with the partial exception of his Segunda Celestina , have not been reprinted since the sixteenth century, and have been studied incompletely by a small handful of specialists Scholars have generally felt it superfluous to look at Silva's works for themselves after these comments from such an authority as Cervantes himself.

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Silva was thought of by some as a writer of the same stature as Antonio de Guevara , and he was a friend of Jorge de Montemayor, who dedicated to him an epitaph and an elegy We can also gain information about the esteem in which the works of Silva were held by looking at the printing history of his works. Irving Leonard, from his study of ship inventories, comments on the distinct popularity of Silva's Florisel de Niquea , during some part of the century the most popular romance All of this suggests that the modern imbalance in the popularity of Silva's and Montalvo's works did not exist in the sixteenth century, nor even later, to judge from the adaptations made of Silva's works , and from the fact that, like Homer or Ovid, he was such a famous author as to have attributed to him works that were not his There are a number of factors one can point to in order to explain why this was so.

Montalvo was also an author of limited output. Furthermore, Montalvo was a writer of a distinctly moralist outlook. Montalvo criticized the characters of his source, such as Oriana, and tried to de-emphasize the role of personal combat In contrast with Montalvo, Silva was a voluminous writer, the only author of romances of chivalry to achieve renown from his fiction. The fact that he was a moderately well-known writer in his own day, so much so as to offer a target for parody , has led in part to the conservation of considerable biographical material.

The collector of curiosities Luis Zapata records his strange ability to predict the winners of battles and oposiciones The love element in his life was an important one, as we shall see shortly, but once married, he led a calm family life. Despite his abundant literary production, Silva was far from wealthy at his death, his printer Portonariis owing him a sizeable quantity of money Nevertheless, he is reported to have been helpful to those in need, though whether this was financially or otherwise is not specified The plots of his romances are more complicated than those of his predecessors, with more characters and as a result more narrative threads and subplots, to the point where it is virtually impossible to make an intelligible summary of the plot of any of them But even when the adventures are the same as those found in the works of Montalvo, the difference between the two authors is clear.

In this castle a group of the protagonists is enchanted, to remain there a hundred years. A final point in the comparison of the works of Montalvo and those of Feliciano de Silva is the contrasting treatment of love. Place, I, In the works of Silva love is just as present, but it is of a different sort, less idealized and more sensual. His grandson, Rogel de Grecia, is even more licentious. This change in focus may perhaps be explained by examining the personality of Silva.

Of the love element in Montalvo's life we know nothing. Silva was certainly a person who married for love not unknown in that period, but not so common either -since he married, against the strong opposition of his family, a girl, Gracia Fe, of Jewish descent Her last name was concealed and is unknown. Mendoza did not know how many illegitimate children he had These comments clearly suggest a man in whose life love has played an important role, and whose experiences are reflected in his fiction. It is not surprising, then, that Silva differs in two ways from his predecessors in his portrait of love.

His portrayal of the courtly lover, the one who suffers from his love for an idealized woman, is more developed than anything found in any earlier Spanish text. At the same time, in different sections of his works, we find a physical element to the love among men and women which had also been missing from the romances of chivalry. We should not forget that Silva was the author of the Segunda Celestina , much less moralistic than the work of Rojas. If Darinel is a versifying courtly shepherd, Florisel seeks physical rather than spiritual love Cravens, pp.

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This is the only way he can sleep in the chamber of the beautiful Niquea; the results are predictable. It is difficult to imagine how, within the framework of the Spanish romance, an author could produce works which differed more from the chaste and simple novels of Montalvo. If Silva's works were attractive for all the above reasons to sixteenth-century readers, and the modern literary public has shown that it can appreciate some of the romances of chivalry, could it not, also, recapture some of the pleasure that contemporaries found in the works of Silva?

The romances of chivalry offer great possibilities of research for the young as well as the mature scholar. We still need to make the bulk of the romances accessible through modern, critical, published editions Lepolemo, o el Caballero de la Cruz , different from the other romances in its North African setting and almost complete lack of supernatural elements, would be an ideal candidate.

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There are a number of analytical or stylistic studies that could properly be made by scholars with an inclination to this type of investigation. A comparison of Platir with Florambel de Lucea could determine whether they are by one author, as one might suspect from the dedications A study of a theme in various romances would be useful -the giant in the Spanish romances of chivalry, the architecture, the flora and fauna of the romances of chivalry.

An index of the motifs or themes of the romances of chivalry, a task too large to be carried out comprehensively at present, would be a very useful research tool. One versed in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century history might well study allusions to contemporary events in the romances. Is the Greece found so often in the romances of chivalry exclusively the ancient Greece of Homer and Alexander the Great, or does it reflect something of the medieval Greece with which the Catalans, at least, had contact?

Such an investigation could perhaps help scholars such as O'Connor, who prefer to work with the translations, and would help us see how France, England, and Germany saw Spain at that time. Particularly valuable for comparatists would be a study of the interest in the romances of chivalry during the romantic period, when Southey and Rose translated romances into English, when Hispanophiles such as Sir Walter Scott were inspired by them in their portrayal of remote times, when even a poet such as John Keats was influenced by them.

A study of the influence of the romances on the learned Spanish epic has yet to be undertaken. Even more important, however, is the fact that by no means have all the chivalric allusions in the Quijote been discovered. It is true that because of the similarity of many of the romances, it is difficult to be sure that a parallel indicates a borrowing, but by the same token, some of the parallels already discovered may be coincidental and it may be for some new scholar to find the true sources.

It would be valuable even to go through any one romance, identifying all the potential parallels with the work of Cervantes; with a series of such analyses one would then be in a position to begin a serious study of the chivalric sources of the Quijote.

King Arthur in medieval sources

The romances of chivalry which are the subject of the present discussion are those which were written in Castilian in the sixteenth century They are scarcely mentioned in the Quijote. In any event, they do not form part of Spanish literature The accepted opinion concerning the Spanish romances of chivalry during their heyday, the sixteenth century, is that they were works which were read by all classes of society, from the highest to the lowest, but with a considerable predominance of the more numerous lower classes.

The immediate sources of these observations need not concern us here. Their ultimate source is undoubtedly the Quijote , since in it the romances of chivalry are discussed in more detail than in any other contemporary work.