Remorse, retribution and redemption in La fuerza de la sangre: Spanish and English perspectives
B.W. Ife, T.L. Darby
In the prologue to the Novelas ejemplares, Cervantes famously offered an astonishing guarantee of the high moral tone of the collection: he would rather cut off the
one remaining hand with which he wrote them than publish stories which could drive a reader to evil thoughts or desires.1 Despite these protestations, Cervantes makes frequent use of plots which have their origin in acts of rape or abduction,
and the Novelas ejemplares are notable for the amount of sexual violence they contain. Even so, La fuerza de la sangre is exceptional in several ways: the opening rape scene is startlingly graphic; the rapist is shockingly brutal, callous and
lacking in remorse; and the extraordinary dénouement poses some of the greatest interpretative challenges of any story in the collection.2
In fact, there is nothing inherently contradictory in writing a story about a sex crime and using it to deliver a moral message.
The conventional 'exemplarity' of the novelas is hardly ever manifested in the use of positive models to be imitated, and is more often found in negative examples to be
avoided. But Cervantes's brand of exemplarity goes well beyond the conventional, and is most often realised through the way
he presents examples, or 'working models', of human behaviour which raise issues that are rarely cut and dried and require
the reader's active engagement to make sense of them. Rather than using fiction to teach, still less to preach, Cervantes's
aim is to provoke. Readers of La fuerza de la sangre will find much to admire in its subtle artifice and invention, but their reading will not be complete unless they also find
themselves mystified and outraged by what is going on in the story.
The clue to what makes Cervantes's fiction mysterious and provocative can be found in the gaps between what is conventional
in his work and what is not. Some features of his work are so characteristic that they appear to be non-negotiable: that a
suppressed truth must inevitably come to light, for example, or that a state of order, once disturbed, must be restored. But
the pursuit of the 'happy ending' can be misleading if we are not responsive to the ways in which the plot architecture can
be contradicted by narrative details which jag and jar. A conventional reading of La gitanilla, for example, will foreground the apparent inevitability in the chain of events at the end of the story:
Juana Carducha's revenge against Andrés for spurning her offer of marriage leads to his arrest; in response to an insult he
reverts to his social type, kills the insolent soldier and is brought before the Corregidor; the Corregidor's wife recognises
Preciosa as her long-lost stolen daughter, and Preciosa's gypsy abuela confirms the fact; Preciosa is revealed to be Constanza de Azevedo y de Meneses and is now free to marry Andrés, otherwise
known as don Juan de Cárcamo.
But there is an alternative reading that is much more problematic:
…Andrés kills the insolent soldier and is brought before the Corregidor; the Corregidor's wife fails to recognise Preciosa
as her long-lost stolen daughter until the abuela puts two lots of evidence before her; the Corregidor leaves Andrés rotting in a dungeon long after he knows the true identity
of the lovers, tortures him by pretending that he is going to hang him once the two of them are married, and sends for a priest
who refuses to marry them because the banns have not been read and there is no licence. Only then does the Corregidor let
on that he knows who Preciosa and Andrés really are, and the marriage does not take place until several weeks later.
The fact that don Juan has absconded from home, and killed a soldier, is swept aside, as are the false witness of Juana Carducha
and the old gypsy's thieving that started it all. Both readings are 'correct', that is, they are both consistent with the
text. One foregrounds the plot structure; the other pays more attention to the detailed texture of the narrative. One results
in a conventional happy ending; the other gets there eventually, but feels more like a chapter of accidents.3
Like La gitanilla and like many other novelas in the collection, La fuerza de la sangre also describes, at its simplest, a perfect arc:
Leocadia, daughter of a poor hidalgo family from Toledo, is abducted by Rodolfo, son of an aristocrat. He rapes her and dumps her in the street. She gives birth
to a son, Luisico, who is brought up as her cousin. Luisico is knocked down in the street by a horse, and taken into a nearby
house for treatment. Leocadia recognises the room as the one in which she was raped. Rodolfo's parents summon him back from
Italy, he falls in love with Leocadia when he sees her again, and marries her.
In many ways this is the quintessence of the Cervantine plot, beginning with the violent disruption of a stable harmony, and
speeding like an arrow towards the restoration of that harmony. The incidentals of the plot simply postpone the inevitable
as much as they help to bring it about. The fact that La fuerza de la sangre is written with great economy of means, and has no sub-plot which might intrude on the inevitability of this process, merely
serves to speed the arrow on its way and sharpen its impact when it hits the target.
There are also some very nice narrative devices which strengthen the symmetrical structure: the crucifix which Leocadia removes
from the scene of the crime, and which symbolises the redemptive power of Christ's blood as well as bearing witness to the
veracity of her story; the return to the scene of the crime brought about by Luisico's accident in which, again, blood is
a significant narrative detail as well as a potent symbol of redemption; the family resemblance between Luisico and his father,
which catches the attention of Rodolfo's father and ushers in the dénouement; and the fainting fits to which Leocadia is victim during her rape and again when she is confronted by Rodolfo for the second
We need to be on guard, though, against too reductive a reading of the story driven by its admittedly strong underlying structural
symmetry. For this happy ending is not reached without a degree of anguish which is almost without equal in the Novelas ejemplares. The violence of Leocadia's rape, and the apparent lack of remorse on the part of the rapist, are startling by any standards.
Even Diego Carriazo senior's cynical violation of Costanza's mother in La ilustre fregona offers no comparison with the opening pages of La fuerza de la sangre. Cervantes sets the scene with compelling details: a family group is returning home after a nice day out by the river; five
young louts, rich and idle, 'todos alegres y todos insolentes', come marauding down the street;4 they ogle disrespectfully at the three women in the family group; Leocadia's elderly father upbraids them for their insolence
only for them to turn round and connive at Rodolfo's sudden urge to abduct her. And later, when Leocadia regains consciousness
to find that she has been raped, Rodolfo responds to her entreaties by trying to rape her again. Few readers could remain
unmoved by an episode which is all too credible: decent people's happiness and peace of mind is trampled by mindless arrogance;
a young woman is brutally raped and dumped in the street, the flower of her youth and beauty destroyed, her family distraught,
all decency put to shame. The episode is, and is clearly meant to be, sickening.
The reader's outrage will be compounded by the ending of the story. Rodolfo clears off to Italy and leaves Leocadia and her
family to pick up the pieces of their lives. The truth comes to light through Luisico's accident, and Rodolfo is summoned
back by his family not, as we might have expected, to get the rough edge of his father's tongue and to be made to face up
to his responsibilities and make amends. No, he returns home to take part in one of the most bizarre charades it would be
possible to imagine. First, his mother plays a childish trick on him by showing him a portrait of a plain jane they have arranged
for him to marry; and then when he objects, she produces Leocadia from behind an arras at dinner, so that she can blind him,
for the second time in his life, with her beauty. He is not required to show any remorse for the crime he committed against
Leocadia, nor does he volunteer any. When he marries her, he does so from choice, almost as if he were being rewarded rather
than punished; indeed, no punishment is expected or extracted. An indignant reader might argue that he not only gets away
with the crime ―he gets a beautiful wife into the bargain.
On the question of Rodolfo's apparent lack of remorse, Paul Lewis-Smith has written that
For some critics, Rodolfo remains a distasteful figure to the end. These are critics who fail to see that the mature Rodolfo
loves Leocadia or who overlook the distinction that Cervantes draws between erotic love and lust...or who find it hard to
forgive Rodolfo for failing to show remorse. To expect Rodolfo to show remorse when he is blissfully happy is to expect more
than God expects and is morally unrealistic. We do not morally condemn Leocadia for failing to reprehend her husband and it
behoves us not to condemn Rodolfo for failing to wear sackcloth and ashes. (p. 893, n.8)
Nevertheless, if read at a purely literal level, La fuerza de la sangre provokes such strong feelings of injustice that only by suppressing wholly or in part the literal sense in favour of some
form of metaphorical or symbolic reading can the opposing forces be reconciled. Even a reading as persuasive as Forcione's
'explaining away': 'That Leocadia could love such an archetypal villain is quite implausible; it is in fact miraculous.' (p.
363) Many readers may find that figural or symbolic intepretations, or recourse to miracles, whether secularised or not, do
not allow them to keep faith with the outrage they experience when they read the story, or to see where their outrage leads
them as critics or interpreters of the text. For the sense of outrage is real, and is caused by something that Cervantes put
there in the text, and put there for a purpose. To recognise this is not to deny that God might use evil to achieve good;5 it is simply to admit that that knowledge might not give a reader any consolation, or might not stop them from wanting revenge,
from wanting Rodolfo to suffer as he made Leocadia suffer, from wanting him to shed bitter tears of remorse, or at least to
say he is sorry.
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A fascinating contemporary perspective on Rodolfo's lack of remorse comes from an English source, Thomas Middleton and William
Rowley's play The Spanish Gipsy. Middleton and Rowley were two of a group of five Jacobean playwrights whom we can identify as having an interest in Spanish
literature. The others are John Fletcher, Francis Beaumont and Philip Massinger.6 Their interest may originally have been scholarly ―certainly they were all well-educated and interested in language―; but
it was enhanced by the events going on in London at the time they were writing. Their careers happened to coincide with a
rapprochement between England and Spain, which began with the Treaty of London in 1604 and which James I hoped to consolidate in the early
1620s by marrying his son and heir, Charles, to the Spanish Infanta. Since England was a protestant country, this was a controversial
policy which was much discussed and commented on, and was one of the main topics for debate in the Parliaments of 1621 to
1624. The Spanish Gipsy was performed at court in Charles's presence on 5 November 1623, one month to the day after his return from an unsuccessful
attempt to marry into the Spanish royal house.
The Spanish Gipsy weaves together the plots of two of the Novelas ejemplares, La gitanilla, from which it gets its title, and La fuerza de la sangre.7 Middleton and Rowley faced two types of problem in adapting Cervantes's prose fiction to verse drama for the Jacobean stage,
and the changes they made were both logistical and ideological. As regards the plot of La fuerza de la sangre, there were three principal changes. First, they cut two characters, Estefanía (Rodolfo's mother) and Luisico (Leocadia's
son). The loss of Estefanía was almost certainly governed by practical considerations: heroes and heroines are often motherless
in Jacobean plays, because all the parts were played by men. Women were played by boy apprentices, but few companies would
have enough boys to allow a playwright completely free rein in the gender-mix when putting together his cast. The Spanish Gipsy already has six female roles, which would stretch the company's resources to its limits. So Estefanía has to go, but Rodolfo
(now called Roderigo) acquires in exchange a powerful father, Fernando, the corregidor of Madrid, who will turn out to be
a key player in the shift of emphasis within the English play.
The loss of Luisico is more interesting. Again, there will have been logistical reasons. Drama, unlike prose fiction, is not
good at handling long timespans and the playwrights would have wanted to avoid having to cover the gap between the rape, the
pregnancy and birth, and Luisico's accident at the age of seven. But losing the small boy also, of course, cut down on the
number of roles requiring boy actors: the play has to be more compact than the novela, covering a shorter timespan and with fewer characters. But no boy means no blood, no recognition device and, potentially,
no dénouement. Middleton and Rowley handle the need for a recognition device simply by having Leocadia (now called Clara) rather than Luisico
knocked down by a horse, and having her recover in the very room in which she was raped.
But the child's blood, which is central to the symbolism of Cervantes's original text is completely missing from the English
version, and this omission is clearly ideological. To the extent that there is a blood motif in The Spanish Gipsy, the emphasis is very different. Clara, the wronged woman, tells Fernando, the rapist's father, that 'Sinnes are heard farthest,
when they cry in blood' (3.3.65),8 but the image here is not one of Christ's redemptive blood streaming in the firmament, as it did 40 years earlier for Marlowe's
Dr Faustus, but of the medieval proverb that 'murder will out', particularly when a murderer stands near the body of his victim
and the body bleeds. The moral system underlying the statement is not one of redemption, but of retribution.
The second main change concerns the episode with the portrait of the ugly woman, which Middleton and Rowley handle as a play-within-a-play,
written by Fernando, with Roderigo playing the lead role. The pseudo-play helps the playwrights to negotiate an episode which
they clearly felt was rather awkward in Cervantes's original, allows the episode to be played for comic effect, but also taps
into the tradition in which the play-within-a-play is used as a device to prick a conscience. Hamlet is an obvious example.
And conscience provides a link with the playwrights' third main change, which bears heavily on the central issue of remorse.
For Roderigo is, from the outset, a very different character from his Spanish counterpart, begging forgiveness of his victim
as soon as she remonstrates with him:
|... and since I find
Such goodness in an unknown frame of virtue,
Forgive my foul attempt, which I shall grieve for
So hartily, that could you be your self
Eye-witness to my constant vow'd repentance,
Trust me, you'd pitty me. (1.3.75-80)
Roderigo's strong sense of guilt is reinforced by his father's reaction when he hears later what his son has done. Fernando,
who has a double role as father and judge, throws himself on his knees before Clara, sheds 'tears of rage' and disowns his
|I do not plead for pitty to a villain;
|Oh, let him dye as he hath liv'd, dishonourably,
Basely and cursedly! I plead for pitty
To my till now untainted blood and honour;
Teach me how I may now be just and cruell,
For henceforth I am childlesse. (3.3.84-89)
ernando's gesture of chilling self-abnegation is, significantly, not matched anywhere in La fuerza de la sangre. Here we begin to appreciate the shortened time-frame created by the omission of Luisico. Fernando is reacting to an act
of violence committed within the past few days and with no redeeming feature; Estefanía is responding to an event which by
the time she hears of it must have happened some eight years before, and which is mitigated, in part, by the fact that she
now has a beautiful grandson. Nevertheless, the difference in intensity between Estefanía's reaction and Fernando's is striking.
Fernando's anger and Roderigo's guilty conscience intersect in the play-within-a-play. Fernando tells his son that the play
was not entirely make-believe: he has lost his fortune and Roderigo must marry the rich but ugly woman whose portrait he was
shown in the drama. Roderigo protests that he would rather marry a beautiful woman whom he saw watching the play, a woman
he does not recognise as Clara, his victim. Fernando agrees, if Roderigo can persuade her. After the marriage, Fernando has
one more surprise for Roderigo, when he tells him 'Thy wife's a wanton' and accuses him of having committed some terrible
sin to deserve this. Under the onslaught of Fernando's cross-examination, Roderigo breaks down and confesses:
|...Turn from me then,
And as my guilt sighes out this monster, rape,
Oh, do not lend an ear! (5.1.23-25)
Like a skilful psychotherapist, Fernando has got the subject to confront his guilt, and further, brings him to acknowledge
what remedy he should have made: 'Oh! had I married her, | I had been then the happiest man alive!' he exclaims; at which
point, 'Enter Clara, Maria and Pedro, from behind the arras' (5.1.37), as the stage direction puts it, and Clara's identity as his victim is discovered by production of the crucifix.
That Roderigo's cure is complete is testified to by his reply: 'How can I turn mine eyes and not behold | On every side my
shame?' (5.1.49-50) Cervantes, by contrast leaves us with no indication that Rodolfo ever acknowledges anything wrong with
Middleton and Rowley have substantially re-written Cervantes's text to make it say many of the things we might want it to
say, but which it pointedly does not say. At the same time, they have stripped the novela of much of its core symbolism. This is hardly surprising, since they were writing for a particular audience within a protestant
context. Prince Charles was a follower of William Laud and the new 'High Church', Arminian theology; in this theology, images
and ceremony were acceptable to enhance the dignity of the communion service. The crucifix which Clara takes from Roderigo's
bedroom would not have been problematic. But a preference for decoration in churches should not be mistaken for a rejection
of protestant doctrine: the Church of England was still a Church which attached paramount importance to the Word rather than
to images, and which put responsibility for its salvation on the individual soul rather than on any intercessionary. An important
text was St Paul's Epistle to the Romans, which is particularly strong on repentance and says in the second chapter:
|But after thy hardness and impenitent heart [thou] treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation
of the righteous judgement of God;
Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil. (vv 5-9)
This, surely, was a strong encouragement to penitence, and one with which any English protestant would have been familiar.
The cultural framework in which Middleton and Rowley were writing required self-knowledge as a way to repentance and was keen
on retribution and punishment: this was a society in which the sermon, the homily and biblical exposition were woven into
the fabric of life, and collections of sermons were best-sellers. As Patrick Collinson notes
... since for Protestants religion was not one compartment of a segmented life but all-enveloping, this must also mean that
the Bible only is the culture of Protestants. ... The Bible was not a straitjacket but a rich and infinitely varied source of imaginative and formal inspiration.10
In this society, Roderigo has to take responsibility for his actions: it is part of the confessional culture in which he is created. Cervantes, however,
is writing for a different culture, one in which intercession is still possible and blood representing Christ's sacrifice
can in itself be redemptive. For Cervantes, then, it is sufficient to rely on the pattern of events to bring about a satisfactory
ending to his story, which one might view as a hagiography of Leocadia rather than a study of Rodolfo's conscience, of justice
achieved through the patterning of events rather than the development of character. It is notable that, in bringing about
the remorse and confession in Roderigo which we think we want from Cervantes, Middleton and Rowley move the focus of the play from the wronged woman to the man who wronged her.
For the English playwrights the man is at the centre of our vision and it is a story of a troubled conscience. For Cervantes,
however, it is the woman who is in focus and the story is of her courage and virtue.11
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A comparison between Cervantes's La fuerza de la sangre and Middleton and Rowley's The Spanish Gipsy shows two things: first, that it is not at all anachronistic for a modern reader to respond indignantly to Rodolfo's behaviour
and attitudes, because some of Cervantes's contemporaries clearly did the same to the extent that they felt the need to 'correct'
the lack of remorse shown by Rodolfo by creating their own character, Roderigo, who does demonstrate that remorse; and second,
Cervantes's provocative lack of interest in the question of Rodolfo's conscience shows that, for him, Leocadia is at the centre
of his interest, not Rodolfo. What is challenging about La fuerza de la sangre is that it presents its readers with a series of deafening silences and asks them to interpret those silences in terms of
what else is said. The absences from the story throw into relief what is there but which could easily be overlooked.
It is intriguing to note, for example, how Cervantes frames the story of La fuerza de la sangre with multiple references to the family. The story opens with Leocadia's family returning to Toledo from the riverside on
a warm summer night. There are five of them in the group: 'un anciano hidalgo con su mujer, un niño pequeño, una hija de edad
de diez y seis años y una criada.' If we leave aside the maid, this appears to be a family of four. The sixteen-year-old girl
is Leocadia, but who is the little boy? Is he her brother? And why does Cervantes emphasise the father's age? This is a family
which is particularised with great care: the father is quite old, the eldest child appears to be the girl, and there appears
to be a son who is quite a bit younger, and who never appears in the story again. Why is he there, and why that age gap? Were
there other children who did not survive? Is he an afterthought?
It is tempting to see the little boy as a harbinger of the nephew Luis who is yet to be born, and who will spend the first
seven years of his life cast in the role of nephew/cousin rather than son. Cervantes appears to underline the link by using
the diminutive ending '-ico' for Leocadia's brother and son.12 But if we assume, as I think we must, that he is Leocadia's brother, his presence on the first page of the novel, and his
absence from the rest, might be much more significant. For as Adriana Slaniceanu reminds us,13 revenge in matters of honour is traditionally the role of the brother. Leocadia has a brother, but he is conspicuously absent,
by virtue of his age if nothing else, from the stage on which this drama will be acted out. This is clearly a story, Cervantes
seems to be saying, in which the wronged woman will have to fend for herself.
If Leocadia is to bring about her own retribution, she makes a very promising start. What several critics have noted about
the rape scene is Leocadia's extreme rationality once she has regained consciousness, and her exceptional presence of mind
in observing the details of the room, and her foresight in removing the silver crucifix 'no por devoción ni por hurto, sino
llevada de un discreto designio suyo'. Both the reasoned arguments with which she meets and fends off Rodolfo's attempts to
repeat his assault, and the 'discreet design' with which she removes the crucifix, point in one direction: honour and vengeance.
At the very moment in which she is raped she appears to understand that the only way she is going to be able to right the
wrong done to her is to take deep cover within the patriarchal social system, and bide her time. Don't get mad, she seems
to say to herself; get even.14
This also appears to be the message she receives from her father when she is reunited with her family. Critics have often
commented on the enlightened reception she is given. Far from disowning her, or throwing her out, which might have been the
expected responses, her loving father teaches her two lessons, one soft and one hard. On the one hand he tells her quite rightly
that she has committed no sin 'ni en dicho, ni en pensamiento, ni en hecho' and so has lost no private honour. But on the
other hand he counsels against using the theft of the crucifix to trap her assailant, on the grounds that it can only work
against her: 'más lastima una onza de deshonra pública que una arroba de infamia secreta'. It is difficult to know whether
this is wisdom, complacency or a world-weary acceptance that people of their social rank could not expect justice in these
circumstances.15 , but either way, it is a salutary lesson in the way of the world. Leocadia now knows what Preciosa knew that fateful day
she met don Juan de Cárcamo on the road into Madrid, that virginity has a cash value, is a tradeable commodity in the sexual
economy of the age: 'una sola joya tengo...que es la de mi entereza y virginidad y no la tengo de vender a precio de promesas
ni dádivas, porque en fin será vendida'.
We have constantly to remind ourselves that words like 'honra' which are apparently so glibly bandied about in the literature
of the time are merely euphemistic shorthand for this socio-economic fact of life. This was a society which was obsessed by
the transmission of property through legitimate patrilinial descent, a society defined by mayorazgo. And the high value placed on legitimacy placed an equally high value on the virginity of an unmarried woman. In La fuerza de la sangre, Cervantes graphically reveals the sordid reality of honour and its loss. Robbed of her virginity, Leocadia is literally
worthless within the patriarchal system. And her attendant loss of identity is intensified when she gives birth, and her son
is sent away to be fostered until he can be passed off as a nephew. Leocadia cannot be identified as a mother, nor Luis as
her son. It is easy for the reader, who is present at both the conception and the birth, to overlook this fact.
In some ways, then, there were two crimes committed by Rodolfo when he raped Leocadia: he not only took away her personal,
physical integrity but also her sense of self in a social context. She ceased to be the person she once was. In this respect,
Leocadia is like a number of Cervantine women who are the victims of a crime which takes away their identity.16 Three obvious examples come to mind from within the Novelas ejemplares: La gitanilla, La española inglesa, and La ilustre fregona. These are all reworkings of a very common narrative structure in Cervantes, the narrative of captivity and redemption, in
which a character is abducted, stolen or otherwise misplaced geographically, culturally or socially, lives their life as another
person, and is eventually 'redeemed' or repatriated back
into their proper place. Examples can be found throughout Cervantes's work: in Persiles y Sigismunda (the three 'mediterranean' narratives in Book I), and in Don Quijote, where the Captive's tale (I.39-41) is the most obvious but by no means the only example.
The importance of the captivity narrative in early modern culture has been underlined by the English historian Linda Colley.17 Colley has examined over 100 English narratives of this type, both printed and manuscript, from 1600 to the middle of the
ninteenth century, and although she does not mention captivity narratives in other languages, she does point out that she
wrote the book to show that captivity narratives, which have usually been studied in the American context, are not unique
to that context. The prevalence of this narrative type is undoubtedly a function of the high probability that early modern
Europeans would find themselves captive at some time in their lives. Colley estimates that some 20,000 British and Irish captives
were held in North Africa between the beginning of the seventeenth century and the mid eighteenth-century (p. 56), and that
at least 15,000 Spanish men and women had to be redeemed from North African captivity in the seventeenth century alone (p.
45). Cervantes's experience as a prisoner in Algiers
(1575-1580) was by no means exceptional.
But what is striking about this phenomenon is not the number of people taken captive, but the number who wrote about the experience,
which was clearly a formative one for many of them. Colley defines the captivity narrative as a mode of writing rather than
…captivity narratives commonly describe how a single individual or a group was seized, how the victim/s coped (or not) with
the challenges and sufferings that ensued, and how they contrived in the end to escape or were ransomed or released… (p. 13)
The examples were not always heroic: many individuals who underwent the experience
remained bitterly resentful throughout at being forced to cross into trauma and difference. Some captives, however, chose
or were compelled to adjust to their new settings, while others learnt from their experiences to question the very validity
of divides between peoples, and the meaning of what they had once regarded as home. Virtually all British captives though
were compelled by the nature of their predicament to re-examine ―and often question for the first time― conventional wisdoms
about nationality, race, religion, allegiance, appropriate modes of behaviour, and the location of power. (p. 16)
Two things are helpful from this account: first, the importance given to the process of redemption itself ―how the captives
came to be restored to their rightful place in the scheme of things, which is why the form would appeal to writers of fiction;18 and second, the lessons to be learned from contrasting two modes of being. If we put these observations into the context
of the Novelas ejemplares we find a striking pattern emerges which may help to resolve some of the problems surrounding La fuerza de la sangre in particular.
Figure 1 summarises the main structural features of four of the novelas, including La fuerza de la sangre. They can all be analysed into a number of basic elements: an initial crime results in some form of displacement, captivity
or exile; an agent appears who brings about the redemption of the heroine, that is her restitution to her 'real' self and
her proper place in society.
Figure 1 – Captivity and redemption structures in four Novelas ejemplares
||La española inglesa
||La ilustre fregona
||La fuerza de la sangre
||Diego Carriazo snr
||Geographical/religious (Spain and England)
||Ricaredo, son of Clotaldo
||Tomás de Avendaño, friend of Diego Carriazo jnr
In every case, the agent of redemption is a man who is attracted by the displaced girl, her physical beauty, and her character,
integrity, and resistance to her alien environment. In every case, the first cause of the narrative is a crime which causes
the suppression of a truth, and the narrative is concerned with the ways in which that truth will out, for out it must.20
Although less obvious than in the other examples, this pattern is also present in La fuerza de la sangre: the initial crime (Rodolfo's rape) leads to social displacement (Leocadia is robbed of her honour, her place in the marriage
market and is forced to deny her role as mother); the agent is, and in this case can only be, the man who committed the original
crime; and the outcome is that Leocadia regains her place in society, underlined by the further children she and Rodolfo give
In La fuerza de la sangre, the suppressed truth is Leocadia's role as mother and Luis's role as son, and the moment of revelation comes with the accident,
and the intersection of these two family narratives in the bloodstained body of a beautiful little boy. After seven years
of internal exile, Leocadia senses that the moment has come, and takes what is really a very brave step in revealing the truth
to Rodolfo's family: 'this boy is your grandson'. It hardly bears thinking about how badly that moment could have gone: would
they deny it and have her thrown out; would they try and pay her off to protect themselves and their son against social blackmail?21 But Leocadia plays it to perfection, bringing the biological and the social realms into phase and creating a perfect alignment
of three generations of patrilineal descent. All they need to do is supply the missing third term, and it is significant that
from now on Leocadia and her parents-in-law will act in concert to ensure that Rodolfo plays his part.
Once the truth has been revealed and Leocadia's story has been verified, Cervantes moves quickly to get Rodolfo back from
Italy and all other matters resolved. But there remains the oddity of the episode with the portrait. Several critics follow
Ray Calcraft22 in arguing that Rodolfo's response to the picture of the plain lady is evidence of maturity gained from his years in Italy.
It is true that his reply to his mother's suggestion that he should marry the plain but virtuous wife they have selected for
him is extremely polite. But many readers will prefer to read Rodolfo's response as a spoiled brat's plea not to make him
marry an ugly woman.23 If he ever does become a changed man, the moment is not yet. It is difficult to fathom why Cervantes has Estefanía play this
trick on him, and it may be necessary to conclude that it is simply a manoeuvre, another kind of 'discreet design'; its function
is to prepare the ground for the replay of the first encounter between Leocadia and Rodolfo, a return match from which she
intends this time to get a result that suits her. Like some stallion who has to be made ready to cover a prize mare, Rodolfo
has to be softened up for the great revelation at dinner, the moment when Leocadia and her son will be revealed in all their
miraculous glory and the male gaze will finally come into focus.
It is clear from the final pages of the story, however, that Rodolfo and the state of his conscience is not as significant
for Cervantes's purpose as Leocadia is. For Cervantes, and for Leocadia, Rodolfo is simply a means to an end, a cipher, an
agent. He has performed a biological function and he is now required to perform a matching social function, to marry her and
give her back what he stole from her. This story is entirely about Leocadia, about how she is the victim of a vicious crime,
about how she is robbed of meaning and value within the society in which she lives; about how she bides her time and when
the chance presents itself, how she engineers her own release and that of her son from social exile into the social mainstream,
as measured by 'la ilustre descendencia que en Toledo dejaron...que muchos y felices años gozaron de sí mismos, de sus hijos
y de sus nietos'.
Our response to Rodolfo and how he behaves is, then, simply a by-product of Cervantes's concern to show the brutal reality
behind the word 'deshonra' and the mere functionality of his male character; it has no real bearing on the story itself. Rodolfo's
role is simply to redeem both Leocadia and her son, to rescue them from the social exclusion to which his action has banished
them. This might have been brought about by his father getting the shotgun out, but as the comparison with other novelas shows, that is not what seems to interest Cervantes. What he seems interested in is how all of these women ―Preciosa, Isabel,
Costanza and Leocadia― bring about their own redemption, how their qualities, their integrity and fortitude, symbolised by
their physical beauty, motivate and inspire the men who will rescue them. Those qualities are rewarded by their ultimate redemption
from captivity or repatriation from exile. Like Ricaredo, Avendaño and don Juan de Cárcamo, Rodolfo is inspired by a well-managed,
hieratic coup de foudre, rescues Leocadia from social exclusion and restores her to marriage, domesticity and fecundity. Unlike them, he was also
the cause of her initial captivity. In this respect, perhaps La fuerza de la sangre represents the most perfect expression of Cervantes's narrative structure of captivity and redemption.
At the end of La gitanilla, Cervantes introduces a note of irony at the moment when Preciosa is restored to her proper place in the social order. As
a gypsy she is bright and self-motivated; as the Corregidor's daughter she is dutiful and submissive. There is a similar irony
in this story, perhaps an inescapable one; for all of Cervantes's female leads illustrate the virtual impossibility of defining
a role for themselves in other than patriarchal terms. However much they shine in their various struggles, they are all ultimately
ingested into the status quo. Fulfilment entails submission, loss of individuality, absorbtion, invisibility. Perhaps Leocadia
stands out in this context, because, although she too takes her place in the reproductive cycle, she does not simply slot
into her place, she sets out to achieve marriage as a form of revenge. And since her family is clearly poorer and socially
inferior to Rodolfo's she achieves more than restoration, she manages to achieve betterment. And in a world where we do well
to come out even, we can only admire a woman who comes out ahead.
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Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, The Spanish Gipsy (1623)
List of characters
Don Fernando, corregidor of Madrid
Don Pedro de Cortes
Don Francisco de Carcomo
Roderigo, son to don Fernando
Lewys, son to de Castro, slain by Alvarez
Diego, friend to don Lewys
Don John, son to Francisco de Carcomo and a lover of Constanza
Sancho, a foolish gentleman and ward to don Pedro
Soto, a merry fellow, his man
Alvarez, and old lord disguised like the father of the gipsies
Claro and Antonio, two gentlemen disguised like gipsies
Maria, wife to don Pedro
Clara, their daughter
Guyamara, wife to Count Alvarez, and sister to Fernando, disguised like the mother of the gipsies, and called by the name
Constanza, daughter to Fernando, disguised like a young Spanish gipsy and called by the name of Pretiosa
Christiana, a gentlewoman, disguised like a gipsy
Cardochia, a young hostess to the gipsies
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Night time. Roderigo and his friends Lewys and Diego are on the outskirts of Madrid. Roderigo has seen a woman (Clara) with
whom he is ‘bewitched’ and who is approaching them with her parents (Maria and Pedro). He persuades Lewys and Diego to help
him abduct her and this they do. In the course of the abduction, Pedro calls out who he is ―don Pedro de Cortes― and Lewys
is horrified, because he realises that the woman he has helped to kidnap is the woman whom he has been courting. Meanwhile,
Roderigo has taken Clara to a house and raped her. He leaves her locked in a room, the features of which she memorises and
she also takes a crucifix which she finds. Roderigo returns and Clara makes him repent of this actions. He swears never to
reveal his crime, and to take her back to the place whence he abducted her. Lewys and Diego search for Roderigo. Diego follows
don John, thinking him to be Roderigo, and realises that he is in love with a gipsy girl. Lewys finds Roderigo and explains
that they have abused the woman he hopes to marry; Roderigo praises the woman’s virtue and asks Lewys never to reveal her
identity to him. He will leave Madrid, to avoid her, and go to study in Salamanca. Diego meets them and tells them of don
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The gipsies are lodging at the house, near Madrid, of Juanna Cardochia, where they are visited by Sancho, don Pedro’s foolish
ward, and his servant Soto; Sancho has brought verses for the famous gipsy girl, Pretiosa, and gives her money, as well as
his cloak, hat, scarf and ruff. As he leaves, don John arrives: he wishes to marry Pretiosa, and she says that if he will
serve for two years as a gipsy, then she will marry him.
Clara has told Maria and Pedro what has happened to her, and they advise discretion. Lewys continues his suit to Clara, but
she is not interested. Lewys remains in conversation with Pedro, and discusses the fate of Alvarez, who had killed Lewys’s
father and had been in exile ever since. Don Fernando, corregidor of madrid, and Alvarez’s brother-in-law, has been encouraging
Lewys to have Alvarez brought back to Spain ―if he is still alive.
Sancho and Soto return home, and are scolded by don Pedro for having lost Sancho’s clothes. Outraged, they decide to turn
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Roderigo is now disguised as an Italian and overcome with remorse. He meets Sancho and Soto, and goes with them to join the
gipsies. They go with the troop to perform at the house of don Francisco de Carcomo (don John’s father), where don Fernando,
don Pedro, Maria, Lewys and Diego are also present, and tell fortunes. Don Francisco recognises his son in disguise, but keeps
News comes that Clara has been injured in an accident, outside don Fernando’s house, and he instructs that she should be cared
for in his home: he will follow Pedro, Maria and Lewys to see her. Clara recognises the room in which she is being nursed
as the same as the room in which she was raped, and when her parents and don Fernando arrive, she asks him if he is married.
Yes, he was, and he has a son Roderigo still alive; but his wife died in childbirth and the daughter to whom she gave birth
was lost at sea with his sister. Clara gives don Fernando a note describing her rape. He is horrified, and vows revenge on
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Don John goes through a betrothal ceremony with Pretiosa and adopts the gipsy-name of Andrew. But Juanna Cardochia also ask
him to marry her, which he refuses. She asks him to wear a token jewel of hers, which she gives him.
Don Fernando has had Alvarez’s banishment repealed: don Francisco is lamenting the loss of his son don John who has left a
letter saying he has gone to the wars. The gipsy troop arrives at don Fernando’s house, and he commissions them to act a play
which he has drafted, in which he wants their Italian poet to play the role of a son asked to marry a rich but ugly heiress,
to restore the family’s fortunes. The play proceeds, but is interrupted with the news that Diego has been wounded by the gipsy
Andrew, whom he saw wearing a jewel belonging to his own mistress, Juanna Cardochia, and which Cardochia says was stolen.
Andrew is arrested for theft and for assault. Don Fernando tells Roderigo that he has seen through his disguise, but that
the play was in earnest and he must marry the ugly heiress. Roderigo pleads instead to be allowed to marry the beautiful woman
who sat with his father during the play (i.e. Clara). His fathers agrees, as long as the woman is willing.
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Roderigo has married Clara, and don Fernando now tells him that his new wife is a wanton. Roderigo must, he says, have committed
a dreadful sin in order to deserve such a punishment, and questions him until Roderigo finally breaks his vow and admits the
rape. He wishes he had married the woman whom he violated. At this point, Clara, Maria and don Pedro emerge from behind an
arras and all is explained.
Pretiosa pleads for the release of her gipsy husband, Andrew, who is to be hanged. The mother of the gipsies reveals in private
to don Fernando that Andrew is don John de Carcomo, and further that she herself is don Fernando’s own sister and Alvarez’s
wife, whom he had believed drowned; Pretiosa is his daughter Constanza and Alvarez is the leader of the gipsy troop. Alvarez
offers Lewys the opportunity to kill him and expresses his remorse at the death of Lewys’s father. Lewys finds himself unable
to take revenge and they are reconciled. Don John and Constanza (Pretiosa) are to be married and Sancho and Soto see the error
of their ways.
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