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Sacred, Epic and Picaresque: Violence and Genre in Cervantes


This dissertation analyzes selected texts from Cervantes and his classical and early modern sources, focusing on his treatment of violence. It aims to respond to Nabokov's famous indictment that Don Quixote was `the cruelest' book ever written. Building on a critical framework that includes the work of René Girard, Steven Pinker and Frederick de Armas among others, my study looks at violence specifically from the perspective of genre - primarily the chivalric, the epic and the picaresque - emphasizing how the author's thinking about violence was inevitably colored by pre-existing fictional paradigms. Instead of approaching violence by bringing ethics and philosophy to bear upon literature, such as the debate over the role of humor in the early modern period, I am more interested in examining how various literary categories inflect and nuance the author's treatment of sacred, chivalric, epic or picaresque violence. To this end I examine 1) the particularly quixotic conjunction of chivalry and hagiography manifest in the episode of the saints in Don Quixote Part II, 2) Cervantes' frequent, conflicted and evolving use of Virgilian formulas for the purpose of epic characterization, and 3) the tendency of the picaresque genre to feature prominent facial and bodily scars on its protagonists, a marker for social stigma that the author adapted quite cleverly in his Prologue to the Novelas ejemplares. This analysis ultimately concludes that Cervantes worked within well-established classical and early modern traditions, infusing new life into them with often brilliantly unexpected results.

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