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In his essay about both prologues to Don Quixote, Americo Castro was surely right to observe:
En realidad se trata de epilogos, redactados despues de conclusa la obra;
y no precisamente porque los prologos suelan escribirse "a posterior),"
sino porque en este cave su sentido no se revela sino a quien posea
noticia muy cabal del libro. (262)
My limited examination of the Prologue of 1605 likewise follows from the conviction that it is inseparable from the rest of Cervantes' narrative. Indeed, though it was written some ten years before the publication of Part II, the Prologue of 1605 can also be read as a summation of the entire narrative's purpose, design and rhetorical method. In particular, it encapsulates the literary issues that Cervantes both dramatizes and thematizes throughout the rest of the text, within the frame of his tale about the putative "history" of Don Quixote and Sancho.(1)
Nonetheless, the rest of this study will focus on how the Prologue of 1605 is not only a fitting preface--especially from the standpoint of its form--but also an integral part of Cervantes' fiction. Indeed, that Prologue differs from conventional prologues, including the Prologue to Don Quixote, Part II, in that it is not an extrafictional statement which the author addresses to his potential readership, but a wholly fictional work. As such, it is inextricably linked to that aspect of Cervantes' fictional tale which concerns, not so much the exploits of the knight and his squire, but the process of both constructing and construing their putative "history," the "historia verdadera."
Before one can justly assess either the content or the form of the Prologue of 1605, it is necessary to settle the question of "Who is speaking?" At first, that question seems easy enough to answer: "Miguel de Cervantes, in his capacity as author of Don Quixote." Indeed, in reference to the Prologue, the answer strikes one as so obvious that the question seems hardly worth asking. Thus, it is less than surprising that critics have generally identified the narrative voice in the Prologue with that of the author. Aptly summarizing a view that has held sway among virtually all Cervantes' readers, Howard Mancing writes:
No one, to my knowledge, doubts that the yo of the prologue who relates
himself to the character and text by claiming to be not the "padre"
("father," that is, the original author) but the "padrastro" ("stepfather,"
that is, the editor), and who tells the story of being visited by a friend
while pondering the problem of writing a prologue for his book is
anyone other than the person referred to on the title page where it says
"compuesto por . . . Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra." (192-193)(2)
To be sure, it runs contrary to convention, and especially to seventeenth-century readers' expectations, that a prologue should be written as a fiction, and narrated by a fictional narrator. Furthermore, if an author intends his prologue to be taken as a fiction, we would expect some such indication at the start of the work-one that would lead us to infer that our imagination is being transported to an imaginary, fictional realm. Instead, the Prologue of 1605 begins with the voice of a "yo," which one would naturally assume, in the context of a prologue, is that of the author, addressing a "tu," whom one would expect is the potential reader, in reference to what seems to be the book we now have in our possession:
Desocupado rector: sin juramento me podras [tu] creer que quisiera [yo] que
este libro, como hijo del entendimiento, fuera el mas hermoso, el mas
gallardo y mas discreto que pudiera imaginarse (emphasis added). (DQI,
Prologue; [page] 50)
In fact, we receive no specific reason to doubt that the Prologue we are reading represents a statement issued to the reader in the voice of the historical author until we reach what seems a casual remark. That pivotal remark, which I believe effectively discloses the narrator's fictional status, is found among the first words addressed to the narrator's "amigo mio, gracioso y bien entendido" (DQ I, Prologue; 52), and concerns the reasons for the narrator's unwillingness to publish his "book":
[Y]o determino que el senor don Quijote se quede sepultado en sus
archivos en la Mancha, haste que el cielo depare quien le adorne de
tantas cosas como le faltan . . . (DQ 1, Prologue; 53)
Indeed, only at this point, from his reference to "archivos en la Mancha," does it become apparent that the narrative voice who earlier claims to have written "esta prefacion que vas leyendo" (DQI, Prologue; 51) is here claiming to have written an historical rather than fictional narrative about Don Quixote--an a historical" narrative which he mentioned in the Prologue's first sentence as "este libro," and for which "esta prefacion" is clearly the prologue.(3)
In claiming to have written a "history," the narrator clearly considers Don Quixote an historical (actual) person rather than a fictional character. And, since both the narrator and the protagonist thus belong to the same ontological plane and to the same fictional world, or heterocosm, the "yo," the "tu" and the "libro" of the opening sentence are necessarily fictions--imaginary referents--which in no way correspond to the author, the reader or the actual book written by the actual author, Miguel de Cervantes.
Furthermore, in light of the narrator's statement about the "archivos en la Mancha," it would seem that the fictional status of both the narrator and his "Prologue" finds further confirmation in other parts of the text. If the narrator were indeed the author of what we know to be the fictional work we have before us, it is certainly odd that he should deny having "fathered" (or invented through an act of writing) the protagonist of that fiction: "Pero yo, que, aunque parezco padre, soy padrastro de don Quijote [that is, the character] (DQ 1, Prologue; 50)." Further, the timely arrival of the "amigo gracioso y bien entendido," whose comments perfectly suit the narrator's purposes, strikes this reader as transparently implausible. In addition, from even a cursory reading of the rest of the Prologue, it is plain that much of the friend's "advice" borders on the farcical. Indeed, the friend's comments also seem perfectly suited to the satirical purposes, not of the fictional narrator (the "historian"), or even of the friend himself, but of the author, who is responsible for the fiction (see Close).
Moreover, the language of the "dialogue" between the narrator and the friend is bookish in the extreme, a form of written discourse rather than oral speech, and seems less than credible as a verbal exchange between friends. In paradoxical terms, their "conversation" is made to "sound" like pure print--a paradox involving the written version of what purports to be oral speech, which is more plausibly an imitation of written discourse. It also defies credibility that the narrator should so vividly remember his friend's words (occupying five full pages of the text) that he would be able to transcribe them verbatim. Indeed, what the friend is represented as "saying" has all the earmarks of an invention rather than a transcription. When combined with the narrator's pivotal remark about the archives of La Mancha, these added textual clues reinforce the conviction that the narrative voice, and the "world" in which that voice may be said to "speak," are not those of the historical author, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.(4) It is therefore only in a qualified sense that one can speak of this prefatory fiction as the author's "Prologue."
The entire prefatory utterance is thus the author's act of pretense, his fictional invention, which simulates the circumstance of an author in the act of addressing his readers, by means of a prologue, in order to tell them about the very Prologue and book they are now reading. Likewise, contrary to literary convention, and contrary to what we have been led to believe until this relatively late moment of our reading, the presumed "Prologue," including the story of its "composition" by the narrator, must also be a work of fiction. Hence, the narrator's parenthetical remark not only obliges us to recast everything we have read up to that point as a fictional utterance, but also to realize that we have thus far been duped into thinking that the Prologue is not a fictional simulation, but an extra-fictional utterance that the actual author addresses to his readers about the actual Prologue and book they are reading. What Cervantes creates, in a prefatory fiction entitled "Prologo," is the paradox of a masterful Prologue that is for, against and about the writing of prologues; for, against and about itself--an unprecedented species of prologue that could justifiably bear the title "This Is Not A Prologue."
Now, although I have no intention of denying that both the narrator and the Prologue are Cervantes' fictional creations, I believe that we would miss an engaging subtlety of the Prologue if we were to remain satisfied with identifying the narrator as a fictional character, whose voice and utterances trust be kept separate from those of the author. Indeed, separating the author's utterances from those of the narrator proves an exceedingly difficult task.
In speaking to his friend, the narrator makes two seemingly autobiographical allusions ("tantos anos como ha que duermo en el silencio" and "todos mis anos a cuestas" [DQI, Prologue; 52]) that resemble historical facts about Cervantes' life. Part I of Don Quixote was published in 1605. By that time, Cervantes was fifty-seven years old and had published nothing since La Galatea (1585). Thus, the narrator's self-referential remarks clearly echo, or parallel, historical facts concerning the life of the actual author. What is more, even if they were unaware of such historical facts, it is likely that Cervantes' …