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Quevedo et la poétique du burlesque au xviie siècle

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Samuel Fasquel

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1A study of the success of burlesque poetry in the 17th century confirms the flourishing of comic literature during that period. This register provided Quevedo, Góngora, Lope de Vega—but also Castillo Solórzano or Polo de Medina—with an ideal framework in which to deploy wit in its various forms. This device made it possible to point without naming names, to hint without openly stating, and hence to tread on forbidden ground by means of expressions so elaborate as to attain the heights of literary excellence. There have been numerous studies dealing with specific aspects of the burlesque output of Quevedo and Góngora, and in the former case we could cite the monograph Poesía satírico burlesca de Quevedo by Ignacio Arellano. But there has yet to be a study of the poetic art as illustrated by the works of these two masters of baroque literature and of other poets of the age. This book seeks to help think in burlesque by examining the aesthetic protocols that bear witness to the existence of a concept of the burlesque that was shared by poets writing between 1580 and 1650. This study of burlesque poetry begins with a characterisation of the writer and the reader. The burlesque poet creates a register that is highly elaborate in stylistic terms, with an abundance of rhetorical devices. This formal expression—which is not exclusive to burlesque poetry but definitively enhances the literary status of the jest—is manifested in a set of devices whereby the forbidden is is masked by a formal veil that only provides a glimpse of it. It is up to the reader to interpret the witticisms that abound in burlesque poetry and require an ability to read through the lines. The poet assumes such an ability. Moreover, in some poems we can detect devices that assist the reader to grasp the point of the jest. For example, there are certain rhetorical expressions that point the way for the reader to venture into the labyrinth created by the author. The essence of the poetic art of burlesque lies in misdirection, overstatement and a convention whereby jests abound but can only be grasped by minds attuned to the obscene or the absurd.

2Another aspect that merits consideration is the manner and vehicles of expression in this register. Burlesque expression is characterised alike by the speaker, the forms of intercourse, the voices and the style of exchange. Here we seek to underline the way in which the burlesque voice flouts literary authority and the aesthetic standards expected of serious poetry. This insolent voice is allowed to speak directly, denuded of circumlocutions or artistic concerns. Indeed, this tension between the assumed nonchalance of the speaker and the highly cultivated form adopted by the poet is a crucial and highly striking feature. It is equally important as regards expression to consider the forms of exchange and the care taken by the author in presenting his characters. In many cases we find a veritable dramatisation of jest. The poet may devise a form of expression that presents the character who is about to speak or characterises how he speaks. The character of the speaker is very often at odds with the way he actually expresses himself; moreover, we may hear utterances more proper to the street than to the realm of poesy. This polyphony, which intermingles ostensibly unpoetic utterances to rhetoric effect, is a key to understanding of the art of burlesque poetry. An examination of the interplay, particularly with serious literature, shows that the undertones may provoke a critical stance towards more high-flown creations or elicit a sardonic smile. Besides directly parodying an existing work, burlesque poetry may be conceived as an ongoing dialogue with literature, a playful and at times controversial alternative. The reader needs to be aware of this interplay to properly grasp the point of the poem. However, there are other features which indicate the essential playfulness of burlesque poetry. Complexity, consisting in masking obscenity behind myriad formal twists and turns, forces the reader to search for the forbidden meaning. He must enter into the game and accept the poet’s challenge, grasp after the solutions to the riddles he poses, and venture through a terrain replete with aesthetic hurdles to discover the underlying jest, sometimes bawdy sometimes refined. In this respect, if all literature is to some extent playful, the reader of burlesque literature is by definition a lector ludens, a playful reader, who harkens to the speaker with all the attention of one seeking the answer to a riddle.

3The last aspect the book deals with is the interpretation of burlesque poems. Quevedo’s first publisher, González de Salas, sought to legitimise the jests in his poems by pointing to their moral content. However, that content is not always obvious to the reader. Nevertheless, in view of the importance that González de Salas attached to it, it is worth examining the serious intent concealed within the jests. Quevedo is paradigmatic of that kind of burlesque poetry that can illustrate a moral concern. We have therefore striven to throw light on the ideas and the philosophical substrate that emerge in Quevedo’s verse. But if there is a burlesque poetry that admits moral considerations, there is no less a serious poetry that admits jest. The mingling of comic and serious is thus a feature whose forms merit examination in order to determine the limits of the burlesque and its relationship with the jocoserio. That is the last stopping-point before we return to the oft-debated subject of burlesque satire. Our aim here is to identify the mechanisms that aid the appreciation of satire and those that, to the contrary, hinder such appreciation. The idea is to explain how the poetics of the burlesque influences our perception of serious—and in this particular case satirical—content. For that purpose we must needs start by identifying the signs of satirical discourse and the value that is to be placed on typical satirical figures, particularly those rooted in the “satire of the trades”. What is one to make of a discourse in which the criticism appears to be moved not by the desire to correct but by the urge to spawn witticisms? To what extent can conventional satirical motifs serve a purpose unconnected with criticism? We have sought to answer these questions before going on to study one of Quevedo’s burlesque satires, Riesgos del matrimonio en los ruines casados.

© Casa de Velázquez, 2011

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