The picaresque according to Cervantes
There is an unfortunate and enduring belief among non-Hispanist scholars that Miguel de Cervantes was a writer of the picaresque and that his most famous protagonist, Don Quixote, is a picaresque (anti)hero. This misjudgment, mostly outside Spain, has historical roots, starting with Cervantes' own contemporaries, and has lasted to the present. The misunderstanding stems firstly from the fact that many scholars are unfamiliar with the Spanish picaresque. This is confounded by the fact that Cervantes did indeed integrate numerous features of the Spanish picaresque into several of his works, especially Don Quixote and his Exemplary Novels. However, this problem extends beyond Cervantes to a number of authors whose works have been lumped into the picaresque with disregard for what the genre entails. W. M. Frohock brought attention to this fact by noting that non-Hispanists employ the term "picaresque" so loosely that "for every novelist to write a new novel there is at least one critic waiting to find something picaresque in it."More recently, Joseph V. Ricapito points out that even today "one sees the word 'picaresque' used in so many ways" that "the original sense of the word has become blurred." Unfortunately, Cervantes' fiction has not been immune to comparable assessments, but to deem Don Quixote a picaresque narrative and the knight a picaro is to misunderstand both the characteristics of Spanish picaresque and of the generally accepted character traits of Spanish Golden Age picaros.
This article is from Philological Quarterly 89 (2010): 31–53. Posted with permission.