(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

On a dark October night in Madrid, Don Cleophas Leandro Perez Zambullo, a student of Alcala, is in dreadful trouble. While visiting Donna Thomasa, his beloved, three or four hired bravos set upon him in her apartment, and when he loses his sword in the struggle, he is forced to take flight over the rooftops of the neighboring houses. Spying a light in a garret, he enters through a window and discovers an empty room furnished with the strange gear of a magician. As he is taking stock of the place, he hears a sigh and soon realizes that he is being addressed by a demon in a bottle. To the student’s questionings, the spirit replies that he is not Lucifer, Uriel, Beelzebub, Leviathan, Belphegor, or Ashtaroth, but Asmodeus, the Devil on Two Sticks, who always befriends hapless lovers. Cleophas thereupon breaks the vial and out tumbles a monstrous dwarf, with the legs of a goat, a stature of less than three feet, and a grotesque and grimacing face. Half concealed by extraordinary clothing and a curiously embroidered white satin cloak are the two crutches on which the dwarf hobbles about.

Because Cleophas is eager to escape his pursuers and Asmodeus wishes to avoid his captor, the magician, the two do not linger in the attic. Cleophas grasps the edge of the demon’s cloak, and off they fly into the sky over Madrid. For the remainder of their association together, Asmodeus entertains his companion with views of all that is happening in the city, explaining the circumstances and characteristics of those into whose houses they look.

At first, they peer into the houses immediately beneath them. Asmodeus shows Cleophas some ridiculous views of a coquette, a nobleman, a poet, and an alchemist. At last, they come to a mansion where cavaliers and their ladies are celebrating a wedding. The demon proceeds to tell the story of the count de Belflor and Leonora de Cespedes.

The count de Belflor, a gallant young man of the court, fell in love with Leonora de Cespedes and wished to make her his mistress. By guile, the gift of a well-filled purse, and the promise of another thousand pistoles when he accomplished his scheme, he secured the aid of her duenna, Marcella, who prevailed on the young woman to admit the nobleman to her chamber at night. One morning, as the count was making a hasty departure, for dawn was breaking, he slipped and fell while descending the silken ladder lowered from Leonora’s bedchamber. The noise awakened Don Luis de Cespedes, her father, who slept in the room above. Uncovering the truth and enraged by this stain on the family honor, the old don confronted his daughter’s lover. The count offered to provide for Don Pedro, Leonora’s brother, who was a student, but he refused to marry the daughter, giving as his false excuse a marriage that the king supposedly already arranged for the young courtier.

Later, after reading a reproachful letter written by Leonora, the count was moved to repentance. About the same time, Leonora’s brother, Don Pedro, played truant from his studies at Alcala to pay court to an unknown young beauty whom he was secretly meeting. In a street brawl, his life was saved by the count, who happened to be passing by. The count asked the young man to go with him to act as guard while he had an interview with Leonora. The truth was revealed when Don Luis confronted his son, and the count asked for the hand of Leonora and bestowed that of his sister, Donna Eugenia, on his new friend and brother. Don Pedro was overjoyed when he discovered that his secret love was the sister of the count de Belflor. The two couples are married, and Cleophas, guided by the demon, witnesses the festivities of their double wedding. Only Marcella, the treacherous duenna, has no part in the mirth; Don Luis sends her to a nunnery to spend her ill-gotten pistoles and prayers to win pardon for her wickedness.

Directing Cleophas’s attention to other homes in the city, Asmodeus shows him the plight of an impoverished marquis, a plagiarizing author, a procurer of young men for rich widows, and a printer of antireligious books. At Cleophas’s request, the dwarf secures revenge for his mortal companion on the faithless Donna Thomasa. While she is entertaining the assassins she hires to attack Cleophas, Asmodeus puts the men into a jealous rage over her and sets them to fighting. So great is the disturbance they cause that neighbors summon the police, who on their arrival find two of the men slain. The assassins are thrown into the city dungeon, and Donna...

(The entire section is 1841 words.)