Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The twelve novellas in the collection, which Miguel de Cervantes contrasted to the loose morals of the popular Italian novellas, include a range of characters from Europe and North Africa, as well as Spain.
Pedro de Rincon and Diego Cortado:
The longest piece in the group is “Rinconete and Cortadillo,” a picaresque tale of two 14-year-old boys, Pedro and Diego. Meeting en route to Seville, the boys join forces in a life of petty crime; their initial combined venture is to cheat a mule driver at cards. In the city, they enter a school for criminals run by Monipodio (on whom reputedly Charles Dickens’s modeled Fagan in Oliver Twist).
The melancholy, demented Tomas is the titular character in “Doctor Glass Case,” a social satire. Although a servant, Rodaja attended classes at the University of Salamanca, where his masters were students, and he even earned a degree. Brilliant but emotionally vulnerable—the latter as the result of a failed love affair—he expresses his fragility through his belief that he is literally made of glass. Struggling to reconcile emotion and intellect, Rodaja realizes he must chart a new path. After joining the military, he is killed in Flanders.
Two standard tropes, the disguised lover and the mixed-up pair, sustain the plot in “The Two Damsels.” Theodosia, setting out to locate the suitor who she believes had jilted her, disguises herself as a man to facilitate her travels. After he4 brother recognizes her, he joins in the quest; together they encounter another disguised female—in search of the same fiancé. When Theodosia is successfully reunited with her lover, her brother pairs up with the other young woman.
In “The Lady Cornelia,” the lady of the title is an innocent damsel seduced and abandoned by a villainous Italian duke. Cornelia, believing the duke will marry her, loses her virtue to him and has a baby. This child ends up with two Spanish students, who engineer the couple’s marriage for the sake of the child.