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James Mabbe's Achievement in his Translation of Guzmán de Alfarache

  • Sophia University (retired)
James Mabbe’s Achievement in his Translation of
Guzmán de Alfarache
John R. Yamamoto-Wilson
Part of Mateo Alemán’s purpose in writing his enormously popular
picaresque novel Guzmán de Alfarache1 was almost certainly to air his
frustrations at the ill treatment he received as a converso (i.e. a Christian of
Judaic descent) in Spain at the turn of the sixteenth century. It is also often
argued that the apparent religious intent of the Guzmán was simply a ruse;
Alemán’s real purposes, it is suggested, were to spin a good yarn while venting
an all-embracing misanthropy and, as far as he dared, attacking the Inquisition.
What, though, were the factors motivating James Mabbe, later to become the
renowned translator of Cervantes, to render the work into English?2 We know
that he was encouraged to translate it by friends, several of whom wrote
commendatory verses in the prefaces to both volumes, but neither he nor they
would have shared Alemán’s preoccupation with his converso status, nor, as I
will demonstrate, were they likely to have understood his coded references to the
Inquisition. Did Mabbe simply se it as an entertaining narrative? Did he accept it
as a work of sincere devotional intent? While Mabbe’s intentions have been the
subject of extensive critical enquiry,3 Mabbe’s have been largely ignored.
James Fitzmaurice-Kelly reminds us of James Beresford’s praise of The
Rogue, and himself compares Mabbe’s prose style with that of Shakespeare,4
while Martínez Lacalle praises The Rogue as “one of the best translations of any
period”.5 Despite Lacalle’s thorough appraisal of Mabbe, however, little interest
in the man and his work has been shown in recent years. In particular,
Fitzmaurice-Kelly’s pronouncement that “his tastes were linguistic rather than
literary” (I, xxix) has gone largely unchallenged and unmodified. Fitzmaurice-
Kelly also dismisses Cristóbal de Fonseca, whose Discursos para Todos los
Evangelios de la Quaresma (Madrid, 1614) was also translated by Mabbe,6 as
“one of the poorest writers of the mystic school” (I, xxix), leaving unanswered
the question of why a man with linguistic interests would translate the work of
such a writer.7 My contention is, firstly, that some of the premises underlying
Fitzmaurice-Kelly’s evaluation were wrong; secondly, that Mabbe’s translation
of Fonseca sheds valuable light on the motives underlying his translation of
Alemán; and further, that an understanding of those motives gives us a valuable
insight into the religious and political temper of Stuart England, as well as
helping towards a clearer understanding of Mabbe’s role as a translator at the
intersection between two conflicting cultures.
I shall begin by examining certain features of Mabbe’s Fonseca translation,
Contemplations. This is a far more straightforward work than The Rogue, being
basically a treatise on the Gospels, as its title implies. Because the textual issues
are comparatively simple, I will argue for the applicability to The Rogue of
certain conclusions reached with regard to Contemplations, and draw on an
analysis of Fonseca’s text in order to establish some of my main points.
Although Contemplations was not published until 1629, seven years after the
appearance of The Rogue, there are uncanny resemblances between the two texts.
For example, Guzmán de Alfarache contains the following short passage:
...tan proprio es al hambriento no reparar en salsas, como el necessitado salir a qualquier
partido. (1, 21r)
Mabbe embellishes this somewhat, rendering it:
For it is as proper to him that is hungry not to stand upon Sauces and your fine relishes;
as to him that is in want to step out into the high way, and to take a purse. (1, 32; 1, 99)
He then adds the following, which does not correspond to anything in the
original text:
No booty comes amisse to him that is in need. Beg, steale, or any thing, rather than
Mabbe translates passages which appeal to him with a particular flourish, and
frequently embellishes the text, thus giving clues to his own preoccupations.
Further clues are to be found in his many marginal notes, such as the one
accompanying the above passage: “He that is truly hungry will not sticke to eate
any thing.” Finally, he further emphasizes the passage by introducing a paragraph
break where there is none in the original text.
The theme is an unusual one. Since “most Elizabethan and Jacobean
preaching does not deal with the suffering and hunger of the poor”,8 it is curious
that the sentences Mabbe has inserted here bear a striking similarity to the
following passage, translated more or less literally from Fonseca:
How much more should a man that is hunger-starv’d attempt any thing rather than
famish for lacke of food. Judas will rather make money of Christ than starve. The mother
sell her daughter, the father kill his children, the wife forsake, if not dishonour the bed of
her husband. (Contemplations, 85)
Perhaps Mabbe was already familiar with Fonseca’s Discursos when he began
work on his translation of Alemán’s picaresque novel in 1622. Or perhaps the
resemblance between Fonseca’s text and Mabbe’s embellishment of Alemán’s
text is pure chance. If so, it is perhaps even more remarkable. The likelihood of
Mabbe’s happening upon a work which so closely echoed his own concerns must
surely have been remote.
From that coincidence we proceed to others. Alemán and Fonseca resemble
each other not only in their attitude to the poor but also in their reprimands to the
Canst thou thinke it an Honour unto thee, that the Hospitall should be maintained with
the droppings of thy Tap and the Scraps of the thy Kitchen, (when there is not a Dogge,
that waites at thy Trencher, but fares better?) Canst thou thinke it an honour unto thee,
that thy Mules should have their Linnen and their Woollen, whilest Christ (in his
members) dyes out of very cold, not having wherewith to cover his nakednesse? (The
Rogue, 1, 114; 1, 256)
...those Ladies whose Coaches may rather be said to be of gold, than guilded; whose
necks are laden with chains of Pearle, & their fingers with Diamonds and that they
should live thus in their Jollitie & plentie and Christ die at their doores for hunger, it is
such a charge that when it comes to be laid home unto them, it will admit no excuse
(Contemplations, 236; see also 337)
Again, both authors share a distaste for everyday worldly pursuits. This is a
theme which runs through the whole of The Rogue, and which Fonseca touches
upon with the words, “as a merchant can scarce live in the world without lying,
no more can a Souldier without sinning” (24). While engaged in such activities
man is exposed to the vicissitudes of fortune, like the picaro, and once more,
where Alemán elaborates, Fonseca telescopes, sketching in a few lines the
uncertainties of the world: much resent the losse of their great and tedious labours. As hee, that having spent
thirtie yeares in the Indies in busniesses as painefull as base and vile and with a great-
deale of toile having heaped together a hundred thousand ducats, when he is come even
to the haven and readie to land, scapes onely with his life upon a poore planke... (18)
Through such considerations both texts conclude that:
Every man must be content with that which falls to his lot: we may not be our owne
Carvers. (The Rogue, 1, 4; 1, 44)
Without God I can doe nothing... (Contemplations 609)
...all mans happinesse doth consist in Gods having us all in his remembrance...
(Contemplations 625)
This leads Alemán to an attitude towards justification that is, again, precisely the
same as Fonseca’s:
...hee that will be but willing to put his owne helping hand to get out of that mire of
sinne, wherein hee lies wallowing, and endevour to free himselfe from that muddy sink
of vice, those good inspirations of heaven shall never be wanting unto him,
which...will...raise him up from the mire of sinne, to the life of grace. (The Rogue, 2,
161; 3, 330-31)
...though Christ had the longer and harder Journey of it, and she the shorter and easier;
yet you see shee was willing to put the best foot forward and to take some paines her
selfe in the businesse. (Contemplations, 146)9
The devotional elements of The Rogue are the only real point of comparison
with Fonseca’s text and, while the two are completely different in every other
respect, no other English translation of a Spanish devotional text approaches The
Rogue as closely as does Contemplations. The fact that Mabbe followed up his
widely popular publication of Alemán’s work with the obscure Fonseca is a
significant indication of his aims and intentions as a translator. It is hard to
dismiss the idea that either Mabbe had already embarked on Contemplations
when he saw in Guzmán de Alfarache a work which, consonant (at one level)
with Discursos in its moral purpose, but transcending it in its delivery, was an
even worthier candidate for translation, or else he came to Fonseca seeing in his
work a moral attitude which Alemán at once upholds and – with his cynicism and
ambiguity – undermines. It is this congruity between the two works which would
see to provide the most satisfactory explanation for his decision to follow up the
publication of his translation of Alemán with that of Fonseca.
Fitzmaurice-Kelly’s conviction that Mabbe’s tastes were “linguistic” stems
from the fact that there are certain omissions from Mabbe’s 1640 translation of
Cervantes, Exemplarie Novells; in Six Books which he believes no one with a
true interest in literature would have tolerated. However, there may be a quite
different explanation. El Coloquio de los Perros and Rinconete y Cortadillo, the
two tales in the Novelas Ejemplarias to which Fitzmaurice-Kelly refers, both
promise a continuation, and this may well have been the reason why Mabbe
omitted them. He had, after all, run into difficulties before in the matter of
continuations; Fitzmaurice-Kelly (1, xxxii-xxxvi) shows that he based the second
part of The Rogue on an Italian translation, with some reference to the Spanish
text and a French translation, and concludes that he only obtained access to the
Spanish text (which was hard to come by) after completing his version from the
Italian. This may have deterred him from translating these two tales, or he may
simply have set them aside with a view to doing them full justice when the
sequels appeared.
The line of enquiry I have followed so far leads to the conclusion that it was
perhaps moral and devotional issues, rather than linguistic or literary ones, that
were the axes round which many of Mabbe’s choices of text and editorial
decisions revolved and that, like Bunyan or Swift, or by some analyses Alemán
himself, he came to narrative by the back door of moral instruction. This,
however, leads to fresh complications. Brian Crockett outlines the difficulty of
“talk[ing] of religious belief as a primary mode of intent” within the framework
of a critical orthodoxy which insists that “religious only
superficially about contact between the human and the divine,” being in reality
“encoded language of political subjugation.”10 As I shall demonstrate, Mabbe,
insofar as he can be reconstructed as a political animal, would more likely be
seen as embodying rebellion rather than subjugation, though there is a strong
case for rejecting both analyses.
Once again, Contemplations provides a useful starting-point. In this work,
Mabbe appears specifically to set political and doctrinaire considerations to one
side, urging his readers to rejoice in the accomplishment of a traditional enemy:
...let it be thy Christian joy, that the lisping Ephramite is heard here to speake as plaine as
the smooth-tongue Canaanite; and that there is not so great a distance betwixt
Hierusalem and Samaria, as some imagine. (Introductory Epistle, fo. 5r)
The jaunty familiarity of a traveller who knows both the language and the people
of Spain informs his wry satire as well as his praise here, and modifies his
criticism to give it something of the effect of “the so-called lisping Ephramite.” Is
it possible, though, for a work published at a time when England was at war with
Spain to be a truly ingenuous call for impartiality? Surely, in such circumstances,
this blurring of distinctions between “Hierusalem” (England) and “Samaria”
(Spain) is intrinsically political? And what of the translation itself? Is Mabbe
using the text of his translation to mask a political commentary?
Consider, for example, the following passage, which is purportedly an
account of Christ’s temptations in the desert:
The Combattants are two great Princes, whose power all the world acknowledgeth, and
whose wisedome admits no comparison; the one, the Prince of Light; the other, the
Prince of Darknesse: the field wherein the fought, was a Wildernesse. (70-71)
Are we to see in this England (or perhaps Protestantism) casting itself in the role
of “the Prince of Light,” vilifying Spain (or Catholicism) as “the Prince of
Darknesse,” locked in combat in the “wildernesse” of a war-torn Europe? Of
course, if Mabbe’s readers reconstructed the text in this way, they would
inevitably perceive the irony that, for the Spanish author of the text, the roles of
light and darkness would be reversed, thus blurring the distinctions between
“Hierusalem and Samaria” still further.
Further support for such an analysis can be found scattered through the text,
in passages such as, “What? shall I give the children’s bread unto the dogges? It
is not fitting. My Miracles and My Doctrine were meant to the children” (156-
57).11 The reference to the “children” (of Israel) throws into relief the political
realities of an England whose growing sense of itself as the Promised Land
would later culminate in Cromwell’s readmission of the Jews, and of a Spain
which, despite the backlash of the Inquisition, had already assimilated conversos
on a large scale.12 Again, the fact that the text is a translation confuses the issue
(are “the children” the English, the Spanish, Catholics, or Protestants?) and adds
to, rather than obviates, the complexities of textual masking if that is what we
are dealing with.
I voice a doubt because I see a problem here. The assumption that
deconstructing the text will lay bare stable political meanings is a dangerous one.
For example, if we allow our interpretation so far to lead us to the conclusion that
Mabbe was a secret supporter of Spain, we will doubtless go on to see in the
following evidence that he was a closet revolutionary:
Of the Sunne of the Earth, the Poets write, That wrestling with Hercules, still as he
toucht the ground he recovered fresh strength. The humble minded man, who esteemes
himself to be but the sonne of the Earth, and the off-spring of Dust and Ashes, by bowing
himselfe in all lowlinesse to this his mother, he shall be able to wrestle with God
himselfe. (31)
Circumstantial support for such an interpretation can be adduced from the
passages, both in Contemplations and Rogue, which betray an uncommon
sympathy for the poor and downtrodden, and to which I have already drawn
attention (note 8). Mabbe has also added a dimension to Fonseca’s Spanish in the
passage above: although sunlight is indeed a central symbol of divine
refreshment and grace in Fonseca’s work, the original text in fact reads “hijo”
(fo. D6r) for both “Sunne” and “sonne.” Again, Mabbe’s embellishment of the
Spanish gives ruse to speculation. Is he simply unable to resist a pun, or is he
implying that “the humble minded man” is the true “Prince of light”? If such
conjecture is correct, his translation stands revealed less as a manual of piety than
as a threat to the established order, and we can reconstruct the phrase, “it is such
a charge that when it comes to be laid home unto them, it will admit no admit”
(236), quoted above, in a new light.
The cap fits, but whether it is to be worn or not is another matter. Did the
privileged rich tremble with fear of earthly retribution when they read Mabbe’s
work? Is it really possible to see Contemplations as a sustained piece of
subversive writing? I think not. If we examine the text more closely, we find that
the combat between the “two great Princes” reveals itself as the very opposite of
a call to arms. The whole point is that the battle for human souls has already been
fought, the risks already run. The reader is exhorted, not to rebel, but to exercise
prudence, that most Renaissance of virtues, and arguable a tool of political
subjugation; “in a cruel storm at sea, the lowest place in the ship is the safest”
(217). Fonseca’s text is quite explicit: the conflict is personal, psychological, not
The war which I have within my selfe and the strifes which my desires doe styr up with
my unruly appetites, admit no peace at all nor suffer any truce to be taken, nor are ever at
rest, but doth live and die with my life. In this war there is no bloud shed, but teares. It is
not fought in frontiers, but within a mans person. (226)
The problem is that an analysis of local meanings lodged in the text does not
result in a coherent picture. The readings I have put forward so far are an
interesting subtext, but the paradigm of a mask which cracks to reveal the true
face behind it simply does not work. If there is any overall coherence in the text,
it lies in its overt meaning and purpose, not in the shifting shadows of ambiguous
innuendo which lie behind it. A purely political analysis will stand up only if (as
Strier says in another context) we “pick out bits and pieces...looking for the
wrong thing in the wrong way,”13 adducing from the overall text only those
details which suit us and ignoring the rest.
That is not to say that socio-political concerns have no place at all. On the
contrary, the relationship of the individual to society is one of the great moral
issues at stake in Fonseca as in other Spanish devotional texts. Furthermore,
Mabbe’s translation of Christian Policie: or The Christian Commonwealth
(London, 1632), from the Spanish of Juan de Santa María,14 confirms his interest
in the political application of Christian doctrine. However, political intent
operates in Christian Policie at an overt level, and there seems to be no reason
not to assume that the same is true of Mabbe’s other works, that is, on the whole,
they actually are what they purport to be.
The fact that in Contemplations we are dealing with either religious intent or
political masking, unclouded by other factors, makes it comparatively easy to
evaluate. In The Rogue the issues are more complex, but my position throughout
this paper is that the two texts have a bearing on each other, and that conclusions
reached with regard to the one are likely to have some relevance to the other.
That in itself, however, is not sufficient grounds for asserting Mabbe’s moral and
religious intent in translating The Rogue. Nor, indeed, do I think such intent
adequately explains Mabbe’s overall purpose. First, then, let me make the case
for a moral foundation to The Rogue, and then add to it such other factors as will,
I believe, provide a reasonably complete understanding of Mabbe’s intentions.
One crucial point here is the extent to which Mabbe emphasized and
enhanced the moral and devotional aspects of Alemán’s text. The title page of the
1634 edition claims that the text has been corrected.” In fact, apart from
rectifying the list of the printer’s errata in the earlier editions, the main alteration
is the insertion of an index in four parts (fos. 2A 1r- 2A 6v). The first part, entitled
“Singula quaeque locum tenent,” is a list, in sequential order, of notable
passages; the second lists proverbs; the third is “An Alphabeticall Table of the
chiefest things,” many of which would benefit preachers looking for suitable
content for their sermons, such as “Afflictions come from God,” “Angers
effects,” etc; and the fourth is “A Catalogue of all the Tales.” The third part,
which overlaps in content with the first part, heavily emphasizes the moral
passages, and was perhaps written with a view to recommending the text to the
clergy. The fact that Mabbe added this index after the publication of
Contemplations, which has just such an index (“A Table of all the principall
matters contained in this Booke [italics sic], fos. Iii1r-Kkk 3v), once again
suggests a link in Mabbe’s mind between the two texts. The dates are important
here, since Fitzmaurice-Kelly infers a great change in Mabbe’s outlook between
1629 and 1631, the date he published Celestina.15 In his translation of Celestina
Mabbe alters Christian references to classical or pseudo-classical ones, which
Fitzmaurice-Kelly puts down to “sectarian scruples” (1894, xx) and “rigid
orthodoxy” (1894, xxi), confessing himself surprised that such editing should
have been done only two years after the publication of Mabbe’s translation of
Once again, Fitzmaurice-Kelly seems to have misinterpreted Mabbe’s
editorial emendations. Whereas he overlooks moral and devotional intent and
infers a linguistic purpose behind Mabbe’s translations of Alemán and Fonseca,
he errs in this case in a diametrically opposite direction, attributing to Mabbe a
greater degree of religious scruple than can reasonably be assumed. That such
scruple did play some part is clear from Mabbe’s marginal comments on revision
of the manuscript version. Martínez Lacalle makes a convincing case for
assuming that Mabbe expurgated religious references from the manuscript
version of the text, which was completed about the same time as the issuing of an
Act of Parliament (27 May 1606) restraining actors from using profane language
on the stage.16 However, the 1534 edition of The Rogue was not separately
bound, but comes together with a second edition of Celestina. At the same time
as Mabbe was editing Christian references out of one text he was emphasizing
them in another, and he can therefore have succumbed to no such sudden access
of scruples as Fitzmaurice-Kelly supposes. Having accepted that he had to
comply with the Act of 1606, Mabbe appears to have made a virtue of necessity,
putting a fashionable Renaissance gloss onto a work which, in any case, has no
devotional elements. All we can reasonably infer such editing is that Mabbe was
as likely to emphasize the secular characteristics of a worldly text as was to
emphasize the devotional aspects of a work he considered to be in some way
religious. This militates against the assumption that Mabbe’s concerns were not
literary in character. While Fitzmaurice-Kelly may not like the results he says
Mabbe’s editing “destroys the atmosphere of the original” (1894, xxi) the
motive was almost certainly, in part, to add to the literary attractiveness of the
It is worth noting that the doctrinal features of the text which Mabbe, in his
lifetime, sought to promote and develop, were played down after his death. Apart
from the fact that, unlike the second and third editions, it was typeset afresh, the
only significant changes in the 1656 edition of the text are the removal, not only
of the index of the 1634 edition, but of all Mabbe’s marginal notes. Later
publishers were moving in an opposite direction to Mabbe, and prolonging
Alemán’s popularity by presenting his work “purgée de moralités superflues.”17
By most modern analyses, then, the inference is that Mabbe, like many of
Alemán’s contemporaries, was duped – along with “I.F.,” whose prefatory verses
fervently affirm the moral purpose of the text, asserting that its “whole Theame is
Man,” embodying “precept with example”:
So an old Bawdes face, Chastnesse doth suggest,
Vices true Picture makes us Vice detest... (1, A 4r; 1, 30)
This appears to be an early example, transposed into Protestant England of what
Nina Cox Davis terms the “Catholic-apologetic school” of analysis,18
characterized by opponents such as Judith Whitenack as a failure, on the part of
both “Inquisitorial censors” and “several generations of critics,” to see through
“what appears to be a transparent ploy” to present Guzman’s life as an
exemplum ex contrario.”19 Those who have given any thought to the matter
seem to concur that Mabbe also saw the text in these terms, Peter Russell being
one example:
The discursive pícaro is, he explains, fundamentally an “hombre de bien” whose chief
fault was a weakness of will and an inability to govern his passions, as well as an
undesirable hankering after “novedades.” Both the translator and the distinguished
literary figures among his friends who contributed laudatory verses to both parts stressed
the role of Guzman as an allegory of man in general.20
However, such a view does not do justice to Mabbe. True, there is such a
Guzman in Alemán’s tale, and Mabbe renders him faithfully:
I was naturally good...Vice and want altred this my good inclination, and made me
otherwise then I would have beene. (1, 142; 2, 47)
But there is another Guzman, inherently delinquent, who begs a fine meal then
vomits so as to be able to scoff another, who mocks his charitable benefactors as
“devout fooles, tender-hearted women” (1, 23; 1, 82), a Guzman so twisted and
perverted that he rejoices in the suffering of a friend:
...although it did much grieve me, to see how ill I was used by them yet I could not
choose but laugh with my selfe, for that my companion was worse dealt withall; laying
more load and harder blowes upon him than me, as a receiver and concealer of this theft
and that he was my partner and sharer therein... (1, 62; 1, 157)
This depraved Guzman, who overshadows the first, turning his protestations to
hollow mockery, is Alemán’s finest creation, and he is every bit as outrageous in
Mabbe’s translation as in the original Spanish. A Guzman more sinned against
than sinning would never have made such compulsive reading, and whatever
Mabbe may have professed about Guzman as an “hombre de bien,” he has
preserved him intact for his English readers.
Do we then conclude that Mabbe’s affirmation of a moral purpose in The
Rogue is simply a bit of casuistry? By what criterion shall we accept passages in
Contemplations as being of unquestionable sincerity (both in themselves and in
the eyes of their translator), and regard parallel passages in The Rogue as being
insincere? The question. and the complexity of the appropriate response to it,
apply not only to Mabbe but equally to the intentions of the author himself.
Authorial intention is not the only, or even perhaps the main issue involved in
assessing a work of literature, and by the same token Mabbe’s intentions as a
translator are, in a sense, irrelevant to his achievement. Nevertheless, the
question is one which commentators on Alemán have almost invariably sought to
answer, and the perceptions of his translator, a gifted Hispanist and a
contemporary, may cast some light on the issue. Also crucial to a correct
interpretation is an appreciation of Alemán’s work in the context of the
devotional literature of the time. Do the devotional passages serve merely to
legitimate the narrative, or is there evidence that they have a higher function? Yet
again, a comparison with Fonseca will be instructive.
At times, Fonseca’s text hovers tantalizingly on the verge of drama and
narrative. Let us take another look at the account of Christ’s temptations in the
This famous Combat betwixt two of the stoutest and valientest Captaines that ever tryde
their valour in a single Duel, wil...require our diligent attention, taking up as well our
eyes as our eares. This the notablest and the strangest that ever was in former,
or ever shall be seene in future Ages...The Combattants...had nothing to sustain
themselves withall but stones... (70-71)
Travellers’ descriptions are adduced of the “rough and rugged Mountaine” where
the duel is said to have taken place (78), and the devil himself is described in his
most fiery garb (71-72). The scene is set and the characters drawn but, despite the
vividness of the backcloth, the duel itself remains a very abstract and intellectual
In his treatment of Fonseca’s text, we can see Mabbe continually striving for
something more powerful and dramatic than Fonseca actually delivers. I have
already pointed out (note 11) Mabbe’s embellishments to the following passage: es decente quitar el pan, por quien entienda los milagros, y la doctrina Evangelica a
los hijos. (fo. O 8v)
For clarity, let me cite Mabbe’s translation once more:
What? Shall I give the children’s bread unto dogges? It is not fitting. My miracles and
My Doctrine were meant to the children.
Mabbe is clearly stretching his source-material to engage his readers’ attention
on several levels. By fleshing out such prosaic passages with rhetoric, drama and
narrative he once again reveals clearly literary intentions. If he did begin work on
Fonseca first, as I have suggested, he must have turned to Alemán with relish.
Alemán’s work abounds in passages which are strikingly analogous to
Fonseca both in their quasi-narrative structure and in their moralistic purpose:
When God will give thee any thing, he will first aske something of thee. He comes very
weary about noone to the Fountaine, sits him downe, askes thee a little water whereof the
beasts of the field doe drink. Thou giv’st it him: In exchange whereof, he gives thee the
water of the Well of Life, the drinke of Angels. (1, 219; 2, 119)
However, unlike Fonseca, Alemán crosses the line from exposition to narration.
How different his book would have been, and how obscure his name today, had
he restricted himself merely to such remarks as “oftentimes, that moveth some to
laughter, which ought indeed to draw teares from their eyes” (2, 9; 3, 40), and
failed to explore their potential in narrative terms:
I beeing taken thus on a sudden, having no leisure to fall then a coyning and having
never a new lye in store, went plainely to worke...And this was the first Wine that came
out of my Taverne without water, and the first truth that ever I told in my life. My Master
said nothing to it: but those that waited at the boord, not being able to forbeare laughing,
one claps mee the cover of the Cup that he held in his hand before his face, another the
Plate that he held between his Thumbs, a third the Napkin where-with hee serv’d as
Server, and those that were empty-handed, laying one hand on their face, and with the
other stopping their mouth, their hearts being ready to burst in their bellies, hy’de them
(for fear of blurting in my Lords face) as fast out of the roome, as their legges would
carry them. (2, 67; 3, 147-48)
This tension between exposition and narrative is characteristic of Spanish
devotional literature, which seems to be in a continual struggle against its own
constraints as a genre. Precept strains to express itself as example, didacticism
wraps itself in allegory, and faith is overlaid with emblematic imagery. A man
called Desire leaves his home to seek out a knight called Love of God, meets
with a shepherd who lends him his dog, Good will, as a guide, and is received in
several palaces (Miguel de Comalada). A young woman resolves on her birthday
to leave her sisters in a meadow and go walking through a wood one May
morning, in search of a temple (Juan de Palafox). A drowning man is rescued by
a castaway raised by wild beasts on a desert island, and after they are rescued
they have surrealistic encounters as they journey together round Spain (Baltazar
Gracián).21 Guzman is, on one level, simply one more development of the
allegory of the traveller. The world itself is described by the devotional writers as
a “College of Associated Changelings,” a “hospital and valley of villainies,” in
which “we can have none better then to know ourselves for Lunaticks.”22
Guzman’s peripatetic adventures in this “Hospitall of Fooles” (2, 217; 4, 83) are
firmly grounded in the devotional tradition.
Taken in isolation, the devotional passages in The Rogue are every bit as
striking and powerful as the works of the acknowledged doctrinal writers. There
are, for example, some superb metaphors on homiletic themes:
Truth and Lying are like the string, and the Wrest or Peg in some Instrument. The string
hath a delicate sound, sweet and pleasing to the eare; But the Peg doth squeake and creak
like a Cart wheele... (1, 227; 3, 214)
The dexterity with which this conceit is set on its head is worthy of the best of
the metaphysical writers:
Truth is the Peg, and Lying the string: Well may a Lye goe working and winding itself
upon Truth, which is the Peg, and leave some print or signe therein, making it to sound
harsh & untuneable to the eare, but in the end it goes (although with some difficulty)
turning and winding a Lye so long, till the Truth remaine whole and sound like the Peg;
and Lying crack’t and broken, like the string.
Had Alemán set out to write a purely devotional work, he could have made at
least as good a job of it as many of the doctrinal writers of the day. It is true that
many of the doctrinal digressions were copied, with slight embellishments, from
devotional tracts, but this was not an uncommon practice among doctrinal
writers,23 and Alemán makes no secret of it:
These Arrowes are not all of mine owne Quiver, nor this honey that I set before thee all
of mine owne Hive; much of their sweetnesse did I sucke from holy and learned men...
(1, *6v; 1, 18)
It is also true that critics have noted a number of inconsistencies in the devotional
passages.24 Again, such inconsistencies were commonplace in the devotional and
humanist literature of the times, 25 and they are not in themselves evidence that
the avowed devotional intent was spurious. The devotional passages of Alemán’s
work are completely conformable with other doctrinal works of the period. Nor
are they artificially spliced into the narrative; they are organically linked to it in a
way which precludes dismissing them as simply a ploy to hoodwink the
Inquisition. There is no reason to doubt the author’s assertion that he aimed “to
guide the prow for the publike good” (1 *6r; 1, 17).
This is not to say, however, that serving “the publike good” did not involve
subverting the established order. Critics have drawn attention to the coded
language of political protest in Alemán, including a number of veiled but
unmistakable references to the malign investigations of the Inquisition:
Look well into thy selfe; runne over very leisurely and carefully, the house of thy Soule,
and see if thou have not made there, even in the greater and better part of it, Dung-hils of
filth, and all manner of beastlinesse; and doe not sift and prie so narrowly into thy
neighbours, to see of thou canst finde but the feather of some bird at the foot of the
Stayres, whereat thou mayst picke a quarrell. (2, 4; 3, 30-1)
Such references, indeed, begin on the very first page of the book, with “that
propertie of the Hyena, to make a living by ripping up the lives of the dead” (1,
1; 1; 38), a reference to the Inquisitorial practice of digging up the bones of those
found posthumously to have been heretics. There can be no question of the
sincerity and moral indignation of passages such as these, especially coming
from a converso. However, such comments were not restricted to those of Jewish
descent. The Inquisition frequently had an uneasy relationship with the
devotional writers, in whose work the central injunction to look into oneself was
not infrequently followed up with the corollary that one should not pry into the
affairs of others.26 Once again, Alemán’s comments are an accepted feature of the
religious literature of the time.
Here, though, there are signs that the paths followed by the translator and the
author parted. Mabbe, so keen to explain in marginal references and footnotes
passages which might be obscure to his English readers, regularly draws
attention to passages such as these, but does not spell out the implied meaning,
which would doubtless have been both fascinating and elusive to a contemporary
English readership. One is inclined to suspect that Mabbe himself failed to
appreciate their significance, on the assumption that if he had perceived it he
would have decoded it for his readers, whereas if it had merely been his intention
to suppress it he would not, surely, have provided the marginal notes at all.
Alemán compares a wether caged next to a wolf with a Christian of converso
descent whose neighbour is an inquisitor (2, 340-41; 4, 320-22). He criticizes the
“holy Hermandad under cover of praising the other two “holy” institutions, the
“Inquisition” and the “Crusada” (1, 62-63; 1, 158-59), and scornfully dismisses
hypocritical preachers“these barkings will require better mouth’d Dogges” (1,
124; 1, 269). In each case, he has not resorted to masking, but spoken openly. He
also manages to settle scores with usurers, merchants, women, judges, officials
and soldiers in an all-embracing misanthropy and without appearing to spare his
scorn. Like “French Rablais,” to whom he is compared (1, A 4v; 1, 30),27 Alemán
encompasses vice, virtue, chivalry and misogyny an entire range of contrary
impulses and diverse digressions; “at great Feasts, we must have meats for all
mouthes; and dishes for all tastes” (1, *6v; 1, 18). And yet he writes in his
prologue, “I have written unto thee, yet have I left out much of what I would
have written” (1, *6v; 1, 17). What is it, one wonders, that he did not say? Of
course, it is not inconceivable that he wanted to paint an even more vicious
Guzman but refrained, making him as vile as possible without actually portraying
him doing anything sacrilegious. It seems much more likely, however, that it is in
his depiction not of his subversive anti-hero but of the establishment that Alemán
exercised restraint. This side of Alemán’s intention seems not to have been
mirrored in the translation, where might reasonably have expected a much more
explicit gloss for the benefit of an English readership. Mabbe’s concerns seem to
be restricted to picking out passages that are striking and colourful, explaining
references to Spanish culture and customs which his readers might find obscure,
and highlighting the devotional aspects of the text.
It is almost presumptuous, in the wake of so many studies on the subject, to
broach the question of Guzman’s final conversion. Moreover, my present line of
approach can cast little light on whether it was intended to satisfy the
requirements of the Inquisition (even though the first part stood well enough on
its own for several years with no such redemption) or whether it was an attempt
to put a stop to further spurious continuations of the text (which would seem to
be undermined by the promise of a third part), or other related issues. However, I
have argued so far that the devotional aspects of the text reflect, albeit with some
differences, a sincere moral impulse in both Mabbe and Alemán, and my analysis
would be fatally incomplete without some discussion of Guzman’s conversion
for, while many of Guzman’s moralizings could easily have been penned by
Fonseca or another in the same genre, in his account of Guzman’s conversion
Alemán strikes a different, less compatible note. The sun, which in Fonseca’s
work is such a central image of enlightenment and refreshment (see, for example,
Contemplations, 211, 388, 465, 489), casts for Alemán a singularly harsh light:
...that small shade of Ivy, (which like Ionas Gourd, did keepe mee from the scorching of
the Sunne) was lost, and quite taken from mee; it was dry’de up, and withered, there was
a worme bred in the root of it, which had wasted and consumed... (2, 346; 4, 331)
It is an all-seeing eye, fierce and devoid of ease, which sheds its illuminating
grace on Guzman at the last.
Once again, Mabbe’s perceptions of the text can be inferred from his
marginal notes. These abound when there are morals to be drawn from the text,
but thin out considerably in the more purely narrative passages. It is noteworthy
that he draws no morals either from Guzman’s conversion itself (the marginal
note here reads simply, “his conversion”) or from his behaviour subsequently, the
marginal notes to the final pages being few and highlighting issues such as the
account of a man’s murder of his wife, which Guzman recounts with apparent
relish, and which does not sound at all like the reflections of a penitent sinner.
The indications are that, while Mabbe accepted the sincerity of the bulk of the
devotional passages in Alemán’s text, he regarded the final conversion as
essentially a narrative device.
One further point stands out, not because of its similarity to, nor even because
of its contrast with the devotional writers, but simply because it is absent from
their work: they appear to make no references to painters or horses, whereas
Alemán employs this image twice in homiletic contexts. In the opening pages,
where Guzman gives an account of his father’s roguish life and opportunistic
“conversion,” an artist paints a horse, almost indiscernible against a background
of digressive detail (1, 3-4; 1, 40-42). At the end of the novel, we again find the
image of an artist’s horse, this time set on its head (2, 346; 4, 332-33). Is this an
invitation to the reader to set the text’s conclusion on its head, by returning to the
beginning and re-evaluating Guzman’s conversion? Certainly, the choice of
image appears to be part of the author’s conscious design, rather than something
derived from another source, and this appearance of painted horses both at the
beginning and at the end of the text suggests that it may be an embedded sign that
would be likely to elude the inquisitors (who would be scanning the text for
heresy, not for horses), but reveal itself to the thoughtful reader. As in his
marginal comments on coded references to the Inquisition, Mabbe tantalizes us
here by picking out the second passage in his marginal notes, but again not
drawing any inferences.
The picture which finally emerges is a complex on. Mabbe is not limited to
either linguistic or literary concerns, nor to being simply a storyteller, nor yet to
being either a supporter or attacker of the political status quo of his day. Some of
Alemán’s purposes may have perhaps been lost in the translation, but those
purposes themselves are so obscure as to have given rise to several schools of
interpretation. At the same time, Mabbe’s translations reflect his own concerns,
which partly mirror, and are partly in counterpoint to, those of Stuart society. The
Rogue is not simply the Guzmán in English dress. A fresh look at Mabbe’s role,
and a revaluation of his achievement, is long overdue.
1 In two parts. Part 1 (Madrid, 1599); edition used, Lisbon, 1600), and Part 2 (Lisbon, 1604; edition
used, Barcelona, 1605, not separately bound; printed together with Part 1, Zaragoza, 1603).
2 The Rogue; or, The Life of Guzman de Alfarache, 2 vols. (London, 1622; some copies are dated
1623). Subsequent references to The Rogue are to this edition, followed by a page reference to
Fitzmaurice-Kelly’s edition (see n. 4, below). I have followed the original spelling, but systematic
typographical features (v for u, i for j, etc.) have been modernized.
3 Among the most notable studies are Joan Arias, Guzmán de Alfarache: The Unrepentant Narrator
(London, 1977), Benito Brancaforte, Guzmán de Alfarache: ¿Conversión o Proceso de Degradación?
(Madison, 1980), and Judith A. Whitenack, The Impenitent Confession of Guzmán de Alfarache
(Madison, 1985).
4 In his introduction to The Rogue; or, The LIfe of Guzman de Alfarache, 4 vols., in The Tudor
Translations, edited by Charles Whibley, second series (London, 1924), I, ix, xxv-xxvi. Further
references to Fitzmaurice-Kelly relate to this work, unless otherwise stated.
5 Celestine or the Tragick-Comedie of Calisto and Melibea, edited by Martínez Lacalle (London, 1972),
p. 16.
6 Devout Contemplations Expressed in Two and Fortie Sermons upon all the Quadrigesimall Gospells
(London, 1629). Subsequent references to Contemplations are to this edition. Systematic typographical
features have been modernized.
7 Fitzmaurice-Kelly’s judgment here seems unduly harsh, especially since Fonseca is advanced by
Narciso Alonso Cortés in El Falso ‘Quijote’ y Fray Cristóbal de Fonseca (Valladolid, 1920) as being the
probable author of the apocryphal continuation of Don Quijote, which Fitzmaurice-Kelly himself
acknowledges to be a creditable imitation.
8 Debora K. Shuger, “Shakespeare and Christianity,” in Religion, Literature and Politics in Post-
Reformation England, 1540-1688, edited by Donna B. Hamilton and Richard Strier (Cambridge, 1996),
pp. 46-69 (p. 49). See also John Cox, Shakespeare and the Dramaturgy of Power (Princeton, 1989), pp.
41-60, and Debora Shuger, Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance: Religion, Politics, and the
Dominant Culture (Berkeley, 1990), pp. 86-7.
9 The reference is to the Canaan woman begging for crumbs.
10 Brian Crockett, The Play of Paradox: Stage and Sermon in Renaissance England (Philadelphia, 1995),
11 Mabbe has made considerable changes to the original text here, adding a rhetorical note and the use of
the first person.
12 After 1530 conversos were, on the whole, left in peace by the Inquisition: see William Monter,
Frontiers of Heresy: The Spanish Inquisition from the Basque Lands to Sicily (Cambridge, 1990), 322.
In Aragon, in particular, they occupied a high social position and “enjoyed permanent immunity from
the Inquisition because of their connections to other politically privileged sectors of society” (324).
13 Richard Strier, “Donne and the Politics of Devotion,” in Religion, Literature and Politics (n. 8), 93-114
14 República y Policia Christiana para Reyes y Principes (Madrid, 1615).
15 In Celestina or The Tragicke-Comedy of Calisto and Melibea, reprinted in four volumes in The Tudor
Translations, edited by W.E. Henley, first series, VI (London, 1894), edited by James Fitzmaurice-Kelly,
16 Lacalle (n. 5), p. 37.
17 Histoire de Guzman d’Alfarache (Maestricht, 1777), translated by Le Sage, title page.
18 Nina Cox Davis, Autobiography as “Burla” in the Guzmán de Alfarache (London, 1991), 22.
19 Whitenack (n. 3), 110.
20 Peter Russell, “A Stuart Hispanist: James Mabbe,” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 30 (1953), 75-184; 79.
21 All these stories, and numerous others like them, were translated into English during the 17th century.
22 Baltazar Gracián, The Heroe...or, The Way to Eminence and Perfection (London, 1652), a translation of
El Criticón, p. 87; Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, Of Life and Death, in Flores Solitudinis (London, 1654),
translated by Henry Vaughan from the Latin, p. 215; Juan de Avila, The Cure of Discomfort (1632), a
Recusant translation of Avila’s spiritual epistles, p. 113.
23 Antonio de Guevara, Libro Llamado Mõte Calvario, for example, contains passages taken without
acknowledgement – from Francisco de Osuna, Abecedario, vols. 1 and 3.
24 For example, in the clergyman’s discourse on the pardoning of injuries we are told that sacrifices made
for friends are “unprofitable, vaine and of little or no woorth at all” (1, 41; 1, 116), but later on it is said
that “a man ought to venture his life for the keeping of a friend, and the spending of his wealth, for the
un-procuring of an enemie” (1, 135; 2; 33).
25 The works of Juan Luis Vives, for example, are riddled with contradictions. In The Office and Duetie of
an Husband (London, 1558), translated from the Latin by Thomas Paynell, he tells us first that “a under the dominion and power of manne” (fo. E5v) and then that “they are but very fooles,
that judge matrimony to be a dominion” (fo. K8v), going on to claim that “the minde of man is noble, &
will not shame it selfe, to be compared to the woman” (fo. K 2 v), before asserting that “there hath been
& are yet, not a few women, which are of a more stronge and constant mynde than many men be” (fo.
E3r). Again, Juan Eusebio Nieremberg dispraises death, asserting that Sophocles was wrong to call it
“the last Curer of diseases” (Of Temperance and Patience, in Flores Solitudinis [London, 1654],
translated by Henry Vaughan, p. 49), but elsewhere praises death as that which “heales the sick without
pain of Physick” (Of Life and Death, p. 51).
26 Joseph H. Silverman, “On Knowing Other People’s Lives,” in Cultural Encounters; The Impact of the
Inquisition in Spain and the New World, edited by Mary Elizabeth Perry and Anne J. Cruz (Berkeley,
1991), 157-75, notes examples in the works of such writers as Antonio de Guevara and Alonso de
Orosco, as well as in Alemán.
27 In a commendatory verse, “To Don Diego Puede-Ser” (i.e., James Mabbe), by Leonard Digges.
This essay explores the relationship between the picaresque genre in the early 1620s and the political resistance to the threatened rapprochement with Spain, especially through the proposed marriage of Prince Charles and the Infanta. Through an examination of Mary Wroth's Urania and James Mabbe's translation of Alemán's Guzmán de Alfarache, I argue that there are some general tensions between the desire to travel and a desire to resist the perceived dangers of travel. I discuss how it might be that readers could embrace the free-ranging spirit of a Spanish picaro while responding to closer relations with Spain with horror, and I posit some thematic and political connections between two otherwise quite distinct works in different genres.
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