Dorotea And Don Quixote

In the reader’s first encounter with Dorotea in the episode of the Sierra Morena, she is already a dishonored woman according to the discursive codes of sixteenth-century Spain (1.28:274). Dressed in drag as a shepherd, she tells her male audience which consists of the curate, the barber, and Cardenio–of how she was publicly courted and eventually seduced by the treacherous Don Fernando, although not before she had secured his word that be be her “legitimo esposo” (1.28:282). Her situation, her attentive audience learns, was further complicated when the nobleman broke his clandestine marriage promise, left town, and decided to marry Luscinda, a beautiful noblewoman in a neighboring city. In that vulnerable moment of unviable subjectivity (no longer a virgin but also not Fernando’s publicly recognized wife), Dorotea made the decision to do something with what had been done to her, and she donned male clothing and left in pursuit of Fernando.

By her own admission, however, Dorotea relates that her first attempt to construct an alternative subject position as a shepherd has been a failure. In seeking to distance herself from the unlivable subject position of mujer enganada, her initial performance as a male shepherd trespasses the intelligible limits of normative subjectivity. Much like Alonso Quijano’s performance as the anachronistic Don Quijote, Dorotea’s drag performance is censured through a series of corporal punishments by the men she encounters when she is forced to abandon her search for Fernando and flee to the Sierra Morena. Both her servant and her new master eventually condemn Dorotea’s fraudulent gender performance through their violent attempts to rape her. Although she successfully fights off both assaults, she is at the point of despair when she is discovered by Don Quijote’s friends. Indeed, the sole reason that we hear Dorotea’s story is because the farm girl turned shepherd is once more betrayed by the embodied norms of femininity. Her gender identity is again revealed when, hidden behind a rock, the three men secretly watch the shepherd as “he” takes off “his” cap and shakes free “his” abundant golden tresses (1.28:275-76). The knight’s friends correctly read her gender performance as artifice and the despairing labradora acknowledges to her three spectators that “toda mi industria […] ha sido de ningun provecho” (1.28:2.88). However, captivated by her beauty and intrigued by her disguise, they entreat Dorotea to relate just how she finds herself in such a place and position. Dorotea’s failed cross-dressing performance, therefore, highlights the paradoxical nature of agency: it is at the moment when we fail to perform the norm that we are either incited or invited to perform again. Dorotea’s newfound audience invites her to perform again, to narrate her self once more precisely because her performance fails when she is undone by the norms that construct the female body. (9)

Her second gender performance for Don Quijote’s friends reveals yet another paradox of agency: it is often the very norms that undo us as subjects in the first place that we must later use to construct an alternative subject position. From the very beginning of her Sierra Morena performance, Dorotea appeals to the discursive codes that have undone her: virtue (she is no longer virgin and not yet a wife) and lineage (she is a peasant in a world where nobility matters). She constructs a mobile subjectivity that allows her to claim multiple subject positions, all sustained through a complex weave of dominant and emergent discourses. Using both the traditional and contestatory discourses surrounding these subjectivities, the jilted farmer’s daughter now creates a multiple female subject position that is nonetheless intelligible within the dominant historical structure. Her self-introduction reveals both an awareness and a criticism of her socioeconomic status in early modern Spain.

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