Challenge to Spanish Nobility in the Fourteenth Century

Author: Grabowska, James A.
This study of rhetoric and power identifies and analyzes the ideological foundations of exemplary tales and proverbs in order to describe the evolution of power – its maintenance, transformation, shifts, use and abuse in Don Juan Manuel’s well-known text, El Conde Lucanor. Contemporary and medieval history and rhetorical theories are employed in the process of decoding the text, its structure and meaning. This historical and contemporary approach re-situates Juan Manuel studies in a European context and proves that the work was not produced in isolation, but influenced by theories that were debated and discussed in the universities all over the continent. Attention to the entire text as an articulation of a rhetoric of power relocates the text in the Spanish canon, not just as a collection of exemplary tales and proverbs, but as a tightly constructed and reasoned rhetoric of power. The investigations into the historical context of author and text expand scholarship on ideological notions as held by Juan Manuel about the role of nobility in society, the secularization of power, the clergy (especially the mendicant orders) in general and the Church specifically. Models are provided for readings of medieval texts as products of a concern with memory, expanding the ramifications of the ‘didactic’ label that is so often hung on medieval texts. Likewise, the study provides models of analysis for the production of authority, and the relation between form and meaning in the construction of a medieval text.


“In this study, the author builds bridges between two different concerns: the ideological foundations of power and, in particular, a reexamination of medieval rhetoric in the works of Don Juan Manuel (1282-1349). The intriguing historical problem about the uses and abuses of power is examined from the limited angle of medieval fiction ... it provides an analysis of the rhetoric of power in Conde Lucanor and, on that empirical basis, offers a historical interpretation of the ‘ends/means’ controversy: under special conditions what is morally incompatible can be – or at least appear to be – compatible ... This study is intended to provoke inquiries into Juan Manuel’s aesthetic solutions to the historical problems of a conservative attitude – perhaps the most common attitude in human history ... It is encouraging to see, upon a close inspection of the new study, that the historical questions broached through medieval fiction are so vast, so important and so fascinating.” – (from the Preface) Professor Emeritus Anthony N. Zahareas, University of Minnesota

El Conde Lucanor is a masterpiece of medieval European literature, on a par with the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales, yet comparatively less critical work has been produced in our country on this most canonical piece of Spanish literature ... This work offers to an English-speaking audience an intelligent and contextualized study of the entire work, situating it in the intellectual and literary environment of the European later Middle Ages ... To date there has been little scholarly attention paid to the place of Juan Manuel in this literary tradition, and Dr. Grabowska’s work makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Juan Manuel’s appropriation and adaptation of the ‘regiment of princes’ form, ideology, and rhetorical strategies ...” – Professor Jonathan Burgoyne, Pennsylvania State University

“Dr. Grabowska’s book offers a thorough and well-organized study of the interplay between rhetoric and power in the context of the crisis of feudalism in Medieval Spain, through a detailed analysis of the persuasive strategies displayed in El Conde Lucanor, Don Juan Manuel’s best-known work ... The reader will find in Dr. Grabowska’s study a clear treatment of the issues, and his insights will prove useful to the exploration of other Medieval Spanish texts that employ exempla and proverbs, from the Libro de Buen Amor to the Libro del Caballero Zifar, and to those that fall within the ‘regiment of princes’ genre, as well as to the other texts of Don Juan Manuel’s literary corpus.” – Professor José A. Valero, University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire

Table of Contents

Preface by Anthony N. Zahareas
1. Introduction to the Problems of Rhetoric and Power in the Conde Lucanor
2. Socio-political History and Literary Production in Fourteenth-Century Castile
3. Organizational Keys to the Conde Lucanor
4. The Moral of the Story: Politics and Morality in the Exemplary Tales
5. From Storytelling to Proverbial Lore
6. Juan Manuel’s Rhetoric of Power: The Fifth Book
7. Conclusion