Out of the Wings

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El vizcaíno fingido (1611), Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

English title: The Man who Pretended to be from Biscay
Notable variations on Spanish title: Entremés del vizcaíno fingido
Date written: 1611
First publication date: 1615
Keywords: identity, power > inter-personal/game play, society
Genre and type: entremés

A fake gold chain, a couple of prostitutes, and a man who speaks in a made-up language and pretends to be Basque. This short, funny interlude exposes the foibles of the noble and lower classes with twists and turns (but no coaches, as they’re banned) along the way.


Solorzano and Quiñones prepare to play a trick on Cristina, a prostitute living in Madrid. Brigida, another prostitute, tells Cristina through floods of tears about the official ban on the use of horse-drawn coaches, which she fears will be bad for business since that is where most of her liaisons take place. Cristina tells her not to worry: it won’t affect their trade and may even enhance it as the men will be better able to see what’s on offer. Solorzano visits Cristina and invites her into a scheme to swindle his friend from Biscay; he gives her a bag with a gold chain in it, claiming it is worth a great deal.  He asks her to advance him its value so that he can buy a few more things for the trick, and also to wine and dine the liquor-loving Biscayan man. Cristina is not convinced of the chain’s real worth, and she has it valued by a silversmith who confirms its price. The silversmith also wants something of Cristina - he wants her to occupy his wife the following evening so he can go about some secret business. Cristina agrees to take the wife to the theatre. Solorzano returns and Cristina gives him the advance. When the Biscayan man appears, he speaks in a muddled language that Solorzano translates, and he offers to give the chain to Cristina as a gift. She prepares fruit and wine for him to enjoy, while the jealous Brigida is titillated by a bit of attention from the Biscayan, who leaves after becoming quite inebriated. Solorzano returns with bad news; the Biscayan’s father is dying, and he must leave town immediately to be with him. Solorzano gives back to Cristina the money she gave him , and asks for the chain back in return. When she produces it, he accuses her of swapping it with a fake. She claims her innocence, saying it was the same chain he gave her. Just then a constable comes in, which is not good for Cristina as she already has a bad reputation in his eyes. Solorzano offers to find a solution for her, by swapping the ‘fake’ chain for the one on the Biscayan man, and Cristina is grateful for this ‘favour’. Quiñones reappears, speaking normally, and reveals himself to have been masquerading as the Biscayan, and Cristina realises she has been the butt of the trick. Musicians come in to sing, and Cristina invites everyone to stay for dinner.


In 1611 a law was passed in Spain, known as the ‘Premática de las coches’, in which women were prohibited from using coaches as transportation unless they were of ‘unquestionable social standing’ and did not wear veils over their faces (Smith in Cervantes 1996: 75). This came about in an effort to stop the widespread practice of using coaches as sites of prostitution. Men were also barred from using coaches in an attempt to combat ‘the perception that men were becoming soft and effeminate’ (ibid.). It was thought that through the easy practice of going around in a coach, as Cristina says in the play, men had lost the art of horse riding and the associated tenets of chivalry. Other sources for the play include the stock device of replacing a gold item with a fake, and the stereotypical depiction of Basque people as foolish (ibid.)

Critical response

The interlude has been seen by critics as a satire on the foibles of the noble classes, and the ‘breakdown of traditional class barriers’ (Smith in Cervantes 1996: 76). The study of social structures in the play by Carroll Johnson ties the use of coaches to the galleys, as both carry criminals (1989). Through the mixing of nobles and lower class characters such as prostitutes and swindlers, everyone in the play is seen as flawed and the old idea of the moral supremacy of the noble classes is called into question. ‘In the end everyone is unmasked’ (Smith in Cervantes 1996: 77). (See also Spadaccini with Talens 1993: 44).

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1995. ‘Entremés del vizcaíno fingido’. In Entremeses, ed. Nicholas Spadaccini, pp. 193-214. Madrid, Cátedra

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1998. ‘Entremés del vizcaíno fingido’. In Entremeses, eds. Florencio Sevilla Arroyo and Antonio Rey Hazas, pp. 107-30. Madrid, Alianza

Useful readings and websites
  • Asensio, Eugenio. 1965. Itinerario del entremés: desde Lope de Rueda a Quiñones de Benavente. Madrid, Gredos (in Spanish)

  • Asensio, Eugenio. 1973. ‘Entremeses’. In Suma cervantina, eds. J. B. Avalle-Arce and E. C. Riley. London, Tamesis (in Spanish)

  • Beardsley, Jr., Theodore S. 1986. ‘Cervantes on Stage in the United States’, Hispanic Review, 54, 4, 397-404

  • Casalduero, Joaquín. 1951. Sentido y forma del teatro de Cervantes. Madrid, Gredos (in Spanish)

  • Johnson, Carroll B. 1989. ‘Structures and Social Structures in El vizcaíno fingido’, Bulletin of the Comediantes 41, 7-20

  • McKendrick, Melveena. 2002. ‘Writings for the Stage’. In The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes, ed. Anthony J. Cascardi, pp. 131-59. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

  • Spadaccini, Nicholas with Talens, Jenaro. 1993. Through the Shattering Glass: Cervantes and the Self-Made World. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press

Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 1 May 2012.

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