Out of the Wings

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La guarda cuidadosa (1610-1615), Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

English title: The Watchdog
Notable variations on Spanish title: Sir Vigilant
Date written: sometime between 1610 and 1615
First publication date: 1615
Keywords: morality > honour, identity > class/social standing, identity > hierarchy, family > marriage, power > inter-personal/game play, love > relationships
Genre and type: entremés

Two competing suitors fight to win the heart of a fair maiden: one a local sexton and the other, a down-at-heel, braggart soldier. This piece follows in the tradition of the commedia dell’arte, whose influence can be seen throughout in the presence of stock characters such as the beautiful and indecisive young Cristina – the kitchen-maid – and her protective master and mistress. Cervantes, always intrigued by marginalised groups and the criminal fraternity, reinvigorates these typical characters by including in his fold a variety of tricky beggar-boys, an enterprising but dim-witted cobbler and a host of the other swindlers and rogues.


The play opens with a familiar scene: a soldier, in love with a local servant girl, has staked out her street and continually declares his love. He has a rival, for immediately there passes a sexton, whom he challenges to a fight, for he too is in love with Cristina and rings the church bells in her honour every day. The play continues with the soldier fending off any man who comes near Cristina’s door. The first would-be offender is a boy selling lamp-oil, whom the soldier pays off to stay away from her street. Next a boy selling ribbons and trim comes along to sell his wares. Cristina appears in her balcony, inviting him up to see what he has for sale but the solider scares him away, and the boy does not go upstairs. Following this is a cobbler, who has fixed a pair of slippers for Cristina. The soldier tries to bribe him to stay away from her, first by offering a toothpick as collateral, then by composing a poem on the spot. The cobbler agrees to stay away from Cristina for two days. Cristina’s master appears, and the soldier tries to impress him with a long list of his military accomplishments, and proposes to Cristina through her master. But the sexton from the first scene re-appears, this time with his friend Grajales, another sexton, and they are armed and ready for a fight. The master of the house gets in the middle of the squabble, and the mistress of the house worries for her husband’s safety; he explains that the whole matter is the fault of Cristina, for the two men fighting do so to win her favour. Cristina reveals that she has had conversations with the sexton, and that she holds a special letter from him close to her heart. The letter is read out, and it is a marriage proposal, so her master says Cristina has two proposals and must choose one of the suitors. Cristina hesitates, and then chooses the sexton. After a song and dance, they all leave the stage.

Critical response

Although not performed in his lifetime, the eight entremeses (one-act plays) Cervantes published have received plenty of critical attention in the 20th century. El retablo de las maravillas is probably the entremés of his most often staged, followed in popularity by La cueva de Salamanca. Most critics see Cervantes’s dramatic work as an overt attack on Lope’s popular formula, as Cervantes’s plays do not conform to the ‘norms’ of Lope’s Arte nuevo. However some critics disparage the plays, seeing their uniqueness as Cervantes’s lack of talent for writing marketable drama. Cervantes is generally thought to have been a better novelist and short story writer than playwright, although there are many critics who write favourably of his innovative dramatic craft. Cervantes is principally known as the writer of Don Quixote, a work of comedy but also of philosophy and ‘high moral purpose’, which accounts for the neglect of his comic theatre (Smith 1996: 169). Yet 20th century critics have reclaimed Cervantes’s ingenuity, especially Casalduero (1966) and Asensio (1965 and 1971). Cervantes’s plays are increasingly appreciated and have been recently staged by both the Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico in Madrid, and in English translation by the Royal Shakespeare Company (Pedro, the Great Pretender in 2004-05). For an overview of Cervantes’ critics from 1749 on, see Smith, 1996.

  • Asensio, Eugenio. 1971. Itinerario del entremés desde Lope de Rueda a Quiñones de Benavente, 2nd edn Madrid, Gredos (in Spanish)

  • Casalduero, Joaquín. 1966. Sentido y forma del teatro de Cervantes. Madrid, Gredos (in Spanish)

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1996. Eight Interludes, trans. and ed. Dawn L. Smith. London, Everyman

  • Smith, Dawn. 1996. ‘Cervantes and His Critics’. In Eight Interludes, trans. and ed. Dawn L. Smith, pp. 166-76. London, Everyman

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1987. Entremeses, ed. Nicholas Spadaccini. Madrid, Cátedra

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1998. Entremeses, ed. Florencio Sevilla Arroyo and Anonio Rey Hazas. Cervantes completo 17. Madrid, Alianza

Useful readings and websites
  • Asensio, Eugenio. 1971. Itinerario del entremés desde Lope de Rueda a Quiñones de Benavente, 2nd edn Madrid, Gredos (in Spanish)

  • Cascardi, Anthony J. 2002. The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1996. Eight Interludes, trans. and ed. Dawn L. Smith. London, Everyman

  • Huerta Calvo, Javier. 2001. El teatro breve en la Edad de OroArcadia de las letras, 4. Madrid, Ediciones del Laberinto (in Spanish)

  • Reed, Cory. 1993. The Novelist as Playwright. Cervantes and the Entremés Nuevo. New York, Peter Lang

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

  • Thacker, Jonathan. 2006. ‘Sex, Treachery, and Really Big Moustaches: Cervantes’s Entremeses at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’. Interview with Kathleen Mountjoy. Comedia Performance, 3, 1, 185-99

  • Wardropper, Bruce W. 1955. ‘Cervantes’ Theory of the Drama’, Modern Philology, 52, 4, 217-21

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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 4 October 2010.

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