Out of the Wings

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La cueva de Salamanca (1610-1615), Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

English title: The Cave of Salamanca
Date written: sometime between 1610 and 1615
First publication date: 1615
Keywords: morality > vice-virtue, identity > sexuality, ideology > honour, love > lust, family > marriage, power > inter-personal/game play
Genre and type: entremés

While the cat’s away, the mice shall play; another of Cervantes’ bored housewives gets up to some mischief while her husband goes away on business. However her plans go awry when he returns unexpectedly early, and a travelling student invents a ruse to save the day.


Leonarda cries when her husband, Pancracio, gets ready to go on a business trip, and as he’s leaving, she faints. But as soon as he is gone, she reveals it has all been for show; she and her servant, Cristina, have invited guests for the evening and are pleased the man of the house is finally out of their way so they can have some fun. Before their guests arrive, a student comes to the door and asks for shelter, and the women agree to feed and house him for the night. The guests are the local sexton and the barber, and they mock the student’s poor dress and lack of money, but the women are determined to do their good deed in keeping him safe for the night. Out on the road, the husband runs into trouble with a carriage wheel, and is forced to turn back home. Meanwhile the sexton, barber, Leonarda and Cristina make merry, feasting and playing music and indulging in sexual innuendo. The husband returns home, and Leonarda stalls for time while the men hide. Once she finally lets Pancracio in, the student makes a noise and is discovered in his hiding place; but he talks his way out of the situation by claiming to know some tricks he learned in the Cave of Salamanca. He claims he can conjure devils that look just like local townsfolk.  Indeed he calls forth the sexton and the barber and the husband is duped and amazed at the student’s clever magic tricks. Pancracio agrees to allow the ‘devils’ to dine with them that evening, and the student stays for dinner as well. The sexton sings a final song about the wonders of the Cave of Salamanca, and after a jibe at poets and with the husband wondering if these ‘devils’ will eat human food, they all retire to their dinner for a friendly feast.


There is a mediaeval legend about a magic cave in Salamanca in which ‘the devil himself gave lessons in astrology, magic and the occult sciences to seven students for seven years’ (Smith 1996: 162). Scholars have also found links between Cervantes’ play and a novella by Bandello (I, 35), as well as with Timoneda’s Patraña 10 (See Cervantes 1998: xlvi, Fichter 1960 and Recoules 1972). The characters are drawn from stock figures common to this genre of short, comical one-act plays, although Cervantes’ scheming student in this play is singled out as slightly more ingenious than his stock counterparts. See Smith 1996: 113 and García 1951.

Critical response

The sexual game-playing and trickery in this play is similar to that in El viejo celoso, but here the introduction of the student character with connections to witchcraft and sorcery adds a further dimension. The element of the play’s title, the magical ‘Cave of Salamanca’, inserts a mysterious and occult element into an otherwise traditional setting of a wife tricking her gullible husband in order to bring another man into the house. For more on the connections in this play between adultery and witchcraft, see Cervantes 1998: xlvii-xlix.

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1995. ‘Entremés de la cueva de Salamanca’. In Entremeses, ed. Nicholas Spadaccini, pp. 237-56. Madrid, Cátedra.

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1998. ‘La cueva de Salamanca’. In Entremeses, eds. Florencio Sevilla Arroyo and Antonio Rey Hazas, pp. 151-69. Madrid, Alianza

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

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1996. ‘The Magic Cave of Salamanca’. In Eight Interludes, trans. Dawn Smith, pp. 111-25. London, Everyman

  • Fichter, William L. 1960. ‘La cueva de Salamanca y un cuento de Bandello’. In Studia Philologica: Homenaje ofrecido a Dámaso Alonso, vol. I, pp. 525-8. Madrid, Gredos (in Spanish)

  • García Blanco, Miguel. 1951. ‘El tema de la cueva de Salamanca y el entremés cervantino de este título’, Anales cervantinos, 1, 73-109 (in Spanish)

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

  • Recoules, Henri. 1972. ‘Cervantes y Timoneda y los entremeses del siglo XVII’, Boletín de la Biblioteca Menéndez y Pelayo, 48, 231-91 (in Spanish)

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

  • Spadaccini, Nicholas. 1986. ‘Writing for Reading: Cervantes’s Aesthetics of Reception in the Entremeses’. In Critical Essays on Cervantes, ed. Ruth El Saffar, pp. 162-75. Boston, G. K. Hall

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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 25 February 2011.

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