Out of the Wings

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Pedro de Urdemalas (1614-1615), Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Pedro, the Great Pretender (2004), translated by Roberto Cossa



Cervantes, Miguel de. 2004. Pedro, the Great Pretender, trans. Philip Osment. London, Oberon

Pedro has decided to join the gypsies, and he gives an autobiographical speech here to curry favour and put forth his qualifications to the gypsy chief.
Sample text

Maldonado, that you may see
why it is my firm intention
to change my whole identity,
will you give me your attention
for a moment?




The story you're about to hear
is going to make it very clear
if I'm cut out for gypsy ways.


Begin your tale! No more delays!
And I’ll lend an attentive ear.


Left on a doorstep as they say
I never knew my father's name,
where I came from, a sad, sad fate!
A heavy weight on my life!
Who took me in, I haven't a clue,
but what I do know is this boy got
indoctrinated by the brothers;
I was like all those others, those scabby
shabby boys, learning to pray
and to starve all day because
they don't give you food there
but they give lashings away.
At the same time, I'm learning
how to read and write and I'm
learning how to lie and be fly like a fox,
learning how to steal from the collection box.
But as I got bigger this life
got too small. So I followed the call
of the sea; I decided to be
a cabin boy going to the Indies
and back, in a ship, in a fleet,
in my rough linen shirt and
trousers the same covered in tar,
with not a penny to my name.
I was frightened in the doldrums,
and when the storm was at its height.
With Bermuda in sight
I was terrified.
Lost the taste for charred dry bread,
put an end to drinking rations;
that devilish wine'll bring final reunion
with your Maker and last communion!
So once again I am near the banks
of the river Guadalquivir,
and thanks to its swelling flow
back to Seville I go,
where I fill the role -
it's a base vile one but still -
of a thieving delivery boy -
no choice but to enter that employ!
and though I'm not a priest, at least
I was able to collect many tithes
and besides save many things from going astray,
for which I may be judged some day.
But then this job was suspended,
a slight mishap ended it and I had
to become the lad of a bad man,
a ruffian; dangerous work!
It taught me about the rough life
out there in the underworld, how to stir up strife,
spreading rumours in the wind,
making a whisper deadlier than a knife.
My master was a master
of the art of picking pockets;
his attack on them was violent,
it was deadly, it was silent.
But he was caught red handed
by an arm of the law -
on the rack he turned confessor,
saw the light like St Paul, but lacked
the martyr's call, I mean calling.


Call it 'call' or 'calling' and
call him Saul or Paul, just don't start
spouting Latin or Greek that's all.


For his sins he got a flogging
much to the chagrin of the hangdog
hangman, who's still downcast!
I was told so by a grass.
Alas my master was taken
to the galleys and many Sally's
in the alleys, many women of the street,
wept and in despair tore their hair.
So no longer under the care
of my knight from Andalucía,
I was forced to be a bearer
for a soldier on manoeuvres,
who was a rascal of the kind
who was minded to stay behind
when called on to advance unless
he was being advanced his pay.
I caught chickens that deserted!
And from vouchers for our lodgings I made profits untold!
Woe is me, if heaven won't pardon
these deeds when they're told.
That life taught me a lesson -
what a slap in the face it gave -
I learnt the malingering soldier
also ends up a galley slave.
So I took a post on the coast
as an exciseman where I was heir
to a thousand piratical shocks
but with ten thousand perks to spare.
But to allay my fears that I
might be abducted to Algiers,
I fled to Cordoba and made
my living selling orangeade
and firewater, but drank away
my month's wages in a day:
for the fire burns your money
‘cos you spend it like water.
My master threw me out,
waved a gun in my face.
I ended up, by misfortune,
in an Asturian's place.
He made waffles for selling,
so it was waffles I sold,
but I wagered my waffles
and lost ten basketfuls.
When I left, I met a blind man,
and I served him ten months too,
if only those months had been years,
I'd know more than Merlin ever knew.
I learnt to speak the patter,
how to be a blind man's eyes,
how with genteel graceful language
to make prayers that solemnise.
But then my good old blind man
died and left me, like Saint Paul,
penniless but wiser,
clear-sighted and sharp withal.
So then I was a mule-boy
and then a cardsharp's lad -
this cad confused you by losing
then pounced when you followed suit.
He'd conjure tricks out of nowhere:
with a single hand I've seen him deal
blows on his foes that made them reel
and feel stumped by thumps of his trumps.
Bumps and indentations, smudges
and notches and crenellations
were tricks that were all on the cards,
and polishing them till they dazzled,
and other devilish high jinks.
Even a lynx wearing the specs of El Cid
would be hoodwinked and not perceive
what he concealed up his sleeve.
The whole pack collapsed one day
and he had to throw in his hand:
they labelled him a cheat and hung
a card around him like a brand.
So I left him and came here
to the countryside, as you see,
to serve Martín Crespo, the mayor,
who loves himself less than he loves me.
I call myself Pedro the Great
but a fortune-teller read my hand,
foretold my fate from the lines
he saw in the palm and stated,
‘Pedro add to that word 'Great',
the word 'Pretender'; you will be
a king, a pope, a friar as well,
the figure that leads the carnival.
And through a gypsy, I foretell,
there's something that will befall you,
that King and Queen will take great joy
in hearing and in listening to.
Though you'll have many heavy jobs
for you there's only one career,
which, at the end, will let you be
everything I've told you here.’
And although I don't believe him,
still I sense deep down inside,
an inclination to become
all that I heard prophesied.
His prediction may be fiction,
but it's manifest in you,
I declare, from this time forth,
I'm going to be a gypsy too.


Magnanimous Pedro and Great Pretender,
the heart and column of the gypsy temple!
Come, initiate this noble plan,
which prompts and moves you, drives you, bears you on
to place yourself on the gypsy roll.
Come and soften the hard but tender heart
of her I’ve spoken of, that stolen girl,
who'll render you the happiest of men!


I have no doubt the outcome will be so,
I have the highest hopes of it, let's go.

They exit.

The above sample taken from the translation Pedro, the Great Pretender (2004) by Roberto Cossa is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 24 February 2011.

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