An interpretation of the Hispanic folk hero, Pedro Urdemalas

Goodwyn, Frank, 1911-2001
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Since before the sixteenth century, Hispanic peoples have been telling and writing stories about a picaresque folk hero known as Pedro Urdemalas. There is not one cycle of tales about this figure, but a number of them scattered over Spain and the Spanish Americas. Each cycle has a vague geographical boundary and peculiarities of detail occasioned by the local environment, but all possess roughly the same plots and portray the same unscrupulous Pedro. Although Juan del Encina, Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Salas Barbadillo and other well-known authors have written about Pedro Urdemalas, no scholar has heretofore endeavored to study the character systematically, together with the social, economic and psychological implications of his widespread popularity. To do this, and to evaluate the character as a hero, as a symbol and as an expression of the spirit of the Spanish-speaking masses, is the purpose of this project. First, I shall analyze the name itself and discuss its phonetic variations in different parts of the Hispanic world. Then I shall consider the statements in which story tellers and writers have revealed their notions of the kind of person Pedro is. The traits about which all or most narrators are in agreement will be taken as established characteristics of the hero, whereas those which are not in accord with the majority of comments will be discarded as merely the opinions of some individuals. For the purpose of bringing order into the numerous and confused elements of the Urdemalas tradition, I shall divide the tales into three main groups: first, motifs that Pedro shares with tricksters of other nations; second, original creations of individual narrators in which Pedro figures; third, stories that have been repeatedly and widely told about Pedro but which have not been attributed to any other character. Attention will also be given to three parallel literary figures which have something in common with Pedro; Don Juan, the pícaro, and the gracioso