The Licentiate Doctor Glass Case or the Licentiate Doctor Vidriera concerns itself with the themes of lunacy and wisdom, man of letters and man of arms, identity, virtue, vice, picaresque, travel, quest for fame, social class, and social mobility. Vidriera’s eccentricity captivates the crowd and draws him fame and attention. The assumed name of “Vidriera” can be the way that Rodaja perceives himself as a fragile and vulnerable object of society’s taunts, jibes, and abuses. Vidriera’s insane retorts and reactive utterances were considered wise and entertaining by the general crowd. Sanity does not attract the crowd to Vidriera anymore, nor does the author derive any interest in Vidriera after his recovery. Society does not accept overachievers, and Vidriera loses his luster as an individual when we observe him regaining his clarity of intellect and reason. Some prodding questions surround the source of the social ostracism toward Vidriera, his sanity or his insanity, the echo of the ‘mad’ Vidriera intonating the accepted principles and the sentiments of the community, the fulfillment of Rodaja’s life or lack thereof, Rodaja’s true friends, and the form of this novella as subversive literature.
The main protagonist never gives out his true identity. His assumed name, “Rodaja,” means “slice or a small wheel,” and “Rueda” means “slice or wheel.” This transition represents, to me, a metamorphosis in maturity. One may think that Tomas Rodaja incarnates the prototype of the Renaissance man because he attempts to be both a man of arms and a man of letters at the same time. Therein he finds fame in both vocations, however, in a different way from what he expected. He cherishes the values of the Cervantine society. He is widely traveled in Europe and sees all the wonders and great cities of interest. He does some seafaring. He seeks to honor his parents and lineage by distinguishing himself.
In another way, he does not incarnate the Renaissance man because he is an insane guy and the victim of a near-tragic poisoning. His fame can be translated in part as nothing else but ridicule, to the delight of the narrator and the citizens of the village.
Studies are a refuge and a way of escape for Rodaja, because through them he can attain heights that he never imagined and achieve his heart’s desires and ambitions. He gets his name from being a doctor. He uses his studies as an excuse to escape after the extended invitation of Captain Valdivia to return home to the familiar comforts of life and to get away from the hardships of marine life. Rodaja has fortune, options, and opportunity. Destiny determines the direction of the protagonists. The protagonist uses his wits to live by ripping off, mugging, stealing, and deceiving.
In this novella, it seems that Cervantes is arguing that a person may not be an exclusive product of the environment. Rodaja has more religious convictions than when we first meet him. Madness is used to satirize and parody. Even though Rodaja makes his own decisions, he does not have total control over his destiny because love destroys parts of his life without his will. Madness shows how society treats those who have lost their senses and clear reasoning (ridicule). The insane are the only ones who may speak the truth without being punished. It is a strategy to evade the censure of the king and bishop. Interspersed in the novel are traces of the “bildungsroman’ genre, in which one sees the protagonist develop and mature from a child to a full adult.
Secondary characters give us insight into society and its reaction to Roadaja’s bout of madness. It reveals that many associate with Rodaja only for his amusement. Rodaja is likened to a fool and a comedian instead of a victim and someone who is to be pitied. The secondary characters also modify the genre of the novella from a narrative to a picaresque type, which involves the entire society.’ As a result, they operate as catalysts, actively changing the course of Rodaja’s life, such as the students of Salamanca, the anonymous seducer, the priest, and Captain Valdivia. The most pivotal part of the story line stands as Rodaja’s insanity, striving to improve his socioeconomic conditions, and this approach is much more realistic than the aristocratic status of the nobles and the flawless protagonists.
The most interesting part of the story in the novella is the madness of Rodaja. Rodaja struggles to improve his social status, and this is a more realistic approach than the aristocratic and noble status of the idealist protagonists. The traits of the picaresque can be found in El Licenciado Vidriera, such as the independence of the protagonists at a tender age; the role of parents in the novel is almost absent. The ruffians do not identify their parents and hide their roots so that they shield them from further dishonor. The protagonist is poor, and this reflects the economic and social crises of Spain, where immediate needs take priority and the supervision of children and the maintenance of the family unit(s) get neglected. The protagonist struggles against hunger and fights for survival by any means. Unlike the typical picaresque genre, however, Rodaja moves away from criminality and resolves to apply himself and follow his goals constructively.
In the last page of the novella, Tomas Rodaja resolves that he is a reformed man. This introduces Cervantes common theme of restoration, which often appears in the form of marriage, but in this case the protagonist changes from folly to wisdom. The new Tomas Rueda seeks to clear his name and determines to be one who will think first before he speaks. He changes his name and identity as a means to reflect this transformation to society. Rodaja attributes divine intervention as the means of his return to reason. He encourages the crowd to pose any question of importance to him, and he would be inclined to assist them more constructively than before. In this process, Rodaja nullifies his prior solutions to their questions as nonsense and dismisses them. Rodaja also does not neglect his roots and still asserts that poverty played a role in shaping his life; he is from a humble background and only tried to earn a livelihood through his studies. Through industry and careful application, he succeeded.
Rodaja is fed up with the crowd badgering him for amusement since they could only contribute to his annoyance, vexation, and ruin. No one attempted to free him from his plight but a friar, so he justly asks the crowd to leave him alone. However, it is very admirable that Rodaja is still willing to help and share advice with his companions and countrymen, but in the privacy of his office with more thought and consideration.
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