Rinconete and Cortadillo is one of the best of Cervantes’ short stories.
Two raggedy kids coincide at an inn on the road to Seville.
“What is your trade?” one asks the other as they lay in the shade at siesta time.
“I’m a cutpurse. And you?”
“I’m a card shark.” He shows his grimy deck, oval-shaped because the corners are worn off.
They like each other. “Why don’t we join up?”
“Great.” And they stand up and hug to formalize the pact.
They hope to make a good living as thieves in Seville, which is the biggest and richest city in Spain.
And in fact when they arrive they start off well, fleecing a couple of trusting clients. But soon they learn that if they are going to steal in Seville they must pay a tax to the mafia leader Monipodio. A porter takes them to his hideout and introduces them. They agree to join his organization. There are clear benefits: they must obey Monipodio’s orders and turn over a portion of what they steal, and in return he will protect them and keep them from being hanged or sent to the galleys.
The boys meet Monipodio and hand him a purse they’ve swiped
The rest of the story is about the ways of the little crook association and its strange and funny members.
These figures of the characters in Rinconete and Cortadillo, carved by Federico Coullaut-Valera, are on the monument to Cervantes in the Plaza de España, Madrid.
Cervantes gets a kick out of the way they talk and their mixture of religion and crime. The humor is sometimes reminiscent of Mark Twain and Steinbeck and Brecht.
Cervantes knew all about the underworld. He may have been a little crooked himself. There is some evidence that he started out at eighteen as a fugitive. Later he became a tax-collector in Seville and was accused of embezzlement (but then acquitted). He was in jail at least three times.
And after five years of card-playing as a prisoner in Algiers he knew every game and card trick any shark might pull. Some scholars think he may have lost a lot of money gambling.
Cervantes by Salvador Dalí
Cervantes had Rinconete and Cortadillo in his drawer while he wrote Don Quijote. After he became famous he published it with some other stories in a book he called Novelas Ejemplares (1612). It is one of the first short stories in our modern sense. One of Cervantes’ innovations was dialog. Stories by Boccaccio and Chaucer had little or none.
A Great Story by Cervantes 2 is about another of the stories in that collection: The Lawyer of Glass. A brilliant university student is fed a love potion by a woman he rejects and the poison makes him lose his mind. He believes he is made of glass.