This was before the printing press, so books were copied by hand on parchment, which made them expensive and rare. Most people didn’t read much, especially for pleasure. Instead, they listened to books at group readings for entertainment. Pero López de Ayala wrote at the end of the 14th century, “It also pleased me to hear these books many times,” especially Amadis.
Often enough, these books were read aloud during meals to audiences distracted by the soup or their dinner partners. A good story required plenty of action to capture and recapture the audience’s attention, as well as a declamatory narrative style. You can see this in the text, which often addresses the listeners as “vos” in Castilian or “ye” in English, which is the plural form of “you.”
You would have heard this book, not read it, and listened along with many other people. Indeed, the style of the original Castilian makes Amadis a stirring book to read aloud to an audience.
But around 1440, Gutenberg invented the printing press. By 1604, when Quixote was published, books had become more common and relatively inexpensive. Reading had become a private activity, and so, in the prologue, Cervantes addresses his readers with the second-person singular familiar form of “you”: “thou.”
That reader would curl up in a sunny alcove with Quixote as if it were a close friend, and the words from the page would travel directly to his or her thoughts. Cervantes could count on attentive readers, and so the kind of story he could tell them could be different: intimate and nuanced. —Sue Burke
MLA In-text citations: Writing that got you through high school won’t do in college.
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