The Black Legend endures. Nowhere is this anti-Hispanic prejudice more evident than in present-day manifestations of anti–Latin American sentiment in US academia, anti-immigration hatred at the US-Mexican border, and anti-Indigenous rhetoric in Latin America. These biased iterations were inherited from a Northern European, anti-Spanish mindset that developed in reaction to Spanish imperialism over four hundred years ago. Muñoz's monograph explores the historicity of the Black Legend in early modern England through analyses of the Spanish romance in translation, highlighting how this and other Spanish literature influenced both Tudor and Stuart English writers. The book is divided into six stand-alone chapters that analyze the effect of transforming Spanish romance into anti-Spanish prejudice in England, the Americas, and Australia. Because it dialogues with Cervantes's influence on early modern England, this book will interest scholars of Spanish and English language and culture regarding the reception and transformation of chivalry in England.
Muñoz builds upon works by Barbara Fuchs, William S. Maltby, and Raymond Williams to explore how the Black Legend developed in England as a response to Spanish Habsburg nationalism and imperialism. The author identifies a key moment in this development: the undeclared war between England and Spain (1585–1604), after which English writers focused intensely on defining England and ethnic Englishness, as defined by the social Otherness of Spain and Spanishness. Muñoz highlights the complicated role that Spanish poetry, drama, novels, and chivalric romance, collectively named “tales of love and arms,” played in inspiring prejudice in English culture (7). English translations of these works, at once embraced for their popular culture appeal and rejected for their promotion of Spanish imperialism, intrigued readers through grand heroic adventures, classical myth and epic, and the supernatural hero. Such notions of conquest subsequently inspired the “colonizer mindset” that would fuel England's imperialistic endeavors (9). Specifically, Spain's contribution to secular fiction during its Siglo de Oro (Golden Age) was perceived as corrupting humanists of the era by idealizing Spanish imperialism, while the romance would later become associated with women readers through a feminization of the literary genre.
Reader reception of Spanish romance therefore created what we today call gender and social binaries in early modern English society, underscoring how gender, social class, and education level, as determining referents, defined the English reception of these translations. The uneducated working class believed that what they read (or heard) was true, while erudite individuals understood the satire and humor associated with consuming Spanish romances. English soldiers preparing to meet Spanish troops in war pored over Amadís de Gaula, a famous chivalric novel made even more famous in Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605–15), to help them prepare for battle. Women were more attracted to the romantic aspects of chivalry. This bifurcation between reality and fantasy necessarily invokes Don Quixote, in which Cervantes satirized chivalry as backward thinking. For English readers, nothing could have been more relatable, and the novel was widely read for its condemnation of the Spanish romance genre. This would culminate later in the English Enlightenment as evidenced by translations, illustrations, the promotion of Don Quixote tourism, and the reinterpretation of the quixotic in mock epics.
The positive reception of Cervantes's novel as humorous underscored sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England's mindset: to criticize and satirize chivalry and all things Spanish. Yet this social norm also represented a model upon which England formulated an expansion of its own imperialistic endeavors to form the British Empire. Additionally, the sudden surge of printed editions of Spanish-language romance translations during the war years 1585–1604 also propagated the dissemination of Spanish romances to readers of all social classes, facilitating the binary reader reception stated above.
The author concludes by emphasizing how English readers were already predisposed to “turn Spain into an object of derision” and to “regard Cervantes as an ideal spokesperson for the backwardness of Roman Catholicism” (196). By linking Cervantes to the promotion of the Black Legend as the “Spanish problem” (10), Muñoz enters a long academic discussion that, just as the Black Legend, appears to have no end in sight.