Through his own studies and brilliance, a peasant servant of two students becomes an educated man. Persuaded by an army recruiter of the soldier's good life, he travels Europe before returning to his studies and becoming a licensed graduate of the law. An enamored woman inadvertently poisons him with a presumed love potion, leaving him crazy, believing he is made of glass. The Glass Graduate gains fame and fortune for his wit and wisdom, despite (because of) his folly. Cured by a cleric, his former large following rejects the now sane professional. He returns to the good life of soldiering.


This novella exposes social foibles and the social construction of madness through the archetype of the wise fool. The poisoned quince, reminiscent of Eve's apple, combines sorcery and religious possession as early etiologies for mental illness--ones present still in certain cultures; and, in the form of poison, reprised in the organic etiologies of contemporary Western nosology.

The Glass Graduate's particular delusion combines altered bodily perception, narcissism and grandeur. Through preciosity and protest the Glass Graduate forces social accommodation to his delusion, which becomes his force. Mocked and reviled, pitied and protected, he imposes through words and narrative his version of the world. Madness, as for Michel Foucault, is disenfranchised discourse, here tolerated and even celebrated. Restoration to the status of the enfranchised sane makes the socially pertinent though socially powerless truths spoken by the insane lose their harmless cachet. Simultaneously, the disinhibition, witticisms and audacity of insane discourse disappear.

Ordinary life with its ordinary obligations becomes more difficult than the disenfranchised extraordinary life of the brilliant student, the soldier, or the madman. The Glass Graduate survives by returning to soldiering. "The Glass Graduate," an "exemplary story," survives through an imaginative blend of literary devices, social observation, and epistemological inquiry.


First published: 1613, as El licenciado vidriera. Translated by C. A. Jones.

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Exemplary Stories



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