MIGUEL DE CERVANTES:  DON QUIXOTE

 

            Don Quixote is divided into two parts (the first is 52 chapters">

MIGUEL DE CERVANTES:  DON QUIXOTE

 

            Don Quixote is divided into two parts (the first is 52 chapters">

MIGUEL DE CERVANTES:  DON QUIXOTE

 

            Don Quixote is divided into two parts (the first is 52 chapters">

MIGUEL DE CERVANTES:  DON QUIXOTE

 

            Don Quixote is divided into two parts (the first is 52 chapters, the second 74 chapters), published separately with an interval of ten years between.  Like Gargantua and Pantagruel, Don Quixote mixes realism and fantasy, but with the obvious difference that the fantasy is not here externally but rather located in the mind of the hero.  He is an impoverished gentleman who owns a small country estate in the Spanish province of La Mancha.  As the whole world today knows from the innumerable films, plays, paintings, and sculptures inspired by his story, he is so infatuated with the readings of romances of chivalry and particularly with the image of the knight-errant and his code – heroic adventurousness, helpful generosity toward the weak and the needy, the service of justice, acts of valor for valor’s sake and as an offering to a beloved lady – that he decides to equip himself in the proper manner and single-handedly revive the profession of knight-errantry.  Quixote’s spear and shield are old relics; his horse is the lean nag Rozinante; he leaves home at dawn, unnoticed, through a secret door.  To complete his credentials as a knight-errant, he chooses for the object of his devotion a peasant girl, whom his imagination transforms into the Lady Dulcinea del Toboso.  Stopping at an inn, which he sees as a castle, he compels the crooked innkeeper, in a scene accompanied by much jesting and slapstick comedy, to dub him knight.

 

            After he leaves the inn, Don Quixote’s first actions are his pathetically futile defense of a farm boy being lashed by his master, and his unsuccessful attempt to force a group of merchants from Toledo to perform an act of faith (i.e., to swear to the incomparable beauty of Dulcinea without having seen her). In the ensuing brawl, Quixote is unhorsed and badly mangled.  A fellow villager finds him in this condition and takes him back home on a donkey (Chapters 1-5).  Since Quixote’s troubles are attributed to his mad infatuation with the chivalry books in his library, the local curate and barber proceed to burn them; this proves to be a futile action, for he resumes his wanderings (Chapter 7), now with his newly appointed squire, Sancho Panza.  Their first adventure – probably the most famous of them all – is a fight against windmills, which Quixote declares to be giants; their second, an encounter with two Benedictine monks on their mules, whom Quixote sees as enchanters abducting a lady.  The consequent scuffles culminate in Quixote’s battle with a choleric attendant in the lady’s retinue (Chapters 8-9)

 

            After the significant exchanges between Quixote and his squire in Chapter 10, Chapters 11-17 (not in the anthology) take readers to a pastoral world.  There follow some of the more legendary Quixotic exploits: the attack on the flock of sheep, which the Don sees as an enemy army, and the disastrous effort to liberate a chain of galley slaves (Chapters 18 and 22).  Chapters 23 through 32 (not in the anthology) are the Sierra Morena chapters.  In that region of woods and forests, Quixote decides to spend a period of retirement and penance, in imitation of his knightly models; from there he dispatches Sancho to his lady Dulcinea with a letter for her.  The squire never delivers the letter but returns to the Sierra Morena with the curate and the barber, their aim of course being to bring the Knight of the Mournful Countenance back to his senses and his home.  In the interval between departure from Sierra Morena and return to the village, they spend a period, long and full of incidents (Chapters 32-46, not in the anthology), at the place they had left in Chapter 17, the inn/castle of which Sancho has dire memories.

 

            Both the Sierra Morena and the inn sequences are enriched by exemplary cases of romantically difficult loves, presented through the technique of the story-within-the-story, the fashion of which Cervantes originated.  In the intimate setting of the inn, the intricate vicissitudes of the two major couples – Cardenio and Lucinda, Fernando and Dorotea – have their happy endings.  Their connection with the Quixote plot is made through the character of the beautiful Dorotea, who on the urging of the curate and the barber has persuaded Quixote to leave Sierra Morena and return to the inn, to him an enchanted castle, by playing the part of Princess Micomicona, a “damsel in distress.”  To the outside world (when Quixote and Sancho are in danger of arrest for their attempt to liberate the slaves), Quixote’s rescuers use as a plea his insanity, but in dealing with him they use his own visionary notions and convince him that he is himself the victim of enchantments as they carry him back to his village (Chapter 52, the last of Part I).  Of the curate’s and the barber’s two aims – to bring Quixote home and to “cure” him –  the first has been achieved, but not the second.

 

The most important thing that happens to Quioxote and Sancho at the beginning of Part II is the realization that their adventures have been narrated in a book.  Quixote, of course, is not cured (in the first chapter of  Part II he has declared to the curate and the barber:  “A knight-errant I shall live and die”), nor is Sancho less desirous of becoming “governor of an island,” as his master has promised him.  It is Sancho who tells Quixote that they have been put into a book, the source of that information being the young Sanson Carrasco, just back from the University of Salamanca, where he has received his bachelor’s degree.  Chapter 3 is the point at which Cervantes, through Quixote’s conversing with Carrasco, amiably glorifies the popularity of his book (i.e., Part I) in other countries as well as Spain and debates the objections of the critics as reported by Carrasco.

 

From Chapter 8 on (Chapters 8-11 are not in the anthology), the two adventurers are on their way again.  In the country around El Toboso, Sancho saves himself from trouble by assuring Quixote that his failure to recognize the beautiful Dulcinea in the country wench confronting him comes from devilish spells and enchantments.  As they move on toward Saragossa, there is a troublesome encounter with a company of players in their costumes – strange apparitions, including “the Devil” – on their way to a performance of The Parliament of Death.  The two most memorable encounters follow (Chapters 12-17).

 

The first is with Sanson Carrasco.  Carrasco, having joined the ranks of the would-be rescuers of Quixote from his folly, tries to do something decisive about it by meeting Quixote on his own terms:  as a knight (first called the “Fearless Knight of the Mirrors,” then the “Knight of the Wood”), Carrasco plans to challenge and defeat Quixote in a duel. The plan fails as the Knight of the Wood is himself unhorsed and vanished by the fury of the mad Don. Quixote’s other significant encounter is with a kind, wise gentleman, Don Diego de Miranda, who witnesses Quixote’s courage as he provokes a lion to come out of its cage and fight.  Appropriately placed after Quixote’s victorious interlude, this episode – a pivotal instance of Quixote’s idea of gratuitous valor – has a semi-comic ending, which is fully balanced by Quixote’s speech on “the meaning of valor,” one of the most moving and eloquent speeches.  Aroused to a puzzled admiration, Don Diego invites Quixote to be his guest. 

 

Chapters 19 through 21 (not in the anthology) consist once more of a story-within-a-story.  It tells of the planned marriages between the fair Quiteria, loved by the poor shepherd Basilio, and the rich Camacho; on the day of the wedding Quixteria is abducted by Basilio, her true love, much to her delight and with Quixote’s wholehearted support.

 

From this point on, the four main narratives of Don Quixote, Part II, treat the hero’s descent to the cave of Montesinos (Chapters 22-23, not in the anthology); Quixote’s and Sancho’s long stay at the castle as the guests of a duke and duchess (Chapters 30-63, not in the anthology, their stay in  Barcelona, the scene of Quixote’s last duel and lamentable defeat [Chapters 64-65); and the hero’s return to his village and his death Chapters 73-74).  The peculiar character of the Montesinos sequence is that it is narrated by the hero himself to his incredulous listeners after he has been lifted from the cave; to all appearances, it is a dream in which Quixote has been granted visions of ancient kingdoms and of his enchanted Dulcinea.  A dreamlike atmosphere also pervades the long scenes at the castle, but now it is a manipulated illusion, the result of theatrical pranks played by the duke and duchess and their retinue of idle jesters on the knight and his squire, who are now famous everywhere for their drolleries.   

 

One of the castle scenes concerns Dulcinea:  a prankster, dressed as Death and pretending to be the magician Merlin, reveals as the harsh condition of her disenchantment that Sancho must submit to 3300 lashes, a sentence of that course will never be carried out.  Another scene involves Sancho.  Conducted, blindfolded, to a nearby village that he supposes to be the island of Barataria, he is given the promised governorship. Sancho’s victory consists in the fact that he will prove to be a good “governor,” beloved by the villagers.  The crucial Barcelona episode (Chapters 64-65) is staged by Sanson Carrasco, who turns up in a new disguise as the Knight of the Moon and this time defeats Quixote. The Don, after flirting with the idea of a new life enacting a pastoral play instead of a romance of chivalry, returns to his village to sicken and die (Chapters 73-74).

 

Three literary traditions make their presence felt in Don Quixote:  the epic or romance of chivalry, the adventure story of the picaro or vagabond, and the pastoral narrative of shepherds and their loves.  The “picaresque” tradition is named from the picaro, the stock rogue-hero of many popular tales dealing with life in the undergrounds of society, where robbers, tramps, and various eccentrics meet.  This tradition contributes to the “realistic” or “Sancho” aspects of Cervante’s story.  Its major literary formulation is the anonymous novel Lazarillo de Tormes (first published in 1554), the influence of which was enormous at the time and indeed may be traced through eighteenth-century English fiction and down to our own time.

 

As for the pastoral romance, this tradition has its roots in Greek and Roman antiquity from Theocritus to Virgil and flourished during the Renaissance in such works – known to Cervantes and cited by him – as the Arcadia of Jacopo Sannazzaro (1457-1530) and most particularly the Diana of Jorge de Montemayor (ca. 1520-1561).

 

 

 

 

 

What matters for us, of course, is what Cervantes made of these backgrounds:  a work so new and absorbing it is impossible to lay it down, and peopled by two creations, Quixote and Sancho, who have become part of our everyday mental furniture.  First analysis can center effectively on the figure of Don Quixote as a blind hero, fool, and ultimately wise fool, with the contributions of successive attitudes to our complexity of feelings about him.  A second can focus in similar ways on Sancho and his functions in the story.  And a third can deal with the nature and development of the relationship between the two.  The terms “parody” and “satire” are in constant play in Don Quixote Parody is ordinarily a magnification of the characteristics of a particular style to the point at which its absurdity becomes unmistakable – in the case of Don Quixote, the inflated highfalutin style of the chivalric romances. 

 

Topics for Discussion

 

1.         We may grow attached to a fictional character in such a way that it becomes a solid point of reference, something “truer than life.”  Granted that Quixote and other characters in the novel have acquired that kind of “reality,” take any number of examples, major and minor, and analyze by what verbal devices Cervantes produces our perception of them.  How can we extend these differences between our perception of a character in fiction and one on stage or in a film?

 

2.         Don Quixote has been and still is held to be “great” literature.  Yet one of Cervantes’ most respected contemporaries, Lope de Vega, considered it trash.  There is evidence of a similar duality of attitude regarding them with a mixture of over contempt and secret fascination.  Can you think of forms of writing in our own time that are similarly both admired and condemned and compare/contrast them to Don Quixote?

 

3.         What constitutes a hero of a piece of fiction?  One way to put it is that he is the one who determines and qualifies the actions and attitudes of the other characters.  Show with specific evidence that Quixote is a hero in this sense, examining the characters of Sancho, the curate, and the barber, Don Diego de Miranda, Sanson Carrasco.

 

4.         Don Quixote has become a world figure not only as the hero of a celebrated novel but also as one of the main emblems of Spain.  Discuss ways in which he can be compared, in his popularity and representativeness, to heroes of ancient epics we have read.

 

5.         Quixote has been described as the most “autonomous” character in literature – a supreme example of the phenomenon by which a fictional character acquires a life of its own, independent of its inventor.  Show how this paradoxical situation is consciously dealt with by Cervantes in the way in which the narrator “reports” on his hero to the reader.

 

6.         Discuss Don Quixote, the character, as an epic hero and his characterization as the romantic epitome of chivalry.

 

7.         Discuss Don Quixote as the story of the “rogue-hero” (picaro), dealing with life in the undergrounds of society, where robbers, tramps, and various eccentrics meet.

 

8.         Discuss Don Quixote as a parody.

 

9.         Discuss episodes in your own experience that suggest how much of the way we feel – or think we ought to feel – derives from what we read (or see on television or in the movies).  In societies like ours, heavily influenced by the media that are the contemporary equivalent of the books that drove Don Quixote, can we have “authentic” emotions?  (What makes Don Quixote need to challenge so many of the people he meets to a duel: what is the source of his “violent behavior”?)