Page Was Revised in 2008
Two excellent translations of Don Quixote—one
by Walter Starkie and the other by John Ormsby—were
used in the preparation
of the plot summary and accompanying notes.
Michael J. Cummings...©
a village on the plateau of La Mancha in south-central Spain lives a country
gentleman of fifty years named Alonso Quijano. As a hidalgo (a nobleman
of the lower ranks) he lacks the money and lavish amenities of the higher
Spanish nobles. Nevertheless, the rents he receives from his property enable
him to live a modestly comfortable life. Residing with him in his home
are his twenty-year-old niece, a middle-aged housemaid, and a man to saddle
his horse, work his fields, and perform odd jobs.
maintain his tall, thin frame, Quijano eats meat hashes, bacon and eggs,
lentils, and on Sundays an occasional pigeon. When he dresses up, he wears
a handsome suit with a jerkin, velvet stockings, and—for special activities
such as attending mass on holy days of obligation—velvet pantofles (slippers).
great passion in life is to discuss and read about knights of old and their
weaponry, their battles, and their ladies. It is not uncommon
for him to argue at length with the village priest and barber over who
was the best of the knights. Among the names that surface in their arguments
are Palmerin of England, Amadis of Gaul, and Amadis’s brother, Don Galaor.
of Quijano’s favorite knights is Rodrigo Díaz de Divar, known as
the Cid, who conquered Valencia and became a national hero. But Quijano
says the Cid could not compare with the Knight of the Burning Sword, who
killed two giants with one blow. He in turn could not compare with Bernardo
del Carpio, who slew the fabled Roland of Roncesvalles. However, none of
these heroes, Quijano believes, could compare with his favorite of favorites,
Reinaldos of Montalban, who stole a golden idol of Mahomet.
taken with the tales of great knights is Quijano that he spends entire
days reading books about them. At night, he continues his reading until
the sun rises. Then the whole cycle begins anew. In time, his lack of sleep—and
the burden of tales he carries in his brain—undermine his sanity. So disoriented
does he become that he decides one day to take up knight-errantry himself,
donning an old suit of armor left behind by his grandfather and a headpiece
with a missing visor that he replaces with a cardboard flap. Further rummaging
produces the necessary weaponry. A bony barnyard nag becomes his trusty
steed, which he names Rosinante, and a peasant girl from the neighboring
village of Toboso becomes his lady fair. It does not matter that he has
never spoken to this damsel, called Aldonsa Lorenzo. Quixote thinks of
her as his own and imagines she has a romantic name, Dulcinea del Toboso.
He pledges to perform valorous feats in her honor. Finally, he has an innkeeper
dub him Don Quixote de La Mancha, a name that took him eight days to invent.
his first adventure, he comes across a man named Juan Haldudo lashing his
shepherd boy, Andrés, who is stripped to the waist and tied to a
tree. Quixote thinks Haldudo is an evil knight. With his lance poised,
Quixote challenges him to a joust. Frightened, Haldudo backs off, claiming
that the boy is receiving what he justly deserves because he loses one
sheep every day while watching over Haldudo’s flock. But Quixote, who sees
himself as a champion of the weak and defenseless, says he will run Haldudo
through unless he unties Andrés and pays him whatever he owes the
boy for his labor. After releasing Andrés, Haldudo swears by the
code of chivalry that he will pay him his due, nine months’ wages. Taking
Haldudo at his word—after all, he swore a knightly oath—the mighty caballero
rides off, satisfied that he has righted a wrong. Haldudo then seizes Andrés
by the arm, ties him again to the tree, and beats the boy senseless.
riding two miles, Quixote encounters Toledo businessmen on their way to
the city of Murcia to trade for silk. Halting Rosinante in the middle of
the road, he sizes up these approaching “knights” and makes the following
announcement: “Let all the world stand still if all the world does not
confess that there is not in all the world a fairer damsel than the Empress
of La Mancha, the peerless Dulcinea of El Toboso.”
travelers at first try to reason with the crazed knight, to no avail. When
he charges, Rosinante trips. Man and horse take a tumble. Then Quixote
suffers a beating.
he returns home for money and a respite from his adventures, his well-meaning
friends burn the books that steeped him in insanity and try to prevent
him from returning to the field of battle. But Quixote is resolved to remain
a knight. Because every knight needs a squire, Quixote persuades a peasant
farmer, Sancho Panza, to assume the role after promising to bestow on him
a domain to rule over. In contrast to the tall, lanky Quixote, Panza is
short, with a proud belly, making them a peculiar-looking pair.
The Tilt Against Windmills
they ride off—Quixote on Rosinante and Panza on an ass named Dapple—they
encounter a formidable enemy: windmills that Quixote hallucinates into
evil giants. Although Pancho informs him that the monsters are really harmless
wind machines, Quixote attacks, his lance poised. One of the circling vanes
knocks him and Rosinante into a field. When he comes to, he says a magician
must have turned the giants into windmills to thwart his heroic attack.
Quixote is undaunted in his pursuit of the wild and woolly knight life.
After he rides forth again with Panza, he attacks two monks on mules as
big as dromedaries, believing the friars are transporting a captive princess
in a coach rumbling along some distance behind them. (The monks have nothing
to do with the coach or its entourage but are traveling separately.) During
the encounter, one monk falls off his mule and the other makes it to safe
ground a short distance away. While Quixote talks with the lady in the
coach, Sancho sets upon
the fallen monk, trying to steal his robes as spoils of war. In retaliation,
the monk’s two servants thrash Sancho and pluck out the hair of his beard.
The monks then ride off.
tells the woman in the coach—a Biscayan lady on her way to Seville to meet
her husband—that she and her retinue are to turn around and go to El Toboso.
There, she is to report to the peerless Lady Dulcinea to recount the story
of how the knight-errant Don Quixote de La Mancha rescued her. A squire
in her retinue tells Quixote to go to the devil, and they fight with swords.
A raging combat ensues in which Quixote loses part of an ear and half his
helmet to the blow of a sword. Nevertheless, he manages to vanquish the
squire. When Quixote is about to deal a death blow, the Biscayan lady and
her servant women persuade him to spare the squire with a promise that
they will go to Toboso to report to Dulcinea.
another rousing adventure, Don Quixote encounters shepherds and their sheep,
believing them to be a vast army on the march. When he attacks, Panza shouts,
"Come back, Señor Don Quixote; I vow to God they are sheep and ewes
you are charging! “
begins spearing the ewes, and the shepherds—using their slings—bombard
him with huge rocks that unhorse him. Then they knock out his teeth and
crack his ribs before moving on with their flocks.
a hand to his mouth to stop his teeth from falling out, Quixote tells Panza,
“All these tempests that fall upon us are signs that fair weather is coming
shortly, and that things will go well with us, for it is impossible for
good or evil to last for ever; and hence it follows that the evil having
lasted long, the good must be now nigh at hand.”
Attack on a Funeral Procession
indeed has good fortune on his next adventure, when he attacks a funeral
procession escorting a litter draped in black. He believes the litter holds
the body of a wounded or slain knight who was the victim of villainy. In
no time, he drives off the mourners, pallbearers, and priests, and Panza
commandeers supplies of food they left behind. What good fortune! However,
a young man who had fallen off a mule and broken a leg remains behind.
When Quixote asks him who killed the “knight” on the litter, the young
man answers, “God, by means of a malignant fever that took him.”
a rainstorm the following day, Quixote and Panza encounter a barber traveling
to a nearby town to serve two customers, one a sick man who needs to be
bled and the other a bewhiskered fellow who needs a shave. To assist him
in performing both services, the barber has a brass basin which, because
of the rain, he wears on his head to protect his hat. Quixote perceives
the barber as a knight, his donkey as a dappled steed, and the brass basin
as the fabled golden helmet of Mambrino. When Quixote charges him, the
barber falls from the donkey and runs away, leaving the basin behind. Quixote
claims his prize.
he and Panza come upon a line of chained prisoners being marched to service
as galley slaves. After Quixote speaks with them, he determines that their
offenses are minor and tells their overseers to release them. When the
overseers do not comply, Quixote attacks them. In a free-for-all, the prisoners
liberate themselves. Believing that the prisoners now owe him a favor,
Quixote asks them to go to Toboso to inform Lady Dulcinea of his heroism.
But they refuse his request. What is more, they attack Quixote and Panza,
raining stones on them. Then they strip them of certain articles of clothing.
other adventures, Quixote and Panza stop at an inn, where the great knight
experiences the adventure of adventures: a dream in which he slays many
giants with heroic thrusts of his sword. Alas, in the light of day, the
giants turn out to be the inkeeper’s goatskins of wine.
the barber and the priest—concerned about the mad Don—execute a plan in
which, with the help of a woman who pretends to be a princess, they capture
him in a cage and return him to his village. However, there is no containing
the great knight, who, by this time, is the subject of a book recounting
his exploits. Although his niece, Antonia, pleads with him to give up the
life of a knight-errant, he resolves to sally forth on new adventures.
Sancho Panza is also ready to ride off, pointing out to his skeptical wife,
Teresa, that he will one day be governor of his own island—as Quixote has
wishes to see Princess Dulcinea at her castle before he leaves. Earlier,
while out righting wrongs, he had written a letter to her that Panza was
supposed to deliver but did not, for he is well aware that Dulcinea is
a simple country maid and not a princess. Nevertheless, he does his best
to fulfill his master’s wish. Seeing three peasant girls, he tells Quixote
that one of them is Dulcinea and the other two her ladies-in-waiting. However,
he says, because a magician has put a spell on her, she appears quite ordinary—ugly,
in fact. After Quixote approaches her, he tells Panza, “She gave me a whiff
of raw garlic that made my head reel, and poisoned my very heart.” However,
Quixote accepts Panza’s word that Dulcinea—beauty of beauties—was the victim
and Panza then continue on in search of new adventures. In Quixote’s first
major enterprise, he agrees to do battle with the Knight of the Mirrors,
who sets a condition on the combat: If he defeats Quixote, the Don must
give up knight-errantry for a year. Quixote accepts the challenge. While
Sancho Panza stands by with the other knight’s squire, who has an unbelievably
large nose, Quixote strikes his adversary squarely with his lance, unhorsing
him. The defeated knight lies in a daze. When the Don removes his adversary’s
helmet, he notices that he looks exactly like Samson Carrasco, a student
whose father, Bartholomew, is a neighbor of Panza. Carrasco had returned
home to La Mancha from the university at Salamanca at about the same time
that Quixote and Panza returned to the village after their first round
of adventures. At that time, Carrasco told Panza that he had read the book
about him and Quixote, written by Cide Hamete Berengena. When meeting the
Don the first time, Samson said:
me kiss your mightiness's hand, Senor Don Quixote of La Mancha, for, by
the habit of St. Peter that I wear, though I have no more than the first
four orders, your worship is one of the most famous knights-errant that
have ever been. . . . “
Quixote’s request, Carrasco agreed to write verses that the Don could present
to Dulcinea. He also encouraged Quixote to take on new adventures at a
time when the curate, the priest, and Quixote’s niece were trying to persuade
him to remain home.
here he is a man with the same countenance as Carrasco lying at Quixote’s
feet. The Don concludes that a wizard had cast a spell making the Knight
of the Mirrors resemble Carrasco. When Sancho sees the face, he crosses
himself many times—convinced that a wizard has indeed worked some magic—and
urges his master to finish off the knight. After Quixote raises his sword
to strike a death blow, the defeated knight’s squire rushes up and informs
Quixote that the man is indeed Carrasco. This time, the squire no longer
has a large nose but one of normal size, and Panza recognizes him as Tom
Cecial, a neighbor who is a famous gossip.
it comes to light that Carrasco was in cahoots with the curate and the
barber in a scheme to trick Quixote into giving up knight-errantry—the
condition the “Knight of the Mirrors” set forth before his duel with Quixote.
Of course, no one expected the Don to win the duel.
follows this adventure with one in which he brawls with actors he at first
mistakes for evil beings because of the costumes they wear. But this incident
is nothing compared with the next, which begins when Panza sees a cart
approaching flying flags indicating that it is transporting property of
the king. In preparation for battle—for Quixote believes something sinister
is afoot—he grabs his helmet from Panza, unaware that the squire had been
using it to mix curds he bought from shepherds. When he puts it on, the
whey runs down over his face. He scolds Panza for loading the helmet with
curds, but Panza blames the devil and his enchanters for the deed. Quixote
accepts this answer, cleans the helmet and himself, and confronts the cart
driver and a man sitting next to him.
cart is this? What have you got in it? What flags are those?”
driver tells Quixote that his cart contains two caged lions which the governor
of Oran is sending the king as a gift. The man next to him, the lion keeper,
says that they are the largest lions ever brought from Africa, one male
and one female in separate cages. The two men are in a great hurry to reach
their destination to feed the lions, for they have not eaten all day and
are very hungry.
whelps,” Quixote calls them, saying he is ready to show the enchanter who
sent them to him that he cannot be intimidated.
Knight of the Lions
the keeper with his lance, he orders him to open the cages. Panza pleads
with Quixote not to confront the lions. But the Don, determined to have
his way, dismounts and draws his sword while Panza and the driver seek
refuge a safe distance away. After the keeper opens the cage of the male,
the gigantic beast stretches, yawns, pokes his head out the door a moment,
then turns around and lies down. When Quixote orders the keeper to poke
at the animal to arouse him, the latter tells the Don that he has demonstrated
great courage and that the lion has disgraced himself. The victory goes
to Quixote. The knight accepts this outcome but tells the keeper to be sure
to describe his heroic stand to Panza and the driver, which he does, telling
Sancho the lion quaked with fear when he beheld the fearsome Don. When
the keeper also promises to inform the king himself of the encounter, Quixote
tells him to say that it was the “Knight of the Lions” that faced down
the beast. Quixote then adopts that epithet as one by which he will be
his next adventures, Quixote resolves a spat between lovers, explores the
fabled Cave of Montesinos, attends a show in which puppets enact a battle
scene and Quixote attacks the puppets, and falls in with a duke and duchess
who play tricks on the Don and his squire. In one of the these tricks,
they fulfill Panza’s long-held dream of ruling over his own island. However,
it is not an island at all but a landlocked town. Nevertheless, Panza rules
wisely and even metes out justice with extraordinary skill.
all good things must come to an end. Quixote’s end comes when he battles
the Knight of the Full Moon, who makes the Don agree to a familiar condition:
that he abandon knight-errantry for a year if he loses. As the reader might
suspect, the Knight of the Full Moon is really Samson Carrasco, back for
another go-round with Quixote. But this time Samson wins the match.
defeated Don then decides to lead the life of a shepherd during the year
that he must give up knight-errantry. To work in the open air, to walk
through fields of flowers, to sleep under the stars—this is a life that
has appeal, he tells Panza. And Panza agrees. Unfortunately, on their first
night as shepherds, wild pigs run roughshod over them. Then a company of
horsemen capture and return them to the residence of the cruelly mischievous
duke and duchess, who play more tricks on them. Eventually Quixote and
Panza return home, where the Don tries to persuade others to go with him
into the fields to become shepherds. However, Quixote becomes sick and
begins edging toward death. Aware that he is not long for the world, the
Don declares himself now sound of mind and cured of knight-errantry in
spite of Panza’s emotional pleas to return with him once again to the field
of adventure. In his will, Quixote forbids his niece to marry a man who
reads stories about the knights of old. Then he dies—as Alonso Quijano,
an ordinary man of La Mancha.
The action takes place in
villages and countrysides in and around La Mancha, a high plateau (about
2,000 feet) in south-central Spain. There, the winters are cold and the
summers hot, and there is little rain between spring and fall. Modern La
Mancha retains much of the appearance it had in the time of Cervantes.
There are even windmills like those Don Quixote mistakes for many-armed
giants. Residents of the region began building the windmills in the late
1500's to grind corn.
Alonso Quijano (Don Quixote
de La Mancha): A country gentleman of south-central Spain who becomes
demented after spending whole days and nights reading books about the adventures
of medieval knights. He decides to become a knight himself, doing battle
with ordinary people he imagines as monsters or villainous knights. Although
he is insane, his fierce idealism—and his desire to right wrongs—is genuine,
contrasting with the insincerity, corruption, and cruelty of many of those
he encounters. Consequently, Quixote ironically becomes a kind of hero
even though he is presented as an antihero.
Sancho Panza: A simple
farmer who becomes Quixote's squire in hopes of ruling his own domain,
as the Don has promised he would one day do. Unlike the idealistic Quixote,
Panza is essentially a realist.
Teresa Panza: Wife
of Sancho Panza.
Sanchica Panza: Daughter
of Sancho Panza.
Village Priest and Barber:
Friends of Quixote. They concoct schemes to rescue the Don from his insanity.
Student who participates in the schemes of the priest and barber. He assumes
the identity of a knight in order to defeat Quixote in combat and thereby
cause him to give up knight-errantry.
Aldonsa Lorenzo (Dulcinea
del Toboso): A simple country girl whom Quixote designates as his lady
nag that becomes Quixote's horse.
Dapple: Sancho Panza's
Housekeeper of Quixote
Duke and Duchess:
Tricksters who make Quixote the butt of jokes.
Juan Haldudo: Cruel
landowner who whips his shepherd boy. Quixote threatens to kill Haldudo
for maltreating the boy.
Tom Cecial: Neighbor
Roque Guinart: Thief
who shows Quixote and Panza the way to Barcelona.
Goatherds, Clergymen, Actors, Businessmen: Persons whom Quixote encounters
during his adventures. He often imagines them as personages he has read
about in tales about knights and the age of chivalry. Some of these characters
regale Quixote with stories of their own.
Various Other Travelers
Don Quixote is a novel
of gentle comic satire. Its story centers on a daft country gentleman and
his sidekick, a humble farmer, who assume the roles of knight and squire
in quest of adventure in an age when chivalry is a rusty relic of a bygone
era. The novel was published in two parts, the first in 1605 and the second
in 1615. When Cervantes began the novel, his primary purpose was to parody
authors and readers of flowery books about knighthood and chivalry. However,
when his bumbling main characters—Don Quixote and Sancho Panza—took on
endearing qualities while exposing the jaded worldview and corruption of
Spanish society, the novel became much more than satire. On the one hand,
it extolled idealism at a time when people had lost their idealism; on
the other, it took the part of the humble against the proud, the weak against
the mighty, the poor against the rich. Moreover, it gave world literature
two characters known as much for their humanity as for their bungling knight-errantry.
Finally, it also did what Cervantes set out to do—poke fun at those romance
novels, which gained widespread popularity in Spain after Garci Rodriguez
de Montalvo wrote Amadis of Gaul, published in 1508. One of the
characteristics of the romance novel is its episodic plot structure, which
Cervantes adopted for Don Quixote.
I of Don Quixote was published in Madrid in 1605 by Francisco de
Robles on the press of Juan de la Cuesta. In the next six years, it was
also published in Lisbon, Valencia, Milan, and Brussels. The first English
translation of Part I, produced by Thomas Shelton, appeared in 1612. Part
II was published in Madrid in 1615, in Valencia and Brussels in 1616, and
Lisbon in 1617. The first English translation of Part II appeared in 1620.
and Point of View
Cervantes tells his story
like a jokester who keeps a straight face while playing a trick. In other
words, the tone is playfully serious. Great humorists have always recognized
this tongue-in-cheek, oxymoronic approach as highly effective. Even the
Three Stooges—or Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau—did not crack a smile
when executing broad slapstick. Cervantes writes in third-person point
of view most of the time, pretending to present a translation of an account
of Quixote’s adventures compiled by an Arab historian, Cide Hamete Benengeli.
Cervantes says he purchased the account in the form of pamphlets hawked
by a boy on the streets of Toledo, then hired a Spanish-speaking Moor to
translate the pamphlets from Arabic into Castilian Spanish, paying him
50 pounds of raisins and two bushels of wheat. At times, Cervantes halts
the narration of Quixote’s adventures while he discusses Benengeli’s pamphlets;
in these instances, he writes in first-person point of view. He also occasionally
allows a character to tell a story in first-person point of view as quoted
in the translation of the Benengeli account. For example, in quoted dialogue
at the beginning of Chapter 23 of Part 2, Quixote narrates his adventure
in the cave of Montesinos. His listeners are Sancho Panza and a scholar
who had guided him to the mouth of the cave.
narration in Don Quixote is rich in vivid imagery. One of the most
appealing descriptive passages in the book (Walter Starkie's translation)
occurs near the end of the novel when Quixote, resolving to become a shepherd
for a year, tells Panza of the life they will lead:
We shall wander through
the mountains, woods, and meadows, singing here, lamenting there, drinking
of the liquid crystals of the spring, or the limpid brooks, or the swelling
rivers. The oaks shall give us of their sweetest fruit with bountiful hand;
the trunk of the hard cork trees shall offer us seats; the willows, shade;
the roses, perfume; the spacious meadows, carpets embellished with a thousand
colors; the air, clear and pure, shall supply us breath; the moon and the
stars, light, in spite of the darkness of night; song shall give us delight,
and tears, gladness; Apollo, verses and love conceits whereby we shall
be able to win eternal fame, not only in the present age but also in those
these elegant words, Panza replies with characteristic earthiness: “By
God, but that kind of life squares entirely with me, corners and all .
. . .
the indented passage above, Quixote’s reference to Apollo—the Greek god
of poetry, music, prophecy, and medicine—is one of hundreds of allusions
that Cervantes uses to enhance the imagery and enliven the narration and
dialogue. Although many of these allusions are obscure, the reader can
usually make sense of the passages in which the allusions appear. For example,
when Quixote is about to attack a windmill (which he perceives as a giant
with many arms), he shouts the following threat containing an allusion:
"Though ye flourish more arms than the giant Briareus, ye have to reckon
with me" (Chapter 8, Part 1). In Greek mythology, Briareus was a gigantic
monster with 100 arms and 50 heads. Obviously, the reader does not need
to know specifically who Briareus was to get the sense of the passage.
Structure and Satire
the book in general is easy to understand for readers of the original Spanish
version as well as readers of good translations, inasmuch as the vocabulary
is relatively simple and the plot moves along in an orderly fashion that
takes the reader step by step through each chapter. For example, in Chapter
1 of Part 1, Cervantes says the aspiring knight first outfits himself in
a suit of armor, then obtains and repairs an old helmet he plans to wear.
Next, he designates a less-than-majestic barnyard hack as his trusty horse,
taking four days to devise an appropriate name for it, then spends eight
more days thinking up a noble name for himself. Finally, Cervantes reviews
in sequence Quixote’s preparations while adding one more step the Don will
So then, his armour being
furnished, his morion turned into a helmet, his hack christened, and he
himself confirmed, he came to the conclusion that nothing more was needed
now but to look out for a lady to be in love with.
sequential pattern makes it easy for the reader to tag along at Quixote’s
side without losing sight of what he is doing and when he is doing it.
Moreover, because each episode in the novel is a small tale complete in
itself, the reader can consume the book an adventure at a time—as if he
were consuming figs, each one sweet and delectable. When he puts the book
down at the end of an episode to resume living in the mundane world, he
can do so with the knowledge that he may return to Quixote’s fanciful world
at his leisure to take his place alongside the Don when he embarks on a
accompanying Quixote and Panza, the reader will find that the author’s
satire of Quixote and Panza strikes with the force of a down pillow. The
reason is that while writing the novel Cervantes grew to love these bumblers;
they became all the ordinary people of the world struggling to fulfill
their dreams. When Cervantes does resort to stinging derision, he aims
his barbs at the morally reprehensible upper classes and at the writers
of florid romances, whom he sometimes mocks by writing in their ornate
a Dream in the Face of Ridicule
Alonso Quijano dares to pursue
his dream as Don Quixote even though others chide and ridicule him for
doing so. Yes, he is mad. But doers of great deeds—or what they think are
great deeds—all exhibit a modicum of madness. Over the centuries, great
philosophers, inventors, scientists, explorers, statesmen have all had
a bit of Quixote in them. Socrates walked the streets of Athens barefooted,
asking annoying questions, while pursuing knowledge and helping others
to discover their intellectual shortcomings. His fellow Athenians ultimately
declared him a danger to society and sentenced him to death. Italian scientist
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) endured ridicule when he declared that the
earth orbited the sun. When American inventor Robert Fulton (1765-1815)
developed a submarine in Europe in 1800 and several years later constructed
a steamboat, the public greeted these inventions with skepticism. Seneca—the
Roman playwright, statesman, and philosopher—wrote, “There is no great
genius without some touch of madness.” John Dryden, the English poet, observed,
“Great wits are sure to madness near allied.” American poet Emily Dickinson
wrote, “Much Madness is divinest sense. . . .” True, Don Quixote is no
great wit, no genius, but a bumbling fool—a lunatic, one may say. But in
his folly, he demonstrates how to live with gusto and derring-do while
exposing many of the sane and rational people he encounters as cruel, fraudulent,
or corrupt. In his preposterous adventures, he achieves a kind of greatness
because of his relentless, never-say-die pursuit of his dream.
Upholding Moral Idealism
Don Quixote is an idealist
who attempts to enforce a moral code of honor and justice that the world
of his day seems to have abandoned. Even though he is mad, he realizes
that there are eternal, unchanging values that remain valid in a modern,
ever-changing world. This theme begins to emerge early in the novel when
Quixote comes to the rescue of a shepherd boy suffering a lashing at the
hands of his master. Unfortunately, the cruel master resumes the beating
after Quixote—having extracted a promise from the master that he will no
longer mistreat the boy—leaves the scene. But Quixote's naive acceptance
of the master's promise actually underscores his idealism. He believes
that a man who has sworn an oath will live up to that oath. Truth is sacred;
an honorable man will not go back on his word. But, of course, the boy's
tormentor does not live in the ideal world of Quixote; he lives in the
corrupt world of lies and cruelty and injustice. Quixote thus fails in
saving the boy, but he succeeds in exposing the crass savagery of a man
who passes for a human being.
The Folly of Living in
While rightly upholding moral
idealism, Quixote wrongly attempts to perpetuate outmoded customs and traditions
and thus becomes a living anachronism. The message of Cervantes is that
while one should embrace eternal truths, he should not wear the mantle
of yesterday in upholding them. Cervantes adopted this motif as the central
theme of his novel when he began writing Don Quixote as a parody and satire
poking fun at escapist, unrealistic, romantic novels of the past that still
enjoyed a large following in his time. But after Don Quixote and Sancho
Panza began to come alive as endearing characters battling a flawed, passionless,
and sometimes corrupt society, Cervantes downgraded this theme in favor
of promoting the humanity of Quixote and Panza.
The Equality of All Human
Throughout the novel, Cervantes
makes the point that the low and the weak are just as worthy as the high
and the mighty. In Chapter 12 of Part 2, he notes that death ultimately
renders everyone equal on the balance scales. This observation occurs in
a scene when Quixote—who has just encountered traveling actors—comments
on how actors are like people who assume regal and imposing roles in their
lives only to be reduced to ordinariness when they die. He tells Panza:
Have you ever seen a play
acted in which kings, emperors, pontiffs, knights, ladies, and divers other
characters are introduced? One plays the bully, another the rogue; this
one the merchant, that one the soldier; one the wise fool, another the
foolish lover. When the play is over and they have divested themselves
of the dresses they wore in it, the actors are all again on the same level.
. . . The same happens in the comedy and life of this world. . . .When
life ends, death strips them all of the robes that distinguished one from
the other, and all are equal in the grave.
of the scores of adventures of Quixote and Panza has its own climax, often
occurring when Quixote fights an imagined enemy. The climax of the novel
itself occurs when Quixote fights the Knight of the Full Moon (Samson Carrasco
in disguise) and loses.
of Cervantes are available at the following web sites:
Quixote Virtual Museum
Questions and Essay Topics
an essay about a modern Don Quixote—someone
you know or a famous person.
does Sancho Panzo follow and remain loyal to such a bumbler as Don Quixote?
Don Quixote need Sancho Panza?
the author need Sancho Panza to develop Quixote's character?
Quixote a tragic figure, a comic figure, or both?
the terms chivalry and knight-errantry. (Quixote practiced
chivalry as a knight-errant.)
Don Quixote insane or merely eccentric?
a short psychological profile of Don Quixote.
an essay centering on the satire and parody in Don Quixote.
English word quixotic was coined after the publication of Don
Quixote. Was does it mean?
a Guide to the Complete Works
By the Author
of This Web Site
of All the Plays and Narrative Poems | Themes | Imagery | Historical Background
Theatre | Drama Terms | Essays | Analysis of the Sonnets | and Much More
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