Don Quixote fully titled The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. It follows the adventures of Alonso Quixano, an hidalgo who reads so many chivalric novels that he decides to set out to revive chivalry, under the name Don Quixote. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, who often employs a unique, earthly wit in dealing with Don Quixote’s rhetorical orations on antiquated knighthood. Don Quixote is met by the world as it is, initiating such themes as intertextuality, realism, metatheatre, and literary representation.
Published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is considered the most influential work of literature from theSpanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish literary canon. As a founding work of modern Western literature, and one of the earliest canonical novels, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published. It has had major influence on the literary community, as evidenced by direct references in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (1844) and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). In a 2002 list, Don Quixote was cited as the “best literary work ever written”.
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The First Sally
Alonso Quixano, the protagonist of the novel, is a retired country gentleman nearing fifty years of age, living in an unnamed section of La Mancha with his niece and housekeeper. While mostly a rational man of sound reason, his reading of books of chivalry in excess has had a profound effect on him, leading to the distortion of his perception and the wavering of his mental faculties. In essence, he believes every word of these books of chivalry to be true though, for the most part, the content of these books is clearly fiction. Otherwise, his wits are intact.
He decides to sally forth as a knight-errant in search of adventure. He dons an old suit of armour, renames himself “Don Quixote,” and names his skinny horse “Rocinante”. He designates Aldonza Lorenzo, a neighboring farm girl, as his lady love, renaming her Dulcinea del Toboso, while she knows nothing of this.
He sets out in the early morning and ends up at an inn, which he believes to be a castle. He asks the innkeeper, whom he thinks to be the lord of the castle, to dub him a knight. He spends the night holding vigil over his armor, where he becomes involved in a fight with muleteers who try to remove his armor from the horse trough so that they can water their mules. The innkeeper then dubs him a knight to be rid of him, and sends him on his way.
Don Quixote next “frees” a young boy who is tied to a tree and beaten by his master and makes his master swear on the chivalric code to treat the boy fairly. The boy’s beating is continued as soon as Quixote leaves. Don Quixote has a run-in with traders from Toledo, who “insult” the imaginary Dulcinea. He attacks them, only to be severely beaten and left on the side of the road. Don Quixote is found and returned to his home by a neighboring peasant.
The Second Sally
While Don Quixote is unconscious in his bed, his niece, the housekeeper, the parish curate, and the local barber secretly burn most of the books of chivalry, and seal up his library pretending that a magician has carried it off. After a short period of feigning health, Don Quixote approaches his neighbor, Sancho Panza, and asks him to be his squire, promising him governorship of an island. The uneducated Sancho agrees, and the pair sneak off in the early dawn. It is here that their series of famous adventures begin, starting with Don Quixote’s attack on windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants.
The two next encounter a group of friars accompanying a lady in a carriage. The friars are heavily cloaked, as is the lady, to protect themselves from the hot climate and dust on the road. Don Quixote takes the friars to be enchanters who hold the lady captive. He knocks a friar from his horse, and is immediately challenged by an armed Basque traveling with the company. As he has no shield, the Basque uses a pillow to protect himself, which saves him when Don Quixote strikes him. The combat ends with the lady leaving her carriage and commanding those traveling with her to “surrender” to Don Quixote.
The Pastoral Wanderings
Sancho and Don Quixote go on, and fall in with a group of goatherds. Don Quixote tells Sancho and the goatherds about the “Golden Age” of man, reminiscent ofOvid (and perhaps foreshadowing the work of Rousseau) in which property does not exist, and men live in peace. The goatherds invite the Knight and Sancho to the funeral of Grisóstomo, once a student who left his studies to become a shepherd after reading Pastoral novels, seeking the shepherdess Marcela. At the funeral Marcela appears, delivering a long speech vindicating herself from the bitter verses written about her by Grisóstomo, claiming her own autonomy and freedom from expectations put on her by Pastoral clichés.
She disappears into the woods, and Don Quixote and Sancho follow. Ultimately giving up, the two stop and dismount by a pond to rest. Some Galicians arrive to water their ponies, and Rocinante (Don Quixote’s horse) attempts to mate with the ponies. The Galicians hit Rocinante with clubs to dissuade him, which Don Quixote takes as a threat and runs to defend Rocinante. The Galicians beat Don Quixote and Sancho leaving them in great pain.
The Adventures with Cardenio and Dorotea
After Don Quixote frees a group of galley slaves, The Knight and Sancho wander into the Sierra Morena, and there encounter the dejected Cardenio. Cardenio relates the first part of his story, in which he falls deeply in love with his childhood friend Luscinda, and is hired as the companion to the Duke’s son, leading to his friendship with the Duke’s younger son, Don Fernando. Cardenio confides in Don Fernando his love for Luscinda and the delays in their engagement, caused by Cardenio’s desire to keep with tradition. After reading Cardenio’s poems praising Luscinda, Don Fernando falls in love with her. Don Quixote interrupts when Cardenio suggests that his beloved may have become unfaithful after the formulaic stories of spurned lovers in Chivalric novels.
In the course of their travels, the protagonists meet innkeepers, prostitutes, goatherds, soldiers, priests, escaped convicts, and scorned lovers. These characters sometimes tell tales that incorporate events from the real world, like the conquest of the Kingdom of Maynila or battles of the Eighty Years’ War. These encounters are magnified by Don Quixote’s imagination into chivalrous quests. Don Quixote’s tendency to intervene violently in matters which do not concern him, and his habit of not paying his debts, result in many privations, injuries, and humiliations (with Sancho often getting the worst of it). Finally, Don Quixote is persuaded to return to his home village. The narrator hints that there was a third quest, but says that records of it have been lost.
The Third Sally
Although the two parts are now published as a single work, Don Quixote, Part Two was a sequel published ten years after the original novel. While Part One was mostly farcical, the second half is more serious and philosophical about the theme of deception.
As Part Two begins, it is assumed that the literate classes of Spain have all read the first part of the history of Don Quixote and his squire. Cervantes’s meta-fictional device was to make even the characters in the story familiar with the publication of Part One, as well as with an actually published fraudulent Part Two. When strangers encounter the duo in person, they already know their famous history. A Duke and Duchess, and others, deceive Don Quixote for entertainment, setting forth a string of imagined adventures resulting in a series of practical jokes. Some of them are quite sadistic, and they put Don Quixote’s sense of chivalry and his devotion to Dulcinea through many tests.
Even Sancho deceives him at one point. Pressured into finding Dulcinea, Sancho brings back three dirty and ragged peasant girls, and tells Don Quixote that they are Dulcinea and her ladies-in-waiting. When Don Quixote only sees the peasant girls, Sancho pretends that their derelict appearance results from an enchantment.
Sancho later gets his comeuppance for this when, as part of one of the duke and duchess’s pranks, the two are led to believe that the only method to release Dulcinea from her spell is for Sancho to give himself a surplus of three thousand lashes. Sancho naturally resists this course of action, leading to friction with his master. Under the duke’s patronage, Sancho eventually gets a governorship, though it is false, and proves to be a wise and practical ruler; though this ends in humiliation as well.
Near the end, Don Quixote reluctantly sways towards sanity: an inn is just an inn, not a castle.
The lengthy untold “history” of Don Quixote’s adventures in knight-errantry comes to a close after his battle with the Knight of the White Moon (actually a young man from Don Quixote’s hometown) on the beach in Barcelona, in which the reader finds him conquered. Bound by the rules of chivalry, Don Quixote submits to prearranged terms that the vanquished is to obey the will of the conqueror, which in this case, is that Don Quixote is to lay down his arms and cease his acts of chivalry for the period of one year (a duration in which he may be cured of his madness). Defeated and dejected, he and Sancho start their journey home.
Upon returning to his village, Don Quixote announces his plan to retire to the countryside and live the pastoral existence of shepherd, although his housekeeper, who has a more realistic view of the hard life of a shepherd, urges him to stay home and tend to his own affairs. Soon after, he retires to his bed with a deathly illness, possibly brought on by melancholy over his defeats and humiliations. One day, he awakes from a dream having fully recovered his sanity.
Sancho tries to restore his faith, but Alonso Quixano, for that is his true name, can only renounce his previous existence and apologize for the harm he has caused. He dictates his will, which includes a provision that his niece will be disinherited if she marries a man who reads books of chivalry. After Alonso Quixano dies, the author emphasizes that there are no more adventures to relate, and that any further books about Don Quixote would be spurious.
Part Two of Don Quixote is often regarded as the birth of modern literature, as it explores the concept of a character understanding that he is being written about. This is a theme much explored in writings of the 20th Century.
It wasn’t until the time Cervantes wrote his masterpiece that the Muslim population was made to leave Spain. Several references are made to the forcible expulsion of the Moorish population. The book contains multiple Muslim (or Muslim converso) characters (Ricote, Cide Hamete Benengeli, Princess Zoraida). In the first book, the narrator credits the tale of Don Quixote to a (fictitious) Muslim historian, Cide Hamete Benengeli…
In stark contrast Harold Bloom says that Don Quixote is the writing of radical nihilism and anarchy, preferring the glory of fantasy over the real world which includes imminent death, being “…the first modern novel”
Edith Grossman, who wrote and published a highly acclaimed English translation of the novel in 2003, says that the book is mostly meant to move people into emotion using a systematic change of course, on the verge of both tragedy and comedy at the same time.
- Grossman has stated “The question is that Quixote has multiple interpretations… and how do I deal with that in my translation.
- I’m going to answer your question by avoiding it… so when I first started reading the Quixote I thought it was the most tragic book in the world, and I would read it and weep… As I grew older…my skin grew thicker… and so when I was working on the translation I was actually sitting at my computer and laughing out loud. This is done… as Cervantes did it… by never letting the reader rest. You are never certain that you truly got it. Because as soon as you think you understand something, Cervantes introduces something that contradicts your premise.”
The novel’s structure is in episodic form. It is written in the picaresco style of the late 16th century, and features reference other picaresque novels including Lazarillo de Tormes and The Golden Ass. The full title is indicative of the tale’s object, as ingenioso(Spanish) means “quick with inventiveness” marking the transition of modern literature from Dramatic to thematic unity. The novel takes place over a long period of time, including many adventures all united by common themes of the nature of reality, reading, and dialogue in general.
Although farcical on the surface, the novel, especially in its second half, is more serious and philosophical about the theme of deception. Quixote has served as an important thematic source not only in literature but also in much of art and music, inspiring works by Pablo Picasso and Richard Strauss. The contrasts between the tall, thin, fancy-struck, and idealistic Quixote and the fat, squat, world-weary Panza is a motif echoed ever since the book’s publication, and Don Quixote’s imaginings are the butt of outrageous and cruel practical jokes in the novel.
Even faithful and simple Sancho is unintentionally forced to deceive him at certain points. The novel is considered a satire of orthodoxy, veracity, and even nationalism. In going beyond mere storytelling to exploring the individualism of his characters, Cervantes helped move beyond the narrow literary conventions of the chivalric romance literature that he spoofed, which consists of straightforward retelling of a series of acts that redound to the knightly virtues of the hero.
From shepherds to tavern-owners and inn-keepers, the characterization in Don Quixote was groundbreaking. The character of Don Quixote became so well known in its time that the word quixotic was quickly adopted by many languages. Characters such as Sancho Panza and Don Quixote’s steed, Rocinante, are emblems of Western literary culture. The phrase “tilting at windmills” to describe an act of attacking imaginary enemies derives from an iconic scene in the book.
It stands in a unique position between medieval chivalric romance and the modern novel. The former consist of disconnected stories featuring the same characters and settings with little exploration of the inner life of even the main character. The latter are usually focused on the psychological evolution of their characters. In Part I, Quixote imposes himself on his environment. By Part II, people know about him through “having read his adventures”, and so, he needs to do less to maintain his image. By his deathbed, he has regained his sanity, and is once more “Alonso Quixano the Good”.
When it was first published, Don Quixote was usually interpreted as a comic novel. After the French Revolution it was popular in part due to its central ethic that individuals can be right while society is quite wrong and seen as disenchanting—not comic at all. In the 19th century it was seen as a social commentary, but no one could easily tell “whose side Cervantes was on”. Many critics came to view the work as a tragedy in which Don Quixote’s innate idealism and nobility are viewed by the world as insane, and are defeated and rendered useless by common reality. By the 20th century the novel had come to occupy a canonical space as one of the foundations of modern literature.
Sources for Don Quixote include the Castillian novel Amadis de Gaula, which had enjoyed great popularity throughout the 16th century. Another prominent source, which Cervantes evidently admires more, is Tirant lo Blanch which the priest describes in Chapter VI of Quixote as “the best book in the world.” The scene of the book burning gives us an excellent list of Cervantes’s likes and dislikes about literature.
Cervantes makes a number of references to the Italian poem Orlando furioso. In chapter 10 of the first part of the novel, Don Quixote says he must take the magical helmet of Mambrino, an episode from Canto I of Orlando, and itself a reference to Matteo Maria Boiardo’s Orlando innamorato.The interpolated story in chapter 33 of Part four of the First Part is a retelling of a tale from Canto 43 of Orlando, regarding a man who tests the fidelity of his wife.
Another important source appears to have been Apuleius’s The Golden Ass, one of the earliest known novels, a picaresque from late classical antiquity. The wineskins episode near the end of the interpolated tale “The Curious Impertinent” in chapter 35 of the first part of Don Quixote is a clear reference to Apuleius, and recent scholarship suggests that the moral philosophy and the basic trajectory of Apuleius’s novel are fundamental to Cervantes’s program. Similarly, many of both Sancho’s adventures in Part II and proverbs throughout are taken from popular Spanish and Italian folklore.
Cervantes’s experiences as a galley slave in Algiers also influenced Quijote.
Spurious Second Part by Avellaneda
It is not certain when Cervantes began writing Part Two of Don Quixote, but he had probably not gotten much further than Chapter LIX by late July 1614. About September, however, a spurious Part Two, entitled Second Volume of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha: by the Licenciado (doctorate) Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, of Tordesillas, was published in Tarragona by an unidentified Aragonese who was an admirer of Lope de Vega, rival of Cervantes.
Avellaneda’s identity has been the subject of many theories, but there is no consensus as to who he was. In its prologue, the author gratuitously insulted Cervantes, who not surprisingly took offense and responded; the last half of Chapter LIX and most of the following chapters of Cervantes’ Segunda Parte lend some insight into the effects upon him; Cervantes manages to work in some subtle digs at Avellaneda’s own work, and in his preface to Part II, comes very near to criticizing Avellaneda directly.
In his introduction to The Portable Cervantes, Samuel Putnam, a noted translator of Cervantes’ novel, calls Avellaneda’s version “one of the most disgraceful performances in history”.
The second part of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, finished as a direct result of the Avellaneda book, has come to be regarded by some literary critics as superior to the first part, because of its greater depth of characterization, its discussions, mostly between Quixote and Sancho, on diverse subjects, and its philosophical insights.
Don Quixote, Part One contains a number of stories which do not directly involve the two main characters, but which are narrated by some of the picaresque figures encountered by the Don and Sancho during their travels. The longest and best known of these is “El Curioso Impertinente” (the impertinently curious man), found in Part One, Book Four. This story, read to a group of travelers at an inn, tells of a Florentine nobleman, Anselmo, who becomes obsessed with testing his wife’s fidelity, and talks his close friend Lothario into attempting to seduce her, with disastrous results for all.
In Part Two, the author acknowledges the criticism of his digressions in Part One and promises to concentrate the narrative on the central characters (although at one point he laments that his narrative muse has been constrained in this manner). Nevertheless, “Part Two” contains several back narratives related by peripheral characters.
Several abridged editions have been published which delete some or all of the extra tales in order to concentrate on the central narrative.