The Work: Part 1 (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Don Quixote is a parody of the romance of chivalry, as Aubrey F. G. Bell has described it, “a multiplicity of heterogeneous thoughts, events, episodes, scenes, and characters” welded together in a harmonious whole and bound together by “humor and the consistency of two chief characters,” Alonso Quijano of the village of La Mancha and an illiterate peasant whom he recruits as his squire.
Quijano, or Don Quixote, as he renames himself, is close to fifty, lean and gaunt, and has spent most of his time reading books of chivalry, selling many acres of his land to buy more of these books. Finally, his wits weakened, he decides to put into practice all that he has read. He polishes old pieces of armor and doctors a piece of a helmet with cardboard reinforced with iron strips, and he sets out to find someone to dub him a knight. The innkeeper at a nearby inn humors him. Alarmed at his absence, his niece finds him and brings him back to his village, where she and the curate decide to burn Quixote’s library of more than one hundred books.
Quixote chooses as his lady a good-looking farm girl who lives nearby, Aldonza Lorenzo, whom he renames Dulcinea. Since a squire is necessary, Quixote persuades a neighboring farmer, Sancho Panza, to follow him, with promises of adventure and the prospect of winning an island, over which Sancho is to become governor. Embarked upon his second sally, they find windmills, which Quixote imagines to be giants. Despite Sancho’s warnings, Quixote charges them and is unhorsed by one of the wings. Now seeing that these are really windmills, Quixote explains them as the work of a magician who has changed what are truly giants into windmills. There follow a series of episodes, many of them derived from folklore, in which Quixote suffers setbacks. Two flocks of sheep are imagined to be a Christian army fighting a pagan army—the bleating of the sheep mistaken for the neighing of horses, the sound of trumpets, and the roll of drums.
They meet a man on horseback with something on his helmet that gleams like gold. Quixote is convinced that it is the gold helmet of Mambrino, a famous enchanted helmet of folklore. Bearing down upon the horseman, who is a barber traveling from one village to another to perform some bloodletting for one man and to trim the beard of another, Quixote dismounts and puts to flight the barber, who abandons his headgear, which is actually a basin atop his head to protect it from the rain. Quixote picks it up and proceeds to wear it on his own head.
When Quixote and Sancho meet a chain gang of galley slaves, all criminals, Quixote concludes that now is the time to right wrongs and aid the wretched. When the guards refuse to unshackle them, Quixote charges, and in the turmoil the criminals break their chains and the guards alternate their blows between...
(The entire section is 1168 words.)
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The Work: Part 2 (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Responding to criticism of part 1 and stung by the spurious sequel to Don Quixote by Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, Cervantes restricts this novel more to the protagonists, with fewer interpolations and digressions. Don Quixote and Sancho are never lost to view, and the bonds between them are kept strong, even when they are separated.
In part 2, there is a refinement of the character of Don Quixote and a development of his saner nature, including moments of sanity when he comments on society in a mixed picture of madness and idealism. There is a corresponding refinement in the character of Sancho, as his understanding of and sympathy for Don Quixote develop. The world of part 2 is a much expanded world in which Don Quixote travels much farther from his native village, as far as Barcelona and the Mediterranean coast. It has a wider range of characters: peasants, bandits, traveling actors, shepherds, country squires, dukes, and Moriscos. Part 2 begins about a month after the end of part 1. Two new characters are introduced: Cid Hamete Benengeli, the Moorish author of Don Quixote, whom Cervantes frequently pretends to cite, and Sansón Carrasco, recent graduate of the University of Salamanca.
To cure Don Quixote’s madness, the curate and barber consult frequently with the niece and housekeeper. Finally satisfied that he has come to his senses, they come to the house and begin a discussion of statecraft, in which Don Quixote impresses them with his good sense, until the subject turns to chivalry and he again defends the old knightly virtues found in the romances against the sloth, arrogance, and theory over practice of the present age, persuading his auditors of a return of his madness. When Don Quixote asks Sancho’s opinions regarding criticisms of him, Sancho refers him to a book by Cid Hamete Benengeli, then mentions Sansón Carrasco, the student, who knows all about the book. Thus, Quixote and Sancho meet Sansón, who wins them over with flattery, although he is secretly allied with the curate and the barber, plotting stratagems to discourage Quixote as a knight.
The first concern of Don Quixote is to see his lady Dulcinea, so they set out for Toboso, Dulcinea’s hometown. Stopping just outside, Quixote sends Sancho into town to find her. Sancho, however, has no idea what she looks like, so Quixote decides on a trick of his own: He (Quixote) will approach the first farm girl he meets. Don Quixote sees only a farm girl and is bewildered. Sancho is hard pressed to convince him. The girl, annoyed, rides off. Sancho explains the snub nose, mole on lip, and the odor of garlic as enchantments, an explanation that satisfies Quixote.
Arriving at a woods, the two meet...
(The entire section is 1115 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
A retired and impoverished gentleman named Alonzo Quixano lives in the Spanish province of La Mancha. He reads so many romances of chivalry that his mind becomes overwhelmed with fantastic accounts of tournaments, knightly quests, damsels in distress, and strange enchantments, and he decides one day to imitate the heroes of the books he reads and to revive the ancient custom of knight-errantry. Changing his name to Don Quixote de la Mancha, he is dubbed a knight by a publican whose miserable inn he mistakes for a turreted castle.
For armor he dons an old suit of mail that belonged to his great-grandfather. Then, upon a bony old nag he calls Rosinante, he sets out upon his first adventure. Not far from his village he falls into the company of some traveling merchants who think the old man mad and beat him severely when he challenges them to a passage at arms.
Back home recovering from his cuts and bruises, he is closely watched by his good neighbor, Pedro Perez, the village priest, and Master Nicholas, the barber. Hoping to cure him of his fancies, the curate and the barber burn his library of chivalric romances. Don Quixote, however, believes that his books were carried off by a wizard. Undaunted by his misfortunes, he determines to set out on the road again with an uncouth rustic named Sancho Panza as his squire. As the mistress to whom he will dedicate his deeds of valor, he chooses a buxom peasant wench famous for her skill in salting pork. He calls her Dulcinea del Toboso.
The knight and his squire sneak out of the village under cover of darkness, but in their own minds they present a brave appearance: the lean old man on his bony horse and his squat, black-browed servant on a small ass, Dapple. The don carries his sword and lance, Sancho Panza a canvas wallet and a leather bottle. Sancho goes with the don because, in his shallow-brained way, he hopes to become governor of an island.
The don’s first encounter is with a score of windmills on the plains of Montiel. Mistaking them for monstrous giants, he couches his lance, sets spurs to Rosinante’s thin flanks, and charges full tilt against them. One of the whirling vanes lifts him from his saddle and throws him into the air. When Sancho runs to pick him up, Quixote explains that sorcerers changed the giants into windmills.
Shortly afterward he encounters two monks riding in company with a lady in a coach escorted by men on horseback. Quixote imagines that the lady is a captive princess. Haughtily demanding her release, he unhorses one of the friars in an attempted rescue. Sancho is beaten by the lady’s lackeys. Quixote betters her Biscayan squire in a sword fight, sparing the man’s life on the condition that he go to Toboso and yield himself to the peerless Dulcinea. Sancho, having little taste for violence, wants to get on to his island as quickly as possible.
At an inn, Quixote becomes involved in an assignation between a carrier and a servant girl. He is trounced by the carrier. The don, insulted by the innkeeper’s demand for payment, rides away without paying. To his terror, Sancho is tossed in a blanket as payment for his master’s debt. The pair come upon dust clouds stirred up by two large flocks of sheep. Quixote, sure that they are two medieval armies closing in combat, intervenes, only to be pummeled with rocks by the indignant shepherds whose sheep he scattered.
At night the don thinks a funeral procession is a parade of monsters. He attacks and routs the mourners and is called Knight of the Sorry Aspect by Sancho. The two come upon a roaring noise in the night. Quixote, believing it to be made by giants, wants to attack immediately, but Sancho judiciously hobbles Rosinante so he cannot move. The next day, they discover that the noise came from the pounding of a mill.
Quixote attacks an itinerant barber and seizes the poor barber’s bowl, which he declares to be the famous golden helmet of Mambrino, and his packsaddle, which he believes to be a richly jeweled caparison. Next, the pair come upon a chain gang being taken to the galleys. The don interviews various prisoners and decides to succor the afflicted. He frees them, only to be insulted by their remarks concerning his lady, the fair Dulcinea. Sancho, afraid of what will ensue from their releasing of the galley slaves, leads Quixote into the mountains for safety. There they come upon a hermit, a nobleman, who tells them a long story of unrequited love. Quixote and the hermit fight over the virtues of their respective loves. Deciding to do penance and to fast for the love of Dulcinea, Quixote gives a letter to Sancho to deliver to the maiden. When Sancho returns to the village, Quixote’s friends learn from Sancho the old man’s whereabouts. They return with Sancho to the mountains, hoping they can trick Quixote into returning with them. The priest...
(The entire section is 1990 words.)