How does Don Quixote compare to the stereotypical knight?
The stereotypical knight actually does have adventures where he proves his valor by going on quests, fighting giants, and saving damsels in distress. His romantic adventures are real within the context of his (fictional) story. Lancelot, for example, really is a valiant knight seeking the holy grail.
Don Quixote, in contrast, does not have the adventures he thinks he is having. He is not going on knightly quests. When he believes he is defending the countryside from giants, he is actually tilting at windmills. Dulcinea is not a highborn lady but a peasant Quixote elevates to a higher status in his imagination. Don Quixote's fictional adventures are set in a very prosaic world where chivalry and medieval pageantry do not exist. He himself is depicted as not in touch with reality.
We are told that, unlike the stereotypical knight, Don Quixote has been spending his time reading romance novels about medieval knights. This ideal world of the courtly romance has become more appealing to him than the real world he lives in, and so he is trying to enact or will this alternative universe into existence. This definitely is not the experience of a stereotypical knight, who moves in an unquestionably courtly and romanticized environment.
Unlike a real knight, Don Quixote often creates more problems than he solves. He often ends up beaten and ridiculed as crazy rather than revered and honored. The novel raises questions about how we choose to live: do we want to seek the impossible ideal, as Don Quixote does, or accept the mundane and banal reality in which we might exist? No stereotypical knight deals with such profound meta-questions of identity, being, and purpose.
In terms of how Don Quixote views the world, he exemplifies everything a stereotypical knight should be. He upholds the tenets of chivalry -- courageous, honorable, loyal, and courteous – as fully as he possibly can. He must have a trusty steed and shining armor to serve as a reminder for everyone that he is a knight, a desire for acknowledgement often associated with knights. Fueled by his strict adherence to the chivalric tales on which he bases his behavior, Don Quixote also demonstrates aspects of knighthood that are not necessarily true of the stereotype. True to the stories, Don Quixote does not eat unless asked to do so and he sleeps little, because the knights in the tales he reads are not depicted doing so.
In his actions, however, Don Quixote does not demonstrate other characteristics assumed of a knight. He is somewhat feeble and elderly and his strength seems incompatible with that associated with knights. In addition, he does not perceive the world through the lens of the sixteenth century, the world of which he is physically a part; he sees his world as a medieval world reflected in the novels in which he immerses himself. He jousts with windmills, believing them to be giants; he fights Benedictine monks, believing them to be dark warriors. At every turn, Cervantes confronts Don Quixote with the reality that the world of the chivalric novel has no place in the world in which he finds himself. This is what makes Don Quixote stray farthest from the stereotype. He is not living in a world that can sustain a “stereotypical knight.” The “stereotypical” knight belongs to a knightly world where courtesy and chivalry are not met with the cynicism Don Quixote must face.