Alonso Quijana, a Spanish country gentleman, is crazed by his reading of medieval romances. He resolves to go forth to right the world’s wrongs and champion the downtrodden. Having himself “knighted” by an innkeeper who humors him, Alonso takes on a new name--Don Quixote de la Mancha--and a squire, the peasant Sancho Panza.
Seeking adventure, Don Quixote interprets everything he sees in terms of his chivalric fantasy. As a would-be righter of wrongs, he challenges many ordinary men who he imagines are committing injustices. Though sometimes victorious, he receives many beatings in these encounters. Some people also take advantage of his illusion to make him the butt of cruel jokes.
Through all of these mishaps, Sancho occupies an unenviable position. He ministers to his master’s illusion while striving to protect him from its direst consequences. Sancho does not always succeed in this paradoxical role, but he does add cheer with his jokes and commonsense maxims.
A supreme challenge to three and a half centuries of readers has been how to interpret Quixote. Is he merely a ridiculous and pathetic victim of illusion, or a representative of all that was most noble in a bygone age? Another strong point of interest is the other characters’ reaction to Quixote’s madness. A few try to coax him out of his fantasies and back to the sensible, if dull, life of a country gentleman. Many more encourage him to continue, thus amusing them with his insane...
(The entire section is 608 words.)