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Don Quixote de la Mancha Miguel de Cervantes

Novel published in 1605 (Part I) and 1615 (Part II).

The following entry presents criticism of Cervantes's novel Don Quixote.

Don Quixote de la Mancha is considered one of the masterpieces of world literature. The novel narrates the travels of an insane...

(The entire section contains 120089 words.)

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Don Quixote de la Mancha Miguel de Cervantes

Novel published in 1605 (Part I) and 1615 (Part II).

The following entry presents criticism of Cervantes's novel Don Quixote.

Don Quixote de la Mancha is considered one of the masterpieces of world literature. The novel narrates the travels of an insane old man who, believing he is a knight-errant, leaves his village of La Mancha and searches for adventure on the highways and in the villages of seventeenth-century imperial Spain. While the two parts of the novel, published in 1605 and 1615, can be read as a unified whole, they differ considerably in style and approach. The first part is considered by many critics to be a straightforward parody of chivalric romances, while the second part is a more ambitious, self-referential work that involves the reader in an examination of the nature of literature itself. Both parts of the work are rich in humor, social and political commentary, and psychological insight. Some of the major themes that Don Quixote explores are love, imagination, morality, societal norms, class, honor, and the relationship between art and nature. Since its publication, Cervantes's novel has inspired the work of the world's great writers, artists, and composers, including Jorge Luis Borges, William Faulkner, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Henry Purcell, Friedrich Mendelssohn, and Richard Strauss. It remains as popular today as when it first appeared and is admired for its depth and complexity as well as for its appeal as a supremely entertaining story.

Biographical Information

Cervantes was born in Alcalá de Henares, a small town near Madrid, in 1547. His father was an itinerant surgeon whose work took his family all over Spain. Despite moving about a great deal, Cervantes received some early formal education in the school of the Spanish humanist Juan Lopez de Hoyos, who taught in Madrid in the 1560s. In 1569, Cervantes traveled to Italy to serve in the household of an Italian nobleman. A year later, he joined the Spanish army. After seeing active duty in Italy and being imprisoned in Algiers for five years, he returned to Spain in 1580. In 1584, when he was thirty-seven, he married a woman twenty years his junior and shortly thereafter obtained a position as a government official in the south of Spain. In 1585, he published his first prose work, La Galatea, a pastoral romance. He then began writing for the theater and composing short stories. By the time the first part of Don Quixote appeared in 1605, Cervantes was a well-known author. The novel was an immediate success, going through six editions in its first year of publication. The work was translated into English and French, bringing Cervantes international recognition. In the years that followed, he published a collection of short stories, a satiric poem, some of his theatrical works, and the second part of Don Quixote. His final prose work, The Travails of Persiles and Sigismunda, a Byzantine romance, was completed shortly before he died in 1616.

Plot and Major Characters

Don Quixote tells the story of Alonso Quejana, a Spanish country gentleman who is obsessed by books of chivalry. He spends all his time reading these tales of knights, squires, magicians, and damsels until he goes mad. He convinces himself he is a knight, finds himself a steed (an old nag he calls “Rocinante”), and dubs himself Don Quixote de la Mancha. He also chooses a lady, a country girl named Aldonza Lorenzo who is famed for her skill at salting pork, and gives her the title of Dulcinea del Toboso. He then sets out on his adventures, dreaming of fame and glory. He soon manages to convince a shrewd but illiterate peasant farmer, Sancho Panza, into accompanying him as his squire in return for the promise of a governorship of an island after their brave exploits are over. This story is told in two parts. The first part of the work is a more straightforward narrative that parodies tales of chivalry and romance, as Don Quixote sets out with his squire on a life of glory and chivalric adventures, determined to defend the helpless and destroy the wicked. After his exploits, he is brought home by two of the men from his village who hope to cure him of his madness. The second part of the novel is more complex, as the don learns about the book that has been written about him and his deeds. He and Sancho set out again on a series of adventures, but many of these encounters are staged by characters who know of the pair's previous adventures, and the lines between fiction and reality become increasingly blurred. Once again after his adventures Don Quixote returns home, but his time he renounces the tales of chivalry and is cured of his madness.

Major Themes

The main concern of the first part of Don Quixote is to parody the popular idea of chivalry and romance. Cervantes points out the often comical relationships between chivalry and everyday life, and Don Quixote in his madness serves to illustrate how misguided indeed these romantic notions are. His encounters with other characters also satirize the society in which these characters exist and comment on the codes of behavior reflected by their actions. The character of Don Quixote also reinforces the idea that the old system of morality, the chivalric code, is in disrepair, as nobody except Sancho Panza understands him or his values. Although love is sometimes celebrated in the novel, Don Quixote's devotion to Dulcinea mocks romantic ideals, as the object of his adulation is a woman he has never even seen. A related theme to that of chivalry, and one that was not much written about in Cervantes's day, is that of equating social class with personal worth. Cervantes attacks the conventional idea that aristocrats are respectable and noble. In the second part of the novel, for example, he contrasts the Duke and Duchess's malice with Sancho's compassion, showing the peasant to be wise despite his low social status. Similarly, goatherds and shepherds in the novel exhibit a philosophical cast of mind while aristocratic characters are often intellectually shallow. Among the many recurring symbols in Don Quixote are those that take the form of books and manuscripts. These underscore the importance and influence of literature in everyday life. They also point to the larger theme of the relationship between art and reality. In the second part of the novel, for example, the question of authorship and storytelling is a preoccupation of the characters as well as the narrator. This idea is especially associated with Don Quixote's madness.

Critical Reception

Don Quixote was an instant success when it was first published in Spanish, and Cervantes achieved international fame after the novel was translated into English and French in 1606. The work remained popular throughout Europe in the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century, but it was viewed generally as a light entertainment. In England during the mid-eighteenth century, what had previously been regarded as a burlesque tale began to be taken seriously as a more complex work. During the Romantic era of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the figure of Don Quixote was regarded by many as a Romantic hero. Due to the relative neglect Cervantes's novel had been receiving in Spain during the same time, in 1780 a new edition of Don Quixote was commissioned, and with the novel's reissue Cervantes's protagonist was elevated in his homeland to the status of cultural icon. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, critics became interested in the character of Don Quixote as a psychological study. In the later twentieth century, critical attention began to shift away from the figure of the protagonist to the structure of the novel. Many recent critics have been interested in the work's narrative structure, seeing the novel as a prototypical example of a work composed by a highly self-conscious writer, as Cervantes playfully subverts the authority of the text and calls into question the enterprise of literature itself.

Principal Works

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El cerco de Numancia (play) 1585

La Galatea (romance) 1585

*El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (novel) 1605

Novelas exemplares [Exemplary Novels,] (short stories) 1613

Viage del Parnaso [adaptor, from "Viaggio in Parnasso" by Cesare Caporali di Perugia] (poetry) 1614

Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses (plays) 1615

*Segunda parte del ingenioso cavallero don Quixote (novel) 1615

Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda [The Travels of Persiles and Sigismunda] (romance) 1617

El trato de Argel [The Commerce of Algiers] (drama) c. 1580

Galatea: A Pastoral Romance (romance) 1791

Obras completas de Cervantes. 12 vols. (novels, short stories, romances, dramas, and poetry) 1863-64

Don Quixote of la Mancha [translated by John Ormsby] (novel) 1883?

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha [translated by Samuel Putnam] (novel) 1949

Adventures of Don Quixote [translated by J. M. Cohen] (novel) 1968

Interludes of Cervantes, [edited by S. Griswold Morley] (plays) 1969

Don Quixote: The Ormsby Translation Revised [edited by Joseph R. Jones and Kenneth Douglas] (novel) 1981

El cerco de Numancia (play; edited by Robert Marrast) 1984

Don Quixote [translated by Edith Grossman] (novel) 2003

*Following first publication and translation, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha and Segunda parte del ingenioso cavallero Don Quixote have appeared as the single work Don Quixote de la Mancha.

Margaret Church (essay date 1971)

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SOURCE: Church, Margaret. Introduction to Don Quixote: The Knight of La Mancha, pp. xiii-xxxvi. New York: New York University Press, 1971.

[In the following essay, Church notes the thematic and structural connections between Don Quixote and other works of fiction, suggests a psychological basis of the novel's structure, and discusses the difference between the 1605 and 1615 portions of the work.]

That Don Quixote, one of the most loved and widely read books ever written, should need to be “explained” suggests the paradox of all criticism. The critic interprets a book that has already been interpreted and understood by many, and yet, if the book has any worth at all, it will have been only partially understood or “misunderstood” in parts by any particular reader. The critic himself adds his own understandings and “misunderstandings,” for who is to say from what perspective a true judgment may be made (the lesson, incidentally, of Don Quixote itself). Criticism (and teaching) of literature at its best, then, only suggests further ways of looking at a work, ways that may add to the reader's understanding and in some instances may contradict it. Either end is a useful end, the critic as foil, as abrasive, or the critic as an abettor of the reader's own insights. For the essential function of the critic is re-creation, building upon a past work which he thereby helps to preserve, thus adding to or modifying the insights of the past.

It is with these premises in mind that I make the following critical comments. I have found in Don Quixote an everlasting source of delight and new meaning, and my study can only begin to look into the depths of this classic which changes shape under one's very gaze. I hope, then, that what I say in these pages will not serve to dull the perception of others with a plethora of pedantic detail but will transmit the enthusiasm of one reader for a book which is without doubt a document of “the best that has been thought and said” by our Western culture.


Before examining Don Quixote in more specific ways, it will be well to indicate some of its thematic and structural connections with European fiction in which it plays a central and germinal role. Most Spanish criticism, epitomized by that of the great critic, Miguel de Unamuno, has idealized Don Quixote as a romantic hero. Another equally important critic, José Ortega y Gasset, however, recognizes the full import of the satire in Don Quixote and stresses the book's aesthetic and metaphysical significances. When we examine Cervantes' dialectic, we must recognize that the element of romantic idealization is surely present in the novel, but at the same time satiric and philosophical aspects must not be ignored. Neither emphasis by itself does full justice to the richness and complexity of this work. An examination of the position of the novel in the mainstream of European fiction will serve to prove the point.

The theme of the reformation of man, of society, and of the state was, as José Antonio Maravell shows, one inherited by Cervantes from both the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (which Maravall interprets as a single continuing and integrated period [MAR, 16]. The subject of chivalry in Don Quixote cannot, therefore, be fully understood without recognizing both its idealistic aspects as suggested in the medieval practice of arms, whereby virtue and nobility of spirit might be acquired, and its sometimes more superficial aspects as delineated by the chivalric romance. The theme of reform, therefore, appears both in the implicit criticism of Cervantes' satire and in the utopia envisioned by Don Quixote in his dreams. Don Quixote must first be viewed, then, as containing ambiguous and antithetical elements from the tradition of arms and from the chivalric romance and as a descendant of both.

Don Quixote, as David Grossvogel points out, is also the descendant of still another tradition, “the picaresque genre” (GRO, 106). A tale of a journey told as a parody of literature, the novel is developed through the relation between its structure and the character of Don Quixote. In comparison with its picaresque predecessors, Don Quixote both broadens the base of action by introducing the theme of perspectivism and broadens the concept of character by molding its hero as both paradigm and fool, the last fool to cause the world to see the wisdom of its folly (K, 296). Picaresque elements, then, are remolded to merge with elements of a new genre. Don Quixote is not a picaro, nor is Cervantes' novel picaresque in any definitive sense.

Cervantes' novel also relates to the pastoral tradition. Earlier, he had written his own pastoral novel, La Galatea. But the pastoral elements in Don Quixote are merely interludes and contrast sharply with the main action of the novel. How seriously Cervantes viewed the pastoral tradition in 1605 must be questioned. In his story of the goatherd Lope Ruiz attempting to escape from the shepherdess Torralba, Sancho unintentionally ridicules all pastoral romances. And when, near the end of the 1615 book, Don Quixote suggests to Sancho that they turn shepherds, naming themselves Quixotiz and Panzino and mourning absent beauty in rustic solitude, it is clear that pastoral matters, like so many other matters, are the objects of Cervantes' parody. In the 1605 book the pastoral scenes (whether with intent or not) are inserted between the more pivotal scenes, which serves both to underline the wooden character of shepherd and shepherdess and to develop the dynamic central figure of Don Quixote.

Thus an important way in which Don Quixote contributes to the tradition of fiction is through structure. Herman Meyer shows how Cervantes' use of the quotation creates a unity through a harmony of contrasts which Rabelais had been able merely to approximate (ME, 71). Later Sterne, using quotation in a different way, deliberately creates a sense of discontinuity, in an attempt to imitate the reality of life. Cervantes regulates structure through the inner contradictions of his characters. Fielding and Sterne, on the contrary, are more concerned with outer form [PF, 13]. Sterne, as he himself admits, inserts “a good quantity of heterogeneous matter” [ME, 93] in order to balance wisdom and folly as they are balanced in life, a statement suggesting stress on both the outer form of literature and the outer form of society. Cervantes, on the contrary, would have us view the shadows on the wall of Plato's cave as though they were realities.

Cervantes' awareness of an inner level of reality must lead us to consider his consciousness of inner and outer time, which places him as a major forerunner of the modern novelist. Cervantes' technical virtuosity in expressing this awareness, however, is baroque; poets such as Marino, Crashaw, and Góngora developed new techniques for conveying “a notion of time viewed through eternity” (NEL, 162), time as both “contingent and manipulatable” (NEL, 161). In Cervantes, a sense of inner time—as opposed to exterior considerations of day, hour, or minute—is strengthened by the mechanical nature of his chapter divisions. As Raymond Willis shows (WP), these do not coincide with the flow of the narrative, but, as clock time foils the sense of inner flow in real life, they foil the sense of flow in the novel, evidence of Cervantes' mimetic genius. For the mechanically dictated chapter divisions only serve to stress the existence of another, more valid time sequence in which events overlap and coincide as they do within the human mind.

The present of Don Quixote is Cervantes' (or Cide's) recent past, “not long ago,” as we learn in Chapter 1—that is, within Cervantes' memory. The past of the chivalric romance is, however, a distant and ideal past, only read about, not experienced by Cervantes or his hero. As with a baroque poem like “Lycidas,” the structure of the novel is evolved through “identifying or reconciling time planes” (NEL, 79), through the coexistence, as Thomas Mann would say, of “once upon a time” and “always.” Therefore, Don Quixote is both knight and hidalgo. Re-enacting the role of knight, Don Quixote is viewed in the 1605 novel as a foolish and misguided imitator of chivalric forms. Gradually, however, as the 1615 book progresses, we see Don Quixote beginning to assume the inner virtues of humility, understanding, and self-knowledge implied in the chivalric code he is so fond of reciting. In this way a temporal paradox is established whereby past and present become one in the eternity of chivalric values. The fluctuation of withdrawal and participation patterns, which forms the structure of the 1605 novel, and the tension between image and the image as seen in the mirror, the basis of the structure in the 1615 novel, parallel and make manifest the temporal paradox of simultaneous withdrawal into a chivalric past and participation in the real world of the present. An understanding, then, of the inner nature of time allows Cervantes to set up a structure based on the “contradictory reconciliation of time planes” (NEL, 79). Don Quixote's final recognition of the meaning of “true” knighthood is thus shown to be “a conquering of time through time” (NEL, 80), an awareness that “real” knighthood may be re-enacted in any age and that knights are citizens of La Mancha as well as citizens of the world.

It is this particular achievement of the Baroque age that Cervantes hands down to the modern novelist where it is to be seen in his contradictory reconciliation of past and present, of time and time again; in his consciousness of role and of the fact that Finnegans awake; in his “point counterpoint”; in his use of fable, myth, and legend; in the levels of his symbolism; and in the river of Henri Bergson's la durée.

We must not overlook other significant links between Don Quixote and literary tradition, for example the theatrum mundi theme, … which Cervantes inherits from ancient Greece (Plato) and from the Middle Ages (Policraticus and other sources) and which Calderón, Shakespeare, and others employed in Renaissance drama. Nor should one fail to mention Cervantes' use of medieval etymology which proposed many sources and various meanings for any given word. As a “falso cronicón,” the inheritor of the fifteenth-century practice of deliberate falsification by historians, Cervantes, as Bruce Wardropper proves (WARD, 10), produces the tension between reality and illusion in his novel. And in creating Sancho and Don Quixote, Cervantes, in the tradition of the Poema del Cid, La Celestina, and Lazarillo de Tormes, provides for literature and for the modern novel, heroes who encompass both the destiny of man and yet his ordinary, everyday existence (WS, 210).

The position, then, of Don Quixote in the light of and as a part of all these traditions is an ambiguous one. Both Ortega y Gasset and Unamuno are right: Chivalric knights of old, picaros with “hearts of gold,” a sense of man's inner life, of the value of illusion, and of the universal human predicament, are all present in Don Quixote. At the same time we see, as Ortega points out, that Don Quixote is mad and foolish, a parody of knights of old, that hearts of picaros are not always “hearts of gold,” that over and above the spiritual significances of the book rests Ortega's judgment of reality as the “leaven of the myth” (ORT, 138).


Friedrich Schlegel stated in 1799 that Cervantes was “one of the most purposeful of artists” as far as “artfully ordered confusion,” “symmetry of antitheses,” and “alternation of enthusiasm and irony” were concerned (IM, 121). The “architectonic symmetry of parallels and contrasts” is, as Raymond Immerwahr shows, far more carefully worked out in Don Quixote than in the usual picaresque tale. In investigating the structure of Don Quixote such critics as J. Casalduero, Knud Togeby, Raymond Immerwahr, and A. A. Parker are notable. In this introduction I will suggest a psychological basis for the structure (somewhat different from the psychological basis A. A. Parker (PF) suggests and yet complementary). The structure which is proposed here includes both the main actions and the digressions and is based on the themes of the book as they appear in my explication of the text. Unless some kind of overall structure is kept in mind, the pages of commentary on individual chapters may appear to be without focus.

The central issue which confronts Don Quixote in the 1605 novel is his relation to other people and to his society. In contrast, the 1615 novel, which is full of reflexive imagery, mainly concern's Don Quixote's discovery of himself. The 1605 Quixote was originally published in four parts (Part I: Chapters 1-8; Part II: Chapters 9-14; Part III: Chapters 15-27; Part IV: Chapters 28-52). Parts I and II are a unit that describes the first mistaken involvements of Don Quixote in the lives of others and his consequent withdrawal into pastoral solitude. Part III concerns the second sally of Don Quixote and his second retirement, this time to the Sierra Morena; Part IV deals with Don Quixote's role at the inn, with the love affairs of several young couples, with readings and conversations, and with his final retreat in a cage to his home.

In connection with Cervantes' divisions of Don Quixote into chapters and parts, it is important to keep in mind Raymond Willis's The Phantom Chapters of the “Quijote.” He interprets the closures in the novel as mechanical devices which contrast with the durational flow of the subject matter. Willis shows how Cervantes continually violated a sense of the chapter as a discrete unit in the interests of a transcendent unity achieved by means of stylistic liaison. This theory does not, of course, deny the validity of a structural analysis, particularly one based on the hero's psychological development. The lack of logic in the divisions produces a natural flow in the novel, creating and recreating character.

Furthermore, Cervantes introduces four main digressions (or episodic narratives) at key points in the structure to parallel the particular psychological state of Don Quixote at each point as I shall explain in some detail in following paragraphs. Thus the Marcela episode concludes Part II; Cardenio's tale concludes Part III; “The Tale of Foolish Curiosity” stands near the beginning of Part IV, which concludes with the narrative of Anselmo and Eugenio, both deserted by their beloved and withdrawn into pastoral existence.

A closer examination of the psychological pattern outlined above, a pattern of involvement and of retreat, in the 1605 novel, will indicate the basic nature of the odyssey Don Quixote takes in this book, for Cervantes' genius as a writer lies in his treatment and understanding of the inner man behind the mask which he may wear.

The melancholy state of Quixada is readily apparent in Chapter 1; for most of the year he has given himself up to the reading of books of chivalry, so much so that he has forgotten his estate and even his hunting. This fantasy world of Quixada sets the stage for the acting out of his fantasies, when as Don Quixote, he sets forth into the world. However, soon after he is knighted, he receives the first thrashing of many which are to follow. To the laborer who rescues Don Quixote after his beating by the muleteer, the Don asserts undaunted that he may be the twelve peers of France and the nine worthies all together. The return to the village at the end of this episode does not, therefore, constitute a psychological return or defeat. Don Quixote, despite his beating, is inwardly unchanged and simply reinforces his original position by joining up with Sancho and taking along some clean shirts and a purse of money. The conclusion of Part I is more a mechanical division than a thematic ending; Cervantes creates a feeling of suspense by means of the unfinished fight with the Basque. Parts I and II, as has been noted, are thematically continuous and conclude with the self-imposed exile of Marcela which coincides with Don Quixote's own withdrawal among the goatherds whom he eulogizes in his “noble savage” speech.

The subplots, or episodes concerning characters other than Don Quixote, are always comparable with or in contrast to the main plot (the same parallelism of plots seen, for example, in Shakespeare's plays). Thus the inquisition of the books, in which the barber and the curate employ themselves on Don Quixote's return, parallels in essence the pursuits and methods of the hero himself, for the inquisition scene brings up the question of how one goes about establishing a set of ideals; how, in other words, man promotes his idealism within his society. And the curate and the barber mistakenly use the same method employed by Don Quixote himself. They take up “arms”; they use physical means, the bonfire, to deal with something intangible, to purge their friend of his fantasies. This is what is meant by mistaken involvement with reality. The essential difference in the attack made by the curate and barber on the books and those made by Don Quixote on the exterior world is that the aims of the former are negative, that is, they would destroy without substituting a transcendent reality. However, Don Quixote himself, although employing mistaken means, is motivated by a positive idealism, by a desire to establish the chivalric mode. As foils, then, the curate and the barber perform a valuable function in enabling us to observer the complexities of human interrelationships and placing in relief the relative sanity of the madman compared with the insanity of those who claim to be sane.

The symbol of the windmill is perhaps a most significant one, coming as it does near the conclusion of Part I. The windmill channels a natural force, and it may symbolize, at an early point in the narrative, the very control Don Quixote lacks in his inability to direct his own powers. It is this symbol of control which Don Quixote attacks.

And although in the succeeding episode the Basque is overcome by Don Quixote, he is engaged in righting a wrong (a capricious blocking of the highway), the very role Don Quixote envisages for himself. Furthermore, the empty ritual, the demand that the Basque present himself to Dulcinea, is, of course, never carried out. It is actually Don Quixote who suffers the defeat, although he does not recognize it as one.

It is after this particular series of misadventures, culminating with the adventure with the Basque, that Don Quixote makes his first withdrawal into a pastoral setting among the goatherds. Here he delivers a long eulogy on the golden age of the ancients when innocence and simplicity reigned, a eulogy wherein he retreats into the past.

His withdrawal is paralleled by the story told to him by the goatherds, the story of Marcela, who like Don Quixote eschews reality for a fantasy world of freedom in the solitude of nature. Marcela's defense of her position is full of the same blatant rationalizations employed by Don Quixote in the defense of his chivalric role. Both feel they were “born free”; neither recognizes the unrelenting nature of the social contract nor a constructive and realistic means for carrying out their idealisms within the social frame. (It is not the intention of all men, as Marcela seems to think, to rob women of their beauty for selfish pleasure.) And yet, like the barber and the curate with their inquisition of books, Marcela also acts as a foil for Don Quixote. Her retirement is self-imposed and springs from fear and negation of the outside world; Don Quixote's retirement among the goatherds contains a positive note of peace, a return to nature in order to gather strength for the next sally into combat with the world of material values.

The end of Part II in the 1605 novel marks, then, the first definite division in terms of the psychological development of the hero. A sally, born of a crazed fantasy life, has been made and has ended in pastoral retirement. A new beginning, an issuing forth into the midst of the Yanguesans, on a nag drawn to some mares, provides a sharp contrast to the episode concerning the prudish Marcela as does the bedroom sequence in the inn which follows. The episodes which make up Part III all illustrate the increasingly mistaken involvements of the hero, which lead to a fear of the Holy Brotherhood and of constituted social authority and to a second retirement, one more crazed and less purposeful than the first.

Part III starts with Don Quixote's first really destructive act, the slaying of seven sheep. More serious is the broken leg of the Master of Arts in the adventure with the corpse. The title of the chapter containing the episode of the fulling mills reads: “Of the unparalleled Adventure achieved by the valorous Don Quixote de la Mancha with less peril than any ever achieved by any famous knight in the whole world.” Actually the chapter represents a futile involvement with fear, superstition, and fantasy. It also provides a measure of pure comic relief (and at the same time grants insight into the melancholic nature which cannot laugh at itself, for Don Quixote's self-image is clearly threatened by Sancho's jibes). The folly is intensified when Don Quixote wins Mambrino's helmet, a brass barber's basin, which represents another act of lawlessness in the name of chivalry.

But his separation from the social structure of which he is a part reaches its apex in the freeing of the galley slaves. Through this act he defies social order—would, in fact, turn it upside down and loose the criminal element in society as he has loosed chaos within himself. The distorted reference of this individual to his group is never more clearly seen than in this episode. As a result of it, Don Quixote and Sancho are attacked by the very slaves they have freed and become fugitives before the Holy Brotherhood. This time they are forced to withdraw, whereas previously they had withdrawn among the goatherds voluntarily.

It is this retirement with its parallel in the retirement of Cardenio which represents the psychological turning point of the work, for it is here that Don Quixote's ultimate defeat begins to emerge. He pretends he is mad like Amadis of Gaul, admitting that a knight may turn mad for no reason at all. When he admits that he is playing a role, merely repeating the experience of Amadis of Gaul (for the sake of repetition), we may see his downfall. For in his pride in the trappings and customs of the knight-errant, he has temporarily forgotten his central purpose. In acting as if he were mad, he substitutes a bookish role for idealistic action. Cardenio's penance is likewise a wasteful and meaningless one. Instead of attempting to cope with reality, Cardenio weeps futilely in the Sierra Morena. These two situations represent a kind of nadir of human behavior and a rescue is indeed in order, a rescue initiated from without.

Chapters 23 through 27 contain, then, the climax or nadir of the work (see Casalduero) if the novel is interpreted on the basis of the developing psychological pattern outlined in this introduction, for maximum psychological tension is achieved when the real world and the ideal world become polarities as they do in Don Quixote's penance in the mountains. Reality is here replaced by fantasy. In the episode with the galley slaves Don Quixote is still interacting (if mistakenly) with his society. A turning point is reached, however, when society is rejected for the fantasy world of Amadis of Gaul. Don Quixote may, however, show a moment of sanity at the very heart of his insanity when he imitates the madness of Amadis (RIQ, 119-120), for the desire to act as a madman implies that one knows how a sane man acts. Furthermore, it is in this episode that he tells Sancho that Dulcinea is the daughter of Lorenzo Corchuelo. It is his only reference to Dulcinea as a peasant girl. And so in the depths of his dementia may be seen the seeds of his eventual recovery. Such is Cervantes' genius in handling the ambiguities of human behavior. The denouement of the novel begins with this scene after Don Quixote symbolically abandons his quest in the pointlessness of his behavior in the Sierra Morena and is rescued by the party headed by the curate and the barber.

The entire passage in which Don Quixote imitates Amadis of Gaul also illustrates the author's skillful use of literary quotation, which is for Cervantes “far more than a mere ornament attached to or imposed upon his novel with no organic connection” (ME, 60). As Herman Meyer demonstrates, in Don Quixote the “‘quotative life’ is a form of life” (ME, 64-65) whereby Cervantes produces the tension between the “lofty” and the “lowly.” The antithesis between the high and the low created by the use of quotation balances the more obvious antithesis between illusion and reality in the book. Thus whereas in Rabelais the quotation had served to enrich meaning and to support structure, in Cervantes' novel the quotation is “a direct and pure expression of meaning” (ME, 71), a rich elaboration of a basic antithesis of the novel.

Part IV, a section dealing with the resolving of problems starting with Chapter 28, opens fittingly with the tale of Dorothea (meaning gift of God), for Dorothea is a positive force in the novel. Cervantes now turns to the figures around Don Quixote. The various reconciliations, meetings, and meaningful involvements of the other characters in this part contrast sharply with Don Quixote's lack of involvement. “The Tale of Foolish Curiosity” underlines the kind of play acting which has forced Don Quixote into death in life and Anselmo and Lothario into death itself.

The structure of Part IV is punctuated by five digressions: (1) “The Tale of Foolish Curiosity,” (2) the conversation on arms and letters, (3) the Captive's tale, (4) Don Quixote's conversation with the canon, and (5) the tale of Anselmo and Eugenio. The progression of this unit is orderly, illustrating the polarity between involvement and withdrawal and leading from Don Quixote's rescue by Dorothea to the imprisonment on the wagon. In Part IV we find a more rapid alternation between involvement and withdrawal, although it is the same pattern which has characterized the preceding sections, both of which end in the hero's retreat. Thus the author follows Dorothea's active participation in Don Quixote's rescue which he juxtaposes with the pointless curiosity of Anselmo; he contrasts Don Quixote's battle with the wineskins with the meaningful reconciliations of the two couples; Don Quixote's abstract discourse on arms and letters seems empty beside the active involvement of the Captive; the shackling of Don Quixote's arm or his power is followed by a frenzied misuse of power—the mêlée over the recovery of Mambrino's helmet. Don Quixote's imprisonment on the wagon, his conversation with the canon, and the tale of Anselmo and Eugenio all forebode the final withdrawal of the hero. Before this happens, however, Don Quixote makes one final sally against rainmakers, against those who would bring about fertility and new life. Clearly the involvements of the hero in this final section symbolize the sterile outcome of his quest.

This counterpoint may be examined more closely. Dorothea's rescue of Don Quixote is part of a larger rescue she accomplishes, that of her relationship to Don Ferdinand. A lesser woman reacting to rejection by her lover would have retired to a convent. Instead Dorothea, with intelligence and good humor, presses her case until Don Ferdinand is forced to yield to the justice of her demands. Her rescue of Don Quixote is also the result of her ability to face reality, even the reality of a madman. By falling in with Don Quixote's fantasy as she has followed the mad wanderings of her lover, she is able to lure Don Quixote back to the inn and away from his solitary withdrawal from people.

A different situation is represented by Anselmo's foolish curiosity. Although to all appearances Anselmo is happily married to Camilla, he cannot help but meddle with his lot. Whereas Dorothea is devoted to the cause of meaningful reconciliation, Anselmo plays wanton and dangerous games with his wife as pawn, withdrawing from a purposeful existence with her.

In Don Quixote's battle with the wineskins, we find the hero engaged with an inanimate object which he takes for a giant, whereas in the reunions of Cardenio and Lucinda, of Don Ferdinand and Dorothea, we see human beings involved with other human beings and confusions set straight.

Furthermore, the talk of arms and letters takes on the aura of the university debate, of the ivory tower, when seen in the light of the Captive's tale which follows. The Captive is an active participant in life; he spends little time discoursing about its abstract nature.

But when, two chapters later, Don Quixote is tied up by the arm by two prostitutes, his captivity is quite different from that of the Captive. The latter had been freed by a woman whereas Don Quixote has been shorn of his power by women. The mêlée which occurs the next day illustrates the kind of crazy activity in which Don Quixote's freedom always results. Unless he is restrained, scenes occur filled with “shouts, screams, amazement, fear, alarm, dismay, slashings, punches, blows, kicks and effusion of blood” (407). In this final pair of episodes both the ridiculous and pathetic character of Don Quixote's retreats and sallies become fully apparent.

In summary it may be seen that Cervantes has skillfully alternated participation and withdrawal in developing Don Quixote's madness. The mistaken involvements of the Don in the first three parts lead to two major withdrawals from the world into the solitude of nature, one voluntary and one to escape arrest. The fourth part continues to deal with the polarity between withdrawal and participation but in a different way. Don Quixote has achieved the ultimate withdrawal through his passive credulity and contrasts with those around him who are engaged, as are Dorothea and the Captive, in constructive courses of action. Cervantes, in the 1605 Quixote, shows how the credulity of the hero in his literal rendering of books of chivalry is a credulity which in the end will be turned against him by others. Don Quixote has moved in the 1605 novel through a series of attempts to right matters in the world, to tackle giants and whole armies, to rescue maidens in distress, to set straight social wrongs to a point where as a knight in distress he has been rescued by a maiden (Dorothea) and is now manipulated by the very fantasies which have inspired his active quest to reestablish the world of chivalry.

Yet it is important to recognize, although Don Quixote has met defeat and failure at every turn, that his idealisms persist. For as José Antonio Maravall shows in his book on the humanism of arms, Cervantes' intentions must be seen in the light of the spiritual and intellectual tradition to which he was heir. Thus the practice of arms, as the chapter on arms and letters indicates, was for the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance a means of attaining an interior nobility, a spiritual (not merely physical) activity through which bravery in upholding justice and in fulfilling one's responsibilities was acquired. Therefore, although the trappings of the chivalric romance are continually parodied by Cervantes, the practice of arms is considered to be a more serious matter, closely linked to the reform of man, society, and the state. This hope for reform, which characterized the thought of Erasmus and the late medieval cultural tradition, had by Cervantes' time been badly tarnished, although not entirely abandoned. For Don Quixote is not finished; a third expedition is hinted at in the final pages of the 1605 book. The ambiguity of the hero, then, results partly from the two traditions from which Cervantes creates him. It is Don Quixote's fresh resolve, his continual inner fidelity to his ideal, even to the point of a third sally, that suggests a real participation and involvement in arms despite the fact that his actions again and again neutralize and even deny his idealisms, forcing him to retreat eventually in a cage to his home.


Whereas the emphasis in the 1605 Quixote has been on Don Quixote's fluctuating relationship to his society in his attempt to revive chivalry (ending in the necessity of his withdrawing from that society), the 1615 Quixote stresses Don Quixote's discovery of himself. Many of the other characters in this volume act as mirrors to reflect the hero from different angles. As Ortega y Gasset points out in speaking of Goethe, “human life is made up of the problem of itself” (“In Search of Goethe from Within,” New Partisan Reader 1945-1953, p. 296.) It is not, in other words, a confrontation with obstacles in the world outside of oneself or with something that already is. Cervantes and Don Quixote may have learned this through their encounters in the 1605 book where Don Quixote engages in battle with a series of “things”—windmills, a herd of sheep, or wineskins. The entire motion of the 1615 Quixote is reflexive and inward rather than outward—seeking, as it were, the well-springs of human action and behavior. For example, Don Quixote's first encounter in the 1605 Quixote is with the farmer and Andrew; his first quest in the 1615 Quixote is in search of Dulcinea, a being who has no existence outside of Don Quixote's own imagination. To seek her is to seek himself. Cervantes recognizes that the wise man makes sure of his own identity before he undertakes to modify or change the ways of others. Don Quixote seems partially to understand this point when he says to the barber “I … am not Neptune, and I am not trying to make anyone believe me wise when I am not. … I am only at pains to convince the world of its error” (477). Don Quixote knows who he is not, but not until the end of the 1615 book does he know who he is.

In fact, as Mia Gerhardt (GER, 52) shows, the play of mirrors becomes in this part so complicated, the confusion Cervantes creates between reality and illusion, between life and books becomes so complete, that the reader is likely to lose himself. The confusion is compounded not only by the fact that the two parts of the Quixote comment on one another, but we now have the imposter Quixote of Avellaneda with which to contend. By incorporating one of Avellaneda's characters (Don Alvaro Tarfe), Cervantes finally eliminates this alien element by giving it a life within the original book and creating from an illusion still another illusion.

Cervantes divided the 1615 edition of Quixote into four sections, which provide Don Quixote with many mirrors in which to view himself. The first seven chapters serve as a means of getting the third expedition under way. Chapters 8 through 29 offer varied and contrasting views of the hero as he is reflected by others who meet him. The next twenty-seven chapters (30 through 57) deal with the series of humiliations at the castle of the Duke and Duchess, depriving both master and squire of any identity as such and indicating the emptiness of their existence at this stage. The final seventeen chapters (57 through 74) show Don Quixote gradually assuming his true identity. A more detailed discussion of these four main sections will indicate the way in which Cervantes handles the problem of acquiring self-knowledge.

It is fitting that the Prologue to the 1615 book should concern the imposter writer and his sequel to the 1605 Quixote because the sham Don Quixote is, of course, a kind of mirror image basic to the entire volume. Presumably it attests continually to the worth and authenticity of the original and is never far from Cervantes' thoughts throughout the 1615 book.

The first seven chapters introduce the major theme, the mirroring and discovery of self that is to be fully developed as the novel progresses. The priest and barber reappear in Chapter 1, one month after the end of the first part, and revive the theme of chivalric madness as they chat with Don Quixote, for these two characters had been and still are secretly drawn to Don Quixote's mad fantasy themselves. To open the 1615 Quixote with the very two who had “rescued” him in the 1605 book creates an ironic mirror image of the hero. A more central mirror image in the 1615 story is the bachelor, Sampson Carrasco, who is introduced in Chapter 3. Sampson also yearns to be a knight errant but for different reasons from those of Don Quixote, reasons which prove to be mainly self-centered. It is Sampson who becomes Knight of the Mirrors, and it is later Sampson who effects the denouement of the novel by unhorsing Don Quixote. In both encounters he reflects and foils the hero. And finally in Chapter 5, the scene between Sancho and his wife mirrors scenes that take place between Don Quixote and Sancho, for Sancho plays Don Quixote with his wife, who plays Sancho with him. In these ways the opening chapters establish the mode of the 1615 Quixote.

In the second section of the book (Chapters 8-29), we view a number of characters who also reflect Don Quixote. As we have pointed out, Don Quixote seeks Dulcinea (but he is really seeking himself, for she is a creation of his own imagination). He finds her as a peasant girl, fallen from her ass, ugly, low, and stinking of raw garlic. Although Don Quixote does not recognize his own image, he too has often fallen from his mount and his appearance too is less appealing than that of characters like Amadis of Gaul. He is forced to invoke enchanters to explain the appearance of Dulcinea; never does he see his own image in the mirror that Dulcinea provides.

Two kinds of ‘players’ next occupy the attention of the knight, complementing his own kind of play acting. First, there is the wagon of players and then the Knight of the Mirrors whose title makes him a key figure in the 1615 book. Among the actors on the wagon is a knight who wears a plumed hat rather than a helmet, suggesting that his role is not a militant one. Once again Don Quixote's vision is blurred, and he fails to see himself in this knight. Had he looked, he might have seen that his own costume bore a resemblance to that of the actor and that like him, he was borne on the ‘wagon of death.’ Yet these “phantoms,” as he names them, make him uncomfortable, and he wishes to leave them in search of “more substantial adventures” (538). Had he been able to discern the ineffectiveness of his own actions, that is, the phantomlike quality in himself, he could have made his own life more purposeful. The actors show him a likeness which is too close to truth for comfort. He tells Sancho that plays hold up the mirror to us at every step (539), but still he fails to look into this mirror when it is thrust before him.

Likewise the Knight of the Mirrors offers Don Quixote the opportunity of viewing his own image. But Don Quixote never perceives that the ambiguous motives of Carrasco are similar to his own. That is, Sampson Carrasco's motives are both philanthropic and frivolous. Don Quixote's vision is philanthropic; his means of carrying out his vision is frivolous. But Quixote does not grasp the full import of Sampson's defeat—that philanthropic goals are best achieved by less frivolous means, and he sends Sampson off to El Toboso firmly convinced that he will go.

The episodes seem to go in groups and pairs in this section of the book, providing a complex pattern of reciprocal commentary on one another and on Don Quixote. Thus in the preceding set of episodes we are able to contrast three kinds of actors: the actor of the stage, the prankster, and the amateur actor of knight-errantry. The stage actor is involved in a double existence and, therefore, is dismissed by Don Quixote as a phantom. The prankster's purposes are partly selfish ones, like those of the phantom actors ineffectual in achieving creative ends. Don Quixote, living the role he has chosen day and night, is unaware of his double existence. His purposes are unselfish ones, but because he has deceived himself and has denied his identity, he too is phantom-like in his effect upon the world which he would save.

The connection between Cervantes' treatment of play acting and the concept of theatrum mundi should be noted here. Cervantes wrote with full awareness that he was following a tradition which by the seventeenth century had become almost a literary cliché—“all the world's a stage.” Cervantes' knowledge of this tradition makes significant the whole question of role in Don Quixote and the whole vexing problem of Don Quixote's attitude toward his own way of life. It is as if Cervantes, having grasped the full significance of theatrum mundi, the purposeful and successful staging of one's life in making order out of unordered experience, had turned his parody on this tradition, also. He shows us in Don Quixote a misguided player on the stage of life, making disorder out of order, unable to direct his own play or to act in it. Thus the actors who are seen as “phantoms” are at the same time more substantial than Don Quixote; and the puppets whom he destroys more purposeful than his destruction of them. If Don Quixote is aware of his “role,” it is in terms of what he considers his ability to formulate and order his own life, an ability which Cervantes shows us he sadly and tragically lacks.

The Gentleman in Green and the lions in their cages, the subjects of the next two episodes, are also curiously similar and dissimilar to Don Quixote. In fact, the episode of the lions is intercalated within the encounter with Don Diego, so that Cervantes may say that Don Diego is somewhat like the lion who sleeps when the door to his cage is opened and freedom or a challenge is offered. It will be readily remembered that Don Quixote also has been confined in a cage. Yet when the door was opened, he took advantage of his opportunity to go free, to engage in new adventures. By contrast, the Gentleman in Green remains in his village prudently avoiding any steps which might lead to active confrontation with others. Don Diego, on another level, is a mirror image of Alonso Quixada whom Don Quixote is to find at the end of his adventures. Therefore, Don Quixote might have been able to see his image in both animal and man. What differentiates them is their attitudes toward the cages in which they are confined. The lion and Don Diego are unaware of their opportunities for freedom (“the lion lay down again in his cage with great calmness and composure”) (576); Don Quixote has created his freedom to act as a knight-errant. Were he able to look into the mirror offered him here, he would find encouragement for his quest in the behavior of Don Diego, and yet, like Don Diego, he himself is not using his potentiality to the best possible end.

The succeeding adventures concerning Camacho's wedding and the visit to Montesinos' cave involve two love affairs, both of which parallel and contrast with the relation of Don Quixote to Dulcinea. Basilio's aims are earthly ones; Don Quixote's transcend physical love. Durandarte, on the other hand, a product of Don Quixote's imagination, is transfixed on his bier, his heart in the possession of the lady Belerma. Don Quixote, in descending into Montesinos' cave has descended, as it were, into his own unconscious world. Durandarte may thus stand for Don Quixote's repressed knowledge of self; enchanted as he is by his mad fantasy, he is no more effective in dealing with life than the transfixed Durandarte; like Durandarte's, Don Quixote's heart has been cut from his chest and lies in the possession of a maiden no more real than the Lady Belerma. Yet Don Quixote has the potential to rise from his bier and to assume an effective role were he able to see himself in his own fantasy of the enchanted Durandarte and able to put into constructive action the idealism embodied in his love for Dulcinea. Basilio, of course, contrasts sharply with both Durandarte and Don Quixote. Basilio's aims are confined to the winning of a wife. Furthermore, he knows who he is, and he is resourceful in achieving his ends. Although he lacks the idealism of Don Quixote (he is advised by Don Quixote to give up his tricks), his heart has not been separated from his body as both Don Quixote's and Durandarte's have. Don Quixote's knighthood is not trickery, although it may be viewed as a means of accomplishing his ends by “playing a role.” Thus Basilio, Durandarte, and Don Quixote all throw light upon each other, contrasting with one another in a myriad of ways. Through such mirroring devices Cervantes offers his hero the possibility of self-knowledge.

Cervantes indicates the growing deterioration of Don Quixote as knight in the following two episodes. He uses an ape and asses to represent the abasement of Don Quixote, for the Renaissance reader considered both animals “funny” (RUS, 321). The ape and Master Peter, who speak with one voice and thus are in a sense synonymous, both contrast and compare with Don Quixote. In the episode of the galley slaves Master Peter had behaved little better than an ape in his unreasoning anger at the very man who had helped him. By contrast Don Quixote considers loyalty among the highest of the virtues he proclaims, However, Don Quixote himself behaves little better than an ape in destroying another's property, the puppets of Master Peter. In fact, the scene in which we see the aging knight rain furious blows upon the “puppet-heathenry” is reminiscent of the senseless rage of an angry ape in captivity. Once again the central contrast lies in the difference in intention. Don Quixote's intentions always lack self-centeredness. He attacks the puppets because he thinks he is helping fugitives; Master Peter's motives, on the contrary, have been selfish ones. Recognizing Don Quixote's madness, Master Peter has made no allowances for it, stoning him because he has been asked to present himself before Dulcinea del Toboso, although he had been helped by the Don. Master Peter, therefore, serves as both foil and mirror for Don Quixote. Cervantes implies that if one's means of achieving ends are mistaken, then the ends are likely to be no better than those of a common criminal. On the other hand, Don Quixote, unlike Master Peter, pays for his destruction.

The disagreement and yet essential agreement between Unamuno and Ortega y Gasset is nowhere better illustrated than in their opinions of the puppet show. Unamuno feels Don Quixote is exonerated and ennobled by his payment for the damage he has done. Unamuno further apotheosizes him with a suggestion that Cervantes sees Don Quixote here as a symbolic revolutionary, a much-needed reformer of the Spanish parliament which in this scene he, in effect, would reduce to splinters (UN, 204). On the contrary, Ortega, who judges Don Quixote both mad and harmful, finds the scene an opportunity to discourse on the relation of poetry and reality and shows that through Don Quixote's dementia and simple-mindedness “emanations come and go from one continent to the other” (ORT, 134). The special value of criticism in Spanish, which identifies Don Quixote as a national hero, must not be overlooked. It is well symbolized in the group of statues dedicated to Cervantes in the Plaza de España in Madrid. Here in bronze, Don Quixote, followed by Sancho, may be seen as knight and crusader, hand outstretched in a gesture of victory, lance uplifted and erect. Above him in marble towers the seated figure of his creator and on either side sit his women—Dulcinea on his right; Aldonza Lorenzo on his left. Both Unamuno and Ortega, each in his own way, interpret and pay homage to such an image.

But to return to the text—as Master Peter is a prototype of his ape, so the villagers are prototypes of their asses, traditionally far stupider than apes. Both villager and ass can bray, and it is against a background of brayers that Don Quixote is now viewed. The villagers, whether aldermen or bailiffs, have debased themselves to the level of asses. Even their banners carry images of open-mouthed asses. Don Quixote's advice to the brayers is advice he might well have taken himself. He tells them, “whoever takes them [arms] up for trifles or for matters laughable … is, in my opinion, lacking in all common sense” (650). Yet he himself has only recently taken up arms against a stage full of puppets. Once again he is mirrored in the people he confronts. Hardly brighter than the asses that they imitate, the brayers, thinking Sancho is mocking them, run master and squire out of town. Yet the purposes of both are peaceable by comparison with those of the contentious villagers who are ready to fight at the slightest provocation, almost for the sake of fighting. Cervantes shows us that Don Quixote may be both the image and antithesis of the brayers and their asses as well as of Master Peter and his ape. In fact, the pairs themselves suggest a grotesque mockery of Don Quixote and Sancho as a pair. Cervantes concludes this second section of the 1615 Quixote with Don Quixote more debased and moving further and further away from what he thinks he is. Only when the real and the ideal are reunited will Don Quixote have discovered his identity.

In the final episode with the enchanted boat, Don Quixote's identity reaches its nadir, in his defeat by a nonhuman force, the mill-race. It is a fitting forerunner of the coming encounter with the Duke and the Duchess where the Don's identity is submerged in yet another way.

Within the third section (Chapters 30-57) of the 1615 novel, Don Quixote has ceased to exist in his own right, but through a series of humiliations and degradations has become a toy in the hands of his host and hostess, the Duke and Duchess. Likewise Sancho is converted from a friend of the Don to a pawn of the Duke. The emptiness of both Don Quixote's and Sancho's existence is mirrored in the emptiness of the life of the Duke and Duchess and their court, although theirs is the emptiness of lives devoted to cruel practical jokes perpetrated at the expense of knight and squire. From the passive defense of the Countess Trifaldi on Clavileño to the attacks on Don Quixote by the cats and by the Duchess and Altisidora to his abortive fight with a lackey, Don Quixote is mocked, derided, and humiliated. Likewise Sancho's governorship is a means of derisive fun, ending in his encasement between two shields, like a tortoise in its shell. Sancho takes the first step in his own progress toward redemption when he recognizes the folly of his governorship; and Don Quixote takes his first step in finally eschewing openly his idleness amid the luxury at the castle. Yet the idleness of Don Quixote and Sancho is far less malignant than that of those who mock them.

Don Quixote at last discovers his true identity in the fourth and final section of the book following a series of total defeats. No longer the pawn of Duke and Duchess, he is forced to accept his defeats as completely his own. Trampled by bulls, defeated by the Knight of the White Moon, and trampled by hogs (the key episodes in this section), Don Quixote emerges through the fever of his final illness, cleansed of his mad fantasy. Meanwhile Sancho's self-flagellation provides a kind of humorous counterpoint for the Don's various tramplings.

Don Quixote's downfall is predicted in yet another way in these final episodes—by the actual violence which is introduced. Claudia Jeronima's fatal wounding of her lover, Roque Guinart's killing of a follower, the battle on the galley, all make Don Quixote's previous actions seem trivial by comparison. He becomes an onlooker even though on the galley a real opportunity to engage a traditional enemy of all knights—the Turks—is offered him (see RIQ, 166).

And finally many of the episodes (especially the later ones) apart from Don Quixote's three most disastrous encounters in Part IV, are repetitive episodes reflecting events in other sections of the book or making the same points. Thus the spurious second part of Don Quixote, written by Avellaneda, is mentioned again during Don Quixote's visit to the printer's shop; Don Antonio (although more cynical in his passive malevolence) reflects the Duke in Part III; the enchanted head has the same function as Master Peter's ape in Part II; and Anna Felix brings to mind Zoraida in the 1605 book. Furthermore, for two chapters Don Quixote actually returns to the castle of the Duke and Duchess. This repetition, linking the final episodes of the book to earlier episodes, provides a unity and sense of return which mirrors Don Quixote's own return to his village and to himself.

The image at last perceived in the pool is that of Alonso Quixano the Good. Don Quixote's eyes are opened to his own likeness at the moment when they are about to be closed in death. Thus Cervantes, through a skillful interweaving of theme and structure, establishes the immortality of his hero, who is involved in the search of Everyman for his fellow humans and for himself. For as Maravall shows (MAR, 164), Don Quixote is attempting not to defeat others but to recreate himself through the practice of arms. Thus his discovery of an identity in these final pages suggests an apprenticeship to a true chivalry, not to a false one of exterior forms. A nobility of spirit has been acquired, an interiorized virtue, suggested by his new title—Alonso Quixano the Good.

Bibliography and Key

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OB Cervantes, Miguel de. Obras completas, ed. Martín de Riquer. Barcelona: Editorial Planeta, 1962, Vol. 1.

COL Cervantes. A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Lowry Nelson. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969.

CUR Curtius, Ernst. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask. New York: Pantheon Books, 1952.

GER Gerhardt, Mia. Don Quijote, la vie et les livres. Amsterdam: Noord-Hollandsche Uitg. Mij., 1955.

GRO Grossvogel, David I. “Cervantes: Don Quixote” in Limits of the Novel. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1968.

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MAR Maravall, José Antonio. El Humanismo de las armas en ‘Don Quijote.’ Madrid: Instituto de Estudios Politicos, 1948.

ME Meyer, Herman. The Poetics of Quotation in the European Novel, trans. Theodore and Yetta Ziolkowski. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1968.

NEL Nelson, Jr., Lowry. Baroque Lyric Poetry. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1961.

ORT Ortega y Gasset, José. Meditations on Quixote, trans. Evelyn Rugg and Diego Marin. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1961.

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RUS Russell, P. E. “Don Quijote as a Funny Book.” Modern Language Review, 64 (1969), 302-326.

SAR Sarmiento, Edward. “On the Interpretation of Don Quixote.Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 37 (1960), 146-153.

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VAN Van Doren, Mark. Don Quixote's Profession. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958.

WARD Wardropper, Bruce W. “Don Quixote: Story or History?” Modern Philology 63 (1965), 1-11.

WP Willis, Jr., Raymond S. The Phantom Chapters of the Quijote. New York: Hispanic Institute of the United States, 1953.

WS———. “Sancho Panza: Prototype for the Modern Novel.” Hispanic Review, 37 (1969), 207-227.

(Page numbers without prefixes all refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Don Quixote translated by J. M. Cohen.)

Ruth El Saffar (essay date 1975)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10728

SOURCE: El Saffar, Ruth S. “The Dynamics of Character-Author-Reader Interaction in Don Quixote.” In Distance and Control in Don Quixote : A Study in Narrative Technique, pp. 15-44. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: North Carolina Studies in Romance Languages and Literatures, 1975.

[In the following essay, El Saffar examines how Don Quixote is built around the tripartite nature of its characters as they function at different points in the roles of character, narrator, and spectator.]


Don Quixote, in addition to being a novel about a man who made himself a knight in imitation of the books of chivalry on which his imagination had thrived for many years, is a collection of short stories, poems, and literary and heroic discourses. Although Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza receive the greater share of their author's attention, puzzling, seemingly un-integrated episodes in the novel remain to be considered. Criticism of the interpolated stories of Part I began before Part II had even appeared, and Part II shows both implicitly and explicitly Cervantes' awareness of the problem of their relation to the story of Don Quixote. Don Quixote himself, of course, is most indignant when he discovers (II, 3) that many pages of the published history of his deeds fail to deal directly with his thoughts and actions, digressing to concern themselves with what is for him totally extraneous matter. Don Quixote's scribe, Cide Hamete, who has to take the blame for his “error,” however, is not so certain that he was wrong in turning to topics not directly concerned with his main protagonist. In a well-known passage in Chapter 44 of Part II, he laments his restriction to his boring task of recording Don Quixote's deeds and asks to be praised for as much restraint as he has shown. While in Part II Cervantes does manage carefully to tie almost all the narrated action to the lives of Don Quixote and Sancho, the artistic validity of the interpolated stories of Part I has not thereby been totally negated. For in Part II as in Part I, there are numbers of characters who claim an interest independent of Don Quixote and Sancho, despite their apparent adhesion to the supposed main thread of the story. And, perhaps more importantly, the voice of the fictional scribe, Cide Hamete, is even more evident and persistent in Part II than it was in Part I.

Clearly, as most critics of Don Quixote agree, the deeds of Don Quixote and Sancho, despite Don Quixote's protestations, do not constitute the unifying factor of the novel. Exactly what Cervantes' intention was in writing Don Quixote has been the subject of most critical inquiries into the novel. There is a general agreement that the novel can at least partially be understood as a parody of the libros de caballerías so popular in the 16th century. Critics differ, however, on the degree of importance given to this aspect of the novel.1 The parody brings a double vision to bear on Don Quixote's and Sancho's deeds which undermines their self-inflation to the degree that the reader's sophistication allows him to ally himself with the author's ironic view of his character. The author's parodic attitude does not entirely explain, however, the presence and function of the interpolated stories.

Other critical approaches to Don Quixote involve the exposure of various patterns, psychological, linguistic, formal, and philosophical, which reveal themselves as much in the interpolated material as in the central story.2 Many of the critics who have focused on the problem of the unity of Don Quixote reject the interpolated stories as a mistake and as structurally un-integrated.3

Few critics until recently have dealt in detail with the manner in which Don Quixote is narrated.4 Although the fictional narrator is a device common in the libros de caballerías, and therefore an element of the parody in Don Quixote, its use in the full elaboration of the novel cannot simply be explained in terms of that parody. The increasing frequency of Cide Hamete's appearances as the novel progresses justifies careful consideration of his role in the work. From Part I, Chapter 8, when the reader is first made aware of Cide Hamete's role as author of the history of Don Quixote, until the end of Part II, Cide Hamete darts in and out of the narrative to comment on Don Quixote or Sancho, to praise Don Quixote or to doubt him, to ask the muses for inspiration, or to complain about the difficulty of his task. The character of Cide Hamete emerges not only through his own comments, but through the comments, corrections, and criticisms of his readers and characters within the novel. He is, in addition to being the supposed author of Don Quixote, fully a character in his own right.

The use of a fictional author who is also a character is not unfamiliar to readers of Melville, or Conrad, or of picaresque, confessional, and autobiographical novels in which the main interest lies in the relationship between the narrator and his story. With so much post-Jamesian criticism being concerned with point of view, this relationship of author to character is especially familiar to twentieth-century critics of the novel. The assumption behind the concern with point of view is that the author must select a single perspective from which the action in his work is viewed. A novel is judged successful to the extent that the author's position is consistently sustained. Norman Friedman's analysis of levels of control that an author may be granted in presenting a story is weakened by the assumption that in order to be good, an author must be consistent to the point of view he selects. On this basis, he rejects Don Quixote as unsuccessful.5

Cide Hamete is a different kind of character altogether from Marlow or Ishmael, for he is both sabio and historiador, both omniscient and limited. Despite uncertainties about historical sources and many indications that Cide Hamete had no direct contact with his “historical” characters,6 he is allowed intimate contact with them and even reports on the thoughts and feelings of his characters in their absolute solitude. That Cide Hamete could appear in the novel both as a character and as omniscient is what leads Norman Friedman to judge Don Quixote inconsistent.

The problem is that Cide Hamete represents a preoccupation on Cervantes' part not so much with the limitations of narrative perspective as with the problems of an author who must exist on two different temporal planes: that of his actual physical existence, and that of his projected, imagined story. Tristam Shandy gives perhaps the best-known expression of this dual dimension when he contrasts the amount of lived time the writing of his autobiography has taken with the period of time that work has covered.7 Tristam Shandy, in fact, represents in extreme form the problem presented by Cide Hamete's appearance in Don Quixote. Like Cide Hamete, Tristam violates the verisimilitude of point of view, narrating events which under normal human limitations would be unknown to him. But as in Don Quixote, the principal concern is not with point of view as such, but with the dialectic between the consciousness of the narrator in his own lived time, and the objects external to him, belonging to a preterite time, which he must order and project. Sterne's novel represents the extreme toward which Cervantes' only tends. For Tristam's lack of success in ordering his material detracts from the intrinsic interest in the story itself and returns the reader's concern and awareness to the narrator whose subjective states of mind are exposed to him. Cide Hamete, though clearly concerned with the problem of vividly projecting his material, is much more successful in carrying his story through consecutively from beginning to end than is Tristam. The breaks in the story line, however, and the inclusion of apparently extraneous material, do testify to a creative spirit tending toward uncontrolled writing for its own sake, against the restraints of coherence and intelligibility.

The ideal situation which both these novels suggest, but never achieve, would be one in which the writer's time and his character's time coincide. If the writer could actually become the subject about which he writes, there would be no more problems with ordering the work or presenting it truthfully and convincingly. The consciousness of the failure to unify the writer's time with his character's time produces an enhanced sensation of fragmentation, again more clearly seen in Tristam Shandy. Tristam presents as actually happening a series of scenes so chronologically scattered as to seem incoherent if not carefully studied. Between these momentary acts of authorial participation with past actions and the lives of other characters are equally scattered and seemingly incoherent comments from Tristam's own time and references to his epic situation.8 Cide Hamete likewise produces a sense of instability of point of view, though much less startlingly. At times he seems to be following right upon Don Quixote's and Sancho's footsteps, allowing their actions to dictate his words. Suddenly, however, he will shift his position and reassert his fore-knowledge of the end and overall control by revealing something which no actual spectator could relate. The result is that the reader is successively drawn into the suspense and interest that the characters themselves provide and is wrenched away from them to an awareness of the pen which determines their every gesture. Neither the reader nor the author is allowed too long to identify himself with the will and activities of the characters.

The problem of the simultaneity of the deed and its writing is presented more or less explicitly in the character of Ginés de Pasamonte. Ginés is among those prisoners on their way to the galleys whom Don Quixote encounters in Chapter 22 of Part I. Ginés tells Don Quixote that he is in the process of writing an autobiography which he has not finished because his life is not finished. He does claim, however, that when published it will put Lazarillo and all other picaresque novels to shame. The obvious criticism of autobiographical novels implicit in this boast is that there is no natural stopping-point in life from which it is legitimate to turn and recreate artistically former actions. Lazarillo is artificial and inconclusive because the author-character's life as writer in the present moves on even as he is trying to capture the past, the totality eluding him despite his efforts.9 Ginés's solution, therefore, is to live and write about his life at the same time, continuing both activities until his death. The problem is still not solved, however, for no matter how closely the one activity follows the other, the two are mutually exclusive. The process of living is open-ended, no certain ends resulting from a given set of means. The writer, on the other hand, must work from the position of the end, turning on already accomplished events and ordering them according to a pattern not obvious at their beginning. The approach to simultaneity of word and deed is necessarily asymptotic, as Ginés's unfinishable book suggests. Ginés's appearance in Part II disguised as a puppeteer again serves to illustrate the problem of simultaneity. As puppeteer he shows at close range how his audience's interest can be drawn either to himself as manipulator or to the puppets as they act out their story, but not to both at the same time. He must step behind his puppet stage while the interest is focused there, although he is free at any point to pop up and make his own voice heard. His voice and interests, however, are never interchangeable with those of the puppets, who must also claim their share of the attention. The alternation of focus between puppets and puppeteer parallels the alternation of focus throughout the book between Don Quixote and Cide Hamete.

The introduction of an author with clearly stated extra-artistic interests of his own reflects Cervantes' awareness of the fact that author and reader are still caught in an inexorable time process of their own, even while “suspended” in a work of art. The enchanted Durandarte's heart, although enchanted, must be salted in order not to putrify while being brought to Belerma (II, 23).10 Sancho proves to his own satisfaction that his master is not, indeed, enchanted, in the cart which is returning him from his second salida, because he still must “hacer aguas menores y mayores” (I, 48). Neither art nor any other form of enchantment can capture life and suspend it motionless and removed from time. For Don Quixote, the most obstinate believer in enchantments and in the real existence of artistic creations of even the most fantastic dimensions, only confrontation with his own death will shake his desperately hopeful belief that as Don Quixote he could suspend himself in time.

Alonso Quijano's attempt to transform himself entirely into his self-invented character, Don Quixote, is as unsuccessful as Ginés de Pasamonte's attempt to unite his active self with his own analytical self-portrayal, and as unsuccessful as Cervantes' attempt to unite his self with any of his created characters. The scene of Don Quixote's penance in the mountains (I, 25) is enough to show that Alonso Quijano is not entirely absorbed into his character Don Quixote. For rather than spontaneously living an act of isolation and mortification for the sake of his lady, he sifts through a whole series of possible actions. He must choose which, of the many models that his memory presents him, he must imitate. In such moments the distance between the controlling Alonso Quijano and his spontaneous, unconscious character can be clearly seen.11

It is precisely this awareness of the inevitability of distance between the controller and the controlled that Cervantes has built into his novel at every level. And it is the underlying tension between the controller and the controlled that moves the novel forward and gives it life. All of the named characters in Don Quixote merit their presence there by their imaginative capacity and desire to involve themselves in make-believe or in artistic creations. They are irresistibly drawn to invent situations in which they can enjoy, and temporarily participate in, Don Quixote's madness. They happily give up their normal chores to participate as spectators in someone else's drama. They become narrators' telling the story of their own lives or that of others, relating excitedly a strange occurrence or a new turn of events. Their lives, as they appear in the novel, form a complex intertwining of imaginative involvement in a time and life other than their own with their continued actual existence. Although none is as confused as Don Quixote about where the boundaries between these two types of involvement lie, most of them at one time or another fall into the error of losing their consciousness of the separating distance. It will be clear again and again throughout the novel, in both the major and the minor characters, that a loss of the sense of distance between the imagined and the lived world results in a loss of that character's control over his own actions and over those of the characters about him.

Cide Hamete, therefore, as the fictional author of the whole series of plots and sub-plots, must be placed at a distance great enough from his characters to maintain a reasonably consistent illusion of control. The role of historian is perfectly suited to the establishment and maintenance of this sort of distance. For, in addition to removing Cide Hamete radically from the lived time of his characters, it implies the actual, if preterite, existence of those characters. The belief and interest in these characters establishes the polarities between which the novel can be said to create itself. In the case of Don Quixote, the characters' claim for the exclusive interest in the novel is especially strong. Not only does Cide Hamete affirm persistently the historical veracity of his tale, but Don Quixote himself affirms his own existence. As was noted earlier, Cide Hamete had to defend himself against his own characters' judgments as to his accuracy and concern over their thoughts and deeds.12 Don Quixote's explicit insistence on being the exclusive focus of his author's interest is so strong that many readers, including some built into the novel, still take him to be the only important figure in the work.13

Despite the strength of Don Quixote's demand, Cide Hamete manages to claim enough of the reader's awareness to establish a feeling of distance between character and narrator. This is done in a number of ways. One of the major ways is by an arbitrary assertion of his control in stopping and starting his narrative. Raymond Willis' The Phantom Chapters of the Quixote shows how various chapter endings and beginnings reveal the hand of the narrator.14 By ending a chapter in the middle of an episode or by referring the reader to the preceding or following chapter, the author intrudes on the story to remind the reader of his control and of the fact that the character is nothing more than words on the pages of a book. A more overt device is for the fictional author to appear in his own voice to express the difficulties of describing a scene or character. Another common method is for the author to allow his character to dominate the scene entirely while he foregoes any claim to omniscience. Then, when the reader and author seem to be completely fused with the character, the author comes around and reasserts his complete awareness of the end.15 Finally, the author can show his absolute control by including as much extraneous material as he chooses, relating it only slightly, if at all, to the actions of the main character.

Through a focusing on the function of the main fictional narrator, Cide Hamete, it is clear that it is not the character of Don Quixote, but the dialectic represented by the opposition of Don Quixote and Cide Hamete that forms the basis of the novel. An axis of control is drawn between the main character and the main author. The attention of the reader and the focus of the novel oscillates along this axis. Don Quixote is explicitly aware of his need for an author16 and Cide Hamete makes it clear in his famous final speech that he is aware of his need for Don Quixote. But though independence is an obvious aspect of opposition, so is dependence. It is in the striving towards, and away from, each other that the author and the character have created the work.

Seen in this light, Don Quixote is a beautifully unified work, in which the interpolated stories are as much a part of the structure as are the deeds of Don Quixote and Sancho. For while the interpolated stories can be considered externally as the expression of Cide Hamete's freedom from Don Quixote, they can also be explained in themselves as representations of the need for authorical distance. The interpolated stories are broadly considered here as all those narrations of plays presented or invented by some characters for the entertainment or deception of other characters within the novel. Basically, they fall into two categories: narrations to a surrounding company by one character concerning the narrator's own past and its relation to his present circumstances; and “dramas” invented and enacted by possibly two or more characters for the purpose of deceiving other characters concerning their understanding of actual events.17 The two basic types of story reflect Cide Hamete's double role as both historiador and sabio with relation to the adventures of Don Quixote. The character-narrators are principally interested in relating a true account of past events, while the characters who serve as authors of the dramas are principally concerned with the control over other characters' actions and perceptions. In the one case it is the subject matter, and in the other the author's skill, which is given primary attention.

In both cases, however, the interpolated story is clearly set off, with the characters arranged according to their various roles as authors, spectators, or characters. By this temporary and artificial grouping a series of artistic distances is established which is essential to the production of the ensuing narrative or drama. In every instance, a narration by one of the characters is preceded by a description of the setting in which the narration is to take place, the appearance of the narrator, and the way in which his listeners are gathered around him. In this manner, the role of the characters with respect to the story about to be heard is made clear. It is also made clear that no narration takes place in a void. The story is the result of an interaction between interested spectators and a narrator with something to relate. Without both elements, the story would never take form. Although most of the interpolated narratives concern the narrator's own life story, all such narrators are suffering an unnatural suspension from their daily lives which gives them perspective. Their very presence in the mountains or in a roadside inn implies a distance from their normal center of activities. In these stories an external distance is supplied by the fact of the character's spatial remove from the events he narrates.

In the case of the dramas, the distance is more difficult to maintain because the actual and fictitious situations are temporally and spatially juxtaposed, and the roles of character, author, and spectator are not so clearly separable. In the dramas the distance must be maintained, though internalized, if any one character is to keep control. Such dramas as those enacted by Lucinda, Fernando and Cardenio in Cardenio's narrative, and Camila, Anselmo and Lotario in the Curioso impertinente show how quickly the artifice collapses when the characters lose a clear sense of the division between their pretended and their actual roles. In other dramas, such as those staged in Part II by the Duke and Duchess for Don Quixote's benefit, the separation between the artificial and actual worlds of the characters is more easily maintained. In all cases, however, involvement and distance are the omnipresent elements in the presentation of a fabricated work.

The combination of involvement in, and distance from, a work of art presented by or for the characters in the novel can also be illustrated from another perspective. None of the interpolated stories can be analyzed in isolation. Each narrator is also a character, existing and changing in the present. Just as Ginés de Pasamonte's life story cannot end until his life does, so the life stories of the narrators do not end with the end of their narrations. Although they are suspended temporarily from actual involvement in their stories, they are not entirely severed from their pasts. The series of love stories in Part I culminating in the final gathering in the inn18 shows how the narrators' stories and dramas complement and affect their lived experiences. Cardenio is ignorant of the end of his story, but as a result of having told it, a situation arises through which he is able eventually to act out the story's denouement. The intertwining of narrative and lived experiences characterizing the above-mentioned series of chapters in Part I illustrates from the perspective of the reader how the two types of experiences are naturally integrated in every life. On this level the reader is allowed to see how spontaneously any character moves in and out of the roles of author, spectator and character, and in and out of lived and imagined time. The total character is revealed as the combination of all these roles and both these times. The same things can be said of the dramas, especially prominent in Part II. The major point in those cases, however, is that characters move as inevitably from the position of controller to that of controlled as the narrators move from imagined to lived time.

The interpolated stories allow the reader to see fictional narrators from a vantage point which reveals how the artistic and non-artistic aspects of their lives intermingle. Because the reader is at two removes from the stories that the character-narrators tell, he can not only share the enjoyment of the character-spectators in the story told, but also observe as spectacle their reactions. The reader sees the interrelation between a series of stories, and the reactions, build-ups and after-effects of those stories. These effects are achieved sequentially, and as separate entities. Yet viewed from a distance and as a whole, certain patterns emerge to unify the seemingly separate story elements into a totality. The struggle to achieve simultaneity of author's and character's time, though impossible through the efforts of either of the principals in the opposition established, can be resolved at a distance. At a remove which transforms both character and author into characters, and fiction and real life into fiction, the amalgam produces an effect of unity rather than of unresolved oppositions. This phenomenon, so clearly demonstrable on the level of the interpolated stories, can now be seen to constitute the reason for Cide Hamete's appearance in the novel as fictional narrator.

The initial discovery as a result of which an inquiry was made into the structure of the interpolated stories was that the fictional narrator, Cide Hamete, claimed interest apart from Don Quixote and Sancho. The interpolated stories themselves seemed to be an expression of Cide Hamete's desire to free himself from the control of his main character. By his comments and complaints Cide Hamete established himself not simply as an impersonal scribe of someone else's history, but as a character independently interesting. The reader sees him as a character, however, not through his own comments alone. His work, as the reader discovers in Chapters 8 and 9 of Part I, has undergone two revisions by the time it becomes the novel Don Quixote. The translator and the so-called Second Author, through whom Cide Hamete's history is transmitted, see fit to include within the rewritten account of Don Quixote's deeds their own reactions to the story and its Moorish author. By the ingenious touch of having the characters in Part II become aware both of the existence of a written history about them and of the author of that history, Cide Hamete and the story can be judged by his characters as well as by his readers. The result is the emergence of a pattern which exactly duplicates those more clearly seen in the interpolated stories. A narrator who is also a character tells a story for an audience without whom the story would not exist. The reader is allowed to see, therefore, both the story and the reaction it produces in its audience. He also sees how the characters in the story eventually appear to confirm on their own terms what has been told about them. The author is evidently responsible both to his audience and his characters, between whom he must balance their potentially opposing demands for a true and yet suspenseful story. The pattern of Cide Hamete's relationship to his characters and audience clearly duplicates the narrators' relationship to their characters and audience in the interpolated stories.

This would seem to be a work completely self-enclosed, with readers, authors, and characters built in at every level to move the story forward. The obvious fallacy, however, is that no author can also be a character externally viewed within his own story without relinquishing his ultimate authority. Just as the series of interpolated stories can only be fitted into an over-all pattern by a scribe whose distance allows him to interconnect the events meaningfully, so Cide Hamete's extraneous comments and the comments about him must be handled by someone external and distant from him. The translator and the Second Author fill this role almost entirely, but ultimately they, too, must have an author through whom they can be presented in the third person. The only appearance of this final, ultimate author is at the end of Chapter 8, Part I, where he appears to tie the end of the first part of the manuscript of the story to the Second Author, who immediately takes upon himself the responsibility of finding and transmitting the remainder.19 In this single appearance, the author remains entirely anonymous, preferring the impersonal reflexive to any recourse to a first-person pronoun.

A novel constructed as a series of stories within stories necessarily suggests a vertical as well as a horizontal axis along which interest can be focused. In Don Quixote, each fictional narrator points beyond himself to another by whom he is controlled when he loses control of his own narrative or dramatic fabrication. As the interest moves upward along the scale of levels of fictional narrators, the balance of their dual roles as characters and authors moves more and more toward the authorial side of their character. The reader knows much less, for example, about Cide Hamete than he knows about the Duke and Duchess of Part II. On the other hand, he knows less about the translator and the Second Author than he does about Cide Hamete. About the ultimate author nothing is known. Awareness of his existence comes only by extension of the trajectory implied in the series leading from the character-authors to Cide Hamete to the translator to the Second Author.

The reason for this disappearance of the author behind a series of fictional authors should be clear from the various ways the problem of the relation of an author to his work has been built into the novel. The lesson repeated over and over again within the interpolated stories is that the fictional author controls the interests and actions of those around him so long as he can maintain a projected story or situation separate and clearly distinct from his actual situation. He becomes a character subject to the control of others the moment the awareness of the distinction between the story and the position of the story-teller breaks down in his mind. Distance is the prerequisite of artistic control, as both the horizontal and the vertical axes of Don Quixote show. The seemingly autonomous nature of Don Quixote, therefore, is illusory. It is only the hidden, implied author who can be seen to have absolute artistic control. Only the entire novel, viewed as a whole, actually achieves the effect attempted by authors within the novel. Only Don Quixote manages to resolve the dialectic between character and authorial control. The resolution consists of a double victory: the novel can at the same time reveal the appearance of complete character autonomy, while allowing for the reader's awareness of its complete artistic unity.


The Prologue to Part I, written after the first part of the novel had been completed, lends itself to an analysis which parallels the analysis of the whole novel at almost every point. Like any of the interpolated stories, the prologue begins with a direct address to an assumed audience. It is clear in the prologue, as it is elsewhere throughout the novel, that the reader or listener is the sine qua non of the presentation of the work. Although Cervantes admits explicitly to a concern with the response his readers will have to his prologue,20 he also assures the reader that he is free to say and feel what he wants with respect to his novel. This same freedom of reaction is accorded to the spectators of the various interpolated stories. Every sort of reaction, from Don Quixote's excited distraction in Cardenio's story by the mention of Amadís de Gaula (I, 24), to the Canon's learned criticism of the pastoral and chivalric novels (I, 47, 48), is built into the body of the work. The readers of the prologue are beyond Cervantes' reach and their reactions are uncontrollable. Therefore, Cervantes simply abrogates any intention to coerce them to respond in a prescribed way. He insists on the independence of the work from him and asks that the reader feel free to praise or criticize it as he sees fit. “Pero yo, que, aunque parezco padre, soy padrastro de Don Quijote, no quiero irme con la corriente del uso, ni suplicarte casi con lágrimas en los ojos, como otros hacen, lector carísimo, que perdones o disimules las faltas que en este mi hijo vieres, y ni eres su pariente ni su amigo, y tienes tu alma en tu cuerpo y tu libre albedrío como el más pintado, y estás en tu casa, donde eres señor della, como el rey de sus alcabalas, y sabes lo que comúnmente se dice, que debajo de mi manto, al rey mato. Todo lo cual te exenta y hace libre de todo respeto y obligación, y así, puedes decir de la historia todo aquello que te pareciere. …”

Just as Cervantes wishes, in the first paragraphs of the prologue, to make clear the reader's independence from him, he also wishes to make the work he is introducing appear to be free from his control. Cervantes laments, in the prologue, the necessity for a prologue at all: “Sólo quisiera dártela monda y desnuda, sin el ornato de prólogo, ni de la innumerabilidad y catálogo de los acostumbrados sonetos, epigramas y elogios que al principio de los libros suelen ponerse.” This statement reinforces the sense of the story's autonomy. It needs no preamble, no introduction, no famous names to justify it.

The relationship between distance and authorial control has been pointed out as essential to Cervantes' elaboration of his novel. Here, in the beginning of the prologue, is an explicit statement of this basic tenet. Critical judgment, he says, can only come from someone outside the creative process of the work. Since Cervantes clearly does not disclaim authorship of the novel, the statement can only be understood as a self-conscious attempt to divorce himself from the work while at the same time admitting his involvement in it. This process of simultaneously renouncing and admitting involvement in a story is the same as that which will be experienced by every fictional narrator and dramatist throughout the novel. The author must try, as Cervantes tries here by the use of the concept of step-fatherhood, to be both inside the work and outside it at the same time. He must have the objectivity of a reader as well as the ability to project the involvement of his characters.

The externalization of self implicit in the will to objectivity of the author, expresses itself more clearly in the second paragraph of the prologue. Beginning with a complaint about the difficulties he is suffering in the writing of a prologue, Cervantes transforms the prologue into a dialogue. In an instant, he is outside of himself, describing his own appearance and perplexity. From a general expression of difficulty in writing, he moves to a specific incident and situation. In the process of this movement from a direct address to the reader to a characterization of himself at a specific time and place, he has succeeded in separating himself from himself. Now he is both author and character, both involved and at a distance from the substance of the prologue. Again Cervantes has shown how self-exteriorization is basic to his art.

As author of this particular incident, Cervantes has the same advantages of omniscience that Cide Hamete will be shown to have in the novel. He has access both to his own thoughts and to those of the other character who appears on the scene to give him advice.21 The story is dramatized so that the words of each character are transcribed, and their gestures are reported as well. Although the theoretical discussion about what properly constitutes a prologue makes up the main burden of the exchange, the dialogue is clearly to be enjoyed for its own sake, as this otherwise unnecessary description of the scene indicates. The mention of the interlocutor's gestures also provides a sense of actuality and verisimilitude to the conversation. Concern with the particulars of a scene, coupled with indications of omniscience, is characteristic of the manner in which the whole novel is presented.

Another important factor in the comparison of the prologue to the novel as a whole is the way in which the matter presented duplicates the form in which it is presented. Just as Don Quixote can to some extent be considered a novel about the writing of novels, the prologue is a prologue about writing prologues. Not only does the author exteriorize himself, making himself a character in his own work, but he also exteriorized his problems as author, making them the subject of his work. The relationship between the opposing poles of author and character can now be more clearly seen. Cervantes shows in the prologue the process by which he distances himself from himself. In so doing, he objectifies himself as a puzzled, uncertain writer of prologues and converts this portrait of the writer and his problems into the very substance of his work. Without this self-objectification and presentation of his difficulties with the prologue, the prologue would presumably never exist. The very foundation of the creative act, therefore, must be embodied in this ability on the part of Cervantes to convert layers of himself into novelizable material in such a way that he can be his own author at the same time that he is his own character. The tension between character and author evident at every level in Don Quixote can be explained by the understanding the prologue provides of the creative process. The tension arises from the fact that author and subject matter are originally one. The distancing necessary for creation and control is an artificial one, difficult to maintain at all times.

The major spokesman in the dialogue which appears in the prologue is not Cervantes, but his interlocutor. It is the friend who resolves Cervantes' problem for him. This seems to indicate that however much distance the author may have achieved, the relationship between himself as author and himself as character is in itself unproductive. Once he has staged himself, however, he is free to introduce other characters who can open up avenues of action to which he alone had been apparently blind. The steady proliferation of characters throughout the novel reveals the same process at work there. Don Quixote cannot achieve knighthood without the appearance of others to perform for him acts which would be meaningless if he performed them for himself. The achievement of deeds of knightly valor requires other characters to present situations out of which adventures can spring. The presence of Cide Hamete implies the presence of a character about whom to write. No character is alone in Don Quixote, and no story is without its audience. This is the sense in which the novel appears to be self-propelled, for each situation brings about the necessity of the situations that follow. Cervantes' friend in the prologue, in the same way, appears in order to solve the problem of the writing of the prologue. He solves the problem as much by providing Cervantes with a character external to himself through whom to speak, as by the explicit solution he offers.

Finally, it should be pointed out, in drawing parallels between the prologue and the novel as a whole, that the friend's answer to Cervantes' problem is that he should imitate and plagiarize from bad prologues so that he will at least appear to be learned. The friend's discussion, in fact, is nothing more than a criticism of the typical inflated, pompous and irrelevant prologue and the manner in which such a prologue can be imitated. The prologue deals not only with how to write a prologue, but is an ironic treatment of previous prologues. This reflects the other major source of novelistic material in Don Quixote. For it too, while being a novel about writing novels, also bears within it as a basic element of its content, a parody on the bad taste of former books of its kind. An ironic distance from himself and from the works whose form he has chosen to imitate is at the heart of Cervantes' prologue as well as of his novel.

The development of the prologue is a perfect example of the way Cervantes expresses himself, transforming a basic idea of a work's independence from its author into a dialogue in which he, in caricature, reveals his self-doubt, and his friend ridicules the social customs out of which that self-doubt arises. Before Cervantes' pleas that his work be considered independent of him is an opening sentence asserting his identity to his main character.

Desocupado lector. Sin juramento me podrás creer que quisiera que este libro, como hijo del entendimiento, fuera el más hermoso, el más gallardo y más discreto que pudiera imaginarse. Pero no he podido contravenir a la orden de naturaleza; que en ella cada cosa engendra su semejante. Y así, ¿qué podría engendrar el estéril y mal cultivado ingenio mío sino la historia de un hijo seco, avellanado, antojadizo y lleno de pensamientos varios y nunca imaginados. …

The evasion of the narrator, that desire to establish his inconsequence as against the reality of the thing narrated, appears as characteristic of Cervantes in the only words he addresses directly to the reader. For the prologue can sustain only one paragraph in which the author directly addresses the reader and states the true relation of himself to his work and his sense of himself, before it falls into a series of evasions of its own. First Don Quixote is disowned, then the reader is set free, then Cervantes sets himself apart from himself and calls in another character to complete the self-presentation and the presentation of the work. The seriousness of the first paragraph dissolves just as fast into irony and burlesque, a tone which is carried through in the poems that precede and conclude the text of the novel itself.22

The prologue to Don Quixote Part I traces the process through which Cervantes translates his thoughts into fiction, and the way in which he transforms himself into narrator and character. He becomes, in the prologue, the scribe of a conversation between himself and a friend. The work they produce together is itself a parody of a literary tradition. The concept of autonomy proclaimed for his work reflects both the author's sense of alienation from the typical and his dependence on it. That is, like all parody, the prologue asserts its difference in relation to the thing rejected. Don Quixote will stand on its own, unlike the other stories. Cervantes will not plead for praise, unlike those other authors. The story will not be preceded by quotations and eulogies, unlike the other stories. The prologue, in fact, will not be like other prologues, for it will be a prologue against prologues. The autonomy is thus a sham in itself. It is flight from an established situation toward which it is at all times oriented. The oppositions throughout Don Quixote Part I are of a similar nature. Don Quixote is at the same time the creator of his scribe and the character with the greatest sense of dependence on him. The mutual dependence of Don Quixote and Sancho is well known. In a like fashion, Cervantes creates the friend in the prologue and yet it is the friend who resolves his problem for him. The role the narrator takes with respect to his character is similarly one of mutual dependence.


The first eight chapters of Don Quixote are narrated by an author who occasionally refers to himself in the first person and whom the reader presumes to be Cervantes. At the end of the eighth chapter, however, when Don Quixote finds himself at the height of battle with the vizcaíno, this simple relationship between narrator and characters breaks down entirely. At this juncture it appears that there are at least two authors through whom the story of Don Quixote is being presented: one who has actually written about Don Quixote's deeds and one who is presenting this written account to the reader. Without even a break in the paragraph, the reader's focus is shifted from the scene of the battle to the manuscript on which the scene was recorded. The reader's attention moves from the problems of the main character to the problems of the author. Here the author appears for the first time as a character. He is presented in the third person and emerges because of his limitations: this author has called attention to himself not by his achievements but by his failure to continue. The reader is told that the author had excused himself because he could find no more written about the deeds of Don Quixote.

A new story is introduced at the end of Chapter 8, which, though part of the novel of Don Quixote, is completely extraneous to the history of Don Quixote's activities. Like all of the other apparently extraneous elements of Don Quixote, however, this story is full of thematic parallels which closely relate it to the rest of the work. The process by which the so-called Second Author is introduced takes place in exactly the manner in which Cervantes' “friend” appeared to him while he was trying to write the prologue. Here, at a point when the author of the history of Don Quixote has apparently reached a stalemate, being able to continue no further with his story, two authors appear where the reader had formerly believed there to be only one. The author of Don Quixote's deeds is no longer omniscient and all-controlling, but fallible and available to the reader. Above him, continuing the narration by presenting the crisis not of the hero, but of the book itself, is an unnamed author who disappears as quickly as he appears, leaving the task of telling the story of how the lost manuscript was recovered to a character whom he calls the Second Author. Clearly, Cervantes has, here as in the prologue, separated himself from himself, externalizing his role and problems as author and introducing other equally external characters through whom a solution to the problems posed can be found. The Second Author, like Cervantes' friend in the prologue, becomes the character who, taking over the role of author, moves the halted work out of its impasse.

The unnamed, controlling author, who makes his brief appearance at the end of Chapter 8, like Cervantes in the prologue, is privileged to an overview of the totality of the action that distinguishes him from the characters who must discover their answers in the process of the action's unfolding. He reveals this omniscience when he tells the reader, in the last sentence of Chapter 8, the outcome of the search which the Second Author will narrate at length in the following chapter.23 The reader therefore knows ahead of time that the manuscript will be discovered, even though the Second Author describes later the dramatic sequence of chance happenings through which he found the story's continuation. This dual vision of discovery in process and foreknowledge of the end is necessary to every story teller. Cervantes makes this clear by having as the subject of his work the very presentation of the story. As with the prologue, he resorts to a dramatization of the difficulties of unfolding the story itself as a way of resolving the same difficulties. And here again the author presents his problems by dividing and dramatizing as separate elements the various roles an author must play in order to produce a work of art. The author must separate himself into two parts: one which will control the pattern of the whole, and one which will involve himself in the process of the forward movement of the story. The Second Author is the externalized expression of this second function.

The character of the Second Author parallels, in many ways, Don Quixote himself. Like Don Quixote, he is an avid reader who is fascinated with chivalric heroes, and disappointed when their adventures remain unfinished in the chronicles of their lives. Don Quixote, when faced with a situation similar to the Second Author's, reportedly reacted in a similar manner. The reader is told in Chapter I that when reading the unfinished Historia de Belianís de Grecia, “muchas veces le vino [a Don Quixote] deseo de tomar la pluma y darle fin al pie de la letra. …”24 The Second Author, of all the readers of Don Quixote's deeds whose reactions are staged in the novel, is most sympathetic with the ambitions and intentions of the hero. He clearly believes in the historical existence of Don Quixote, and is as likely as Don Quixote himself to confuse historical with literary characters. It is his very credulity and involvement in the character of Don Quixote that makes him most likely actively to pursue the lost manuscript, for he has no doubts that the famous Don Quixote's records exist somewhere. Through a combination of his determination and a series of nearly impossible coincidences, he does succeed in finding the remainder of the story, which matches with the first part in almost every detail,25 at the exact moment when it was suspended.

The other author, the one who disappeared at the end of Chapter 8 with the excuse that he had run out of material, is rediscovered and named in Chapter 9 as a result of the Second Author's efforts. In Chapter 9 the reader is introduced to Cide Hamete Benengeli, Moorish historian and author of the story of Don Quixote. Here, the reader first becomes aware of the possible conflicts in interest between character and author. The potential conflict is dramatized on many levels. Since the historian is a Moor, his interests can be assumed to be in possible disaccord with the Christian hidalgo, Don Quixote. His word can also be cast as of dubious veracity based on the commonly held opinion among Spaniards that Moors were liars. The Second Author exploits both of these ramifications of having a Moorish historian. He points out that it is “propio de los de aquella nación ser mentirosos” (I, 9); and that as natural enemies of Spain, authors of such a background might interject personal antipathies to belittle the great and heroic deeds of their Spanish characters. The Second Author closely identifies with Don Quixote and bears many similarities with the hero with whom he is so taken. He can therefore be considered a spokesman for the character's demand for autonomy against the controlling hand of the author. This takes its most explicit form in the final words of the Second Author before the recommencing of the story of Don Quixote: “… y si algo bueno en ella [la historia] faltare, para mí tengo que fué por culpa del galgo de su autor, antes que por falta del sujeto” (I, 9). Don Quixote and Cide Hamete are clearly mutually dependent, but at the same time they are independent characters, both of whom have significant characteristics through which the story may suffer modifications. The Second Author, both because of his spiritual alliance and sympathy for Don Quixote and because of his doubts about the historian's Moorish background, points out clearly the oppositions inherent in Don Quixote's and Cide Hamete's relationship.

From the manner in which the story was suspended at the end of Chapter 8 and from the parallels drawn between that situation and the prologue, it is clear that the Second Author is more than just a spokesman for the character's point of view against an untrustworthy author. He is also allied with Cervantes himself, as has been pointed out, and represents an aspect of his deliberate bifurcation. By linking the Second Author with both Don Quixote and Cervantes, the manner in which the author is related to the character can be seen more clearly. The Second Author represents that facet of the author's literary interest which associates itself exclusively with the viewpoint and concerns of the characters. Cide Hamete, on the other hand, represents the distance and over-all control which is the other side of the author's role. Cide Hamete eventually develops a personality of his own in which both sides of this opposition will again be apparent. But as he appears in Chapter 9, he serves the function, along with the Second Author, of allowing Cervantes to exteriorize the two constituting factors of his authorship.

The written manuscript would have been sold as junk paper in the market place in Toledo had it not been for the curiosity and determination of the Second Author. On the other hand, the curiosity of the Second Author would never have been aroused had it not been for the efforts of the historian, Cide Hamete, to record the deeds of Don Quixote. Here, the Second Author can be seen to be related to the third aspect necessary to the production of fiction: the reader. It has been shown, by parallels with the prologue and with the story of Don Quixote, how the Second Author reflects aspects of both author and character in the episode under consideration. By considering the role of the readers and spectators of the interpolated novels, the Second Author's relation to them can be seen also. In the case of Cardenio, for example, it is Don Quixote's interest and curiosity, sparked by hints of a strange man in seclusion in the mountains, that eventually causes the unveiling of the full story. In order to have the full unfolding of Grisóstomo's story, the spectators must make a special trip. The Captive, near the end of Part I, must be encouraged to tell his story by the group at the inn. In every case, the spectator must make an effort and show active interest in order to set a story into motion. It is the interaction of audience and author that produces the work of fiction. Both are essential in order for the work to appear. This is why no interpolated story is cast without its surrounding audience and why there is a constant shifting of focus throughout the novel from the story in question to the circumstances under which the story is being told.

In Chapters 8 and 9 of Part I the process foreshadows precisely the situation through which stories are told throughout the rest of the novel. An initial revelation of an interesting story is produced by a potential author. Some reader or spectator finds himself intrigued by what he has read or seen. He then must have the energy and interest to move the author to a continuation of the story begun. In this process the focus shifts from the story itself to the author and audience through whose combined efforts the story is produced. Once the audience-author relationship has been established, the focus can then properly return to the story. Even the story of Don Quixote is not free from an accompanying tale recounting the manner in which it is written and received.


  1. A thoroughgoing analysis of Don Quixote as a parody on the “libros de caballerías” can be found in José F. Montesinos' article “Cervantes, antinovelista,” NRFH, VII (1954), 499-514. A more recent and most useful discussion of the problem is Martín de Riquer's “Cervantes y la caballeresca,” in Suma cervantina (London: Tamesis, 1973), pp. 273-292. See also bibliography, ibid., p. 435.

  2. To list only a few of the most prominent examples of critical efforts to find such underlying unities see: René Girard, Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque, Paris: Grasset, 1961; Marthe Robert, L'Ancien et le nouveau (De “Don Quichotte” à Franz Kafka), Paris: Grasset, 1963; J. B. Avalle-Arce, “Conocimiento y vida en Cervantes,” in Deslindes Cervantinos, Madrid: Edhigar, 1961; Américo Castro, El pensamiento de Cervantes, Madrid: Hernando, 1925; Leo Spitzer, “Linguistic Perspectivism in the Don Quixote,” in Linguistics and Literary History: Essays in Stylistics, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1948; and Joaquín Casalduero, Sentido y forma delQuijote,” Madrid: Insula, 1966.

  3. In El pensamiento de Cervantes, pp. 121-123, Castro discusses the problem of the Curioso impertinente, listing both the adverse and favorable opinions of other critics with respect to its pertinence in the novel. Although his list is not complete, it serves to give some idea of the grounds on which the Curioso is accepted or rejected. Bruce Wardropper, in “The Pertinence of the Curioso impertinente,PMLA, LXXII (1957), 587-600, mentions later critical attitudes toward the interpolated story. Both Wardropper and Castro, however, count themselves among those who find the Curioso integrated thematically into the rest of the novel. J. B. Avalle-Arce, in “El curioso y el capitán” (Deslindes) relates two major interpolated stories in Part I to the problems of narrative technique raised by the novel as a whole. See also E. C. Riley, “Episodio, novela y aventura en Don Quixote,Anales Cervantinos, V (1955-56), pp. 209-230, and his “Don Quijote” in Suma cervantina, pp. 60-79; R. Immerwahr, “Structural Symmetry in the Episodic Narratives of Don Quijote, Part One,” Comparative Literature X (1958), pp. 121-135; Julián Marías, “La pertinencia del Curioso impertinente,Obras completas, III (Madrid, 1959); and Joaquín Casalduero, “La lectura de El curioso impertinente,Homenaje a Rodríguez-Moñino, I (Madrid, 1966), pp. 83-90.

  4. Good studies can be found in E. C. Riley, Cervantes's Theory of the Novel, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962; in his “Narrative Points of View in Don Quixote,” MLA Speech (unpublished), 1965; in George Haley's “The Narrator in Don Quixote: Maese Pedro's Puppet Show,” Modern Language Notes, LXXX (1965), 145-165; and in Alban Forcione's Cervantes, Aristotle, and thePersiles,” Princeton: The Princeton University Press, 1970.

  5. Norman Friedman, “Point of View in Fiction,” PMLA, LXX (December, 1955), 1160-1184. “I have in mind here, for example, the obvious inconsistencies in the narrative of Don Quixote as well as the often burdensome references to Cid Hamet, the author of the ‘original’.” (Footnote 30, p. 1182.)

  6. Elaboration of this point can be found in Chapter 4 of this study.

  7. Lawrence Sterne, Tristam Shandy, Book IV, Ch. 13.

  8. Bertil Romberg, Studies in the Narrative Technique of the First Person Novel, Stockholm: Almquist and Wicksell, 1962. Romberg uses the term “epic situation,” which I have borrowed here, to mean the time and place of the author as he is writing, as opposed to the time and place of the story about which he is writing.

  9. That this criticism applies much more accurately to Mateo Alemán's Guzmán de Alfarache is clear. Marcel Bataillon, in “Relaciones literarias,” Suma cervantina, p. 227, goes so far as to say: “… esperábamos más bien ‘mal año para Guzmán de Alfarache’” as he makes the point, in agreement with Américo Castro (in Cervantes y los casticismos españoles [Madrid-Barcelona, 1966]) that Cervantes' unnamed rival throughout Don Quixote I is Mateo Alemán.

  10. Manuel Durán, in La ambigüedad en elQuijote,” Xalapa, Mexico: Universidad Veracruzana, 1961, cites this episode in his section on the “Cueva de Montesinos” to illustrate Don Quixote's inability to escape the mundane and extra-poetic, even within the enchanted world controlled by Montesinos.

  11. J. B. Avalle-Arce, in “Don Quijote, o la vida como obra de arte,” Cuadernos hispanoamericanos 242 (1970), pp. 247-80, and in “Don Quijote” in Suma cervantina, pp. 51-54, discusses the importance for Don Quixote and for the development of the novel, of this singular gratuitous act.

  12. See especially II: 3, 4.

  13. Further development of this point can be found in Chapter 4. For a radical presentation of the position that Don Quixote deserves the exclusive interest of the reader despite the undermining efforts of his author, see Miguel de Unamuno, Vida de don Quijote y Sancho, 3rd ed. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1938.

  14. Raymond Willis, The Phantom Chapters of the Quixote, New York: The Hispanic Institute, 1953.

  15. A good example of this was pointed out by E. C. Riley in his speech, “Narrative Points of View in Don Quixote,” presented at the 1965 Modern Language Association meeting:

    The most elaborate case of gradual identification occurs at the meeting with the two student fencers in Chapter 19 (Part II) … We begin with the non-commital and ambivalent statement: ‘Encontró con dos como clérigos o como estudiantes y con dos labradores que sobre cuatro bestias asnales venían caballeros. El uno de los estudiantes … traía, como en portamanteo, en un lienzo de bocací verde envuelto, al parecer, un poco de grana blanca’—and other things. Here the narrator has in fact all at once exercised his privilege to see inside the bundle; but the rest of the passage continues the process of gradual identification … The whole sequence is a remarkable example of narrative manipulation. The narrator proceeds at first as though he were as ignorant of the students' identities as were Quixote and Sancho on first acquaintance. Then he moves step by step towards identification, adding a little information from his own private store and letting the rest emerge from the dialogue. He participates in the everyday human mechanics of identifying strangers, but he simultaneously demonstrates the fact that he has no need to do so, and gives the game away near the start by looking into the bundle.

  16. Examples of Don Quixote's awareness of his author can be found in I: 2, 18, and 19; and in II: 3, among many other places.

  17. The major exception to this schematic categorization of the interpolated stories is the Curioso impertinente itself, for its author remains unknown, never appearing within the novel to interact with the other characters. The audience to whom it is read, however, is staged, as are the responses to it by various of the listeners. The story itself, furthermore, represents an example of the second type of interpolated story; a “drama” invented and enacted by some characters for the deception of others living in the same temporal and spacial dimensions.

  18. I: 26-46. J. B. Avalle-Arce (La novela pastoril española, Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1959) has an interesting analysis of the way this scene in the inn contrasts with the artificial resolution to love problems found in Jorge de Montemayor's Diana which was criticized in Chapter 6 of Part I.

  19. For good studies of this critical juncture in the novel see Haley, “The Narrator in Don Quixote: Maese Pedro's Puppet Show,” Modern Language Notes, LXXX (1965), 145-165; and F. W. Locke, “El sabio encantador: The Author of Don Quixote,Symposium, XXIII (1969), 46-61.

  20. “… ¿Cómo queréis vos que no me tenga confuso el qué dirá el antiguo legislador que llaman vulgo … ?” This and all subsequent quotations come from Cervantes' Obras Completas, ed. by Angel Valbuena Prat, Madrid: Aguilar, 1962.

  21. He says, for example, “… entró un amigo … el cual, viéndome tan imaginativo, me preguntó la causa …” (italics mine). The focus here is on the friend's view of him.

  22. For more discussion on Cervantes' attitude in the prologue and the meaning of the burlesque poems surrounding the text of Don Quixote I, see Américo Castro, “Los prólogos al Quijote,” in Hacia Cervantes (Madrid, 1967).

  23. “… no se desesperó de hallar el fin desta apacible historia, el cual, siéndole el cielo favorable, le halló del modo que se contará en la segunda parte.”

  24. Rodríguez Marín's note (Vol. I, p. 55 of the Clásicos Castellanos edition of Don Quixote, Madrid, 1964) is especially helpful in this context:

    Clemencín esclarece esta alusión del texto: Jerónimo Fernández, autor de la Historia de Belianís de Grecia, dice al concluirla que bien quisiera referir los sucesos que dejaba pendientes; ‘mas el sabio Fristón (autor del original, según se supone), pasando de Grecia en Nubia, jura había perdido la historia, y así, la tornó a buscar. Yo (continúa Fernández) le he esperado, y no viene; y suplir yo con fingimientos a historia tan estimada sería agravio; y así, la dejaré en esta parte, dando licencia a cualquiera a cuyo poder viniere la otra parte, la ponga junto con ésta, porque yo quedo con harta pena y deseo de verla.’

  25. A number of problems remain, however, to perplex the reader. Sancho Panza, for example, is referred to as Sancho Zancas; and the marginal note which the translator finds by chance as he flips through the manuscript never again appears, when the manuscript is read consecutively. These minutia are insignificant in the light of the overwhelming similarities between the first and second manuscript, but they do serve to reinforce the doubts about the author's absolute control over his material which are suggested in so many ways throughout the novel.

Anthony Close (essay date 1977)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8974

SOURCE: Close, Anthony. “Don Quixote as Burlesque Novel.” In The Romantic Approach to Don Quixote: A Critical History of the Romantic Tradition in ‘Quixote’ Criticism, 1-28. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

[In the following excerpt, Close takes issue with the Romantic approach to Don Quixote that was established in the 1800s and views the work rather as a burlesque, a study of character, and a precursor of the modern novel.]


Most criticism of Don Quixote since about 1800 has followed the main lines of the approach to the novel initially adopted by the German Romantics. This I call the Romantic approach to Don Quixote. What follows is a critical history of it. I believe it to be misguided in each of its basic tendencies. These are:

  • a) the idealisation of the hero and the denial of the novel's satiric purpose;
  • b) the belief that the novel is symbolical and that through this symbolism it expresses ideas about the human spirit's relation to reality or about the nature of Spain's history;
  • c) the interpretation of its symbolism, and more generally, of its whole spirit and style, in a way which reflects the ideology, aesthetics, and sensibility of the modern era.

Like any coherent intellectual tradition, it has evolved through time while remaining essentially true to its origins. Its evolutionary law can be stated thus: it has conserved the substance of a) and b) while developing both along the lines indicated in c).

Though a critical history of literary criticism might seem, on the surface, a negative and inward-looking exercise, I believe that this history has an eminently constructive purpose, or set of purposes. Before saying what these are, let me point out some striking omissions in the topics covered by modern Quixote criticism, so explaining why the history needs to be written. As every well-read layman knows, Don Quixote is a satire which uses the techniques of burlesque. Its author is an accomplished ironist. He was to remain an inspiration to European novelists until the time of Flaubert. The novelistic formula that he invented includes a sophisticated narrative manner known by antonomasia as Cervantine, and is based on the opposition between an illusion-haunted hero and prosaic social reality; it is used to mock the one and panoramically scan the other, and has a certain roundness in the conception of character. All this is common knowledge, yet very little of the significant criticism written over the last hundred years has concerned itself with Cervantes as a comic artist—satirist, ironist, parodist, or whatever—and much of it since 1925 leaves the uninitiated reader without even an inkling that Cervantes was any of these things. This must surely seem astonishing. The topic ‘Cervantes, first modern novelist’ has, it is true, come in for considerable discussion. Yet those who have written about it in terms which would have been intelligible to the novelists whom Cervantes most directly inspired (Fielding, Smollett, Sterne, Stendhal, Flaubert, Mark Twain, Melville), let alone to Cervantes himself, or to Quevedo, Mateo Alemán, or Lope de Vega, have tended to be neither Hispanists nor cervantistas, but comparatists or specialists in English or American literature. The reason for this is that the Romantic tradition—serious, sentimental, patriotic, philosophical, and subjective—has pulled criticism directly away from the questions that the novel most obviously and naturally prompts. Critics need not be slaves to the idola fori in all that they write; but if a critical tradition so perversely ignores the obvious it must be suspected of having gone badly astray.

Much more interesting than the mere fact of its having gone astray are the reasons why and how it has done so. One answer can be discarded at once. There can be no doubt as to the intellectual quality of its leading representatives. The roll-call includes Friedrich Schlegel, Schelling, Coleridge, Menéndez Pelayo, Menéndez Pidal, and Américo Castro. The explanation lies elsewhere. Every age tends to cast the literary classics in its own image. Scholarly criticism, with its aim of recovering the original sense and circumstances of creation, sets out to secure a historically authentic point of view; yet it too is inevitably influenced by the interests of its own age, and this affects the sort of questions that it asks about old books, its methods of analysing them, and, to a greater or lesser extent, its image of them. A tension is thus created between the objective viewpoint deliberately aimed at and that which is in fact adopted. This tension is surely latent in all criticism. What makes the Romantic tradition of Quixote criticism interesting, from the viewpoint of observing it at work, is that here an unusual combination of circumstances made it particularly acute. Academic criticism began by resisting the subjective tendency referred to above, then compromised with it, and finally, carried along by its tradition-sanctioned momentum, surrendered to it. The tendency found support at every stage in ways of looking at literature which presuppose that its meaning lies below the ostensible surface—i.e., various forms of symbolical criticism.

To trace the interaction of the circumstances which produced the Romantic approach to Don Quixote is instructive for four reasons. First, it throws light on the nature of the book which made them possible. My principal aim is to contribute to the literary appreciation of Don Quixote. By seeing how our ideas about it have developed, we may acquire detachment from them, hence some control over them. I have tried to avoid sterile carping at the weaknesses of the Romantic approach. Where I disagree with it, I have suggested constructive alternatives. Where I agree with it, I have said so. Second, it is a contribution to the intellectual history of Spain since the early nineteenth century. The interpretation of Cervantes's novel illustrates each epoch's philosophy and method of literary study, is a general indicator of Spanish culture's sensitivity to European ideas, and is a key source of evidence for Spanish preoccupation about the ‘problem of Spain’ and related questions. Third, it is a specific illustration of ways in which ideas about the literary past are conditioned by the preoccupations of the present. Fourth, it is a study in the history of ideas. Interpretations of an important book, as of any significant aspect of culture, are a creative act on a collective and historical scale, and are worth examining for that reason.

The third point raises important questions for the philosophy of literary criticism. How far is the critic bound by the author's intentions and by the probable meaning of his work in its historical context? To what extent can he or she escape the conditioning influence of the present in interpreting the past? Is not such influence in some sense a beneficial stimulus? Is not the survival of the classics due precisely to their capacity to transcend their own age? And so on.

The stand that I take on these questions is intentionalist. … The intentionalist position … will disqualify me in the eyes of some practitioners of ‘symbolic’ criticism (e.g. New Criticism, psychocritique, structuralism, genetic structuralism, myth-criticism). However, many symbolic critics would accept that grasping what the writer meant, … is a task complementary to those that they perform, or is an essential preliminary stage. They would also accept that this is subject to criteria of greater or lesser probability. This assumption is surely a common meeting-point for critics of more traditional persuasion. It is a sufficient base from which to begin my argument. …


This history has its pre-history, which is about the way in which men understood Don Quixote in the first two centuries after publication of Don Quixote Part I (1605) and Part II (1615).1 Here and hereafter, I shall pay primary attention to Spain, except where foreign opinion leads or anticipates Spanish opinion.

Spanish men of letters during this period had, I believe, a firm grasp of the novel's essential gist. However, their comprehension did not yield literary criticism that could be called penetrating or thorough until the prologues to Don Quixote of Mayans y Siscar (1738), Vicente de los Ríos (1780), and Juan Pellicer (1798). These men wrote scholarly and perceptive commentaries. During the seventeenth century, opinions about Don Quixote are confined to incidental comments and tributes. They can also be inferred from imitations of the novel on stage or in fiction. Reactions of both kinds are abundant. But despite the wealth of reference to the novel, one searches in vain for reasoned justification of viewpoint. In this century, the imitations of Don Quixote are more rewarding as expressions of insight than explicitly formulated opinions.

That stated or published critical judgement should have been so shallow in the seventeenth century is perhaps not surprising. The principles of Renaissance and post-Renaissance literary criticism derived from a view of literature as something which should ideally conform to Classical models or to Classical rules of literary composition. Classical Antiquity did not produce exact prototypes of many of the genres which flourished in the Renaissance: the heroic romance in the manner of Ariosto, the novella after Boccaccio, the chivalric romance, the pastoral romance and pastoral drama, and the picaresque novel. Consequently, some effort of mental adjustment had to be made to bring the new genres into the contexts of current literary-critical theory. In Italy, so fertile in literary criticism during the sixteenth century, the effort of adjustment was made readily; and the beneficiaries ranged from the masterpieces of Dante, Ariosto, Tasso, and Guarini to lesser literary species, such as the novella, the sonnet, the madrigal, the epigram. In Spain, less productive of speculation about literature than creative of new literary forms, especially in prose-fiction, the adjustment came more tardily. The Byzantine novel, e.g. Cervantes's Persiles y Sigismunda (1617), was a new genre, or a renovated old genre, which commanded the attention of Spanish literary theorists because it was morally edifying, lay adjacent to the epic (of which Aristotle and Horace had spoken at length), and had a worthy model in Antiquity, Heliodorus's Theagenes and Chariclea. The Spanish novela, e.g. Cervantes's Novelas ejemplares (1613), was occasionally debated for some of the same reasons; so was the pastoral romance, e.g. Cervantes's La Galatea (1585). Comic fiction, such as the picaresque novel and Don Quixote, had to contend with the prejudice that it was frivolous, or, still worse, dangerous to morals. (The latter prejudice bore mainly against the picaresque genre.) So Don Quixote was neglected in intellectually weighty speculation about literature. A further important reason for this neglect was that Cervantes's contemporaries took his re-iterated intention at its face value. They considered Don Quixote not as the initiator of a new genre but as the destroyer of an old one. In Tirso de Molina's phrase, Cervantes was the ‘ejecutor acérrimo de la expulsión de andantes aventuras’.2 Pressed to state what genre it belonged to, many would have classified it, as Balthasar Gracián did, amongst chivalric romances.

‘El Quijote ni fue estimado ni comprendido por los contemporáneos de Cervantes.’ Should we agree with ‘Azorin's’ flat assertion?3 It says what most modern Spanish Quixote critics have thought; even Navarro González and Herrero García, who, agreeing that it was generally true of educated opinion, read between the lines of allusions to Don Quixote in plays and novels in the hope of discovering signs of a contradiction between the artistic or popular instincts of seventeenth-century Spaniards and their critical faculties. If one's criterion of an understanding of Don Quixote is a Romantic one, then Azorín was right. Yet since this entails attributing thick-skinned insensitivity to men as intelligent and gifted in the arts of literature as Tirso de Molina, Quevedo, Salas Barbadillo, Calderón, and Guillén de Castro, it seems an absurd conclusion. It must be preferable to suppose that these men understood Don Quixote differently from ‘Azorín’ because they understood it better. Certainly, they appreciated it—witness its immense popularity and the glowing ‘Aprobación’ to Part II, where the licenciado Márquez Torres acclaims Cervantes as a universally acknowledged, albeit impecunious, literary master. He singles out for praise its socially improving objective, the naturalness of Cervantes's Castilian style, and above all, its discreet and entertaining satire of contemporary mores. In general, Cervantes enchanted his contemporaries by his comic fantasy (‘regocijado ingenio’), his inventiveness as narrator (‘invención’), his intelligent good sense (‘discreción’), and his decoro and decencia. Whether they grasped the finer nuances of his novel, such as the subtlety of his characterisation, or the general view of life that it conveys, we shall never know. It probably would not have occurred to them to think very seriously about such topics when considering a work of fiction.

The eighteenth century, first in Europe, later in Spain, brings fuller discussion of the novel. Its popularity was now enhanced by the prestige proper to an acclaimed classic. In this age of satire, Cervantes was set on a pedestal as a master of the genre, together with Lucian, Rabelais, and Quevedo. In England, where there was more admiration for Cervantes in the first half of the eighteenth century than there was in Spain, he was praised as a civilised and gentlemanly satirist and favourably contrasted in this respect with ribald Rabelais. An instance of English admiration was the de luxe edition of Don Quixote, in Spanish, published in London, 1738. It was sponsored by Lord Carteret, Lord Lieutenant of the Kingdom of Ireland, who wished to adorn the library-shelves of Queen Caroline's grotto in Richmond Park with a suitable presentation volume. This, one of the best eighteenth-century editions of Don Quixote, carried a specially commissioned preface about the author and his novel by the Spanish scholar Don Gregorio Mayans y Siscar. Another example of England's enthusiasm was the publication in Salisbury, in 1781, of the first edition in Spanish to honour Don Quixote with the learned apparatus of notes proper to a classic text. It was the work of the exemplary British Hispanist, the Reverend John Bowle, Vicar of Idmiston. His notes, written in good self-taught Spanish, were the model and sometimes the unacknowledged source for the subsequent editions of Juan Pellicer and Diego Clemencín, and the biography of Fernández de Navarrete.

Stimulated in part by the veneration for Cervantes in England, Spaniards in the second half of the eighteenth century recognised Don Quixote as the national masterpiece. The Real Academia Española brought out in 1780 its authoritative edition of Don Quixote with the important prefatory ‘Análisis’ by Vicente de los Ríos. The critics and men of letters of the period—José Cadalso, Juan Pablo Forner, Leandro Fernández de Moratín, Antonio Capmany—refer to Cervantes frequently and with deep admiration. In Moratín's La derrota de los pedantes and Forner's Exequias de la lengua castellana, which are both satirical fantasies about the corruption of national literary standards, Cervantes represents what is best in the tradition of Spanish letters. In this epoch, methodical research begins on the biography of Cervantes. While admiration for the author of Don Quixote rose to a new pitch of fervour, the way in which the work was understood around 1780 shows little change from the way it was understood by the licenciado Márquez Torres in 1615. Cervantes is treated as a model of Castilian style; and Spanish schoolboys are now taught to admire, in Capmany's Teatro historico-critico de la eloquencia española (1786-94), the ingenuity of his rhetorical ellipses, or the unaffected elevation of his set-piece descriptions. The wisdom of his moral opinions receives widespread approval, and so does the high-minded social aim that he set himself. In this last respect, eighteenth-century Spanish commentators on Don Quixote (Mayans y Siscar, Vicente de los Ríos, Pellicer) recognise, correctly, that Cervantes intended to satirise a literary genre—chivalric romances. Yet they tend, incorrectly, to merge the literary target with a social or historical one: we shall see how in Chapter 3. They also emphasise—justifiably, in the case of Part II—that Cervantes managed to reprehend many other follies of his time: e.g. excessive pedantry in works of fiction, the meddlesomeness of ecclesiastics in the courts of noblemen. Their propensity, therefore, is to cast Don Quixote as a model of how satire should be written, of how reprehensible mores and institutions should be entertainingly yet edifyingly castigated. This tends to shift the weight of Cervantes's satire from the literary to the social sphere.

Outside Spain, this tendency was more marked, and the notions of what Cervantes had meant to satirise were more fanciful. Father Rapin's opinion (1674-5) that Cervantes had lampooned the Duke of Lerma out of pique at having been refused his patronage, and had more generally ridiculed the chivalry-besotted Spanish aristocracy, was a popular favourite.4 Other butts of ridicule that were proposed were Charles V, Philip II, the Spanish honour-code, and Spanish military prowess. Ideas like these circulated in Spain too, although the erudite editors of Don Quixote ruled out the idea that Cervantes had meant to write a personal satire, or any satire upon Spanish militarism.

In an age where Enthusiasm and Sensibility were both cultivated and ridiculed, Don Quixote lent itself to being interpreted as the definitive, universal caricature of these attitudes—i.e. a satiric fable about their power to seduce mankind, in politics or religion or manners, from the path of reason. This was how Cervantes's novel was read in the epoch of Voltaire, d'Alembert, Diderot in France and of Dr Johnson, Fielding, and Smollett in England. Before the advent of Romanticism, this was also the view of Don Quixote characteristic of the German Enlightenment; it is expressed in the prologue of Bertuch's translation of 1775. To interpret the hero's madness thus is to diminish the gap between it and sane, common-sense experience, and to prompt a more sympathetic response towards it. Dr Johnson affirms that ‘very few readers, amidst their mirth or their pity, can deny that they have admitted visions of the same kind [as Quixote's and Sancho's], though they have not perhaps expected events equally strange, or by means equally inadequate’.5 Another step in this direction is the widespread, and just, recognition of the qualities of humanity, charity, and goodness in the character of Cervantes's hero. Fielding's scattered comments on Don Quixote testify to this recognition; more practically, so does his portrayal of the Quixotic Parson Adams in Joseph Andrews. These are indirect preparations for the Romantic approach. An even more direct stimulus was the influence upon Quixote criticism of the glamorous picture of Cervantes that research into his biography pieced together as the century went by. Gallant hero at Lepanto, defiant captive in Algiers, neglected and poverty-stricken genius in old age—here was material for a sentimental novel or an opera. By easy transitions, the virtues of the creator enhanced the character of the hero; and both were, in Burton's words, ‘swept to the bosom of the sentimentalists’.6 Thus, there developed in eighteenth-century England, from approximately 1740 onwards, a movement of opinion anticipating the Romantic idealisation of Don Quixote. In France and Germany, belief in the hero's nobility seems to have been confined to Rousseau and Herder. In Spain, it did not exist.

There is greater refinement in Quixote criticism in the eighteenth century than in the previous one. Partly this is due to the more sophisticated critical sense of the age, and partly to the fact that men were less engrossed by, because less aware of, the humour of Cervantes's burlesque allusions. Voltaire, Rousseau, Fielding, Charles Jarvis, Bishop Warburton and others variously praised the naturalness of Cervantes's delineation of character, the novelty of his invention, the elegance of his irony, his narrative fertility, his good sense and good taste.7 An age versed in the arts of burlesque, it noted shrewdly that Cervantes's ironic wit characteristically avoided the ‘low’ burlesque (making Dido talk like a fish-wife), and assumed a ‘serious air’, e.g. by attributing unselfconscious solemnity to the hero, or by affecting a mockepic narrative style. Henry Fielding imitated the second of these strategies in Joseph Andrews (1742). Both Fielding (by implication) in the prologue of this novel, and Tobias Smollett in the prologue to Roderick Random (1748), treat Cervantes as a master of the comic ‘prose-epic’ or ‘romance’—that is, the humorous novel of character and manners—and credit him with the corresponding virtues: the exact imitation of nature, the efficacious ridicule of folly, the witty depiction of ludicrous character traits. However, few of these insights are much substantiated. The prologues to editions of Don Quixote—a primary medium of commentary in this period—usually content themselves with narrating, enthusiastically, the author's life, elucidating the novel's primary intention, and briefly praising its merits.8

The prefaces of Mayans y Siscar and Vicente de los Ríos are exceptions. Both refer frequently and specifically to Cervantes's text; and the former's prologue is seminal, since it contains in germ most of the ideas that later eighteenth-century commentators embroider. The latter's ‘Análisis del Quijote’ sets out to demonstrate ‘analytically’ Cervantes's right to be regarded as a classic author, with a status comparable in the genre of satiric burlesque to that of the great Ancient poets. Vicente de los Ríos's principles of criticism are unswervingly neo-classical; Horace and Aristotle are valid authorities for him still. Allowing for the difference of genres, he chooses Homeric epic as the point of reference with which to compare the mechanisms of Cervantes's narrative. His aim is logically to derive the laws the successors to Cervantes in the genre of ‘la fábula burlesca’ must follow, and to show how excellently the master implemented them in Don Quixote—all this by reference to ‘la sana razón’, ‘el buen gusto’, the unchanging nature of the human heart, and the end that Cervantes set himself (i.e. to correct a certain social folly entertainingly). Vicente de los Ríos's approach suffers from the typical limitations of neo-classicism and is likely to prove off-putting to a modern reader. However, he is an intelligent commentator. In Spain, his analysis was to remain the most authoritative guide to Don Quixote until the mid-nineteenth century.

We must also except from the charge of superficiality the editorial notes of Bowle (1781), Pellicer (1798), and Clemencín (1833). The latter falls outside the eighteenth century in time, but in spirit and method he stands fully within the neo-classical tradition represented by the previous two editors and by Vicente de los Ríos (who is not the editor of the Royal Spanish Academy edition of 1780, but the author of the Biography and Analysis which form its introduction). All three editors start from the premise that Don Quixote is a classic. All three presuppose that it is no longer self-explanatory. Outmoded usage and references to dated customs need to be clarified. So particularly do Cervantes's burlesque allusions to episodes in chivalric literature. The notes of the three editions are mainly directed to meeting this latter requirement. In attempting to meet it, Bowle, Pellicer, and Clemencín start from a perfectly correct assumption about Cervantes's primary intentions throughout the novel. The earliest Romantic commentaries in Spain—e.g. Díaz de Benjumea's article ‘Refutación de la creencia generalmente sostenida de que el Quijote fue una sátira contra los libros caballerescos’ (1859)9—are attempts to deny or qualify what the neo-classical authors had proven.


Using typical seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century judgements as a base, I shall briefly set out the essential criteria of interpretation underlying my critique of the Romantic approach. Readers saw it as a hilarious burlesque of Amadís de Gaula and its literary progeny. In the picturesque Latin of Nicolás Antonio, Spain's first literary historian, Cervantes is judged to have ‘feigned’ a ridiculous hero out of the ‘flock’ of Amadis and his kindred, thus ‘eclipsing’ the genre of chivalric romances.10 This concurs with Cervantes's repeated statements of intent. A more pedantically precise version of that intention is given by Juan Pellicer in 1798:

El fin principal que se propuso Cervantes fue, como el dice, ‘deshacer la autoridad y cabida, que en el mundo y el vulgo tenian los libros de Caballerias’. Para conseguirle finge un caballero andante maniatico que, agitado de esta ideas caballerescas, sale … de su casa en busca de aventuras con la mania de resucitar la orden ya olvidada de la Caballeria; y para ridiculizar mas plenamente estos mismos libros ridiculiza al mismo heroe, disponiendo que las acciones y aventuras, que en los demas caballeros se representan serias y graves, surtan en Don Quixote un efecto ridiculo y terminan en un exito jocoso. De suerte que, Don Quixote de la Mancha es un verdadero Amadís de Gaula, pintado a lo burlesco; o lo que es lo mismo, una parodia o imitacion ridicula de una obra seria.11

‘The principal aim that Cervantes set himself was, as he says, “to undo the sway and authority that books of chivalry had over the world and the vulgar”. To achieve it he feigns a lunatic knight-errant who, agitated by these chivalric ideas, leaves home in search of adventures with the maniac notion of restoring the now-forgotten order of chivalry. And to ridicule these works more fully he ridicules the hero, arranging things so that the acts and adventures, which, when they are performed by other knights-errant, appear grave and dignified, are absurd when performed by Don Quixote and have a ludicrous ending. Consequently, Don Quixote de la Mancha is a true Amadís of Gaul, depicted in burlesque fashion; or what amounts to the same, a parody or ridiculous imitation of a serious work.’

From a Romantic or post-Romantic standpoint, these assertions about the burlesque and merry character of Don Quixote are likely to appear superficial. Don Quixote is probably the first study of character—that of the hero and of his squire, Sancho Panza—which has the properties typical of the modern novel. It gives the reader a sense of vicariously living through an epic phase of individual human experience; it evokes two personalities which are arresting, psychologically complete, and many-sided; it projects them against an ambiance brilliantly varied in kind and mood—romance, the courts of aristocrats, the hunt, naval pageants, the highways of Castille, roadside-inns, meetings with ecclesiastics, convicts, strolling-players, civil servants, soldiers, shepherds, and diverse others; it presents, through the hero's pronouncements in his ‘lucid intervals’ and through the squire's intermittent flashes of wisdom, a meditative commentary on the grand issues of human experience; it allows the two heroes many moments of dignity and of pathos; above all, it finds room, in the unlikely combination of a romance-besotted madman and a vulgar simpleton, and in their dealings with most of those whom they meet, including shepherds and prostitutes and convicts, for qualities of loyalty, compassion, generosity, civility and seriousness. In short, the comic view of life in Don Quixote is immensely humane; frivolity, obtuseness, and exclusiveness have been left far behind.

This is above all evident in the hero's character, which displays many traits that seem incongruous in a caricature. His ‘lucid intervals’ exhibit the typical virtues and ideology of a Spanish gentleman of the early seventeenth century. To an extent undefined by Cervantes, they underlie his deluded chivalric behaviour as a kind of residual substratum. The courtesy, the modesty, the piety, the culture and the goodness of Alonso Quijano the Good influence the behaviour of Don Quijote de la Mancha in such basic ways as to make him choose the faithful Amadís as his exemplar, rather than more lecherous paladins like Galaor, or to cause his conduct, mad or sane, to be a perpetual exhibition of bookish habits of mind. Recognising this, we should also recognise, as Romantic critics never do, that such qualities as innocence, patience, fidelity, abstinence, and courtesy are portrayed comically in the character of Don Quijote. That is, they are portrayed as parts of a burlesque chivalric personality, cultivating and misapplying the standard virtues of heroes of romance. For instance, the whole business of Don Quixote's fidelity to Dulcinea is a joke; witness the madly serious prudishness of the scene where the hero and the elderly dueña Rodríguez circle warily round each other, dressed in their nightgowns (Part II, Chapter 48).

In his patently lunatic moments, the knight shows a marvellous emotional sensitivity; witness the transitions from the bombast displayed before the fulling-mills adventure (Part I, Chapter 20), to the mixed feelings of resignation, indulgence, and irritation with which he hears out Sancho's shaggy-dog story in the same scene, to the humourless rage of his response to Sancho's merriment on the following morning, to his conciliatory amicability towards Sancho in the discussion about the barber's basin shortly afterwards (Part I, Chapter 21). Much else of his behaviour is recognisable as familiar to ordinary human experience. His style (whatever the substance) is more often that of a well-read Spanish hidalgo living around 1600 than the pretentiously archaic style which he sometimes imitates in his ‘adventures’. His view of the world around him is at least partly congruent with reality, as is shown by the fact that much of his discourse is a defensive apologia designed to paper over the cracks between what is and what he believes should be. He often reveals a disconcerting perspicacity; occasionally he appears to be aware of his own madness or to divine other people's judgements of his motives, before revealing that the appearance was merely an appearance. He continuously adapts to his experience and self-justifyingly rationalises it; and both these features are shown in the way in which his crazy but life-like world-view evolves from intransigent self-confidence in early Part I, to the relativity of his outlook after the episode of Mambrino's helmet, to the passivity, self-doubt, and melancholy of Part II.

Our conceptions of literary genres are naturally conditioned by the impressions that we form of their salient representatives. When somebody asks us to define ‘burlesque’ we think, perhaps, of Butler's Hudibras, Chaucer's ‘Sir Thopas’, episodes in Rabelais, medieval travesties of testaments and of the Office for the Dead, mock-tournaments between tradesmen or between animals, and so on. We think ‘that kind of thing is burlesque’; and having thought it we may well pause, or even shudder, at the thought of putting Don Quixote in the same category. Yet the fact remains that Don Quixote meets the fundamental requirements of burlesque. A work is burlesque if, in order to ridicule another literary work or genre or style, it uses some ludicrous combination of baseness and nobility—by employing a grand style for an incongruous subject (Alexander Pope's Rape of the Lock, Erasmus's Praise of Folly), or by attributing base language or sentiments to supposedly noble characters (occasionally in Pulci's Il Morgante and in Ariosto's Orlando furioso; persistently in Scarron's Le roman comique), or by adopting an aggressively banal style for a grand subject (Butler's Hudibras). Don Quixote is burlesque for all these reasons together.

‘Had Don Quixote merely been a work of parody it would never have endured as a universally acclaimed masterpiece.’ How often has Romantic criticism stated that idea! Usually it carries the qualification that the novel did indeed start as parody, but quickly transcended this status. In making the qualification, the critics think of the very early chapters of Part I (2 to 5 inclusive), with their violent contrasts between chivalric delusion and gross reality, their farcical nature, and the relative lack of nuance in the characterisation. Yet the basic ingredients in these early chapters can be found in later chapters too. What happens to them is not that they are reversed or ‘rectified’, as Romantic criticism claims, but that they are refined. What is wrong with the proposition that heads this paragraph is the ‘merely’ that is conjoined with ‘parody’, as if by appeal to some universal law of Aristotle which pre-determined the limits of artistic excellence or refinement which it is possible to reach in any genre.

Don Quixote is burlesque in most of its principal aspects. What sort of burlesque? The answer is ‘Every sort’. As a literary mode, burlesque adopts two broad kinds of strategy, each with its subspecies. One is the affectation of gravity or grandiloquence (‘high burlesque’, ‘parody’). The other is the adoption of open aggressiveness (the vulgarity of travesty, the jeering banter of Hudibrastic and its analogues). As any reader of Don Quixote soon becomes aware, there is throughout the novel a double viewpoint on events and on the hero's part in them: the deluded attitude of the hero himself, and the realistic attitude of any sane, sensible observer (a category which normally excludes the simpleton Sancho). The fact that we look at events from both standpoints enables Cervantes simultaneously to manipulate both ‘high’ and ‘low’ burlesque with all their variants. This is because, when judged by the realistic criterion, what Don Quixote says and does as self-supposed knight-errant represents ‘high burlesque’ (though it occasionally slips into the low form), while what other characters say and do, when measured against the assumptions of the deluded viewpoint, represents ‘low burlesque’ (though often it mimics that viewpoint and passes into the high form). Thus, so far from being an unusual burlesque because it quickly denies its nature, Don Quixote is unusual because it so perfectly and comprehensively fulfils it.

It is a burlesque by the nature of the events which make up its main episodes: that is, all scenes where the hero, or clever characters putting on an act before him, rehearse a specific or a stereotype event in chivalric romances (e.g. most of the spontaneous adventures in the first half of Part I; all the staged charades in the Duke's palace in Part II; the Cave of Montesinos episode, the adventure of the Enchanted Boat, the whole business of Princess Micomicona's alleged recovery of her kingdom in Part I and of Dulcinea's ‘enchantment’ and ‘disenchantment’ in Part II).

It is a cross between burlesque and comedy of character in the presentation of the hero's psychology and of his relationship with Sancho and others. Since we might doubt, with Fielding in the preface to Joseph Andrews, whether such a hybrid is intrinsically possible, let us see how Cervantes makes it so. Clearly there is a sense in which Don Quixote's dialogue with others does not and could not constitute a direct ludicrous imitation of some feature of chivalric romances—amongst other reasons, because the heroes depicted there do not talk very much. Yet if we take into account that his viewpoint on events, including the whole mental life which constitutes it, is a sort of chivalric novel mobilised in thought and speech, we see that it certainly satisfies the conditions of burlesque in spirit, if not in the superficial letter. His idealising recollection of the past or anticipation of the future re-create, so to speak, a reader's or a narrator's viewpoint on the career of a knight-errant. His spontaneous reactions to present events, and more generally all his psychological behaviour, are an imaginative re-creation of the attitudes which, as an addictive reader of the romances, he recalls in the conduct of their heroes or finds plausible to attribute to them. Where he can copy more or less directly, he does so. Where his models only offer the outlines, he fills in, by fluent improvisation, the masses and colours of a full psychological life. His improvisation is that of a mad actor who does not realise that he is merely acting. He enters into the part with such total absorption that the mask takes on the lineaments of a human face. He evinces the mental habits and strikes the style which are consonant with a sense of effortless superiority, with unruffled poise, with the suppression of the Sanchopanzine impulses in our nature. He thus becomes the thoroughly believable epitome of the Gentleman—the more believable because his performance is all too human. Just as Fernando de Rojas, in La Celestina, will paint the courtly lover from an unflatteringly realistic vantage-point, looking at Calisto with the eyes of his valets, so Cervantes shows how common nature makes effortless superiority degenerate into fat-headedness or poise dissolve into pique or rage, and underlines all the preciosity of Don Quixote's bookish effort to suppress human fallibility. He undermines the hero's attitudes from the outside as well as from the inside, by making him adopt them, all unawares, in indecorous situations and before unheroic interlocutors.

The novel is burlesque in its narrative manner. This was to become seventeenth-century Spain's main literary export to eighteenth-century England. I refer to Cervantes's affectation of the epic style and his pretence at historical veracity in narrating a fictitious tale about an undignified hero. All Cervantes's solemn chapter-headings, his mock dawn-descriptions, his elaborate fiction about the ‘first author of the history’ Cide Hamete Benengeli, his invocations to Apollo for inspiration, his digressions about the sacredness of historical truth or the valour of the hero are forms of ‘high burlesque’. Specifically, they make fun of the pseudo-historicity of chivalric romances, with their sage chroniclers and their sources in miraculously preserved Oriental archives. More generally, they spoof the entire paraphernalia of epic grandiloquence, and thus create a festive and ironic atmosphere around all the hero's acts, predisposing the reader to consider them with amused detachment. Cervantes is a master of the ‘low burlesque’ too. We can find examples of it in the most unexpected parts of Don Quixote. When he adopts a matter-of-fact and prosaic style in Part I, Chapter 1 to narrate the domestic circumstances of Alonso Quijano, or when he uses a matter-of-fact and flippant style in Part II, Chapter 74 to describe his death, he is exploiting the Hudibrastic principle, if not exactly the Hudibrastic technique, of making style off-hand when circumstances demand that it should be sublime. Here, the circumstances are, respectively, the origins and the death of a Hero. The narrative manner does not stop being a form of Hudibrastic because its artistic deployment is infinitely subtle—because in the first case, Cervantes finds a formula of literary realism which hundreds of European novelists were to use after him (the choice of a middle-class background; the social observation steering adroitly between caricature and idealisation; the narrative tone of conversational urbanity); and because, in the second, there is a harmony of gaiety, pathos, and moral seriousness which perfectly befits a great comic epic drawing serenely to its close.

There is a further sense in which Don Quixote is a remarkable member of the burlesque genre. Most burlesques make no very serious attempt, if they make any at all, to suspend the reader's disbelief. Usually they conduct him into wonderland: a world of dream, as in Byron's The Vision of Judgement, or a world of fantasy, such as the battle of fish and animals in the episode of Cuaresma and Don Carnal in the Archpriest of Hita's El libro de buen amor.12 It is natural that this should be so; the fantastic disproportions that parody involves—between style and sentiment, between status and conduct—normally allow of no naturalistic explanation. Yet in Cervantes's novel these disproportions are psychologically explained; its starting point is that the hero suffers from a mania which leads him to adopt a wildly eccentric conception of the universe and of his place in it. We may possibly object here that the explanation is not much of an explanation—at least, not as it is given in Chapter 1 of Don Quixote. One would hardly expect to find a case of madness like Don Quixote's if one visited a madhouse; rather, his madness appears initially as a literary device designed to set the wheels of parody in motion. Yet few readers would disagree that Cervantes manages, by skilful characterisation, to make the mad personality of Don Quixote thoroughly believable as the novel follows its course. In general, Cervantes ‘imitates nature’ with considerable consistency in his novel; he projects the hero's delusions against the world of the real, which includes first of all Don Quixote himself, considered as he really is, and then such things as inns and barbers and Sancho. Eventually the real world in Don Quixote becomes a magnificent panorama of the society of seventeenth-century Spain. Some of this spectacle self-evidently transcends Cervantes's burlesque aims, as he readily admits: e.g. the interpolated episodes in Part I and their more subtly disguised counterparts in Part II; various situations which prompt the moralising and satire of the hero in his ‘lucid intervals’.13 Yet much of the social setting is directly relevant to those intentions. We need only think of the many characters who are distinctive social types, collectively making up our impression of a period and a picturesque society, and who are mainly shown to us through their intervention in the hero's chivalric adventures: the village-priest, the Canon of Toledo, the barber, Don Antonio Moreno, Ginés de Pasamonte, Sansón Carrasco, the Duke and Duchess, doña Rodríguez, Maritornes, various inn-keepers, the merchants of Toledo, and so on.

Since the principal point of Cervantes's satire is that chivalric romances are ‘quite outside the bounds of common nature’ (‘fuera del trato que pide la común naturaleza’, Part I, Chapter 49), it is logical that he should have chosen to present his tale in a naturalistic way. To show the hero's literary delusions in head-on collision with common nature is an excellent way of driving the point home. We shall see that Romantic criticism sets up several buffers to nullify that comical shock. It depreciates the importance of the reasoned critique of chivalric romances that Cervantes, in Part I, Chapter 47 entrusts to his spokesman, the Canon of Toledo, in a speech which is at once the main statement of his artistic principles and the ideological centre-piece of Don Quixote. Typically, it makes little effort to understand those principles—i.e. to acknowledge their intellectual conviction and their significance as a motive behind the author's satire. It denies that the hero's acts are mad literary ‘imitation’, or, to use twentieth-century language, mad make-believe, unhinged from natural motivation within or natural causation without. It denies the existence of a ‘double-viewpoint’ in the novel—i.e. the fact that the hero is isolated from reality by a cloud of delusion, which the sane characters, because they are sane, can see to be delusion, and which the hero, because he is mad, cannot. I conclude by looking at two works, published at about the same time as Don Quixote Part II, which show that Cervantes's contemporaries understood very clearly these principles in the characterisation of the hero.

Of Don Quixote as a character, certain simplified stereotypes quickly impressed themselves on the imagination of seventeenth-century Spaniards: the ridiculous rescuer of damsels in distress; the epitome of vainglorious arrogance; the man who undertakes fabulous chivalric challenges or pledges; the down-at-heels gentleman aspiring to more status than his right. Salas Barbadillo's El caballero puntual (Part I, 1614; Part II, 1619) is an interesting specimen of the last case. The hero, Juan, is an orphan who inherits his tutor's money and goes off to Madrid in the grip of the deranged fantasy (desvanecimiento, locura) of passing himself off as a caballero. His career of mad social climbing, punctuated by humiliating exposures and rebuffs, is clearly seen as analogous to Don Quixote's chivalric career. There is an exchange of letters between the self-styled Don Juan de Toledo, as the ‘Caballero Aventurero de la Corte’, and Don Quixote, as the ‘Caballero de las Aldeas’ (‘Knight of the Shires’). Juan's ‘puntualidad’ consists in meticulously observing all the modish snobberies of those whose chief aim in life is to keep up appearances. It is interesting that under Cervantes's influence Salas Barbadillo turns what otherwise might have been treated as a foolish but sane foible (like that of the squire in the picaresque novel Lazarillo de Tormes) into a lunatic ‘arte de caballería’ irrelevant to Juan's nature and circumstances. This suggests how strongly Don Quixote impressed one contemporary writer, and probably many readers, as a figure isolated in cloud-cuckoo land, his acts sliding off reality at a tangent and exposing him to sane people's derision or pity. In Part II of Salas Barbadillo's novel, Juan acquires Don Quixote's trait of being able to speak good sense on other subjects than that which occasions his madness; and one notes that, as in Cervantes's novel, however much sane counsels intermix with lunatic statements, the distinction in nature between the two is sharply observed, and the existence of the one is not intended to mitigate mirth at the other.

The most important seventeenth-century imitation of Don Quixote is Avellaneda's continuation of Part I, El Quijote (1614). This work might be said to present us with a case of arrested development: Don Quixote's psychology arrested at the point which Cervantes reached in Part I, Chapter 5. Here, the hero, prostrate and battered after his encounter with the Toledan merchants, is recognised and assisted home by a farm labourer from his village, Pedro Alonso. In the course of this, Don Quixote imagines himself, and then his neighbour, to be protagonists in two different episodes of Spanish chivalric fiction: the ballad of Valdovinos and the Marquis of Mantua, and the Moorish novel of Abindarráez and Jarifa, included in Jorge de Montemayor's pastoral romance La Diana (1559 approximately). The propensity to play the parts of specific heroes in specific scenes of chivalric fiction, rather than to preserve an individual identity while imitating the behaviour of knights-errant in general, is very characteristic of Avellaneda's Don Quixote. Now we find him, as Achilles, urging the ‘Greeks’ (a crowd in Zaragoza) to build a ‘bronze’ horse and leave it as a gift to the Trojans; now he plays the part of King Sancho mortally wounded by the traitor Bellido Dolfos; now, in a bewildering jumble of identities, he sees himself as King Rodrigo, the last of the Goths, as King Ferdinand of Aragon, and as Don Quixote. Avellaneda's characterisation favours the set-piece monologue—cf. the speech describing the two ‘armies’ in Cervantes's novel, Part I, Chapter 18—in which the hero, oblivious to the circumstances, imaginatively creates a chivalresque episode in which he shall be the protagonist, and arbitrarily allocates parts in it to bystanders and objects. This kind of fantasy-spinning frequently occurs in Cervantes's novel too. It is the indispensable preliminary to most adventures. Yet it is not typically confined to monologue; it is usually the occasion, first for unsuccessful action, then for self-justifying dialogue with Sancho and whatever other unfortunates happen to be involved.

In short, Avellaneda's hero is a much more wooden, much less individual, much less responsive character than Cervantes's. Perhaps because Avellaneda's conception is cruder, it clarifies the root-motive of Don Quixote's behaviour in Cervantes's novel—the urge to play-act chivalresque fiction—by copying it in the over-simplified manner that I have described. Cervantes explains his hero's basic motive thus: ‘Tenía a todas horas y momentos llena la fantasía de aquellas batallas, encantamentos, sucesos, desatinos, amores, que en los libros de caballerías se cuentan, y todo cuanto hablaba, pensaba, o hacía era encaminado a cosas semejantes’ (Part I, Chapter 18).14 The make-believe behaviour which stems from this is, by sane standards, quite gratuitous. (That point is firmly grasped in Guillén de Castro's comedy Don Quijote de la Mancha [1605-15 approximately], where the hero at one point, à propos of nothing in particular, resolves to ‘be’ Leander crossing the Hellespont to visit Hero, and is seen on his belly on the stage-boards, performing swimming motions.)

This mad impulse grew directly out of the hero's former reading-habits. It is significant that Cervantes characterises these as an unhealthy infatuation, rather than, say, a liberating escape into a world of poetry and romance. Cervantes says: ‘Llenósele la fantasía de todo aquello que leía en los libros, así de encantamentos como de pendencias, batallas, desafíos, heridas, requiebros, amores, tormentas y disparates imposibles; y asentósele de tal modo que era verdad toda aquella máquina de sonadas soñadas invenciones que leía, que para él no había otra historia más cierta en el mundo’ (Part I, Chapter 1).15 From this source derives the set of crazy beliefs which crystallise in Chapter 1 and remain the axioms of his outlook on life from that moment forth: that chivalric romances are history; that to go through the external motions of behaviour of knights-errant is equivalent to being one and is enough to ensure that all that happens to them will happen to him; and that the world around him is, at least in part, similar to their marvellous world and governed by its laws. Such is the nucleus of the comic personality of the burlesque knight-errant, Don Quijote de la Mancha.

The foregoing paragraphs are not intended as an essay on burlesque in Don Quixote;16 as such they would be quite inadequate. They are intended to establish a criterion for judging what follows. They surely need not be construed as a plea for a more simplified reading of Cervantes's novel. Cervantes has written a satiric burlesque which so refines the potentialities of the genre that it acquires the roundness, the inclusiveness, the poetry, and the seriousness-in-levity of great comedy. The unclassical lesson that he teaches is that there are no pure and no low genres. Once that has been said, it scarcely needs saying that to interpret Don Quixote as a burlesque comedy is not necessarily to hold an impoverished view of it as a work of art, nor to reduce the critical problems that may be raised about it to an elementary level. A primary objection to the Romantic approach is that, with certain honourable exceptions such as the German Romantics, Menéndez Pelayo, ‘Azorín’, and the twentieth-century stylisticians, it has been guilty of a simplifying and philistine reductionism which ignores the novel's artistic texture—perhaps precisely because this is something intrinsically difficult to analyse—and tries to account for its richness in terms of what it supposedly reveals about the author's life, Spanish history, the disputes of Renaissance poetics, Renaissance philosophy and other such esoteric matters.


  1. Besides original texts I have consulted the following histories of critical opinion about DQ for this survey of pre-Romantic views: Maurice Bardon, Don Quichotte en France au xvii et au xviii siècle, 2 vols (Paris, 1931); Adolfo Bonilla, Cervantes y su obra (Madrid, 1916), Chapter 5; A. P. Burton, ‘Cervantes the man seen through English eyes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’, BHS xlv (1968), pp. 1-15; Efron, ‘Satire denied’; M. Herrero García, Estimaciones literarias del siglo xvii (Madrid, 1930); A. Navarro González, El Quijote español del siglo xvii (Madrid, 1964); Leopoldo Rius, Bibliografía crítica de las obras de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 3 vols (Madrid, 1895-1904), iii, sections vii and viii; P. E. Russell, ‘Don Quixote as a funny book’; E. M. Wilson, ‘Cervantes and English literature of the seventeenth century’, BH 50 (1948), pp. 27-52.

  2. ‘the most speedy executor of the expulsion of knight-errantly adventures’ (i.e. as depicted in chivalric romances). Tirso de Molina, Los cigarrales de Toledo (1621), ‘Cigarral segundo’.

  3. In ‘Cervantes y sus coetáneos’, Clasicos y Modernos (Madrid, 1913), p. 145.

  4. The opinion appears in his Réflexions sur la poétique d'Aristote et sur les ouvrages des poètes anciens et modernes (1674), according to Burton, ‘Cervantes through English eyes’, p. 2.

  5. The Rambler no. 2, 24 March 1750, in vol. viii of The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson (Yale University Press, 1969).

  6. Burton, ‘Cervantes through English eyes’, p. 12.

  7. These were to become commonplaces in Spain also. Witness Antonio Capmany's praise of Cervantes ‘por la novedad de su objeto, por lo bien manejada que está la accion, por la fecunda variedad de sus episodios, por la propiedad de sus caractéres, por la naturalidad y gala de su narracion, y por la solidez de su moral’. Teatro historico-critico de la eloquencia española, 5 vols (Madrid, 1786-94), iv, p. 426.

  8. The prologues which I have consulted are: (Spanish) by Mayans y Siscar in the London, 1738 edition of DQ, by Vicente de los Ríos (Madrid, 1780), by Juan Pellicer (Madrid, 1798); (English translations) by Captain John Stevens (London, 1700), by Peter Motteux (London, 1700-3), by Charles Jarvis (London, 1742), by Tobias Smollett (second edition, London, 1761); (German translation) by F. J. Bertuch (Weimar and Leipzig, 1775).

  9. In La América, 24 October 1859.

  10. ‘Novum Amadisio de grege heroem ridiculum confingens, universa priscarum hoc genus inventionum quae innumera sunt, lumina obscuravit’. From Bibliotheca Hispana Nova, 2 vols (second edition, Madrid, 1788, based on the original 1672 edition). Authors are cited in alphabetical order.

  11. ‘Discurso preliminar’ to Pellicer's edition of DQ (Madrid, 1798), p. 50.

    Compare, with the statement of intent that Pellicer cites from the prologue to Part I, two similar statements in the same prologue, the valedictory remarks by the author at the end of both Part I and Part II, and the description of DQ as an eternal antidote to melancholy in Viaje del Parnaso, Chapter 4.

  12. Cuaresma means Lent; Carnal is the period when meat can be eaten.

  13. See the first paragraphs of DQ I, 28 and II, 44 respectively, explaining the inclusion of episodes in Part I; see also the first two sentences of DQ II, 43, typical of many comments which distinguish Don Quixote's ‘lucid intervals’ and what he says in them from the burlesque theme.

  14. ‘His fantasy was perpetually filled with the battles, enchantments, marvellous happenings, absurdities, love-scenes which are depicted in books of chivalry, and everything that he said, thought or did was directed to such things.’

    All quotations in Spanish from Don Quixote are from the edition by Martín de Riquer (Barcelona, 1950).

  15. ‘His fantasy became filled with all that he read in those books—enchantments, duels, battles, challenges, wounds, romance, love, storms and impossible absurdities; and the notion that all this apparatus of high-sounding chimerical fictions was real lodged so firmly in his mind that for him there was no truer history in the world.’

  16. These paragraphs are, in part, a condensed version of my article ‘Don Quixote as a burlesque hero: A re-constructed eighteenth-century view’, Forum ix (1974), pp. 365-378.

John J. Allen (essay date 1979)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11890

SOURCE: Allen, John J. “The Narrators, the Reader, and Don Quixote” and “The Governorship of Sancho Panza and Don Quixote's Chivalric Career.” In Don Quixote: Hero or Fool?, Part II, pp. 3-15; 19-36. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1979.

[In the following essay, Allen examines the relationship between the reader and narrator in Don Quixote.]

The relationships established at the outset of Don Quixote between the narrator, the reader, and the protagonist are not difficult to characterize. The narrator's humility, openness, and lack of pretensions seem genuine. The ingratiating and flattering invitation to shared irony is very attractive to the reader, and the relationship quickly becomes quite close (“dearest reader,” “gentle reader”).1 We easily and naturally adopt the attitude of ironic detachment held by Don Quixote's “step-father”—a term which suggests just the right mixture of distance and control. But these relationships change significantly in the course of Don Quixote's adventures, and this change profoundly affects the way we interpret the novel.

In Don Quixote: Hero or Fool? (Part I), I attempted to show how Cervantes shifts the reader's attitude toward Don Quixote from one of derision to one of sympathy, respect, and admiration. The shift derives in part from such changes as Don Quixote's increasing cognizance of reality, his loss of control over events, the increase in deception practiced upon him, the element of self-doubt, the change in the ethical status of his antagonists, and the shift from emphasis upon physical prowess to emphasis upon strength of spirit.2 Cervantes guides the process throughout—not simply the changes in Don Quixote and his circumstances, but also the reader's judgment of these changes: we implicitly accept the existence of a Moorish enchanter in the world of the novel in Part II, Chapter II; chivalric archaism (a device used for the comic deflation of Don Quixote's rhetoric) disappears from his speech after Part II Chapter XXXII; the comic expectation of—and desire for—Don Quixote's defeat is consistently lacking after Part II, Chapter XLVIII.

Now, if the narrator and the reader begin the novel in close rapport, and both view the protagonist from a critical and ironic distance, and if in the course of the novel factors are introduced, as outlined above, which draw the reader nearer to the protagonist, one of two corollaries must follow: either the narrator accompanies the reader in the move toward the protagonist, or he does not, and the distance between narrator and reader correspondingly increases. Since in a coherent work of art the author and the reader must be assumed to share a common ethical perspective on the protagonist, this second alternative would seem to necessitate the introduction of a surrogate narrator. At least the alternative only becomes available when a surrogate narrator is introduced, or through some other process of authorial distancing.3

Ruth El Saffar has seen the character-author facet of this complex relationship most clearly: “Cervantes' tone in Chapter I is one of great irony implying an easy assurance of the profound gulf separating him, the storyteller, from Don Quijote, his clearly insane character. But as the outlines of this character begin to take on substance, Don Quijote begins to emerge as a threat to his author's integrity and distance. As Don Quijote becomes more sympathetic, Cervantes is threatened by assimilation with his character. The need to reassert control and distance is perhaps symbolized by the unexpected interposing of a fictitious historian.”4 Without wishing to diminish the importance of her remarks, I must take exception to some of the implications of Professor El Saffar's analysis. First, the idea that it is Don Quixote who moves Cervantes, rather than the other way around, threatens to revive, at a higher level of sophistication, the “lay genius” issue—the idea that Cervantes did not really understand what he had accomplished. And in any event, Cid Hamete is introduced long before I, at least, can detect any authorial activity in behalf of the shift in sympathies. Secondly, it seems to me that Cervantes need not have left behind a representative of the originally established distance as he and the reader begin to draw nearer to Don Quixote. That he did so is part of the uniqueness of the work compared to other novels of anagnorisis that involve a revised perspective on characters and events, such as those René Girard treats in Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque.

As Don Quixote “becomes more sympathetic,” Cervantes and the reader of course move toward him, but Cid Hamete does not. Cid Hamete is an unreliable narrator, as it is indicated early in the novel that he may be, but not because he does not keep his facts straight. His essential reliability in that respect is definitively established in Part II.5 It is his perspective on Don Quixote that is unreliable, because it does not change as the character changes, and so Cervantes contrives to alienate the reader from him to counterbalance the movement toward Don Quixote. As Cervantes says: “Whenever he might and should deploy the resources of his pen in praise of so worthy a knight, the author appears to take pains to pass over the matter in silence” (73). An essential feature of the perspectivism of Don Quixote is the number of remarks that must be taken both ironically and literally, from different perspectives. This remark is quite properly taken ironically when it appears, but it acquires literal significance by the end of the novel.

Although Cid Hamete is Cervantes' predecessor in the fictional scheme of things, he is his successor in the actual narration, and he thus inherits the ironic perspective that is already clearly and solidly established by the time he first appears in Chapter IX. Cid Hamete's manuscript views Don Quixote from the same ironic perspective, although Cervantes is careful to dissociate himself from his successor by casting doubt upon his reliability.

Just as Cervantes speaks in the early chapters of “all the foolish things that Don Quixote said” (48), the Golden Age speech in Chapter XI is characterized by Cid Hamete as a “futile harangue” (82), and reference is made in the episode of Mambrino's helmet to his “mad, ill-errant thoughts of chivalry” (158). Since Cid Hamete's perspective on Don Quixote does coincide so exactly with that established by the implied Cervantes of Chapters I through VIII, and since there is usually no clear attribution to Cid Hamete or to Cervantes of the infrequent commentary after the introduction of the Moor, it might be supposed that it is Cervantes who comments throughout on Cid Hamete's text, but it is clear that a remark such as “Who would not have laughed at hearing the nonsense the two of them talked, master and man?” does indeed reflect the attitude of Cid Hamete, who calls Sancho and Don Quixote “[two fools]” (*964). The last characterization of Don Quixote directly attributable to Cervantes is made as Sancho sets out to take possession of Barataria, during the sojourn with the duke and duchess that marks the turning point in his career:

And now, gentle reader, let the worthy Sancho go in peace and good luck go with him. You may expect two bushels of laughter when you hear how he deported himself in office. Meanwhile, listen to what happened to his master that same night, and if it does not make you laugh, it will at least cause you to part your lips in an apelike grin; for Don Quixote's adventures are to be greeted either with astonishment [admiración] or with mirth.


This commentary maintains the original perspective which Cid Hamete has been shown to share, yet there is just enough ambiguity in the word admiración to allow for a shift in Cervantes' perspective paralleling the reader's change in orientation. The chapters that follow this passage are, in fact, among the most decisive in the shift in sympathies.

Assuming for the moment, then, that Cervantes and his character Cid Hamete do not share the same perspective on the protagonist throughout the novel, let us examine some of the characteristics of the narration which can be seen as contributing to the alienation of the reader from the narrator.

The order of exposition in the novel is clearly attributable to Cid Hamete, as can be seen in such remarks as: “Here we shall leave them for the present, seeing that Cid Hamete would have it so” (913), and: “At this point Cid Hamete leaves him and goes back to Don Quixote” (869). One of the most striking differences in this respect between Parts I and II of the novel lies in the way in which information about characters and events is delivered to the reader.

Typical of the exposition in Part I is the presentation of the episode of Mambrino's helmet. The narrator explains Don Quixote's self-deception before the encounter takes place: “The truth concerning that helmet and the horse and horseman that Don Quixote had sighted was this: … [a] barber, … a brass basin, … an ass” (158). This is the pattern of all the adventures in Part I. There is no deception of the reader and very little mystery. In two episodes, the adventure of the fulling mills and the adventure of the corpse, the circumstances are not immediately clear, but things never seem to be other than what they are. In the whole involved introduction of Cardenio, Dorotea, Fernando, and Lucinda and the incremental advance of their relationships there is of course a great deal of mystery, but insofar as they participate in the deception of Don Quixote, the reader is always informed of the truth in advance.

In Part II, however, there are a number of exceptions to the pattern. The withholding of information begins very early: “Carrasco went to hunt up the curate and make certain arrangements with him which will be duly narrated when the time comes” (550). The reader is given no advance indication of the reality behind the abrupt appearance of the actors of The Parliament of Death:

Don Quixote was about to make a reply but was interrupted by the sight of a cart crossing the highway, filled with the most varied and weird assortment of persons and figures that could be imagined. He who drove the mules and served as carter was an ugly demon. … The first figure that Don Quixote beheld was that of Death himself, with a human countenance.


The most significant examples of subsequent, as opposed to prior, revelation are the two encounters with Sansón Carrasco, as the Knight of the Mirrors (II, XII) and as the Knight of the White Moon (II, LXVI), and the episode of Maese Pedro (II, XXIV). There should be no question that this kind of limitation on the reader's knowledge brings him closer to Don Quixote, for do we not condescend to and stand aloof from him precisely to the extent that we know, or think we know, more about reality than he does? At the same time, we begin to move away from the narrator, who knows in advance how each episode turns out, is aware all along of the reality which these deceptions hide, and chooses to exclude us from what was formerly our privileged position beside him by means of “a ‘presentación ilusionista,’ through which the reader replicates the experiences of the character and, like him, is fooled or confused. …”6

It is more difficult to assess the effect of the two cases of misinformation in Part II. (I am aware of none in Part I.) On the one hand, we know that Cid Hamete is introduced with doubts about his reliability, doubts that are echoed in Don Quixote's reaction to the news of the appearance in print of Part I:

He was a bit put out at the thought that the author was a Moor, if the appellation “Cid” was to be taken as an indication, and from the Moors you could never hope for any word of truth, seeing that they are all of them cheats, forgers, and schemers.


On the other hand, we have the confirmation of the reliability of Part I in Part II, the contrast drawn between Cid Hamete's “true” Don Quixote and Avellaneda's false character, and Cervantes' repeated insistence on the completeness and accuracy of the Moor's account:

Cid Hamete Benengeli was a historian who was at great pains to ascertain the truth and very accurate in everything.


Really and truly, all those who enjoy such histories as this one ought to be grateful to Cid Hamete, its original author, for the pains he has taken in setting forth every detail of it, leaving out nothing, however slight, but making everything very clear and plain. He describes thoughts, reveals fancies, answers unasked questions, clears up doubts, and settles arguments. In short, he satisfies on every minutest point the curiosity of the most curious.


Yet we discover two instances of deception in Part II. First, Cid Hamete tells the reader, of Countess Trifaldi, “that the lady's right name was the Countess Lobuna and that she was so called on account of the many wolves in her country” (756), though she is, of course, as he himself later reveals, a majordomo of the duke's. The second deception occurs during the governorship of Sancho, when a farmer, who is presented to us with the comment that “it could be seen from a thousand leagues away that he was a worthy man and a good soul” (813), later turns out to be a “rogue [who] knew how to play his part very well” (815).

It is true that both cases involve the introduction of minor characters and that the thrust of the first example probably goes outside the book, as a reference to the Osunas, but the second example certainly involves the same kind of withholding of information of which I have just spoken, compounded by deliberate deception.

Another contribution to the alienation of the reader from the narrator is made by the instances of “authorial” insensitivity which have led some readers to feel that Cervantes “hardens his pen” against his hero. Judgments here become more subjective, but an early example which seems to bother many readers comes near the end of Part I when Don Quixote is felled by one of the penitents and “Sancho … [flings] himself across his master's body … weeping and wailing in the most lugubrious and, at the same time, the most laughable fashion that [can] be imagined” (456). I have myself suggested before that the reader rebels against Cid Hamete's comment at the close of the episode of the enchanted boat: “Don Quixote and Sancho then returned to their beasts and to [being] beasts” (*703).7

Is there not also perhaps a note of this insensitivity in the gratuitous clarification at the very end of the novel: “Don Quixote, … amid the tears and lamentations of those present … gave up the ghost; that is to say, he died” (987)?

Finally, allied to this insensitivity, there are authorial judgments—all in Part II—with which it seems to me the reader simply cannot agree. In the episode of the lions, for example, the encounter is introduced by Cid Hamete with fulsome praise for Don Quixote:

O great-souled Don Quixote de la Mancha, thou whose courage is beyond all praise, mirror wherein all the valiant of the world may behold themselves, a new and second Don Manuel de León, once the glory and the honor of Spanish knighthood! With what words shall I relate thy terrifying exploit, how render it credible to the ages that are to come? What eulogies do not belong to thee of right, even though they consist of hyperbole piled upon hyperbole?


But all this must be seen as ironic in the light of his later characterization of the encounter as a demonstration of “the extent of his unheard-of madness,” and of Don Quixote's challenge to the lion as “childish bravado” (616). I do not believe that the reader accepts this characterization of Don Quixote's challenge. And he must also take exception to a remark in Chapter LXXI: “Dismounting at a hostelry, the knight recognized it for what it was and did not take it to be a castle … ; for ever since he had been overcome in combat he had talked more rationally on all subjects …” (972). Don Quixote has not taken an inn for a castle in all of Part II, and Cid Hamete himself notes the change twice: “His master took it for a real inn this time and not for a castle as was his wont” (671), and: “I say inn, for the reason that this was what Don Quixote called it, contrary to his usual custom of calling all inns castles” (893).

Perhaps the most striking example of reader disagreement with an authorial judgment involves the crucial episode of the Cave of Montesinos. Don Quixote had been hauled out of the cave,

and when they had him all the way up they saw that his eyes were closed and that, to all appearances, he was sound asleep. They laid him on the ground and untied him, but even this did not wake him. It was not until they had turned him over first on one side and then on the other and had given him a thorough shaking and mauling that, after a considerable length of time, he at last regained consciousness, stretching himself as if he had been roused from a profound slumber and gazing about him with a bewildered look.


After recounting the adventure, Cid Hamete makes the following comment in the margin of the text, explicitly addressed to the reader:

I cannot bring myself to believe that everything set down in the preceding chapter actually happened to the valiant Don Quixote. … And so, without asserting that it is either false or true, I write it down. You, wise reader, may decide for yourself; for I cannot, nor am I obliged, to do any more. It is definitely reported, however, that at the time of his death [they say] he retracted what he had said, confessing that he had invented the incident because it seemed to him to fit in well with those adventures that he had read of in his storybooks.


The choice which Cid Hamete offers us, then, is to take the events of the cave either as actual fact or as a conscious lie on the part of Don Quixote. But the reader knows that it was neither. It was a dream. The terms of the novel as a whole preclude, of course, the possibility that the event was “real,” and the lie option is definitively ruled out by the references during the rest of Part II to Don Quixote's being “unable to make up his mind as to whether what had happened to him in the Cave of Montesinos was real or not” (739). The best commentary on Cid Hamete's lack of perception and sensitivity, and the judgment of the knight and his squire which ought most to offend the reader, is his characterization of the Don Quixote and Sancho of Chapter LXX of the Second Part as “[two fools]” (*964).

Cid Hamete, then, has kept the reader in the dark about a number of things, excluding him from the intimacy which Cervantes had established in the early chapters. He has occasionally misinformed him concerning the facts. He reveals an insensitivity to the changes in Don Quixote which have deepened the reader's attachment to the knight, and he makes judgments and conjectures about him which conflict with the facts of the account or with the reader's clear sense of what is appropriate.

Are we justified in insisting upon this distinction between Cervantes and Cid Hamete? Cervantes has told us not to trust Cid Hamete. E. C. Riley says that “the reader who seeks to pursue the intricacies of Cervantes' game with fact and fiction must try to keep a cool head—and on no account confuse Cid Hamete's story with the novel Don Quixote by Cervantes.”8 Geoffrey Stagg suggests that “Benengeli …, like the marabouts, though reputed ‘sabio,’ is to be charged with mendacity, fraud and deception.”9 And what happens if we do not make the distinction? If the reader identifies Cervantes with Cid Hamete in the latter's insensitivity, he must either cleave to the “author” and forsake the protagonist, in the manner of an Auerbach or perhaps even an Efron, or reject the author and embrace the protagonist in the manner of Unamuno, who is in fact an almost perfect model for the type of reader who refuses to make the distinction, because his refusal is thorough, wholehearted, and relentlessly pursued to its logical conclusions.10

Let us consider briefly Unamuno's responses at some of the critical points in the alienation of the reader outlined above. On the reference to “childish bravado” in the episode of the lions: “Oh, damned Cid Hamete Benengeli, or whoever wrote this episode, how inadequately you understood it! It seems that Sansón Carrasco must have been whispering in your ear as you narrated it” (p. 132).

On the Cave of Montesinos: “On coming to this visionary adventure, the historian thinks himself obliged to doubt its authenticity! … Oh, simple-minded historian, how little you understand about visionary experiences!” (p. 137).

On the characterization of Don Quixote and Sancho as “[two fools]”: “Here the historian is as right as he can be, when he says that it is his personal opinion that the jesters were as crazy as their victims, and that the duke and duchess were not two fingers' breadth removed from being fools, when they went to so much trouble to make sport of two fools. … But stop right there, for neither Sancho nor Don Quixote can be called fools, and the duke and duchess can, because that's what they were” (p. 211).

Unamuno, who passes without comment over the transfer of the authorial mantle from Cervantes to Cid Hamete in I, IX, does not shrink from the inescapable consequences of the refusal to make a distinction: “Must we not consider that the greatest miracle accomplished by Don Quixote was his having had a man like Cervantes write the story of his life, a man who revealed in his other works the poverty of his genius, and how far he was, in the natural scheme of things, beneath what was required to narrate the deeds of the Ingenioso Hidalgo in the way in which he did, in fact, narrate them?” (p. 226). He rejects the “author” in order to embrace the protagonist. But Unamuno did not always feel this way about Don Quixote, and his earlier reaction to the novel illustrates the other possible consequence of the refusal to distinguish Cid Hamete's perspective from that of Cervantes—support of the author and rejection of the protagonist: “Some years ago, in a weekly of some authority and renown here in Spain, I shouted this war-cry: ‘Death to Don Quixote!’ … And today I confess to you, my lord, that that cry of mine was a cry inspired in me by the one who vanquished you, Sansón Carrasco …” (p. 197). Such unwillingness to dissociate Cervantes from Cid Hamete is at the very heart of the remarkable polarity which has characterized Quixote criticism for two hundred years. It has also contributed significantly to the disproportionate difficulty with which the “lay genius” position has been finally (?) discredited.

The identification of Cid Hamete with Cervantes is fostered by the final fusion of the two in the concluding paragraphs of the novel when Cervantes remarks as follows: “Such was the end of the Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha, whose birthplace Cid Hamete was unwilling to designate exactly …” (987). This recalls, of course, the initial phrase, “In a village of La Mancha the name of which I have no desire to recall” (25), which, as Riley points out, must be ascribed to the implied Cervantes.11 The final paragraph begins with Cid Hamete addressing his pen, then quotes the words which he puts in the mouth of the now personified pen: “Hands off, o'erweening ones! / Let it by none attempted be …”—words which are addressed to “presumptuous and scoundrelly historians.” The pen is still speaking in the lines which follow the ballad: “For me alone [sola] Don Quixote was born and I for him” (988), but there is an almost imperceptible shift in mid-sentence to Cervantes addressing the reader: “I shall be the first one to enjoy the fruit of his own writings as fully as he desired [quedaré satisfecho] …” (988).

Now although Cervantes obliterates the distinction between himself and Cid Hamete at the end of the novel, when the masks are put away and the box of fiction closed, he does not thereby invalidate the distinction nor imply a retroactive ratification of the Moor's perspective on the characters and the events he narrates. Cervantes never allows his own awareness of the subtle changes he has wrought in his protagonist to alter the perspective of his obtuse and therefore unreliable narrator Cid Hamete. It is true that he never suggests that he himself might have a different perspective, except, ironically, before any difference has developed: “In this work, I am sure, will be found all that could be desired in the way of pleasant reading; and if it is lacking in any way, I maintain that this is the fault of that hound of an author rather than of the subject” (73). But the whole complex structure of the novel leads the reader to increased identification with the protagonist and a corresponding estrangement from the narrator, and it is this structure that reveals Cervantes' own perspective.

If one is forced to choose between the assumption that Cervantes misunderstood the essential thrust of his own novel, as Cid Hamete's perspective seems to indicate, and the assumption that the two view the characters and events from different perspectives, can one but choose the latter?


Much has been written of the reciprocal influence which Don Quixote and Sancho exert upon each other in the course of the novel, particularly since Salvador de Madariaga's seminal chapters on the Quixotization of Sancho and the Sanchification of Don Quixote in his Don Quixote: An Introductory Essay in Psychology (1961). But the structural, thematic, and stylistic correlation developed by Cervantes between Sancho's governorship and Don Quixote's chivalric career has not, to my knowledge, been delineated. Since such a correlation would constitute a significant factor in the ethical orientation of the reader, we should investigate more fully the parallels that have been observed between aspects of the governorship and the adventures of Don Quixote.

Leland Chambers has noted “Cervantes' parallel development of the dubbing of Don Quixote and the conferring of Sancho's governorship,” and he concludes that since “both investitures become valid in spirit … the situations of both characters are essentially the same, and each accurately represents the world view of the novel.”12 Carlos Varo suggests the existence of a parallel between Sancho's self-discovery, a consequence of his experience as governor, and the fact that Don Quixote's ascent, in the reader's eyes, begins just when he ceases being a “mechanically optimistic” madman. Varo sees in the parallel an embodiment of Cervantes' belief in the redemptive capacity of suffering.13 Joaquín Casalduero has pointed out that the “Cave of Montesinos, like the pit [into which Sancho falls after leaving Barataria] is an inward movement. … [Sancho] has known disillusionment [desengaño], he has known himself. … Thanks to the fall into the pit he is able to purify himself of his desire to rule: ‘Who would have said that he who yesterday was enthroned as the governor of an island … would today find himself buried in a pit? …’”14 E. C. Riley has recently drawn attention to another facet of the same correspondence: “The parallel adventure [parallel to that of the Cave of Montesinos] of Sancho's fall into the pit is perhaps the only one in the book which gives the impression—at least such a strong impression—of having been introduced solely for symbolic reasons. Not that it is impossible, but it seems to be a fortuitous episode which is justified as a symbol of the fall of the ‘mighty’ from the pinnacle of Fortune, as a counterpart [parangón] to the Cave of Montesinos. …”15 This last comment is particularly significant for its suggestion that Cervantes is especially concerned at this point to draw an analogy between the respective activities of the knight and his squire.

A parallel thus begins to emerge from the isolated comments of a number of critics, involving a change from the comic to the serious (Chambers), a fall (Riley), and the achievement of self-knowledge (Varo, Casalduero). I suggested in Don Quixote: Hero or Fool? (Part I, pp. 61-63) that in an important sense, the governorship of Sancho parallels in its principal outlines the genesis, practice, and renunciation of the chivalric mission of Don Quixote. I believe that Cervantes' treatment of the governorship, especially in its conclusion, is designed to elicit a rather clearly definable reaction from the reader, and that one's final perspective on the governorship informs one's reaction to both the chivalric career of Don Quixote and his renunciation at the end of the novel of what he had seen as his mission. This essay is an attempt to elucidate the parallels between Sancho's governorship and Don Quixote's career and to indicate what is being foreshadowed in the treatment of the untimely end of the squire's brief moment of glory.

Don Quixote's initial goal is fame, to be obtained by imitating the heroes of the books of chivalry. We are told that the books he liked best were those of Feliciano de Silva, “whose lucid prose style and involved conceits were as precious to him as pearls” (26). The knight whom he most admired, at the outset, was “Rinaldo of Montalbán, especially as he beheld him sallying forth from his castle to rob all those that crossed his path …” (27). The initial attraction of the books of chivalry for Don Quixote, then, is esthetic, not ethical, and his desire to right wrongs is simply a necessary consequence of this attraction. Dulcinea is another consequence, and not a motivating force, and she is chosen, quite logically, after the more important business of Rocinante is attended to: “And so, having polished up his armor and made the morion over into a closed helmet, and having given himself and his horse a name, he naturally found but one thing lacking still: he must seek out a lady of whom he could become enamoured” (29). Of course, there is much subsequent talk of “righting wrongs,” and this is the intent behind much of Don Quixote's activity because that is what knights-errant do, just as he spends a lot of time “thinking of his lady Dulcinea: for this was in accordance with what he had read in his books …” (65). But his tacit acceptance of the “chivalric” career of the innkeeper who knighted him (“he had done many wrongs, cheated many widows, ruined many maidens, and swindled not a few minors”), the determining factors in his choice of Amadís over Roland as a model (210-11), his elaboration of a knight's career (162-65), and his defense of the novels of chivalry in the argument with the canon (441-44) all manifest the primacy of the esthetic over the ethical.16 It goes without saying that his initial esthetic perceptions and predilections are not only ludicrous, but diametrically opposed to Cervantes' own explicit insistence upon versimilitude and his desire to express himself in words that are “the proper ones, meaningful and well placed, expressive of your intention in setting them down and of what you wish to say, without any intricacy or obscurity” (15).

It seems equally clear that the initial attraction of the governorship for Sancho is the material gain to be had from it. He is willing to trade the governorship for the recipe for the balsam of Fierabras, which promises a quicker, easier, and perhaps larger financial return (77), and he wants his domain in Micomicón to be on the coast so that he can easily transport his black slaves to market (252, 270).

Don Quixote and Sancho begin their respective quests supremely self-confident. Each is characterized by that “serene unawareness” of inadequacy which D. C. Muecke proposes as a necessary attribute of the victim of situational irony.17 At the outset of his adventures, Don Quixote “could already see himself crowned Emperor of Trebizond at the very least” (28). He expects to improve upon the exploits of his predecessors, for, as he says, if they rewarded their squires in their old age with “the title of count, or marquis at most, of some valley or province more or less …, it well may be that within a week I shall win some kingdom with others dependent upon it, and it will be the easiest thing in the world to crown you king of one of them” (61-62). A similar self-confidence characterizes Sancho in the early chapters: “Your Grace should not forget that island you promised me; for no matter how big it is, I'll be able to govern it right enough” (61).

A closely related characteristic which the two share is a serious lack of self-knowledge, an extremely important element in the process under investigation since true self-knowledge is a prerequisite for the self-mastery that constitutes Don Quixote's victory in the end. “I know who I am” (49), he affirms, in the famous phrase so dear to Unamuno. He had thought, at this point, that he was Baldwin and that his neighbor was the Marquis of Mantua. Some chapters later he forgets Dulcinea altogether in elaborating imaginatively his rise to fame: “It only remains to find out what king of the Christians or the pagans is at war and has a beautiful daughter” (164). The king's daughter is to be his bride.

Sancho's lack of self-knowledge is beautifully represented in his reaction to the escalation of Don Quixote's ambitions for him from governor to king, referred to above:

“In that case,” said Sancho Panza, “if by one of those miracles of which your Grace was speaking I should become king, I would certainly send for Juana Gutiérrez, my old lady, to come and be my queen. …”

“There is no doubt about it,” Don Quixote assured him.

“Well I doubt it,” said Sancho, “for I think even if God were to rain kingdoms upon the earth, no crown would sit well on the head of Mari Gutiérrez, for I am telling you, sir, as a queen she is not worth two maravedis.”


As Lazarillo remarked, in a similar context: “How many people must there be in the world who flee from others because they don't see themselves as they really are!” The parallel between the knight and his squire is quite clear in this regard when each in turn ignores the unbridgeable chasm between his specific station in life and that to which he aspires. Don Quixote needs to be “of royal line or [at least] second cousin to an emperor” to marry the king's daughter. His actual situation is “a gentleman property-holder” (165). Sancho will be, as Don Quixote says, a count, and “in making you a count, I make a [nobleman] of you at the same time” (166). The squire feels he has the necessary background, “for there was a time in my life when I was the beadle of a confraternity.” The terms of the two relationships are roughly proportionate: of royal line: a gentleman property-holder:: count: beadle.

The stylistic complement to this elaborate parallel preparation for Don Quixote's career and for Sancho's governorship can be seen most clearly in the mock-heroic passages dedicated to each at the outset of their respective undertakings. In the case of Don Quixote, it is a mock-epic dawn description, which he himself has composed:

No sooner had the rubicund Apollo spread over the face of the broad and spacious earth the gilded filaments of his beauteous locks, and no sooner had the little singing birds of painted plumage greeted with their sweet and mellifluous harmony the coming of the Dawn, who, leaving the soft couch of her jealous spouse, now showed herself to mortals at all the doors and balconies of the horizon that bounds La Mancha—no sooner had this happened than the famous knight, Don Quixote de la Mancha, forsaking his own downy bed and mounting his famous steed, Rocinante, fared forth and began riding over the ancient and famous Campo de Montiel.


In the case of Sancho, it is a mock-epic invocation of Apollo:

O perpetual discoverer of the antipodes, great taper of the world, eye of the heavens, sweet shaker of the watercoolers, Thymbraeus here, Phoebus there, archer in one place, in another a physician, father of poetry, inventor of music, thou who dost ever rise and, though appearing to do so, dost never set! 'Tis thee, O Sun, by whose aid man doth beget man, 'tis thee whom I beseech to favor and enlighten my darkened intellect that I may be able to give an absolutely exact account of the government of the great Sancho Panza.


Auerbach's characterization of Don Quixote as “a comedy in which well-founded reality holds madness up to ridicule,”19 though inadequate as applied to the whole book, serves quite well to describe this first phase of the parallel trajectories of Don Quixote and Sancho. The structure, understood as the author's disposition of the constant elements of a fictional world (in Castro's terms, the “incitements” offered Don Quixote and Sancho by their world), the plot (i.e., the developmental arrangement of the characters' reactions to that world), and the style clearly lead the reader to expect a comic denouement for both characters: failure in the endeavor and reintegration with the world.

In seeking to identify the principal factors in the reversal of the reader's expectation of a comic denouement for Don Quixote's career and for the governorship of Sancho, I should perhaps begin by observing that although the dubbing of Don Quixote and the conferring of Sancho's governorship are widely separated in the novel, the fulfillment of the desires of both characters is achieved nearly simultaneously at the castle of the duke and duchess. The latter arrange for Don Quixote the first chivalric reception in his career, and “this was the first time that he really and wholly believed himself to be a true knight errant and not a fanciful one …” (709). The governorship of the “island” is conferred upon Sancho later the same day (718). Thus our attention is drawn to the analogy between their careers in preparation for the reversal.

Although considerable preparation for the reversal has already been accomplished, and thus the distance between reader and protagonist has already begun to diminish,20 It is still possible for Cervantes to make the following comment, as Sancho sets out for the ínsula:

And now, gentle reader, let the worthy Sancho go in peace and good luck go with him. You may expect two bushels of laughter when you hear how he deported himself in office. Meanwhile, listen to what happened to his master that same night, and if it does not make you laugh, it will at least cause you to part your lips in an apelike grin; for Don Quixote's adventures are to be greeted with astonishment [admiración] or with mirth.


This piece of commentary might be seen as an explicit ratification by Cervantes of the conclusions I have drawn concerning the major thrust of the novel to this point, yet one wonders just how comfortable the reader is supposed to feel with that apelike grin on his face. As I have pointed out in chapter 1, there is just enough ambiguity in admiración to allow for the possibility that Cervantes has been working subtly in another direction for some time. How else are we to understand that Don Quixote's aid is now sought by Doña Rodríguez in utter seriousness, that Basilio and his friends took him home with them, “for they regarded him as a man of valor, with hair on his chest” (648), that, as Lester Crocker has observed, “Don Quixote embodies the great spiritual force of human aspirations, and Cervantes presents him as superior in moral fibre to the people who flout him,”21 and that Sancho “ordered things so wisely that to this day his decrees are preserved in that town, under the title of The Constitutions of the Great Governor, Sancho Panza” (849)?

As I noted above, Cervantes develops comic expectations in the reader through three elements of characterization—flawed motivation, excessive self-confidence, and lack of self-knowledge—and an appropriate stylistic complement. Basic changes can be observed in all four respects as the novel progresses. The change in Don Quixote's motivation can perhaps best be seen in the ethical emphasis which he infuses into his originally esthetic drive for fame in imitation of the chivalric heroes, in Chapter VIII of Part II:

In confronting giants, it is the sin of pride that we slay, even as we combat envy with generosity and goodness of heart; anger, with equanimity and a calm bearing; gluttony and an overfondness for sleep, by eating little when we do eat and by keeping long vigils; lust and lewdness, with the loyalty that we show to those whom we have made the mistresses of our affections; and sloth, by going everywhere in the world in search of opportunities that may and do make of us famous knights as well as better Christians. You behold here, Sancho, the means by which one may attain the highest praise that the right sort of fame brings with it.


It is significant that of these six of the seven Deadly Sins—avarice is missing—the only one which is not yet demythologized, that is, which Don Quixote still sees as external, is la soberbia; pride is in fact Don Quixote's nemesis.

As for Sancho, though he can still tell Teresa, who always brings out his most materialistic tendencies, that “in a few days from now I will be setting out for my government, where I go with a great desire to make money” (750), the attitude which more properly characterizes his actual selfless performance in the governorship is best expressed in conversation with Don Quixote:

Let the island come, and I'll do my best to be such a governor that, in spite of all the rascals, I'll go straight to Heaven. It's not out of greed that I want to quit my humble station or better myself; it is because I wish to see what it's like to be a governor.”


In dealing with the intrusions of self-doubt and the acquisition of self-knowledge during the phase of performance which I am just now attempting to characterize, it is difficult not to anticipate, for the process only comes to fruition in confession and repentance at the point of anagnorisis, with which we are not yet concerned. In the case of Don Quixote, perhaps it is enough to note that the self-confident “I am worth a hundred” of Chapter XV, Part I, becomes: “This world is nothing but schemes and plots, all working at cross-purposes. I can do no more,” in Chapter XXIX, Part II (703), before being definitively transcended in Don Quixote's reflection after his second encounter with Sansón Carrasco: “Each man is the architect of his own fortune. I was the architect of mine, but I did not observe the necessary prudence, and as a result my presumptuousness has brought me to a sorry end” (943).

Similarly, the “I know who I am, and who I may be, if I choose” of Chapter V, Part I, becomes: “Up to now, I do not know what I have won with all the hardships I have endured. However, if my lady Dulcinea were but free of those that she is suffering, it may be that my fortunes would improve, and with a sounder mind I should be able to tread a better path than the one I follow at present,” in Chapter LVIII of Part II (884), before culminating in the final pages of the novel: “I am no longer Don Quixote de la Mancha but Alonso Quijano, whose mode of life won for him the name of ‘Good’” (984).

As for Sancho, just before he takes office, he is able to say to Don Quixote:

If your Grace is of the opinion that I am not fitted for this governorship, I give it up here and now; for I am more concerned for the black-of-the-nail of my soul than for my entire body. … I know no more about governing islands than a buzzard does, and if I thought for a minute that in order to be a governor the devil would have to carry me off, then I would rather go to Heaven as Sancho than go to Hell as governor.


This element of self-doubt is accompanied by an increased measure of self-knowledge, for he tells the duke: “Let them clothe me any way they like, for however I go dressed, I'll still be Sancho Panza” (779), and he is quick to point out to the majordomo in Barataria that “there has never been any ‘Don’ in my family. Plain Sancho Panza they call me …” (798).

As Sancho overcomes his desire for material gain, he judges wisely, out of a credible combination of peasant shrewdness, memories from folk traditions, and the advice of Don Quixote. As Don Quixote shifts his emphasis from reliance upon the strength of his arm to the cultivation of strength of spirit, as he internalizes the struggle and demythologizes the giants of pride, Cervantes shows him victorious simply by virtue of the attempt (the episode of the lions, Clavileño), and finally victor even in defeat at the hands of the Knight of the White Moon—“victor over himself” (978).

The phase of the careers which we are now examining is characterized by surprisingly laudable performance accompanied by a shift in motivation, a loss of unwarranted confidence, and a deeper knowledge of self. If the madness of desire distorts one's perception of reality (particularly of one's self), achievement of the ostensible goal apparently sharpens one's perception of reality. Sancho is purified of his greed as Don Quixote is purged of his egocentric blindness and presumption. Both transcend narrow, undisciplined self-interest.

Before discussing the stylistic component in the reversal of comic expectations and preparation for a serious denouement, it is necessary to focus briefly upon two major thematic parallels which arise as consequences of the surprisingly laudable performance of both Don Quixote and Sancho—el cuerdo-loco and los burladores burlados—and to examine the crucial episode of the Cave of Montesinos and its parallels in Sancho's experience. The characterization of Don Quixote as cuerdo-loco is a central element in the extended encounter with Don Diego de Miranda. The latter vacillates continually in his appraisal of the knight, who “impressed him as being a crazy sane man and an insane one on the verge of sanity” (618). In subsequent chapters the madness of Don Quixote recedes at times to such an extent that it entirely escapes the notice of those he meets, even that of such a clever man as Basilio, who spends three days with Don Quixote after the wedding. The corresponding theme in Sancho's career as governor is that of the discreto-tonto. After Sancho had made a series of perspicacious judgments, the man whose duty it was to record his activities for the duke “could not make up his mind as to whether he should take the new governor for a fool or set him down as a wise man” (801), and by the time he left Barataria, he left everyone “filled with admiration at the words he had spoken and at the firmness and wisdom of his resolve” (860). The Sancho “with very few wits in his head” of Chapter VII, Part I (60) and the Don Quixote of Chapter I, “his wits … gone beyond repair” (27), have clearly run a parallel course, and if in Chapter II of Part II the curate speaks of “the madness of the master [and] the foolishness of the man” (522), by the end of the novel it is possible for someone to say: “If the man is as wise as that, what must the master be!” (945).

The theme of los burladores burlados develops similarly in Part II. Don Quixote initiates the process with his defeat of Sansón Carrasco in Chapter XIV, frustrating the latter's plans to force him to remain at home for two years. As Tomé Cecial remarks to Sansón: “Don Quixote is a madman and we are sane, yet he goes away sound and laughing while your Grace is left here, battered and sorrowful” (601). Most of the manifestations of the theme, however, are more the work of the author than of Don Quixote himself: the duke is nonplussed when Doña Rodríguez seeks Don Quixote's aid in resolving a problem which the duke, to his discredit, is unwilling to deal with (821); she reveals to Don Quixote the intimate defects of both the duchess and Altisidora (822); the duke is chagrined when Tosilos concedes the battle with Don Quixote (876); finally, Altisidora angrily drops the pose of lovesick damsel, stung by the knight's consistent refusal to succumb to her attempted seduction (966).

In the parallel phase of Sancho's governorship, the point is explicitly made by the majordomo:

I am indeed astonished to hear a man wholly unlettered, as I believe your Grace to be, uttering so many wise maxims and observations, all of which is quite contrary to what was expected of your Grace's intelligence by those who sent us and by us who came here with you. Each day new things are seen in this world, jests are turned into earnest and the jesters are mocked.


Almost all of the material discussed in this phase of the reversal of comic expectations for both Don Quixote and Sancho is drawn from the period of their sojourn with the duke and duchess, the pinnacle of worldly achievement for both; but a crucial episode for Don Quixote—the Cave of Montesinos—precedes their arrival at the castle, and Cervantes draws subtle but explicit parallels in the experience of Sancho, one before and one after his governorship.

The topos which informs the episode of the Cave of Montesinos is a classic one. The motif is the hero's descent into the underworld, and the theme is the hero's search for wisdom.22 The adventure is appropriately a dream, an occasionally grotesque amalgam of recent experience, fears, and aspirations, and thus a revealing descent into the protagonist's unconscious. His report of the dream (which neither he nor Cid Hamete recognize as such) reveals a mind in precarious balance between the pretensions and aspirations with which he began, as reflected in Montesinos' reception and his presentation of the knight to Durandarte, and a dawning sense of inadequacy, as reflected in both Durandarte's reaction (“patience, and shuffle”) and Dulcinea's request for a loan, illuminated for us by Gerald Brenan.23 The outward manifestations of these two poles are represented most clearly in Don Quixote's reckless valor in the adventure of the lions (II, XVI) and in his fearful flight in the episode of the braying aldermen (II, XXVII). His sense of inadequacy will not be consciously articulated until immediately after he leaves the duke's castle, in his reflections upon encountering the images of the saints (884).

There is a double parallel in Sancho's experience. Sancho's account of the ride on Clavileño is the comic counterpart of the pretensions of his master in the cave, and it is Don Quixote himself who explicitly points up the analogy in a desperate bid for support in his flagging attempts to keep the faith: “Sancho, if you want us to believe what you saw in Heaven, then you must believe me when I tell you what I saw in the Cave of Montesinos. I need say no more” (778). The squire's fall into the pit corresponds to the dark side of his master's vision in the cave Sancho, quite naturally, is struck by the difference between the two subterranean adventures:

I'll not be as lucky as was my master, Señor Don Quixote de la Mancha, when he went down into the cave of that enchanted Montesinos, where he came upon people who entertained him better than if he had been in his own house. Why, it seems as if they had the table already laid for him and the bed made; he saw beautiful and pleasant visions there, but all that I'll see here will be toads and snakes.


But his view of the place of the event in his recent experience both harks back to the intimations of inadequacy in Don Quixote's dream and points toward his master's final realization of his own error:

Who would ever have said that he who yesterday was enthroned as the governor of an island … would today find himself buried in a pit? … Where have my follies and my fancies brought me?


This adventure is a “symbol of the fall of the ‘mighty’ from the pinnacle of Fortune, as a counterpart to the Cave of Montesinos …,” as E. C. Riley observes, and, we must add, a foreshadowing and portent of the fall of Don Quixote, who must also one day admit his errors: “My presumptuousness has brought me to a sorry end” (943), “I realize how foolish I was …” (984). But the serious business of confession and repentance which constitutes the final stage of the process of desengaño requires an appropriate stylistic complement, one radically different from the mock-heroic style with which the two parallel trajectories began.

Sancho is of course the first to fall, and the narrator's commentary in preparation for the account of the end of the governorship adopts a tone which is heard for the first time in the novel:

To imagine that things in this life are always to remain as they are is to indulge in an idle dream. It would appear, rather, that everything moves in a circle, that is to say, around and around: spring follows summer, summer the harvest season, harvest autumn, autumn winter, and winter spring; and thus does time continue to turn like a never-ceasing wheel. Human life alone hastens onward to its end, swifter than time's self and without hope of renewal, unless it be in that other life that has no bounds. So sayeth Cid Hamete, the Mohammedan philosopher; for many who have lacked the light of faith, being guided solely by the illumination that nature affords them, have yet attained to a comprehension of the swiftness and instability of this present existence and the eternal duration of the one we hope for. Our author, however, is here thinking of the speed with which Sancho's government was overthrown and brought to a close, and, so to speak, sent up in smoke and shadow.


As I have pointed out before, “the subject is no longer ‘the government of the great Sancho Panza,’ and, though there is humor in the passage (‘that is to say, around and around’; ‘the Mohammedan philosopher’), it is not directed at Sancho.” Further, “the seriousness of the analogy (death: governorship) and the level of style contrast with the mock-epic invocation” that introduced the governorship.24 There is only one other passage in the novel like this one in tone and content—the preparation for the end of Don Quixote's career and for his death:

Inasmuch as nothing that is human is eternal but is ever declining from its beginning to its close, this being especially true of the lives of men, and since Don Quixote was not endowed by Heaven with the privilege of staying the downward course of things, his own end came when he was least expecting it.


These passages introduce the moment of maximum lucidity, of disillusionment, for both characters. Sancho has been defeated, and now he sees clearly: “Since leaving you and mounting the towers of ambition and pride, a thousand troubles, a thousand torments, and four thousand worries have entered my soul. … I was not born to be a governor. … In this stable I leave behind me the ant's wings that lifted me in the air so that the swifts and other birds might eat me” (858-59). “‘And what did you get out of your government?’ asked Ricote. ‘I got the knowledge that I am not fit to govern anything, unless it be a herd of cattle’” (865).

Don Quixote experiences a parallel recognition. “My mind now is clear, unencumbered by those misty shadows of ignorance. … I am no longer Don Quixote de la Mancha …” (984). His islanders may exhort Sancho to get up and celebrate his “victory” over the invaders, Sansón may remind Don Quixote that Dulcinea is now disenchanted, and Sancho himself may implore his master not to “let himself die,” to blame him for his defeat, but each of them, in his own critical moment of recognition, knows the truth.

Failure lays bare the internal inadequacy and gives rise to definitive self-knowledge, humility, and confession, which issue in what the seventeenth-century Spaniard called desengaño.

Both Sancho and Don Quixote, then, have lived through a process beginning with pride and presumption and a consequent unawareness of their limitations, moving toward self-discovery through suffering, and culminating in confession and repentance. Both of them say this explicitly. Their experiences have not befallen them by chance, and here one must be careful not to draw the wrong conclusions from E. C. Riley's allusion to the “fall of the ‘mighty’ from the pinnacle of Fortune.” “There is no such thing as [fortune] in this world, and whatever happens, whether it be good or bad, does not occur by chance but through a special providence of Heaven …,” says the enlightened Don Quixote (*943) in almost the same words as Cervantes in the Persiles: “That which is commonly called Fortune … is nothing other than a firm disposition of Heaven.”25

Recognition, confession, and repentance are ratified in epiphany. As Don Quixote and Sancho approach the end of the third and final sally,

they [mount] a slope from the top of which they [have] a view of their village, at the sight of which Sancho [falls] on his knees.

“Open your eyes, O beloved homeland,” he [cries], “and behold your son, Sancho Panza, returning to you. If he does not come back very rich, he comes well flogged. Open your arms and receive also your other son, Don Quixote, who returns vanquished by the arm of another but a victor over himself; and this, so I have been told, is the greatest victory that could be desired. …”


At the end of a similarly long and arduous journey, Persiles and Sigismunda finally approach their goal, Rome, about to reassume their own original identities: “The other pilgrims in our company, coming in sight of Rome, from a hill looked down upon it, and falling on their knees, they adored it as a holy place” (II, 221). Alban Forcione has indicated the significance of this ritualistic ascension: “As Frye points out, the hill is one of the archetypal locations for the point of epiphany, at which the ‘undisplaced apocalyptic world and the cyclical world of nature come into alignment.’ Like the Bible, the Persiles presents several mountain-top epiphanies. …”26

The epiphany does not include Sancho; on the contrary, though it is he who articulates the statement which makes explicit the implicit process of self-mastery as victory, his own situation represents a comic reduction of Don Quixote's self-discovery since he is unable to assimilate fully the lessons of the governorship. It is precisely the bogus lashings alluded to in the epiphany scene which constitute the sign of Sancho's backsliding into greed and thus of his inability to follow his master on the plane of transcendence. His is a comic reintegration into the world such as the reader was initially led to expect, and the common view of Sancho as Don Quixote's disciple at the end of the novel, ready to carry forward his master's quixotic quest, is simply incompatible with the text. It would nevertheless be ill advised to judge Sancho too harshly, for he survives his moment of recognition. One cannot live in the rarefied atmosphere of transcendence, for to live is to err. Which is why Don Quixote must die at the moment of maximum lucidity.

Here lies a gentleman bold
Who was so very brave
He went to lengths untold,
And on the brink of the grave
Death had on him no hold.
By the world he set small store—
He frightened it to the core—
Yet somehow, by Fate's plan,
Though he'd lived a crazy man,
When he died he was sane once more.


  1. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha, trans. Samuel Putnam, pp. 11, 16. Subsequent references are to this translation. Italics within quotations from Don Quixote are mine throughout, and departures from the Putnam translation, at times for accuracy, at other times for precision, are also mine, and are in brackets and identified by an asterisk preceding the page reference, e.g., (*665).

  2. Don Quixote: Hero or Fool? (Part I), p. 83.

  3. “The literary work of art is a communication and … the communicant is thereby guided and controlled, though not coerced, by its totality”: Lowry Nelson, Jr., “The Fictive Reader and Literary Self-Reflexiveness,” in The Disciplines of Criticism, ed. Peter Demetz et al., pp. 189-90.

  4. “The Function of the Fictional Narrator in Don Quijote,” p. 176.

  5. “No serious discrepancies emerge between [Don Quijote's and Sancho's] literary reputations [Part I] and their current selves in Part II”: Edward C. Riley, “Who's Who in Don Quijote? Or an Approach to the Problem of Identity,” p. 128.

  6. Francisco Rico, La novela picaresca y el punto de vista, p. 43. The translations from this and other cited critical works in Spanish are my own. “Presentación ilusionista,” as Rico notes, is Maria Rosa Lida de Malkiel's term. Cf. Edward C. Riley, “Don Quijote,” in Suma cervantina, pp. 65-71.

  7. Don Quixote: Hero or Fool? (Part I), p. 45.

  8. “Three Versions of Don Quijote,” p. 810.

  9. “El sabio Cide Hamete Venengeli,” p. 224.

  10. Erich Auerbach, “The Enchanted Dulcinea,” in Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, pp. 293-315; Arthur Efron, Don Quixote and the Dulcineated World; Miguel de Unamuno, Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho. Subsequent references in parentheses in the text are to Unamuno.

  11. Edward C. Riley, Cervantes's Theory of the Novel, p. 209.

  12. “Structure and the Search for Truth in the Quijote,” pp. 311-12.

  13. Génesis y evolución delQuijote,” p. 486n88.

  14. Sentido y forma delQuijote,” p. 343.

  15. Don Quijote,” in Suma cervantina, p. 71. Despite her assertion that the episode of Sancho's fall into the pit is to be understood in opposition to the episode of Don Quixote's descent into the Cave of Montesinos, Helena Percas de Ponseti notes that “his fall into the pit constitutes for him the revelation of his personal truth, as does Don Quixote's descent into the Cave of Montesinos for him, and it is constructed with analogous technical procedures” (Cervantes y su concepto del arte, pp. 630, 637).

  16. See Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce's penetrating essay “Don Quijote o la vida como obra de arte”: “Don Quijote confuses, purposely, undoubtedly, artistic imitation … with the emulation of conduct” (p. 348). See especially pp. 346-57.

  17. Irony, pp. 25-30.

  18. For a complementary discussion of these two passages in relation to other similar ones, see Don Quixote: Hero or Fool? (Part I), pp. 58-63.

  19. Auerbach, Mimesis, p. 305.

  20. Don Quixote: Hero or Fool? (Part I), pp. 42-45.

  21. Don Quijote, Epic of Frustration,” p. 180.

  22. Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg, The Nature of Narrative, p. 27.

  23. The Literature of the Spanish People, pp. 185-90.

  24. Don Quixote: Hero or Fool? (Part I), p. 62.

  25. Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, vol. 2, ed. R. Schevill and A. Bonilla (Madrid: B. Rodríguez, 1914), p. 291.

  26. Cervantes' Christian Romance: A Study of “Persiles y Sigismunda,” pp. 35-36. The quotation from Northrup Frye is from Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 203.

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Carroll B. Johnson (essay date 1983)

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SOURCE: Johnson, Carroll B. “Psychiatry and Don Quixote.” In Madness and Lust: A Psychoanalytical Approach to Don Quixote, pp. 11-31. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983.

[In the following essay, Johnson comments on Cervantes's knowledge of contemporary medical theories and ideas about psychology and madness and argues that in Don Quixote the novelist anticipates many of the discoveries of modern psychiatry.]

Let us begin on the familiar terrain of English literary history and observe the evolution of twentieth-century scholarly interest in Elizabethan theories of personality and psychology as keys to understanding character and motivation in Elizabethan literature. Two influential studies, an article by Edward Dowden in Atlantic Monthly (1907) and a book by P. Ansell Robin (1911), introduced modern readers to a number of sixteenth-century treatises on the subject of human personality which were widely read in Shakespeare's England. These include Continental works in translation—among them Juan Huarte de San Juan's Examination of Men's Wits, from Spain—and such English studies as Thomas Wright's The Passions of the Mind, Timothy Bright's On Melancholy, and the one best known today, Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.

The suggestion that Elizabethan dramatists were familiar with these treatises and based their conception of literary character upon what was known, or believed to be known, about real character led to a series of studies, the most notable of which is Lilly Bess Campbell's classic Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion (1930). Since then, and especially with the rise of what we might call postformalist contextual criticism, it has come to be natural and normal to consider contemporary theories of character as part of the cultural-social-intellectual and economic context in which a literary work is conceived by its author and apprehended by its public. Francis Johnson observes that “in a loose, wholly unclinical fashion every Elizabethan dramatist invoked the contemporary science and terminology of psychology in depicting characters on the stage,” and that “the audience of 1600 had a general knowledge of the psychological framework inherited from Antiquity, just as we in 1950 have a vague acquaintance with the general doctrines of modern psychiatry and psychoanalysis which we bring with us to a performance of Mourning Becomes Electra or The Cocktail Party.1

All this is eminently reasonable, and analogous observations have been made with respect to Spanish literary history. Franz Alexander and Sheldon Selesnick, for example, remark that Cervantes's grasp of the psychology of mental illness as revealed in Don Quixote is even more striking than Shakespeare's. Besides the psychotic fantasies, Cervantes also demonstrates and exploits in artistic terms the principle that the mentality of the psychotic includes the essential qualities of normal thinking.2 That is, Cervantes is concerned simultaneously with normal mental processes and with mental disorders. His interest is rooted in an extraordinarily rich and fertile subsoil, as his countrymen for some two hundred years prior to Don Quixote had been dealing both theoretically and practically with the phenomenon of personality and with the insane and their care. This tradition has won for Spain the sobriquet “cradle of psychiatry.”3

It is customary to consider Ospitalis Ignoscencium, established at Valencia in 1409, as the first European facility devoted entirely to the care of mental patients. Recently, however, it has been argued that the Hospital of Santa Cruz in Barcelona (1401) was the first facility in which the mentally ill were actually cared for and therapy practiced by trained personnel, and that the Valencia operation, while established specifically for vagrant and antisocial mental deviates, was in fact a kind of glorified soup kitchen, where care was limited to confinement and physical nourishment.4 Whatever the relative merits of patient care at these two facilities may have been, the fact remains that in the first years of the fifteenth century Spain, and specifically the Crown of Aragón, took the lead in Europe in the establishment of centers for the mentally ill. The mental hospital in Zaragoza was founded in 1425, that of Palma de Mallocra in 1456. Within the domain of the Crown of Castile, the oldest facility was the “Hospital de Inocentes” established at Sevilla in 1436. This is probably the madhouse Cervantes refers to in the barber's story of the patient who believed he was Neptune (Don Quixote II, 1).5 (The Sevilla institution was followed by those at Toledo [the “Casa del Nuncio” in 1483] and Valladolid [in 1489].) By the beginning of the sixteenth century, a full hundred years before Don Quixote, Spain possessed a widespread network of facilities devoted to the care of the insane, and it is reasonable to suppose that Cervantes was personally acquainted with at least one institution.

More to the point for our purposes, the practical care of mental patients during the sixteenth century was accompanied by a series of more or less theoretical treatises on human personality and on the causes and suggested cures for personality disorders. Cervantes, as we know, was an avid reader. His father was himself a surgeon and may have possessed a library that included some of these works. There is every reason to suppose, before we take up his fiction at all, that Cervantes had access to and was familiar with this body of material. When we consider that his own work is peppered with mentally disturbed characters, of whom Don Quixote is merely the most fully developed and best known, it becomes both arrogant and foolish to assume that Cervantes was not abreast of current thinking in the field. With this in mind, it might be profitable to pass some of these treatises in review and offer some comments on their possible relation to or influence upon Cervantes in general and Don Quixote in particular.

One of the more original and prescient of these, the Nueva filosofía de la naturaleza del hombre [New philosophy of the nature of man] (1587), attributed to Oliva Sabuco de Nantes Barrera, is actually the work of her father, the Bachiller Miguel Sabuco. He considers the human neurological system to have the form of an inverted tree, with the roots in the brain, the trunk in the spinal column, and the foliage in the other members, especially the stomach. Man possesses two “harmonies,” whose relationship controls his health. The first resides in the brain and the second in the stomach. When the cerebral harmony is altered in some way, cerebral moisture is lost and illness results. This alteration may arise from two causes: internal factors, which Sabuco calls the affects, and external causes such as plague, the evil eye, poison, changes in habitat, diet, and the like. Sabuco considers the affects more important than all other causes in the psychogenesis of disease. “The harm caused to the secondary harmony of the stomach,” he writes, “is nothing compared to that caused by anger, grief and other affects in the primary harmony of the brain.” The therapeutic technique he proposes consists first in reestablishing the overall harmony between body and soul, stomach and brain, and to this end he advises “words and acts which in adults engender happiness and hope. Then the harmony of the stomach should be seen to, with comforting foods and medications to soothe it.”6

One has the impression, upon reading Sabuco, of a disquieting modernity. He understands that emotional states—grief, anger, frustration, even an excess of joy—can have disastrous physical effects, to the point of causing death. His therapeutic formula consists of four sequential phases. First, learn to recognize when you are becoming angry or distraught (or when your friend is becoming so). Second, talk yourself out of it (or, help your friend by talking him out of it). Sabuco insists again and again on the efficacy of the spoken word as medicine for these emotional disorders. Third, support the spoken word with pleasant and harmonious surroundings—music, country rest with the movement of trees and the splashing of fountains. Fourth, calm the stomach with bland foods and suitable medication. In modern terminology we might describe his approach as holistic, the insistence on the interdependence of psyche and soma, emphasizing positive thinking and supportive psychotherapy in combination with surroundings, diet, and medication conducive to the reduction of tension. This is in fact the normal routine in most mental hospitals today.

Another treatise, also disturbing in its ready assimilation to at least one aspect of the most current thinking, is that of Jerónimo de Mondragón, Censura de la locura humana, y excelencias della [Censure and excellencies of madness] (1598).7 A translation of this work's extensive subtitle will suffice to indicate its orientation: “In whose first part is demonstrated that those who are considered by the world to be sane are mad, and therefore deserve no praise. In the second part it is demonstrated how those commonly held to be mad are worthy of great praise. With a great variety of pleasant and curious histories, and other things no less useful than delightful.” Mondragón's tongue-in-cheek praise of folly recalls, besides Erasmus, the relationship between the presumably sane Duke and Duchess and the certifiably mad Don Quixote as delineated by their resident chaplain (II, 32). The equation of madness and sanity with public opinion anticipates an important aspect of the thought of R. D. Laing, for whom madness is defined as whatever society decrees it to be, sanity being the reverse. This brings us back to the events of I, 45, where a barber's basin is transformed into Mambrino's helmet by the imposition of the will of the majority of those present.

The works of Sabuco and Mondragón, suggestive though they be, are not really representative of the mainstream of sixteenth-century medical thought. Sixteenth-century medicine is still basically medieval humoral medicine, with Galen and Avicenna the principal authorities, and mental disorders are overwhelmingly considered to be caused by some humoral imbalance or alteration. Before proceeding, we might pause to review the principal tenets of humoral theory as it was current in the late sixteenth century. Briefly, the human body is composed of four humors: yellow bile, blood, black bile, and phlegm. Each person's physical characteristics and personality are controlled by the particular mixture of the four humors within him. The predominance of one over the others results in personality types whose names and characteristics are still familiar to us: the choleric, the sanguine, the melancholic, and the phlegmatic. Now, a complex system of correspondences had been established between the four bodily humors, the four elements of the earth, and the characteristics of the latter (hot, cold, dry, moist). These, in turn, are all related to the body organs that secrete the four humors. Thus, for example, Don Quixote's choleric temperament is determined by his liver, which produces yellow bile (choler) associated with the element air, whose primary characteristic is its dryness. Indeed, dryness is an essential part of our hero's psychophysical constitution, as we shall see.8

An important treatise that Cervantes might well have known is that of Andrés Velázquez, Libro de la melancolía (1585). The term melancholy appears here in its generally accepted sixteenth-century sense: a disturbance or alienation of the faculties of understanding or reason, without fever. Velázquez distinguishes two varieties of melancholy, which are in fact differences of degree and not of kind: melancholy proper, and mania. Within the category of melancholy proper, fear and sadness are by no means the only possible manifestations. In fact the symptoms are extremely variable. “One patient may believe he is a rooster, flap his arms as though they were wings, and attempt to crow. Another may think he is a brick, and refuse water because he is afraid of melting.”9

A particularly interesting humoral treatise, especially pertinent for the study of Cervantes, is that of Alfonso Ponce de Santa Cruz, Diagnotio et cura affectum melancholicorum (1622). It is interesting as an example of humoral theory in general, and for one astounding case history in particular. Dr. Ponce was the personal physician of Philip II and was thus a contemporary of Cervantes; his son Antonio published the treatise on melancholy post-humously. The author affirms that the “melancholy humor” is the product of black bile, which attacks the brain in its several faculties. When this humor affects the memory, for example, it produces fear, forgetfulness, and sadness. He also offers some case histories, among which the following merits special comment. A patient believed he had been transformed into a glass vase and consequently avoided contact with people for fear of being broken. He was covered with straw and locked inside a room. A fire was set, whereupon the patient began to bang on the door and scream to be let out. Upon his release from the burning room, he was asked how it was that he had not broken himself while pounding on the door, to which he replied that he was no longer made of glass but was simply an unfortunate man.10 The parallels with Cervantes's El Licenciado Vidriera are so striking as to suggest something beyond coincidence. Cervantes surely must have known this patient or have heard of him from Dr. Ponce or another source. The etiology and the cure, of course, are quite different. In Cervantes's story the melancholy delusion is induced by poison (as Sabuco suggests), and the cure is effected not by endangering the patient's life in a fire but by lengthy and persistent supportive psychotherapy, also following the model suggested by Sabuco.

By far the most important humoral theorist, for the modernity of his thought as well as for his obvious affinities with Cervantes, is Dr. Juan Huarte de San Juan. He wrote a treatise of great influence, both in Spain and elsewhere in Europe, entitled Examen de ingenios para las ciencias [Examination of mental faculties for the sciences]. It was published at Baeza in 1575 and reprinted five times before the Inquisition placed it on the Index in 1583. The Expurgatorio of 1584 specified forty-four passages to be eliminated. Huarte prepared the required expurgated edition but decided not to publish it, and it was not until 1594, when his son authorized publication, that his work became available in the form in which we have known it until recently. It is possible that Cervantes met Huarte's son in Baeza in 1591 through Don Diego de Benavides and Don Juan Vilalta, two old prison companions from Algiers he happened to run into there.11

Huarte's original contributions are two. First, he develops the existing relationships between the four humors and the four characteristics (hot and cold, wet and dry); in fact, he is concerned more with the latter than with the former. A perfect equilibrium, he asserts, produces an individual whose principal characteristics are dullness and unsuitability for any occupation involving the use of the mental faculties. This is what he defines as the first level of ingenio: passive receptivity, limited to absorbing what is transmitted through the senses and by teachers. Huarte's next level, that of normal human intelligence, is produced by some imbalance among the humors and the characteristics. Most people fall into this group, as medieval tradition suggests. Normal human intelligence as defined by Huarte is capable of acquiring knowledge through its own resources, utilizing the data provided by sense perceptions and formal instruction, but in addition is able to develop cognitive systems, concepts, and principles on independent grounds. Furthermore, normal human intelligence is capable of generating new thoughts and of finding appropriate expression for them. Finally, Huarte posits a third level of intelligence which he calls ingenio superior and which is frequently accompanied by dementia. This level occurs only rarely and, in humoral terms, is the result of a massive, radical imbalance among humors and characteristics. It is capable, without particular study or apparent effort, to “speak such subtle and surprising things, yet true, that were never before seen, heard or writ, or even so much as thought of.”12

Huarte's thought here coincides in great part with the prevailing medical theory of his time, expressed in the subtitle of Andrés Velázquez's 1585 treatise on melancholy: “In which is discussed the nature of this disease called melancholy, and its causes and symptoms, and if the rustic can speak Latin or philosophize while in a frenetic or manic state, without having first studied these subjects.” What makes Huarte particularly interesting for us moderns is not so much the humoral basis of his thought, which he shares with virtually every physician of his time, but his second—and most original—contribution: his definition of the three levels of mental faculties in terms of the ability to generate new ideas and concepts. That is, for Huarte, intelligence (ingenio) is a generative faculty, and indeed he derives the Spanish ingenio from Latin ingenerare ‘to engender.’ An important corollary of this is his association of the superior ingenio with madness, thus inverting the usual value judgments brought to bear on the individual so constituted or affected. What for Andrés Velázquez exists negatively, as a curiosity—the rustic speaking Latin—is for Huarte a positive manifestation of intellectual superiority.

The relationship between Huarte's application of humoral theory—his concept of the superior intelligence (ingenio) touched with madness—and Cervantes's character (el ingenioso hidalgo) is obviously a suggestive one, and since the turn of this century a body of scholarship has grown up which seeks to define and clarify it. In 1905 Rafael Salillas published a book entitled Un gran inspirador de Cervantes: el Dr. Juan Huarte y su “Examen de ingenios” (Madrid: Victoriano Suárez), in which he relates pertinent passages in Cervantes's first work (the pastoral La Galatea of 1585), the exemplary novel El Licenciado Vidriera (1613), and the posthumous Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (1617), as well as the Quixote, to different aspects of Huarte's doctrine. For Salillas, ingenioso comes to be a synonym of loco (insane), and the description of Don Quixote's character is developed accordingly. Huarte's own thought was further studied by Mavricio de Iriarte, who pointed out its importance as a theory of personality in 1948 and who elaborates the relation between Huarte's ingenio and Cervantes's ingenioso hidalgo.13

In 1954, Vicente Peset offered a summary of Huarte's doctrine on the combination of hot and dry. Although Dr. Peset does not apply these characteristics directly to the study of Don Quixote, they are worth noting for their power both to elucidate and to confuse our analysis of the mad knight's character. In Huarte, heat is associated with imagination. Since the words spoken in delirium are a product of the individual's imagination rather than of memory or understanding, and “since frenzy, mania and melancholia are hot passions of the brain, there is a strong argument in favor of the imaginative faculty consisting in heat.” Dryness, however, is associated with understanding, as Huarte states: “Old men possess great understanding because they are dry, and for the same reason, because they lack moisture, their memories fail them.” Huarte's mapa mentis, it appears, is not without some shoals.

Passing to Huarte's third (superior) level of intelligence, Peset offers the following table of the physical and personality traits which result from the combination of hot and dry.

  1. Intelligence and ability: sharpness of imagination.
  2. Habits and personality: courageous, arrogant, generous, shameless, witty.
  3. Voice: heavy and somewhat coarse.
  4. Flesh: lean, hard, tough, made of sinews, extremely broad veins.
  5. Color: dark, tanned, dark greenish, ashen.
  6. Body hair: a great deal, black and thick, especially from the thighs to the navel.14

It will be observed that by no means do all these characteristics correlate with Don Quixote (no one was ever less shameless, for example) and that some of them—color, for instance—are internally inconsistent. Others, however, offer remarkable similarities with the Cervantes character.

The best-known rapprochement of Huarte and Don Quixote is that proposed by the American Hispanist Otis H. Green in a now-classic article published in 1958.15 Green applies Huarte's doctrine systematically to Don Quixote, from the etiology of his madness to his cure and death. At the beginning, the anonymous hidalgo is naturally choleric, the result of a predominance of yellow bile in combination with heat and dryness. This temperament is aggravated beyond the point of sanity by the drying out caused by lack of sleep, for instead of sleeping our man stays up reading romances of chivalry. The narrator reports, in fact, that “from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”16 At the end of each sally Don Quixote sleeps, which partially restores his humoral balance by introducing moisture, although not in sufficient amount to cure him until the end of the third sally. In fact, on the eve of that sally his friends visit him and find him particularly dried out. What allows the cure to finally occur is that beginning in II, 58 Don Quixote begins to experience attacks of melancholy, which in terms of humoral medicine is the opposite of choler, being cold and dry to choler's hot and dry. Melancholy restores judgment, at the expense of imagination. The cold of melancholy, in combination with the moisture induced by sleep, finally effects the cure. It brings Don Quixote's death as well, for melancholy has the unfortunate side effect of constricting the heart. Green's study has the merit of suggesting in the strongest possible terms the direct relation between Huarte's medical doctrine and its artistic exploitation by Cervantes, which in turn places Cervantes near the forefront of the most advanced versions of sixteenth-century personality theory based on traditional humoral medicine.

More recently, Carlos P. Otero has returned to the general relation between Huarte and Cervantes and their contemporary, the grammarian Fernando Sánchez de las Brozas (“El Brocense”), locating all of them within what we might call the “rationalist out-group” of sixteenth-century Spanish intelligentsia, whose minoritarian ideology brought them into conflict with the official policy in matters scientific and religious.17 In view of Huarte's association of superior intelligence with dementia, and considering what we know now about Cervantes and El Brocense and their society thanks to Américo Castro's masterful analyses, Otero's comments suggest an interesting hypothesis—namely, that in the repressive, conformist atmosphere of late sixteenth-century Spain, a person of superior intelligence had to be a little bit crazy merely in order to exist. …

I do not think there can be any doubt that Cervantes was acquainted with Huarte's work and that he consciously incorporated various of Huarte's ideas into the Quixote. The ingenio-ingenerare relation, for example, giving rise to the concept that one can generate oneself, with its obvious “precocious existentialist” appeal, is of course fundamental. When Cervantes remarks in his prologue to Part I that Don Quixote is “dried up, shriveled and eccentric, … and filled with various thoughts that never occurred to anyone else” (p. 11), he is obviously paraphrasing Huarte's own description of the third or superior level of intelligence: “to speak such subtle and surprising things … that were never before seen, heard or writ, or even thought of.” When Don Quixote shows his hand to Maritornes and the innkeeper's daughter in I, 43, calling attention to “the contexture of the sinews, the network of the muscles, the breadth and spaciousness of the veins” (p. 393), he seems to be paraphrasing Huarte's summary of the flesh of the hot-dry type: “hard, tough, made of sinews, extremely broad veins.” When the narrator tells us that Don Quixote lost sleep, the restorer of moisture, that his brain dried out, and that his personality altered as a result, he is already dealing with Huarte's ideas, in their more traditional form, as studied by Green. Similarly, the genesis of the exemplary novel El coloquio de los perros [The dogs' colloquy] in its author's delirium, which is induced by a similar drying-out process—he is taking the sweats as treatment for venereal disease—seems also to be based on Huarte's theory of mechanical changes in the humors and their psychic effects. When Cervantes in the prologue to Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses remarks offhandedly that the dramatist Lope de Rueda is buried in the cathedral of Córdoba, next to the famous madman Luis López, he is referring to a case history related by Huarte in the Examen de ingenios. López had lost his reason, was attacked by a sudden fever, and suddenly rose to Huarte's third or superior level of intelligence.

Although invoking Huarte allows us to understand the contemporary scientific theoretical basis for a number of concrete behavioral manifestations, Don Quixote is clearly much more than a fictionalized version of the Examen de ingenios. The most glaring discrepancy between the two lies in Cervantes's conception of character as based on acts of will, on throwing oneself into situations and entering into a dialectical relationship with one's circumstance—in short, all the features we consider “novelistic”—and Huarte's, which is based on preformed characteristics that determine aptitudes and even reactions to stimuli. Iriarte called attention to this in 1948 when he remarked that “it seems that Huarte sees only temperamentally determined reactions in an agent's actions.”18 With respect to the passage of time, Cervantes shows Don Quixote changing—and becoming more himself—because of his accumulated experience, while Huarte considers temperamental changes across time to be the result of mechanical alterations in the relationship of wet and dry and hot and cold. Thus, for example, youths have retentive memories because their brains are still nice and moist, while old men have superior intellect, but cannot remember things, because their brains have dried out over the years. Curiously enough, although Cervantes obviously rejects these mechanistic concepts at the level of consciousness, the idea of capabilities and behavior appropriate to certain ages is obviously of fundamental importance to him. Don Quixote does not act like a man of twenty-five or thirty, but like one of fifty. … For the present it is sufficient to conclude that Cervantes must have been acquainted with Huarte and that he consciously exploited parts of his doctrine. At the same time, he appears to have consciously rejected other parts.

Provocative as he is, Huarte de San Juan is not the total of sixteenth-century psychiatry. As we have seen, he is a contemporary of, and shares a common orientation with, Andrés Velázquez and Alfonso Ponce de Santa Cruz, both of whom wrote influential treatises on melancholy. It is to this subject that I must now return, and to a specific manifestation known by the name conferred upon it by the French physician Jacques Ferrand in his Traité de l'essence et guerison de l'amour, ou de la melancholie erotique (1610). I refer to the phenomenon of erotomania, the symptoms associated with the courtly love syndrome—loss of appetite, insensitivity to anything that is not the beloved, alienation, and the like. The “lover's malady,” an idea already discussed by Plato, the symptoms of which had been current in romance literature since the troubadours, was put on a scientific footing by Ferrand's treatise.

As Green remarks, melancholy is usually associated with the humor blood and with cold-dry characteristics, and it should therefore be opposed to Don Quixote's hot and dry choleric temperament. Nevertheless, Ferrand considers that hot and dry humors, as well as blood, may incline one to love, and he specifically states that choleric persons are amorous. Now in Ferrand's theory, if love remains unsatisfied, melancholy humors and attendant symptoms can develop. Love, if thwarted, cools and dries the body in various ways. It does so first through the continual mental activity it provokes. By thus busying the mind with thoughts of love, moisture is consumed, drying out results, and a humoral imbalance is produced. The hot passions which assail the lover—desire, hope, joy, anger—may also bring on melancholy by burning the humors. In addition, Ferrand mentions unevacuated seed as a possible cause of erotomania.19 As to the symptomatology, we should remember that for Cervantes and his contemporaries melancholy was not simply a form of depression, as we think of it today, but referred to any disturbance or alienation not accompanied by fever. Symptoms could either be depressive or manic, as Dr. Velázquez observed in 1585. An alternation of the two sets of symptoms was perfectly possible. Indeed, this is the case of Cardenio in I, 23 and Basilio in II, 20.

It is customary to consider Don Quixote's brush with erotomania, the willful imitation of Amadís cum Orlando suggested by his recent encounter with Cardenio, as a brilliant parodic tour de force on Cervantes's part, wherein a genuine madman deliberately becomes a counterfeit madman without abandoning his own madness.20 His behavior thus offers a contrast to both Cardenio—a genuine erotomaniac—and Basilio—a trickster who feigns erotomania in order to win the girl he loves. This is true, of course, but we should remember that Don Quixote, like all knights-errant, is a man in love. Being in love, as Vivaldo points out in I, 13, is an essential constituent feature of the profession of knight-errantry. Don Quixote's love for Dulcinea comes by II, 59 to define his existence as Don Quixote. The readers of the apocryphal second part of his adventures by Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda inform him that in that spurious work Don Quixote is no longer in love with Dulcinea. Our hero seizes the opportunity to demonstrate who he is by invoking his undying love. Don Quixote is nothing if not a lover. It is reasonable, then, to suppose that in spite of the contrasts between himself and Cardenio and Basilio, the combination of unrequited love and mental disorder should function in a serious, nonparodic way in Don Quixote's character. I shall investigate this important subject in chapter 3.

Until now we have been concerned with sixteenth-century theories of mental disorders to which Cervantes might have had access, his possible familiarity with them and artistic exploitation of them. We have observed that the mind and its disorders constituted an important area of theoretical investigation and clinical practice in Cervantes's society. Besides the network of mental hospitals begun in 1401, with which Cervantes was at least partially familiar, a considerable body of scholarly writing on the subject had grown up by his time. Cervantes's works certainly demonstrate his interest in the phenomenon of mental disorders. They attest as well to his general familiarity with the doctrines then current: the notions of humoral imbalance, general symptomatology (both manic and depressive) of the disorder known as melancholy, and the like. Cervantes's works also reveal precise and particular knowledge of specific texts—for example, the patient made of glass reported by Dr. Ponce de Santa Cruz, or the effects of drying out studied by Huarte. I might summarize by saying that Cervantes was certainly abreast of current theory and practice, he may actually have been ahead of it, and he was clearly not enslaved to any one particular medical authority. Cervantes had certainly read and assimilated Huarte, for example, but Huarte (or Sabuco, or Velázquez, or Ponce) did not invent Don Quixote.

Nor did all of them together. Cervantes's intuitions go far beyond contemporary medical theory, and his description of symptoms has been shown to anticipate perfectly the discoveries and classification of mental disorders made by clinical psychiatry beginning in the nineteenth century. This remarkable aspect of Cervantes's creativity has been the subject of a series of studies by practicing clinicians, the majority Spanish, beginning with Antonio Hernández Morejón, La historia clínica de Don Quijote (1848), and continuing practically to the present. The most recent such work is that of the Spanish psychiatrist Antonio Vallejo Nágera, who resumes the tradition of modern clinical discussions of mental disorders in Don Quixote and other Cervantine characters.21

The nineteenth-century physicians—Hernández Morejón and Emilio Pi y Molist—consider Don Quixote a case of monomania, perfectly in accord with the concepts of mental illness then current. In 1905, doubtless inspired by the centenary of the publication of Don Quixote, a new, double tradition was initiated. I have already mentioned the work of Rafael Salillas, which inaugurated the Cervantes-Huarte studies. Another line of studies was begun by Ricardo Royo Villanova, a professor of medical pathology, who applied the most recent psychiatric doctrines to the symptoms exhibited by Don Quixote and concluded that his illness should be diagnosed as a “chronic paranoia or partial systematic delirium of the expansive type, the megalomaniacal form and the philanthropic variety.” This is an important point of departure, for it incorporates the description of paranoia as defined by Kraepelin, which is still current in clinical psychiatry. Most succeeding studies of Don Quixote's disease consider it from this perspective. They tend to assume a somatic basis for the disease and take special care for the accurate and precise description of symptoms as the basis for an accurate diagnosis. The doctoral thesis of Lucien Libert, La folie de Don Quichotte (1909), and the studies of Dr. J. Goyanes, Tipología del Quijote (1932) and De la biotypologie de Don Quichotte et de Sancho Panza (1934), are representative.

By all odds the most important manifestations of this tendency are those of the Peruvian psychiatrist Carlos Gutiérrez Noriega in the 1940s and the Spaniard Vallejo Nágera, whose first “Cervantine pathography” appeared in 1950.22 Both these authors are practicing psychiatrists—that is, physicians who are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of certain mental illnesses (basically those defined by Kraepelin: paranoia, manic-depressive psychosis, schizophrenia) and whose effort is concentrated on isolating the symptoms and describing them with the greatest possible accuracy, for the treatment depends on the diagnosis. When a clinical psychiatrist approaches a literary text, he focuses exclusively on instances of clearly pathological behavior, which he notes and then attempts to relate to a recognizable syndrome associated with a real mental disease. Since a cure is obviously impossible, literary criticism as practiced by the clinicians becomes exclusively a matter of diagnosis, or put inelegantly, making sure that the correct label is applied to the symptoms exhibited by a particular character.23 Both Gutiérrez Noriega and Vallejo Nágera, as well as others, are convinced that in Don Quixote Cervantes has created in fiction a perfect representation of paranoia as defined by Kraepelin. Vallejo Nágera reports, in fact, that he used to give a class to medical students in which he offered Don Quixote as a model of paranoia, Tomás Rodaja as a model of deliriant schizophrenia, and Felipe Carrizales as a model of psychopathic jealousy, remarking that Cervantes achieved, “without consciously attempting to, the description of prototypes of mental illnesses which can serve as examples for psychiatric nosography, anticipating their classification and study by centuries.”24

Both Pi y Molist in the nineteenth century and Vallejo Nágera in the twentieth coincide in the conclusion that Cervantes was in fact considerably in advance of current medical theory in his description of madmen. Obviously, he could not have invented his clinically accurate characters out of nothing, nor did he receive advanced training at some as yet undiscovered secret institute. His characters are rather the result of an interest in people and years spent observing them in jails and mental hospitals, taverns and inns, plazas and paseos. To this I would only add that Cervantes's interest in people, like that of all great writers, was so consuming as to constitute an obsession, and that he was obsessed not only by people but by the way they interact with each other and with their circumstances—in a word, by the phenomenon of life as a process.

Before proceeding to a couple of final observations, I should pause to remark that the “clinical psychiatry” approach to our novel is severely limited. It has the merit of demonstrating a great author's magnificent intuitions, but because it is static and not dynamic (in this sense akin to a definition of literary genre on the basis of accumulated formal characteristics), it cannot illuminate the structure of the work of art, nor can it elucidate for us the process of life unfolding, which of course is the business of the novel as a genre. As readers and literary critics, we are only marginally interested in having the name of Don Quixote's disorder; we are preoccupied instead with the web of relationships established between this particular madman and the particular objects and people with whom he comes in contact, how these relationships affect each other, how the world affects Don Quixote, and how he affects the world—and ourselves. We are much more concerned, in short, with the total phenomenon of verisimilitude—artistic re-creation of plausible reality, as defined by Aristotle—than we are with the particular detail of it encompassed in the clinical name for the hero's malady. Martine Bigeard, in her excellent study of madmen in Spanish literature of the Golden Age, after summarizing the contributions of Hernández Morejón, Kirschner, Vallejo Nágera, and Gutiérrez Noriega, concludes: “En assimilant le Quichotte à une fiche clinique et Cervantès à un génial psychiâtre, les études réduisent un chef-d'oeuvre aux dimensions d'un roman d'anticipation médicale et rebaissent son auteur au niveau d'un Jules Verne de la pathologie mentale.”25

The foregoing begins to suggest how clinical psychiatry as a tool of literary criticism differs from psychoanalysis. Clinical psychiatry is static, concerned with the accumulation of examples of pathological behavior, which are in turn translated into symptoms, a syndrome, the name of a disease. This is an operation performed by the clinician on someone else; that is, the literary character exists for the clinician not as an artistically created complex human being but as an object without consciousness, a “fiche clinique” in Bigeard's graphic phrase. By contrast, psychoanalysis, like the novel, is concerned with process, with questions of motivation and behavior, cause and effect. These are literary questions, the bases for any discussion of plot and character. Psychoanalytical literary criticism treats literary characters as though they were real people; and people, as Ortega and Sartre (among others) have taught us, are distinguished by the possession of a history—an evolution through time—as opposed to an essence, and a consciousness of the fact of their existence in and through time. We are also characterized by complex mental processes that exist below the level of consciousness (as Freud, among others, has taught us) and that frequently determine our behavior. In psychoanalysis, the analysand comes gradually to perceive, consciously, the unconscious motivation for his sometimes bizarre and almost always self-destructive behavior. Through psychoanalytical literary criticism, the reader comes gradually to perceive the unconscious motivation for the character's behavior, and the rich, human complexity of the character's character stands revealed. As readers, we are then free to marvel at a great author's magnificent intuitions and, more importantly, to assimilate the character's humanity to our own, to participate most fully in that enhanced vicarious experience of life that great literature offers us.

Having gone out of my way to point out the limitations of the “clinical psychiatry” approach to Don Quixote, I want to close … by calling attention to an isolated observation by Carlos Gutiérrez Noriega which, had it been followed up by other investigators, or had he lived to follow it up himself, might have been the basis for a real elucidation of Don Quixote's character from a psychodynamic point of view.

Cervantes related the transformation of personality to the human ages of greatest vital tension, adolescence and climacteric, when real psychological mutations, sometimes of pathological dimensions, frequently occur. Only recently have psychiatric and psychological studies recognized that these critical times of life are replete with dangerous proclivities, and that the personality changes which occur on these occasions can develop in the direction of psychosis.

As examples of personality transformation in the climacteric he offers Felipe Carrizales of El celoso extremeño [The jealous extremaduran] and Don Quixote himself. Of Don Quixote he says, “He is a sedentary man, a great reader, who suddenly becomes an adventurer.” In both characters, he avers, “the entire tragedy and the principal novelesque motivation derive from an internal incident, a secret experience of transformation of the self, which suddenly impels them on a new course, a new form of adaptation to life.”26

The present study is in a sense an exploration of the Peruvian psychiatrist's rather offhand observation. The idea that the characters' bizarre behavior at a particular point in the life cycle is “a new form of adaptation to life” is particularly rewarding. … Gutiérrez Noriega himself, however, associates the climacteric or “presenile” period with a withdrawal from active life, a coming to terms with being passive and sedentary for one's remaining years, and thus the opposite of adolescence—and of Don Quixote. Knowledge of the psychodynamics of mid-life and aging has evolved considerably since 1944. It provides an excellent point of departure for the study of Don Quixote as a verisimilar literary character who acts like a real person. …


  1. Francis Johnson, “Elizabethan Drama and the Elizabethan Science of Psychology,” in English Studies Today, ed. C. L. Wenn and G. Bullough (London: Oxford, 1951), pp. 111-119. This passage was quoted by O. H. Green, “El ingenioso hidalgo,” Hispanic Review 25 (1957): 175-193, and the concept related to Cervantes, his public, and a particular theory of personality then current in Spain.

  2. F. Alexander and S. Selesnick, The History of Psychiatry (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), pp. 101-102, quoted in P. E. Russell, “Don Quixote as a Funny Book,” Modern Language Review 64 (1969): 313.

  3. P. Bassoe, M.D., “Spain as the Cradle of Psychiatry,” American Journal of Psychiatry 101 (1945).

  4. Joaquín Fuster, M.D., “Origen y evolución de la asistencia psiquiátrica en el Instituto Mental de Santa Cruz,” Anales del Hospital de la Santa Cruz y San Pablo, Barcelona 20 (1960): 173-332. As befits his professional status, Dr. Fuster is more concerned for the extent and quality of patient care than for simple chronological priority. This is why he omits the purely confinatory facilities, e.g., London's Bedlam (1337) and Florence's Bonifacio “dei Dementi” (1377).

  5. See J. Delgado Roig, M.D., “Historia del hospital de inocentes de Sevilla,” Actas Españolas de Neurología y Psiquiatría 16 (1941).

  6. Quoted by Vicente Peset, M.D., in his Appendix to J. B. Ullersperger, Historia de la psicología y psiquiatría en España [1871], ed. V. Peset (Madrid: Alhambra, 1954), pp. 179-182. See also F. M. Torner, Doña Oliva Sabuco de Nantes, Biblioteca de Cultura Español (Madrid: Aguilar, 1935).

  7. Available in a modern edition by Antonio Vilanova (Barcelona: Selecciones Bibliográficas, 1953). See also Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce, Don Quijote como forma de vida (Madrid: Fundación March-Castalia, 1976), p. 139.

  8. The four humors, in their traditional roles as determiners of human personality, are the “scientific” basis for a recent treatise on the control of tension. See Tim LaHaye, Spirit Controlled Temperament (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1971).

  9. Ullersperger, Historia, p. 89.

  10. Ibid., pp. 90-91. On Alfonso Ponce de Santa Cruz see the doctoral dissertation of A. Escudero Ortuño, Concepto de la melancolía en el siglo XVII (Huesca: Imprenta Provincial, 1950).

  11. Luis Astrana Marín, Vida heroica y ejemplar de Miguel Cervantes Saavedra, 7 vols. (Madrid: Reus, 1948-1958), 6: 383.

  12. Noam Chomsky, Language and Mind (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1972), pp. 9-10, offers this summary of Huarte's three levels of intelligence. Because Huarte's theory of generativity anticipates important aspects of Chomsky's own thought, he plays down its basis in traditional humoral medicine. Huarte, however, insists repeatedly on the authority of Galen.

  13. Mauricio de Iriarte, El “Examen de ingenios” y “El ingenioso hidalgo”: el Dr. Juan Huarte de San Juan y su “Examen de ingenios,” contribución a la historia de la psicología diferencial (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1948).

  14. Peset in his Appendix to Ullersperger, Historia, pp. 166-178.

  15. Green, “El ingenioso hidalgo,” briefly summarized in his Spain and the Western Tradition (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1966), 4: 61.

  16. Cervantes, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha, trans. Samuel Putnam, The Modern Library (New York: Random House, n.d.), Pt. I, chap. 1, p. 27. All subsequent citations are from this edition unless noted otherwise, and will henceforth be abbreviated in the text as follows: [Part] I, [chapter] 1, or I, 1.

  17. C. P. Otero, “Introducción a Chomsky,” prologue to his translation of Noam Chomsky, Aspectos de la teoría de la sintaxis (Madrid: Aguilar, 1970), pp. xxv-xxviii.

  18. Iriarte, El “Examen de ingenios,” p. 242. The same point is made in another context by Leland Chambers, “Idea and the Concept of Character in Don Quijote,” in Studia Iberica, Festschrift für Hans Flasche, ed. K.-H. Körner and K. Rühl (Bern/Munich: Francke, 1973), pp. 119-130.

  19. Jacques Ferrand, M.D., Erotomania or a Treatise … of Love or Erotique Melancholy, trans. Edmund Chilmead (Oxford, 1640). See the excellent summary offered by Lawrence Babb in The Elizabethan Malady (East Lansing Michigan State University, 1951), pp. 128-130.

  20. See Francisco Márquez Villanueva, Personajes y temas del Quijote (Madrid: Taurus, 1975), pp. 46-51. More recently, Michèle Gendreau-Massaloux has developed this theme and related it to Ferrand and other writers on melancholy in a paper presented at the Primer Congreso Internacional sobre Cervantes (Madrid, July 1978) entitled “Los locos de amor en el Quijote: psicopatología y creación cervantina.”

  21. Antonio Vallejo Nágera, M.D. (de la Real Academia de Medicina), Apología de las patografías cervantinas (Madrid: Instituto de España, 1958).

  22. Carlos Gutiérrez Noriega, M.D., “Contribución de Cervantes a la psicología y a la psiquiatría,” Revista de Neuro-Psiquiatría [Lima] 7 (1944), and “Cervantes y la psicología médica,” ibid. 9 (1946); Antonio Vallejo Nágera, M.D., Literatura y psiquiatría (Barcelona: Barra, 1950) and Tratado de psiquiatría (Barcelona: Salvat, 1954)—both of which contain chapters on the Quixote—and Apología.

  23. See, for example, John H. Kirschner, “Don Quixote de la Mancha: A Study in Classical Paranoia,” Annali del Istituto Orientale [Napoli] 9 (1967): 275-282.

  24. Vallejo Nágera, Apología, p. 9.

  25. Martine Bigeard, La folie et les fous littéraires en Espagne, 1500-1650 (Paris: Centre de Recherches Hispaniques, 1972), p. 161.

  26. Gutiérrez Noriega, “Contribución de Cervantes,” p. 154.

Donald W. Bleznick (essay date 1984)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7374

SOURCE: Bleznick, Donald. “Don Quijote as Spanish Myth.” In Studies on Don Quijote and Other Cervantine Works, edited by Donald W. Bleznick, pp. 1-19. York, S. C.: Spanish Literature Publications Company, 1984.

[In the following essay, Bleznick provides an analysis of Don Quixote, suggesting that he is an archetypal hero who captures the essence of the Spanish character and a mythic figure who arose from the Spanish collective unconscious.]

The enduring, universal appeal of Don Quijote springs in large measure from Cervantes' genial creation of a literary figure whose words and deeds are timeless and not bound by geographic limitations. An interpretation of the adventures of Cervantes' protagonist through the perspective of archetypal criticism will reveal that Alonso Quijano-Don Quijote goes through a process of psychological maturation that men have undergone in all kinds of societies from time immemorial. Cervantes' novel, moreover, has had special significance for Spaniards since it captures essential facets of their character. Don Quijote was written during one of those periods in which the Spaniards' national religion, the bedrock of their existence, was being severely tested. In view of this spiritual crisis and considering Cervantes' orthodoxy, I believe that he made his main character inevitably realize that he could arrive at a true understanding of himself only through Catholicism. His victory would serve as a model for all his fellow countrymen.

This analysis of Cervantes' archetypal hero takes into account the totality of the life of Alonso Quijano who is Cervantes' real protagonist. During most of the novel he assumes the role of Don Quijote, the persona he uses to carry out his will to right the ills of the world. His experiences as Don Quijote are essential to his individuation (psychic growth) and the ultimate attainment of maturity, when he no longer needs and thus can abandon this persona. This occurs when Quijano becomes aware of the folly of his role as knight-errant and accepts authentic Spanish religion.

The idea of using a parody of the chivalresque novel to invent the modern novel was a brilliant idea. This narrative form was a fitting vehicle to stimulate the reading public's interest by offering a rich variety of imagined episodes, by advocating the restoration of justice in the world, and by portraying the lives of those who inhabited Spain at the time. More importantly, by recounting the adventures of a hero, Don Quijote exemplifies the psyche's journey from the primordial pool of the unconscious to the level of consciousness and knowledge. It is Cervantes' masterful rehearsal of a universal pattern that has enabled his novel to strike a responsive chord in Spaniards and millions of others who have read the work.

According to Jung, a great artist is one who can tap into the collective unconscious and lend “expression to the unspoken desire of his times and shows the way, by word or deed, to its fulfillment.”1 In his Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho, Unamumo intuited this when he stated that Don Quijote surpassed Cervantes' creative talents and was fashioned by a spirit who inhabited the deep recesses of his soul:

No cabe duda sino que en El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha que compuso Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra se mostró éste muy por encima de lo que podríamos esperar de él juzgándole por sus obras; se sobrepujó con mucho a sí mismo. Por lo cual es de creer que el historiador arábigo Cide Hamete Benengeli no es puro recurso literario, sino que encubre una profunda verdad, cual es la de que esa historia se la dictó a Cervantes otro que llevaba dentro de sí, y al que no antes ni después de haberla escrito trató una vez más: un espíritu que en las profundidades de su alma habitaba.2

In a later essay, he declared that the Spanish people gave birth to Don Quijote: “si Cervantes fue el padre de don Quijote, su madre fue el pueblo de que Cervantes formaba parte. Cervantes no fue más que un mero instrumento para que la España del siglo XVI pariese a Don Quijote. …”3 Jung corroborated this view when he discussed the composition of Goethe's Faust:

The creative process has a feminine quality, and the creative work arises from the unconscious depths—we might truly say from the realm of the Mothers. Whenever the creative force predominates, life is ruled and shaped by the unconscious rather than by the conscious will, and the ego is swept along on an underground current, becoming nothing more than a helpless observer of events. The progress of the work becomes the poet's fate and determines his psychology. It is not Goethe that creates Faust, but Faust creates Goethe. And what is Faust? Faust is essentially a symbol. By this I do not mean that it is an allegory pointing to something all too familiar, but the expression of something profoundly alive in the soul of every German, which Goethe helped to bring to birth.4

We can view Don Quijote as a mythopoeic hero who arises from the Spanish collective unconscious. Common to all myths is the process of periodic renewal or re-creation of the core values of a culture. Cervantes, then, presents his view of Spain's vital characteristics at a time of spiritual crisis.

From his reading of chivalric tales, Don Quijote intimately knew the attributes of a caballero andante: piety, honor, valor, and loyalty to God, the suzerain and one's sworn love. Indeed, these traits fit Christian heroes among whom the Cid is a noteworthy example. Don Quijote satisfies most requisites of a hero but is generally too busy displaying his valor and seeking fame to pay more than lip service to religious responsibilities. He substitutes his own brand of religion for Spanish Catholicism (“Religión es caballería …”),5 a serious omission for a Spaniard living in Spain during his time. Early in the novel (Part I, chapter 13), the gentleman Vivaldo questions Don Quijote's declaration that he is a minister of God on earth by observing: “pero una cosa, entre otras muchas, me parece mal de los caballeros andantes, y es que, cuando se ven en ocasión de acometer una grande y peligrosa aventura, en que se vee manifiesto peligro de perder la vida, nunca en aquel instante de acometella, se acuerdan de encomendarse a Dios, como cada cristiano está obligado a hacer en peligros semejantes; antes se encomiendan a sus damas con tanta gana y devoción como si ellas fueran su Dios, cosa que me parece que huele algo a gentilidad” (p. 119). Don Quijote weakly defends himself against this accusation of paganism by saying: “Y no se ha de entender por esto que han de dejar de encomendarse a Dios; que tiempo y lugar les queda para hacerlo en el discurso de la obra” (pp. 119-120). This postponement of a reckoning with God, in the manner of Don Juan, is an inevitable consequence of Don Quijote's desire to follow faithfully the rules of chivalry and, furthermore, indicates that all references the knight makes to doing things in the name of God are conventional utterances. As we shall see, it is only in the last chapter of the novel that Quijano gains awareness of God.

Central to all hero myths is the long journey during which the protagonist performs impossible tasks and overcomes insurmountable obstacles in pursuit of his mission. In archetypal criticism, this journey represents the process of individuation, the building up and filling out of a personality, the passage from the unconscious to consciousness, from a lack of self-awareness to a state of self-recognition and knowledge. In the case of heroes such as Don Quijote, the individual triumphs not only for himself but for the society in which he lives: “The hero myth is never concerned with the private history of an individual but always with some prototypal and transpersonal event of collective significance. The victory and transformation of the hero are valid for all mankind, they are held up for our contemplation, to be lived out in our own lives or at least re-experienced by us.”6 Quijano's adventures under the persona of Quijote may reveal failure in the realization of his lofty mission but as an archetypal Spaniard he achieves a spiritual victory which is the legacy for all his fellow countrymen.

Don Quijote's birth to the world is typical of other hero redeemers in that he is begotten under extraordinary circumstances. He is an offspring of books rather than of earthly parents. His room, filled with books of chivalry, is the womb in which he is conceived. Weaned on fictional narratives and lacking in worldly experiences, it is no small wonder that Don Quijote's self-development is long in coming. During Part I of the novel, the knight shows little if any psychological growth; instead, he manifests child-like behavior in imitating the different types of adventures of knights-errant. As we shall see, the first stage in the process of individuation occurs in the Cueva de Montesinos episode of Part II, when he begins a series of initiatory rites to reach the adult stage of knowledge. Mircea Eliade has observed that “when brought to birth, man is not yet completed: he must be born a second time, spiritually; he becomes complete man by passing from an imperfect, embryonic state to a perfect, adult. In a word, it may be said that human existence attains completion through a series of ‘passage rites,’ in short, by successive initiations.”7

Books of chivalry provide many examples for Quijano to initiate himself properly as a knight-errant. He secures knightly arms, fulfills the required vigil over them, selects a horse, invents a lady fair and is dubbed a knight by an innkeeper. Although the mock ceremony at the inn may leave doubts as to whether he was really dubbed a knight, the fact remains that Don Quijote believes that this ritual, as well as other actions he takes to achieve full-fledged knighthood, constitutes a valid initiation and he acts accordingly. Chivalric tales also exemplify the importance of the name to reveal the essence of the personality. Knights assured meaningful names at the start of their careers or at different stages of their lives.8 Quijano embarks on his mission with a new name that links his original name with a symbol of knighthood—quijote comes from the Catalan cuixote ‘thigh piece,’ the armor which protects the thigh9—, and later is called also “el caballero de la Triste Figura,” “el caballero de los leones,” contemplates taking the name of “el pastor Quijotiz” and finally reverts to his original name when he regains his sanity.

Don Quijote's heroic mission is to restore the pristine life which was authentic and good. Early in his career, he talks nostalgically of a Golden Age common to all mythologies (I, 11). It was an edenic time when peace, harmony, truth, and justice reigned. Eliade points out “that the men of the Renaissance, like those of the Middle Ages and the classical period, cherished memories of a mythical time when man was good, perfect and happy. …”10 By imitating the noble behavior of mythical heroes (knights-errant), he will serve as an example to his fellow Spaniards. In this matter, not only will he gain a personal awareness of true life (individuation) but also deliver this gift to his community.11

Throughout the novel, Don Quijote's efforts to revive the Golden Age are thwarted by the magical, pagan encantadores. Other characters share Don Quijote's and Sancho's belief in enchanters and enchantment when no explanation is readily available for some occurrence.12 Obviously, books of chivalry offer many examples of enchanters who cause extraordinary phenomena to occur, but, at the same time, the credence that Don Quijote gives to the power that invisible forces exert over what befalls him comes from the shadow, the dark or weak side of our unconscious which can shoot up into consciousness without warning and cause us to commit inexplicable or inexcusable errors. A common occurrence that Jung has pointed out is the projection of the shadow into other people to cover up our faults or weaknesses. He avers that “magician” and “demon” are not human and personal qualities but mythological ones, i.e. they emanate from the collective and not individual psyche.13 Whitmont provides a valuable clue to the persona of Don Quijote:

The archetypal elements, affects and drives that would tend to dissolve the nascent ego appear in threatening powers—witches, goblins, demons, dragons, monsters, wild beasts—to be slain or propitiated by heroic or wise and beneficent figures. … The development of consciousness and rationality—as it asserts itself against the hitherto overwhelming “containing powers” within and without—is usually depicted as a male figure who embarks upon the heroic quest … this mythological phase [is] approximately during the years from 6-7 to 12-14. …14

Regarding the common practice in primitive and even more sophisticated societies, of placing the blame on enchanters and demons for the inexplicable forces that conspire to destroy the orderly functioning of a society, Eliade has observed that in Egyptian and other civilizations “a good many texts liken the enemies who are attacking national territory to ghosts, demons or the powers of chaos. … Because they attack and endanger the equilibrium and the very life of the city (or of any other inhabited and organized territory), enemies are assimilated to demonic powers, trying to reincorporate the microcosm into the state of chaos; that is, to suppress it.”15

Taking into account the previous statements, we can view the major portion of Alonso Quijano's life as a childlike, primitive phase of his personality development. When he is defeated by the Caballero de la Blanca Luna and his persona as Don Quijote has lost most of its vitality, he ascribes the end of his role as knight errant to his own weakness and not to the machinations of enchanters. And shortly after he declares that what happens to man is “providencia de los cielos” and that every man is the “artífice de su ventura” (p. 1019). Furthermore, as the architect of his own destiny, he realizes that he did not act “con la prudencia necesaria, y así me han salido al gallarín mis presunciones. … Atrevíme, en fin; hice lo que pude, derribáronme, y aunque perdí la honra, no perdí, ni puedo perder, la virtud de cumplir mi palabra” (p. 1019). When his consciousness has reached the adult stage, he no longer has the primitive dread of a world ruled by the sinister workings of irrational, invisible spirits.

Don Quijote confesses that by falling in love with a lady fair he follows the laws of chivalry: “yo soy enamorado, no más de porque es forzoso que los caballeros andantes lo sean” (p. 770). Yet he also realizes that love for this woman is a vital antidote to the encantadores (projection of his shadow) which threaten to obliterate his knightly career. Dulcinea symbolizes the anima, the female element in a man's psyche, which opposes the shadow's influence. For Don Quijote, “el caballero andante sin dama es como el árbol sin hojas, el edificio sin cimiento y la sombra sin cuerpo de quien se cause” (p. 776). Jung has written that anima is like the soul:

[It is] the living thing in man, that which lives of itself and causes life. … With her cunning play of illusions that soul lures into life the inertness of matter that does not want to live. She makes us believe incredible things, that life may be lived. … It is a “factor” in the proper sense of the word. Man cannot make it; on the contrary, it is always the a priori element in his moods, reactions, impulses, and whatever else is spontaneous in psychic life.

It is something that lives of itself, that makes us live; it is a life behind consciousness that cannot be completely integrated with it, but from which, on the contrary, consciousness arises.16

In his conversation with the Duchess, who claims that Dulcinea is a figment of his imagination, Don Quijote is not concerned since, from his point of view, she is indeed a real figure who possesses all the noble virtues associated with a dama. Dulcinea as the anima mediates between Don Quijote's conscious self and Quijano's inner world. Her function is to guide Don Quijote to a higher, more spiritual form of life in the world of knight errantry. However, once Quijano comes to grips with the anima and the shadow, the process of individuation can unfold in its true form. When the Caballero de la Blanca Luna brings Don Quijote's chivalresque world to an end, Dulcinea's importance rapidly begins to ebb.

Several key episodes in the second part of the novel will reveal how Quijano goes through the process of individuation and achieves the self-awareness of an adult. Don Quijote's descent into the Cueva de Montesinos (II, 22, 23) constitutes the first major step toward his personality development. Near the end of his stay with Diego de Miranda (p. 669), Don Quijote reveals that he must plumb the secrets of the Cueva de Montesinos before attending the jousts at Zaragoza. Despite Sancho's entreaties to his master that he not enter the cave since he would most likely bury himself within, Don Quijote feels that this adventure, although fraught with danger, is absolutely necessary for the continuation of his existence as a knight-errant. Evoking Dulcinea's favor and protection, he declares: “Yo voy a despeñarme, a empozarme y a hundirme en el abismo que aquí se me representa, sólo porque conozca el mundo que si tú me favoreces, no habrá imposible a quien yo no acometa y acabe” (pp. 699-700). In effect, Don Quijote is obeying an inner urge to undergo the initiatory rite of a journey into hell found in many mythologies and in such literary works as Virgil's Aeneid and Dante's Divine Comedy. This visit to the nether regions symbolizes the descent into the unconscious for the purpose of gaining new insights and knowledge. Commenting on “The Cave,” the Eighteenth Sura of the Koran, Jung wrote:

The cave is the place of rebirth, that secret cavity in which one is shut up in order to be incubated and renewed. … Anyone who gets into that cave, that is to say into the cave which everyone has in himself, or into the darkness that lies behind consciousness, will find himself involved in an—at first—unconscious process of transformation. By penetrating into the unconscious he makes a connection with the unconscious contents. This may result in a momentous change of personality in the positive or negative sense. The transformation is often interpreted as a prolongation of the natural span of life or as an earnest of immortality.17

And Eliade has stated that “initiatory death is indispensable for the beginning of spiritual life. Its function must be understood in relation to what it prepares: birth to a higher mode of being.”18

Don Quijote's entry into the womb of the earth offers him the first opportunity to experience an encounter with real knights, to learn how knight errantry was during its heyday. It is a repetition of the mythological pattern by which man seeks to learn his origin. Neumann has pointed out that every human being seeks to learn the origin of the world as well as the origin of man, of consciousness and the ego when he arrives upon the threshold of self-consciousness.19 The protagonist's haphazard and spontaneous adventures in the first part of the novel may be viewed as childlike playing at being a knight; in the second part he lives knight errantry and it becomes more real for him as he purposefully imitates or repeats archetypes.

When Don Quijote first enters the cave he depicts a paradisiac place: “el más bello, ameno y deleitoso prado que puede criar la naturaleza ni imaginar la más discreta imaginación humana” (p. 702). There he meets Montesinos, a hero celebrated in Spanish ballads, who serves as the archetypal wise old guide. On the one hand, he is pleased to enter the cave which holds the promise of a more intimate knowledge of people and events from the time of “authentic” chivalry and a confirmation of his mission as knight errant. But this dream-like adventure for the first time introduces him to some disturbing thoughts about the nobility and goodness of a knight-errant's life. The sorry plight of chivalric heroes of the past and the distressing encounter with a mercenary Dulcinea who requests a loan of six reales to obtain a new cotton skirt become part of his conscious knowledge. Later on he is plagued with doubts about whether the episode really occurred since this flawed chivalric dream has furnished him a more realistic understanding of life. Shortly afterward, when master and squire arrive at an inn, Cervantes points out that Sancho was delighted to find that Don Quijote took it for a real inn and not a castle (p. 719; for two other occurrences of this sort, see pp. 965 and 1050). In the episode of Maese Pedro's puppet show, Don Quijote admits his error in not having realized that the performance of the puppets was make-believe and not a real occurrence—he avows that enchanters caused him to misinterpret reality—and he pays for his error in hard cash. Don Quijote pays for the damage done to the enchanted boat (p. 755) and also pays Sancho for the lashes he must inflict upon himself to disenchant Dulcinea. More importantly, however, Don Quijote gets the chance to act for the first time as a real knight-errant in the castle of the Duke and Duchess. There he personally experiences the absurdity of chivalresque life which confirms what he witnessed in the Cueva de Montesinos. The humiliating and degenerate game of chivalry which the duques conspire to make him play causes our hero's progressive disillusionment with his profession and marks a significant advance in his individuation. He himself decides to leave the castle when he realizes that he had done nothing there to further his goals.

The renewal or rebirth accomplished by initiatory death is usually followed by ascent which denotes a transcendence of one's human limitations.20 Don Quijote gains essential knowledge of his profession in the depths of the Cueva de Montesinos and attains a higher level of consciousness during the imaginary flight on Clavileño while playing the role of knight in the castle of the duques. The flight he and Sancho apparently take through the heavens on the wooden horse is a repetition of an archetype that Don Quijote knows from his readings. In the enchanted boat episode he tells Sancho: “cuando algún caballero está puesto en algún trabajo, que no puede ser librado dél sino por la mano de otro caballero, puesto que estén distantes del uno del otro dos o tres mil leguas, y aun más, o le arrebatan en una nube o le deparan un barco donde se entre, y en menos de un abrir y cerrar de ojos le llevan, o por los aires, o por la mar, donde quieren y adonde es menester su ayuda …” (p. 750). Eliade has shown that “the symbolism and mythologies of ‘magical flight’ … belong to an ideology of universal magic and play an essential part in many magico-religious complexes.”21 He brings to light a fascinating periodical collective ceremony of the Auracanian Indians which resembles so much the mock ride on Clavileño that it serves our purpose to include it here:

In former times the machi (shamaness) mounted a platform supported by shrubs (the rewe) and there, in prolonged contemplation of the sky, she had her visions. Among the audience two had a function whose shamanic nature is obvious: “their heads bound with a white kerchief, their faces daubed with black, astride a wooden horse, and grasping a wooden sword and their bauble, the two pages make their wooden horses curvet and shake their rattles with maddening frenzy as soon as the machi goes into trance. … During the machi's trance other riders fight the demons and expel evil spirits. When the machi has returned to her senses, she describes her journey to the sky, and announces that the Sky Father has granted all the wishes of the community. Her words are greeted by prolonged cheers and general rejoicing. When the tumult has subsided a little the machi is told of all that took place while she was away on her journey to the sky—the battle with the demons, their expulsion, and other events.22

The ride on Clavileño is undoubtedly the most extraordinary adventure which Don Quijote undertakes; it is the only episode in which he himself uses magic to conquer space. His mission is to travel around five thousand leagues through the air on the wooden horse to defeat Malambruno, the enchanter and giant. By doing so he will break the spell by which Malambruno has caused beards to grow on the faces of Trifaldi and other waiting-women. Clavileño, supposedly manufactured by Merlin, is Malambruno's own horse sent to transport the champion who dares to challenge him. It is ironic that neither Don Quijote nor Sancho wonders about Trifaldi's characterization of the cruel giant as a non-treacherous Christian.

The rush of air caused by large bellows, the large candles that warm their faces and the suggestive shouts of those servants of the Duke and Duchess who planned the hoax, made it seem to the blind-folded Don Quijote and Sancho that they are indeed taking a magical flight to the kingdom of Candaya. When the flight ends abruptly with the explosion of firecrackers that were stuffed within Clavileño, the battered Don Quijote and Sancho are amazed to find themselves in the same garden from which they had started out. Don Quijote is satisfied that their mission had been accomplished when he reads the large gold letters on a parchment from Malambruno which informs him that they have successfully completed the disenchantment of the waiting women simply by having attempted the adventure. They also learn that Dulcinea will be disenchanted after Sancho has lashed himself 3,300 times.

This episode demonstrates a clear reversal of roles between Don Quijote and Sancho. While Sancho gives a “realistic” account of the flight, together with concrete details, Don Quijote has doubts about the truth of this adventure and says that Sancho either lied about or dreamed up the events that transpired. Finally, Don Quijote speaks in an unaccustomed way to his companion: “Sancho, pues vos queréis que se os crea lo que habéis visto en el cielo, yo quiero que vos me creáis a mí lo que vi en la cueva de Montesinos” (p. 837).

The Clavileño episode could have enabled Don Quijote, in his role of knight-errant, to achieve his most remarkable victory. Undoubtedly he is pleased with the results accomplished with so little peril, but his doubts and desengaño about the authenticity of the flight filter through as he logically analyzes the improbable sequence of events which ostensibly occurred during the journey through the heavens. He is also perplexed about Sancho's lying or dreaming. Sancho had previously deceived his master and Don Quijote had dreamed up all sorts of adventures, but this is the first time that Don Quijote consciously tries to make a deal whereby he and Sancho will each accept the other's discrepant interpretations of reality. At this point in his career, Don Quijote significantly advances in the maturation of his personality. Although he is pleased with the results of the adventure, he doubts the verisimilitude of some of the events and is willing to keep quiet about them in order not to undermine the underpinning of his obsession. He has learned that things are not completely black or white, that compromise is part of the process of reaching maturity.

Don Quijote is relieved when he and Sancho leave the ducal palace since his stay there has provided no opportunity to prove himself as a knight. Although he speaks enthusiastically of regained freedom and looks forward to new adventures, we promptly learn that his old spark and drive have considerably waned. When he sees several objects covered by white linen lying on the ground near a dozen or so labradores, he does not spring spontaneously into action as he would have done at an earlier time; rather, he asks for and accepts the explanation that these are images to be placed on a village altar. Sancho expresses his surprise at the turn of events: “que si esto que nos ha sucedido hoy se puede llamar aventura, ella ha sido de las más suaves y dulces que en todo el discurso de nuestra peregrinación nos ha sucedido: della habemos salido sin palos y sobresalto alguno, ni hemos echado mano a las espadas, ni hemos batido la tierra con los cuerpos, ni quedamos hambrientos. Bendito sea Dios, que tal me ha dejado ver con mis propios ojos” (p. 955). After having finished his examination of the four images (St. George, St. Martin, St. James, and St. Paul), Don Quijote contrasts their divine deeds with what seem to be his own meaningless accomplishments: “y yo hasta agora no sé lo que conquisto a fuerza de mis trabajos” (p. 955). Don Quijote continues to doubt about his knightly profession and becomes more pensive and melancholy as he nears his last and most tragic adventure on the Barcelona beach.

The end of Don Quijote's career as knight-errant occurs when Sansón Carrasco, disguised as the Caballero de la Blanca Luna, succeeds in his second attempt to defeat the hidalgo in combat. In his first try at bringing Don Quijote back to the “real” life of his town, Sansón Carrasco chose the disguise of the Caballero de los Espejos. This effort proved unsuccessful since Don Quijote was not psychologically prepared to abandon chivalresque pursuits. (The name of the Knight of the Mirrors symbolically represents the bachiller's effort to “mirror” the reality of the world.) Only after Don Quijote experienced the descent into the Cave of Montesinos, the ascent on Clavileño, and the demeaning experiences in the ducal palace was he ripe for the end of his career, when the Caballero de la Blanca Luna defeats him. (The name that Carrasco assumes at this time is significant since moon in mythic tradition is associated with death.)23 Exhausted and stunned, speaking in a weak and sickly voice that seems to emanate from the tomb—Cervantes uses the word tumba (p. 1002)—Don Quijote begs his conquerer to finish him off since he has lost his honor. Although Cervantes for all practical purposes has terminated this character's role as Don Quijote, he has other plans for the manner in which his protagonist will end his days.

Don Quijote is not sure what new direction to take now that he is banished from knight-errantry for at least a whole year. For a brief period of time he toys with the idea of substituting the pastoral illusion for the chivalresque. It is conceivable that Cervantes could have ended the novel by depositing Quijano and Sancho, together with some friends and relatives, into an archetypal Golden Age setting. There they would assume new names—“el pastor Quijotiz” and “el pastor Pancino”—in consonance with their new roles as shepherds and shepherdesses amid the bosom of innocent, peaceful and bounteous Nature. The edenic existence signifies a higher conscious state and holds the promise of fulfilling the goal of immortality which was Don Quijote's constant ambition in the former chivalresque life. After describing the perfection of pastoral life, he tells Sancho: “gusto el canto, alegría el lloro, Apolo versos, el amor conceptos, con que podremos hacernos eternos y famosos, no sólo en los presentes, sino en los venideros siglos” (p. 1025).

The musings over the projected new existence signifies that the persona of Don Quijote is all but dead.24 Gone are the enchantment and the fabulous adventures of the chivalresque career and, above all, the guiding spirit of Dulcinea who is not mentioned at all when Quijano plans his Arcadian life (p. 1025 ff.),25 but this ephemeral dream does not materialize since Quijano is destined to leave behind Mother Nature for the spiritual certainty of Christianity.

Prior to the arrival of Don Quijote and Sancho at their village there are several passages which reveal that the shock of Don Quijote's defeat has dissipated the madness. When he and Sancho are suddenly trampled by six hundred pigs, he stops Sancho from slaughtering several of them: “Déjalos estar, amigo; que esta afrenta es pena de mi pecado, y justo castigo del cielo que a un caballero andante vencido le coman adivas, y le piquen avispas, y le hollen puercos” (p. 1031). These pigs are pigs and there is no talk of enchantment; rather, divine will has caused this indignity to both of them. Don Quijote had frequently reminded Sancho to finish his task of inflicting upon himself 3,300 lashes to disenchant Dulcinea but now, when he believes that his escudero is hurting himself excessively by administering too many blows with the whip—in reality, Sancho was lashing the trees and wanted to finish the job since Don Quijote had promised him a sum of money for each blow—he obliges Sancho to stop even if it means postponement of Dulcinea's disenchantment (p. 1050). Immediately after this incident, when the two companions arrive at an inn, the author emphasizes that Don Quijote now sees things as they really are: “Apeáronse en un mesón, que por tal le reconoció don Quijote, y no por castillo de cava honda, torres rastrillos y puente levadiza; que después que le vencieron, con más juicio en todas las cosas discurría, como agora se dirá” (p. 1050). And, finally, when Sancho has ostensibly finished the task of lashing himself 3,300 times just before they arrive at their village, Don Quijote despairs of ever seeing Dulcinea again after unsuccessfully trying to find her countenance on every woman he passes on the road. The illusion of the chivalresque life has disappeared forever. With good reason could the kneeling Sancho shout to the village at the bottom of the hill: “Abre los ojos, deseada patria, y mira que vuelve a ti Sancho Panza tu hijo, si no muy rico, muy bien azotado. Abre los brazos y recibe también tu hijo Don Quijote, que si viene vencido de los brazos ajenos, viene vencedor de sí mismo, que según él me ha dicho, es el mayor vencimiento que desearse puede” (p. 1056).

Through Sancho the author tells us that Quijano's varied experiences as a knight-errant taught him that the chivalresque life was insufficient to complete the process of individuation. Although the Don Quijote persona failed, Quijano achieved a real victory in realizing that the ills of the world cannot be cured only by extraordinary feats. The message is that Quijano, as well as all Spaniards, must recognize this allegiance to God. From the Middle Ages on, Spaniards had fought for the preservation of their religion, the most vital constant of their culture. The Spaniards' belief that their Catholicism provides the only genuine expression of man's life in the totality of the universe still persists in this century.

Early in the second part (II, 16), Cervantes illustrates the importance of religion in a complete Spaniard. He contrasts the childlike Don Quijote with a model Spaniard who is also around fifty, a well-adjusted, mature person. This gentleman is Diego Miranda, el Caballero del Verde Gabán, who radiates goodness, charity and peace without seeking vain glory. He is a good husband and father, pursues the simple life and above all, he is “devoto de nuestra Señora, y confío siempre en la misericordia infinita de Dios, nuestro Señor” (p. 648). Sancho is so impressed by this saint-like hidalgo that he kisses the gentleman's feet many times. How vastly different is this ideal Spaniard from the would-be knight-errant who is more wrapped up in the renown that his exploits have achieved than in recognizing the primacy of God.

Eliade observes that it is rare to find “a drastically nonreligious experience of the whole life” and “vague memories of abolished religious practices and even a nostalgia for them” remain in nonreligious views of life.26 Several passages in Goldbrunner's Individuation point out the importance of the archetype God in the process of individuation. He asserts that “the goal of individuation is ‘the original Christian ideal of the Kingdom of God,’ that is ‘within you;’” and adds that “God and the religious disposition in man are psychologically effective and therefore real. Jung even calls them the strongest and most original of all man's spiritual capacities. …” Further on in his book he states that “God is a symbol of the overwhelming impulse of the soul to goodness and joy, and at the same time an expression of the supreme yearning of the soul for redemption.”27 In light of these statements, and considering that Cervantes' novel has had vital significance for all Spaniards, we rightfully expect Alonso Quijano to complete his personality development by fully accepting Spanish Catholicism. The encounter with the exemplary Miranda adumbrates this necessary conclusion to the life of Alonso Quijano, a good man, who seeks his own redemption as well as that of his fellow countrymen. In discovering his true identity, he concomitantly reaffirms the quintessence of Spanish existence.

Cervantes permits the reader a choice to decide the reason why Don Quijote, on returning home, is seized by a fever that lasts six hours: “o ya fuese de la melancolía que le causaba el verse vencido, o y por la disposición del cielo que así lo ordenaba …” (p. 1062). I prefer to consider this last passage rite of Quijano as divinely ordained to purge the profane Don Quijote persona. Fever can be equated with fire, which is a symbol of transformation and regeneration, a purifier and destroyer of the forces of evil.28 When he awakes, the first words he utters are: “Bendito sea el poderoso Dios, que tanto bien me ha hecho! En fin, sus misericordias no tienen límite, ni las abrevian ni impiden los pecados de los hombres” (p. 1063). Now he has reached his unity with the true Christian God and can renounce his effete pursuit of chivalry spurred on by the deceiving books of chivalry. Now he knows who he is and can resume his true identity as Alonso Quijano, el Bueno.29

Having completed the process of individuation, Cervantes' hero has no more worlds to conquer, no more stages through which to ascend. He has fulfilled the trials of a universal hero and in the journey has arrived at self-understanding and has also revealed to his fellow Spaniards that the right life must be based on genuine Christian principles. The notary who wrote down Alonso Quijano's last will and testament tells us that by recanting his past life our hero can die more serenely and in a more Christian manner than any knight-errant in books of chivalry (p. 1067).


  1. Carl Gustav Jung, The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature (New York: Pantheon, 1966), p. 98.

  2. Miguel de Unamuno, Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho, 6th ed. (Buenos Aires-Mexico: Espasa-Calpe Argentina, 1945), p. 276.

  3. Miguel de Unamuno, “Sobre la lectura e interpretación del Quijote,Ensayos (Madrid: Publicaciones de la Residencia de Estudiantes 1917), V, 220. He further comments: “Cervantes, como autor del Quijote, no es más que ministro y representante de su pueblo, ministro y representante de la humanidad. Y por esto hizo una obra grande.”

  4. Jung, The Spirit in Man, p. 103.

  5. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. Martín de Riquer (Barcelona: Editorial Juventud, 1944), p. 596. All future citations from Don Quijote are from this edition and will be included in the text of this study.

  6. Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness, 3rd ed. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press), p. 197.

  7. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1959), p. 181.

  8. See Leo Spitzer, “Linguistic Perspectivism in the Don Quijote,” in Linguistics and Literary History (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1948), pp. 41-85, for a study of names in the Quijote.

  9. Juan Corominas, Diccionario etimológico de la lengua castellana (Madrid: Editorial Gredos, 1954), III, 953.

  10. Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), p. 42.

  11. Jung equated myths with psychic phenomena in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 2nd ed. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1969): “He (primitive man) simply didn't know that the psyche contains all the images that have ever given rise to myths, and that our unconscious is an acting and suffering subject with an inner drama which primitive man rediscovers, by means of analogy, in the processes of nature both great and small” (p. 7). Further on he states: “The primitive mentality does not invent myths, it experiences them. Myths are original revelations of the preconscious psyche, involuntary statements about unconscious psychic happenings, and anything but allegories of physical processes. Myths, on the contrary, have a vital meaning. Not merely do they represent, they are the psychic life of the primitive tribe, which immediately falls to pieces and decays when it loses its mythological heritage, like a man who has lost his soul” (p. 154).

  12. See Richard L. Predmore's The World of Don Quixote (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), in which he analyzes the important role of enchantment in the Quijote (pp. 36-52). Among his observations are: enchantment is a major feature of Don Quijote's world (p. 36); Don Quijote and Sancho speak of enchantment almost one hundred times and fourteen other people refer to it at least once (p. 49); that it is not limited to the uneducated (p. 49).

  13. Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (New York: Pantheon, 1966), p. 93.

  14. Edward C. Whitmont, The Symbolic Quest (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1969), p. 275.

  15. Eliade, Images and Symbols (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1961), p. 38. See also Neumann's psychological interpretation of this phenomenon in Origins and History of Consciousness, pp. 40-41.

  16. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, pp. 26-27.

  17. Ibid., pp. 135-136.

  18. Birth and Rebirth (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1958), p. xiv.

  19. Origins and History of Consciousness, p. 7.

  20. Jung, The Archetypes, p. 19; Eliade, Birth and Rebirth, p. 78; Eliade, Myths, p. 106.

  21. Eliade, Shamanism, rev. ed. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1964), p. 481.

  22. Ibid., p. 325. Eliade's source is Émile Housse, Une épopée indienne: Les Auracans du Chile (Paris, 1939).

  23. For examples of moon as a symbol of death, see Gilbert Durand, Les Structures anthropologiques de l'imaginaire (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1963), pp. 100-101.

  24. Further evidence that the Don Quijote persona has ended is seen in such utterances as: “aquí se escurecieron mis hazañas, cayó mi ventura para jamás levantarse” (p. 1018) and “Cuando era caballero andante, atrevido y valiente, con mis obras y con mis manos acreditaba mis hechos; y agora, cuando soy escudero pedestre …” (p. 1019).

  25. Although Don Quijote later mentions that he will sing Dulcinea's praises in the Arcadian setting (penultimate chapter, p. 1060), we can surmise that he is only paying lip service to the memory of an imagined lady fair from a previous illusion. It is pertinent to note that new names are invented for all those who will inhabit the new pastoral place while Dulcinea's remains the same. Dulcinea was the guiding spirit of the Don Quijote persona and we would expect a new name for her in Arcidia, if Quijano really were serious about including her.

  26. Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, p. 186.

  27. Josef Goldbrunner, Individuation (New York: Pantheon, 1956), pp. 145, 146-147, 166.

  28. See Gaston Bachelard, The Psychoanalysis of Fire (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964), who quotes an eighteenth-century work that calls fever a “mark of an impurity in the fire of the blood” (pp. 105-106). He also mentions that fire is at times considered the sign of sin and evil (p. 102) and discusses fire's purifying effects (pp. 102-104). See also J. E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, 2nd ed. (New York: Philosophical Library, 1972), pp. 105-106, for various interpretations of the meaning of fire.

  29. In corroboration of my point of view, see Spitzer's “Linguistic Perspectivism in the Don Quijote,” in which he points out that Quijano's resumption of his original name is in consonance with his Christian death and regeneration (p. 43) and toward the end of his essay he states that “Cervantes always bows before the supernal wisdom of God, as embodied in the teachings of the Catholic Church …” (p. 73).

James A. Parr (essay date 1984)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3876

SOURCE: Parr, James A. “Extrafictional Point of View in Don Quijote.” In Studies on Don Quijote and Other Cervantine Works, edited by Donald W. Bleznick, pp. 20-30. York, S. C.: Spanish Literature Publications Company, 1984.

[In the following essay, Parr discusses narrative point of view in Don Quixote.]

A recent, thoughtful statement about point of view reads as follows: “All too frequently … point of view has been conceived in terms of a single, surface-structure relationship between narrator and narrated event. Such a relationship leaves no room for exploring the relationships of narrator to audience or narrator to authorial voice. Even more reductive are concepts of point of view that restrict themselves to a technical ‘angle of vision’ through which the story is perceived, ignoring the vital but more elusive and often shifting elements of distance, tone, and attitude.”1

With that as a succinct philosophical point of departure, I have chosen to focus on some neglected aspects of point of view in Don Quijote to explore what inferences may be gleaned regarding the decoding of the text from those elements that do not form a part of the fictional world. I deal with tone, distance, and inferred attitude, setting aside the tired terminology of more traditional point of view studies. I do use the traditional vocabulary of “speaker,” “voice,” and “narrator,” with the unavoidable implications of an oral storyteller.

It is premature to plunge into the text before considering the anterior texts, the extrafictional structures of title, prologue, dedication, tasa, corrector's statement, censor's approval, approbation, copyright statement, preliminary verses, and table of the chapters. These structures convey valuable information about the authority, both assumed and conferred, of the Cervantes we conceptualize and about his point of view, that is to say his tone, attitude, and implied values. This information will be useful when the time comes to scrutinize the narrative proper.

There are two extrafictional voices to be taken into account, that of the author and that of the community. The normative voices of the publishers, purveyors, censors, and others of the book-producing and book-consuming community add varying degrees of subtle or obvious authority to Cervantes' narrative. The ironic counterpoint to this appears in chapters 32 and 50 of Part I, where the innkeeper and Don Quijote, respectively, refer precisely to the authority such material lends to the “historicity” of the books of chivalry. Don Quijote's rhetorical query addressed to the Canon in I, 50 reads in part as follows: “Los libros que están impresos con licencia de los reyes y con aprobación de aquellos a quien se remitieron, … ¿habían de ser mentirosos, y más llevando tanta apariencia de verdad … ?”2 The author himself speaks in the obvious places: the prologues and dedications, and less directly in the title, preliminary verses, and table of chapters.

Susan Lanser, in her basic book The Narrative Act: Point of View in Prose Fiction, points out that the “authorial voice is an extrafictional entity whose presence accounts, for example, for organizing, titling and introducing the fictional work.”3 Let us look first at the title. Cervantes' El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha differs in several important aspects from the title ascribed to the Arabic manuscript, Historia de don Quijote de la Mancha, escrita por cide Hamete Benengeli, historiador arábigo (p. 94). We may assume that Cervantes eschewed the Arab historian's title in favor of one of his own confection and that he assigned the two volumes printed by Juan de la Cuesta the titles they bear today. It is noteworthy that there is no generic indicator in Cervantes' title, whereas Cide Hamete called his version a history and underscored his role at the end of his title when he dubbed himself an Arab historian. It would also seem that Cide Hamete took himself and his role quite seriously, since he included both as elements of his title. Indeed, he allotted himself and his role the lion's share of the title, thereby foreshadowing the tension between his character and himself that John J. Allen, Ruth El Saffar and Howard Mancing have studied with discernment.4

Cervantes' title may likewise be taken as an indicator of his attitude toward the main character and of how he would manipulate the reader's perceptions of both the character and the book. The ambiguous ingenioso, suggesting both innate cleverness and also a humoral imbalance; the anomalous coupling of hidalgo and don (hidalgos were not entitled to use “don” before their names); the pejorative connotation of the -ote ending (compare librote, grandote, etc.); and the prosaic and proximate place of provenance (de la Mancha) combine to convey a festive, mocking attitude and to suggest that the work should be approached as a funny book, in the sense that P. E. Russell has recovered for us.5 “Textual expectations—including expectations about point of view—are first set up by the extrafictional voice, especially through the text's title,” as Susan Lanser reminds us.6 The title communicates to the reader a rudimentary sense of point of view.

The 1605 prologue begins by addressing a desocupado lector, a device that Walter L. Reed has elevated to the “paradigmatic literary situation in Don Quixote … the encounter between an idle reader and a printed book.”7 Be that as it may, for our purposes it is important to realize that this initial gesture, serving to establish immediate although deceptive rapport, is addressed to a reader implicitly encoded within this subtext, the plot of which revolves around the quest for a prologue. An implicit reader such as this has been designated a “narratee” by certain structuralists. A narratee may be dramatized, although this one is not, but will always be spoken to directly, unlike the intended reader of the text, whose presence is rarely acknowledged.

The rapport suggested by the direct address is deceptive, for the narratee is immediately plunged into the parodic, carnivalesque world already suggested by the title. The prologue is a parody of more traditional prologues, a metafictional gem, and at the same time a foreshadowing of the relationship between the principal narrating voice of the text and Cide Hamete. The anonymous friend of the dramatized author provides him with the substance of his prologue, in much the same way that Cide Hamete's spurious manuscript will provide the bulk of the narrative. The imaginary friend's reconstructed oral discourse is the counterpart of the conveniently found written text that informs the fictional narrative. Both devices are transparent ploys that contribute significantly to the festive tone and burlesque manner of the work as a whole.

As previously intimated, the situation established by the voice we perceive in the first prologue places the narratee in a disadvantageous position. He is initially subjected to the speaker's self-deprecating irony, then addressed with hyperbolic courtesy as lector carísimo, only to be advised subsequently that he may respond to the story he is about to read in whatever way he pleases. The narratee is thus subjected to his full share of irony. Other aspects of the prologue that help to reveal the stance of the narrator vis-à-vis the fictional world may be seen in the disparaging references to Don Quijote as an “hijo seco, avellanado, antojadizo,” who is in fact only a stepson (p. 19), quickly followed by the hyperbolic references to this stepson as “tan noble caballero” (p. 20) and “tan noble y tan honrado caballero” (p. 25). There are also the humorous thrusts at Lope, Mateo Alemán, and even at the dedication to the present volume, lifted as it is almost verbatim from Herrera, at all of which the discreet, contemporary reader must have smiled knowingly. The festive, mocking tone is unmistakable.

The 1605 prologue is a subordinate text that serves as a transition between the author's title and his primary text, while at the same time mirroring both the structure and the ironic texture of the story of Don Quijote. The desocupado lector carísimo is the narratee of the piece and he is treated disparagingly. There is also an intended, discreet reader who is not addressed directly but is made to feel superior to both the narratee and the “antiguo legislador que llaman vulgo” (p. 20). The real, historical, contemporary readers are of course completely outside the 1605 volume, although we are supposed to believe that a sampling of them is dramatized in the 1615 volume. Also to be taken into account is the modern reader, who likely comes to the text with linguistic or cultural handicaps that render understanding problematical, or with generic predispositions arising from having read other lengthy narratives loosely classified as novels, or s/he may approach the text with a Romantic predisposition owing to an acquaintance with Man of La Mancha and its theme song, “The Impossible Dream.” Just as it is important to distinguish among the narrative voices of the Quijote, it is likewise fundamental to specify which reader is meant when we speak in our role as critics of “the reader.”

The tone of the parodic elogios, purporting to be by the hands of other fictional characters and addressed to characters in Cervantes' book, is so evidently festive as to require little comment. These preliminary verses by Amadís, Urganda la Desconocida and Oriana, along with the verse dialogue between Babieca and Rocinante, coming as they do immediately prior to our entry into Cervantes' fictional world, must inevitably condition the way in which the text is approached and perceived. The verses appended to Part I, while equally frivolous, represent an extension of the fictional world, deriving from yet another found manuscript, and are thus beyond the scope of our limited inquiry. It bears mention that there are no preliminary or appended verses to the 1615 Quijote.

Proceeding to Volume II, the point of view toward the narrative reflected in the 1605 title and prologue undergoes no noteworthy change in the 1615 counterparts. Don Quijote is elevated to caballero, in recognition of his self-assumed role and his dubbing by the innkeeper, and the descriptors Segunda Parte de are added to the title. Of greater moment is the fact that in addition to the name “Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra” on the title page of the 1615 volume there appears the additional information that he was “autor de su primera parte.” Cervantes thus made an overt claim to authority and covertly rejected the authority of any interlopers. This addition helps to corroborate the generally held feeling that the author had a more affirmative and a less frivolous attitude toward Part II.

Other extrafictional elements that add authority to the work, in addition to the imprimatur of Juan de la Cuesta and the statement that this volume, like the first, is for sale in the bookstore of Francisco de Robles, “librero del rey nuestro señor,” are the Tasa, Fee de erratas, the three aprobaciones, and the privilegio. Taken together, these serve to show that the authorial voice is presented under the auspices of another, communal voice.8 Mary Louise Pratt explains further in Toward a Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse: “In the literary speech situation, the book itself as object symbolizes the selection and ratification procedure: like the emcee's introduction, the theater program, or the poster announcing a lecture, the book not only informs us that the text was pre-selected but also provides us with information about how and by whom it was selected—its credentials, in short. Thus the names of a book's publisher, author, and collection count as credentials, which is one reason they appear at the front of the text; a hardback (as opposed to a paperback text) can function as a credential, as can the thickness of paper, the size of print, or the price. Important also is the cover design, often used to supplement or elaborate on the title.”9 I detect nothing in the tone of these straightforward documents that would suggest anything beyond surface meaning. They are by no stretch of the imagination ironic or subversive. Two of the aprobaciones are of particular interest, however, for they show that even supposedly discreet readers of the day, specifically El Maestro Josef de Valdivielso and El Licenciado Márquez Torres, took the stated intention of the 1605 text quite literally. Valdivielso praises the author for “cumpliendo con el acertado asunto en que pretende la expulsión de los libros de caballerías,” and Márquez Torres echoes him, referring to Cervantes' “bien seguido asunto para extirpar los vanos y mentirosos libros de caballerías” (pp. 528 & 529). I would hope that these learned gentlemen are not representative of the best readers of that day.

The 1615 prologue addresses a “lector ilustre o quier plebeyo” (p. 535), the narratee or hypothetical reader incorporated into the subtext. The attitude displayed toward this narratee is again ironic, although more subtly so, for it would seem that the narrator is taking him very much into his confidence and entrusting him with the important mission of conveying a message to the interloper, Avellaneda. It should be apparent, however, that the narratee is only a sham reader brought in to shape a display of wit addressed in reality to Cervantes' intended, discreet reader. The narratee is first told that the speaker has set himself apart as an exception to a general rule (“que puesto que los agravios despiertan la cólera en los más humildes pechos, en el mío ha de padecer excepción esta regla” (p. 535), but is then subjected to a lengthy harangue about Avellaneda that fills the remainder of the document. Having been asked to serve as a go-between to convey the anecdotes about madmen and dogs, along with other miscellaneous information, the narratee is then told in rather abrupt fashion: “Y no le digas más, ni yo quiero decirte más a ti” (p. 538). The narratee is as much an object of derision as is Avellaneda.

Although there is much ado about the appropriation and misuse of his literary property, one naturally wonders how seriously Cervantes took the threat to the integrity of his fictional world posed by Avellaneda. Walter L. Reed is perceptive in nothing that “the appearance of a competitor is less a threat than a fortuitous validation of his argument. As … in the case of Guzmán and Lazarillo, Cervantes seems to mention only the literary rivals who are not the most serious competitors.”10 It is in fact curious that Ginés de Pasamonte should mention only the Lazarillo as a potential competitor for readership of his Vida, saying nothing at all of “el pícaro por antonomasia,” the central figure of the only other best seller of the day. Like the narratees of both prologues, Avellaneda is a sort of straw man who provides Cervantes yet another opportunity to display his wit and creativity, both textually and extratextually, by adding another level to his house of fiction.

As in the dedication to the Conde de Lemos, where we are told “sobre estar enfermo, estoy muy sin dineros” (p. 534), we see here also that the speaker is not above an appeal to a full register of emotional response to his misfortunes: “Lo que no he podido dejar de sentir es que me note de viejo y de manco, como si hubiera sido en mi mano haber detenido el tiempo, que no pasase por mí, o si mi manquedad hubiera nacido en alguna taberna” (p. 535). This pose is sporadic and atypical, however; the characteristic posture remains the festive, playful one.

The dedications provide additional insight into the personality and stance of the author. If in the prologue, a narrator speaks to a narratee, while the inferred author addresses an intended reader between the lines, here the speaker makes an overture to a very real, historical personage who is a potential Maecenas. One would expect a deferential, even an obsequious manner. In the first of these, to the Duque de Béjar, there is the anticipated deference, but also a very nearly impertinent feistiness when he refers to “el juicio de algunos que, no continiéndose en los límites de su ignorancia, suelen condenar con más rigor y menos justicia los trabajos ajenos” (p. 17). The writer expresses confidence that the “prudencia de Vuestra Excelencia” exempts the Duke himself from being so categorized. The phrase “Vuestra Excelencia,” which appears three times in the brief dedicatory paragraph, conjures up the “Vuestra Merced” to whom Lázaro de Tormes directed his epistle, but it is impossible to know whether there is parody intended. The same self-assurance and pseudo-modesty that characterize the first prologue are likewise apparent in the first dedication.

The 1615 dedication to the Conde de Lemos resembles the 1615 prologue in its anecdotal nature. Here “Vuestra Excelencia” is employed a total of six times, divided equally between first and last paragraphs, framing the anecdote about the fantastic emperor of China and his offer of the rectorship of a college in which the Quijote is to be the principal text. The deference implied in the “Vuestra Excelencia” is attenuated by its excessive repetition and further attenuated by the veiled threat that there are other powerful patrons who may wish to bestow favor on an internationally known literary lion. There would seem to be more of Sancho and his desire for a fixed salary than of Don Quijote's disdain for things material in the words of this dedication.11 The claim to authority is patent also in the reference to “la náusea que ha causado otro don Quijote que con nombre de segunda parte se ha disfrazado y corrido por el orbe” (p. 533).

The “Tabla de los capítulos que contiene esta famosa historia del valeroso caballero don Quijote de la Mancha” also forms part of the extrafictional materials, although in this instance there may be uncertainty whether the author or the printer compiled the list. One assumes, however, that the author compiled his own list of chapter headings. If this assumption is correct, we have in these headings a suggestive tie between fictional and extrafictional materials and point of view, since the headings are both inside and outside the fiction, and since they have major implications for the organization and the tone of the narrative. They may be said to manifest yet another way in which the author has included himself in his text, manipulating the puppets and ordering the fictional universe, while at the same time maintaining the pose of being as remote as possible from his creation. The list of chapter headings, coming as it does after the text in Spanish-language editions, is in a sense the most distant extrafictional structure from the narrative. While it thus parallels the distance between author and text, it is equally undeniable that both are simultaneously significant ingredients of that text.

The tone and attitude evidenced in the chapter headings are, on the whole, the same festive, mocking ones we have observed elsewhere. This is especially so in Part II. Whereas in Part I we find frequent evidence of a ludic attitude (“la estupenda batalla que el gallardo vizcaíno y el valiente manchego tuvieron,” p. 91), in the praising of Don Quijote in order to blame him (“nuestro invencible caballero,” p. 191 and “De la jamás vista ni oída aventura que con más poco peligro fue acabada de famoso caballero en el mundo, como la que acabó el valeroso don Quijote de la Mancha,” p. 178), there is nothing comparable to the flippant headings of chapters 9 (“Donde se cuenta lo que en él se verá”), 28 (“De las cosas que dice Benengeli que las sabrá quien le leyere, si las lee con atención”), 40, 54 (“Que trata de cosas tocantes a esta historia, y no a otra alguna”), 66 and 70 of Part II, all of which focus the irony on the readers rather than on Cide Hamete or Don Quijote. Assuming once again that it was Cervantes himself who composed the chapter headings, it would seem that he was attempting to influence his readers toward his supposedly “revised perspective” on the main character in a somewhat awkward manner by teasing and implicitly belittling them in such fashion.12

It will obviously not do to say that the chapter headings derive from Cide Hamete's manuscript, since the Arab historian is referred to in third person in the heading to chapter 28, Part II, just cited. The headings to the first nine chapters of Part I cannot be Cide Hamete's, and the ninth is the most problematical of all, since the first speaker of the fictional narrative has abdicated and Cide Hamete has not yet come on stage. Who wrote that ninth, phantom heading? Given the consistency of the chapter headings of each Part, it is reasonable to surmise that all are by the same hand, the good right hand of Cervantes.

It may be objected that since the chapter headings are an integral part of the text, and derive from the text, they cannot be called extrafictional. Yet clearly they are both inside and outside that text. To the prospective buyer who hefts the book in Francisco de Robles' shop, looks first at the title, then the frontispiece, other prefatory materials perhaps, then at the “Tabla de los capítulos” at the end, these headings form part of the extrafictional apparatus, just as they continue to do for any prudent reader who wishes some preliminary notion of what adventures and delights await within.

Roman Jakobson is surely correct in regarding a literary text as a medium of communication, as an encoded message sent by an author to a reader, by an addresser to an addressee, or, to use linguistic jargon, by an encoder to a decoder.13 If this model is apt, it follows that it is worth knowing as much as possible about the authorial attitude encoded in the book, for that attitude will necessarily affect our decoding of the message. Tone is crucial in determining point of view. The attitude manifested in those parts of the Quijote definitely attributable to the author is a necessary consideration for coming to terms with the text itself. The extrafictional structures of the Quijote aid the reader in formulating an adequate image of the author and of the attitude, values and message he wished to express, for he wore fewer and more transparent masks in these subtexts than he did in the recounting of Don Quijote's adventures.


  1. Susan Sniader Lanser, The Narrative Act: Point of View in Prose Fiction (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), p. 14.

  2. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. Martín de Riquer (Barcelona: Juventud, 1968), p. 499. Subsequent references to this edition appear in my text.

  3. Lanser, p. 122.

  4. John J. Allen, Don Quixote: Hero or Fool? (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1979), II, esp. Ch. 1; Ruth El Saffar, Distance and Control in ‘Don Quixote’ (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975); Howard Mancing, The Chivalric World of Don Quixote (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982).

  5. Don Quixote as a Funny Book,” Modern Language Review, 54 (1969), 312-326.

  6. Lanser, p. 124.

  7. An Exemplary History of the Novel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 89.

  8. Lanser, p. 123.

  9. Pratt (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977), pp. 118-119.

  10. Reed, p. 86.

  11. Cf. Margaret Church, Don Quixote: The Knight of la Mancha (New York: New York University Press, 1971), p. 71.

  12. See Allen, Hero or Fool?, I, p. 83; II, pp. 3-15.

  13. “Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics,” in Style and Language, ed. Thomas A. Sebeok (Cambridge: M. I. T. Press, 1960), p. 353.

Maureen Ihrie (essay date 1984)

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SOURCE: Ihrie, Maureen. “Classical Skepticism and Narrative Authority in Don Quijote de la Mancha.” In Studies on Don Quijote and Other Cervantine Works, edited by Donald W. Bleznick, pp. 31-37. York, S. C.: Spanish Literature Publications Company, 1984.

[In the following essay, Ihrie proposes that the role of the author in Don Quixote should be understood against the background of the Renaissance interpretation of classical Greek skepticism toward authority.]

The ambiguously complex authorial presence in Don Quijote de la Mancha remains one of the most intriguing inventions of the work, partially because the unique assemblage of shifting narrative footprints logically seems to promise the clearest, most direct acquaintance with Cervantes the creator.1 For the reader, the narrative structure functions rather as a series of puzzles, tempting him or her forward in hopes of perceiving, or being granted, some final, “traditional” measure of illumination, if all elements have been judged properly. Excellent studies by John J. Allen, Ruth El Saffar, E. C. Riley, and Ramón Saldívar2 have clarified many enigmatic or contradictory narrative features of the Quijote. I would propose that further light may be shed on the common roots and aim of various components of the authorial role if they are considered with regard to the attitude of classical Greek skepticism toward authority, as it was interpreted during the Renaissance.3 Although skepticism's presence in Spain at the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century has not been thoroughly investigated, its presence is easily documented. Francisco Sánchez (1552?-1623)4 and Pedro de Valencia (1555-1620)5 published formal studies of the doctrine, it clearly figured in various works, such as Huarte de San Juan's Examen de ingenios, and several of Quevedo's Sueños and other essays, and it fused extremely well with Erasmism. Skepticism's presence in Cervantes' work has been suggestively noted by Américo Castro, Aubrey Bell, and Riley,6 but to date the possible role of skepticism in the Cervantine canon has received little serious, detailed investigation. I would here like to consider briefly the implications or influence which this attitude might have had in shaping the authorial role in the Quijote.

The basic classical skeptical stance holds that there seems to be no absolute authority or truth with regard to anything. While such an attitude is completely passive, the technique endorsed and utilized for demonstrating the validity of such an attitude—a technique recommended for use to the reader—is an active, aggressive, and clever one. Whatever opinion, argument, or authority might be proposed, the skeptic will offer a contradictory view which is only of sufficient weight to throw the original assertion into doubt, but not so strong as to destroy or supplant it. As the Renaissance skeptic Francisco Sánchez stated: “Si dudas todavía de esto, callaré, pero te exigiré a ti otra cosa; si lo concedieres, dudaré de lo tuyo, y así padecemos perpetua ignorancia.”7

This basic tenet, that there can be no absolute sureness of truth with regard to anything, places the skeptic into a most awkward position. By attacking and exposing the false authority of others, as he wishes to do and indeed must do, his own position, or “authority,” consequently becomes the superior fact, or “truth,” which he does feel to be the most reasonable one. But, his own philosophy rejects the validity of such a position. Faced with this situation, most skeptics attempt to ease over the contradiction by offering rather wooden disclaimers, encouraging the reader to accept the validity of their skeptical views, but still imploring him or her not to take these views or attitudes as “truth,” either. Thus, Sextus Empiricus claimed at the end of the first chapter of his Outlines of Pyrrhonism (the only extant work of a Greek skeptic) he was not affirming the truth of what he wrote, but only reporting, as would a chronicler, how things appeared to him at the moment. Montaigne made a similar statement in his Essays:

For likewise these are my humors and opinions; I offer them as what I believe, not what is to be believed. … I have no authority to be believed, nor do I want it, feeling myself too ill-instructed to instruct others.8

Francisco Sánchez ended his treatise Que nada se sabe by directly requesting the reader to form a judgment rather than accept that of the author, and Huarte de San Juan also referred to his own limitations and lack of authority as he concluded the preface to his Examen de ingenios:

Y así concluyo, curioso lector, confesando llanamente que yo estoy enfermo y destemplado, y que tú lo podrás estar también, pues nací en tal región y que nos pudiera acontecer lo que a aquellos cuatro hombres que siendo el paño azul, el uno juró que era colorado, y el otro blanco, el otro amarillo y el otro negro, y ninguno accertó por la lesión particular que cada uno tenía en su vista.9

Cervantes does not directly, rather ineffectually, request such an attitude from his reader. Instead, using the customary skeptical tactics, he actively provokes the reader into a skeptical stance by raising the problem of truth, reliability, or criterion, with regard to his own creation. Richard Popkin, author of the groundbreaking study The History of Skepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza, has observed that “the problem of justifying a standard of true knowledge does not arise as long as there is an unchallenged criterion.”10 Authors and readers, most certainly those in the literary world of Cervantes' day and even to a large extent today, generally accept the unspoken premises that the author is the ultimate authority, the trustworthy holder of truth, for any account in question. And, in the opening pages of the Quijote, Cervantes would seem to have assumed the traditional position of omniscience; he even promises the reader clearly at the end of the first paragraph in Chapter One that the narration “no se salga un punto de la verdad.”11 Such certainty, however, is short-lived. In Chapter II, his concern over authorial responsibility is picked up again when he interrupts the thread of narration to explain to the reader that what follows is perforce selected from several conflicting accounts:

Autores hay que dicen que la primera aventura que le avino fue la del puerto Lápice; otros dicen que la de los molinos de viento; pero lo que yo he podido averiguar en este caso, y lo que he hallado escrito en los anales de la Mancha, es que …

(I, 43).

Although his claim to selecting the true account still seems acceptable, the facts are beginning to feel less absolute to the reader. This feeling grows when the narration is broken again and actually curtailed in medias res in Chapter VIII, at the high point of the battle with the vizcaíno, because the “true” manuscript is discovered to be incomplete. Such systematic interruption of the narration, purposely done to involve the reader in backstage problems, does not invalidate or destroy authorial control, but it does initiate the process of stripping it of omniscience, of denying it a dogmatic apprehension of the truth. Although still willing to proceed, the reader can no longer automatically regard the text as truth.

Upon encountering the “true” manuscript again, and thereby returning to the position of being able to continue the account of Don Quijote's exploits, Cervantes immediately sows the seeds of yet another source which will actively challenge author omniscience to the end of the novel: namely, the multiple-author device, in which there is an original chronicler of the history, (as Sextus Empiricus wished to be considered) but he is a lying Arab, and to add insult, the history is being translated from Cide Hamete's original into castellano by a nameless morisco, obviously of equally suspicious reliability, and evidently unsupervised by any “true” Christian. The coexistence of these various “authorities,” all working independently, and all questionable in one way or another, transforms the narrative into a group effort where the reader copes not only with suspicious credentials but also with a sudden inability to locate “an authority” of truth responsible for the story. With tongue-in-cheek protestations of zealously selecting and preserving only the absolute truth of the matter, Cervantes, in accord with skeptical methods, has enumerated and balanced obstacles and difficulties so effectively, that the prudent reader soon reacts instinctively with precisely the critical distrust and lack of confidence recommended by skeptical writers. The reader listens and observes, but does not blindly accept or reject what is told. The issue of author control and the trustworthiness of the text is even more prominent in Part II than in Part I.

A sincere concern over these matters must have prompted Cervantes to allow these issues to take center stage again in the opening pages of the continuation where, in Chapters II-IV, Don Quijote and Sancho discuss Part I, and submit their own chronicler, Cide Hamete, to the “toque de la piedra de la verdad.” Sancho makes such specific corrections as:

nunca … he oído llamar con don a mi señora Dulcinea, sino solamente la señora Dulcinea del Toboso, y ya en esto anda errada la historia.

(II, 559)


En la manta no hice yo cabriolas … en el aire sí.

(II, 560)

and he also clarifies the problem of the stolen mount. Predictably, Don Quijote is less concerned with such omissions and errors of the particular; he is more distressed by the fact that the author was a Moor, as the text records how

desconsolóle pensar que su autor era moro, según aquel nombre de Cide; y de los moros no se podía esperar verdad alguna, porque todos son embelecadores, falsarios y quimeristas. …

(II, 558)

One might even argue that, by voicing the very prejudices commonly held by the seventeenth-century Spanish reader, Don Quijote may enjoy a slight, momentary gain in credibility by allying himself thus with the reader.

In the following chapter (Chapter V), the morisco translator, heretofore a silent partner, records a clear lack of confidence in what he is about to translate. To bring the mutual suspicion and lack of confidence in the text full circle, the reader soon encounters Cide Hamete reacting with disbelief to episodes such as the Cueva de Montesinos. Despite the obvious humor and/or tongue-in-cheek tone of many of these moments, all work to deny the existence of “a true, clear history.”

As well as witnessing the above unresolved contradictions, the careful reader may also note certain usurpations of role among the various sources, such as that of the translator during the adventure of the Caballero del Verde Gabán. The text reads:

Aquí pinta el autor todas las circunstancias de la casa de don Diego, pintándonos en ella lo que contiene una casa de un caballero labrador, pero al traductor desta historia le pareció pasar estas y otras semejantes menudencias en silencio, porque no venían bien con el propósito principal de la historia; la cual más tiene su fuerza en la verdad que en las frías digresiones.

(II, 662)

The translator also comments on the arbitrary nature of Cide Hamete's work at times, as in Chapter LXVIII: “Don Quijote, arrimado a un tronco de una haya o de un alcornoque—que Cide Hamete Benengeli no distingue el árbol que era …” (II, 1032). The mutual suspicion and undermining efforts among various sources, all equally tainted as far as their claims to “the truth,” without any being fully undermined or discredited, combine to blur methodically the traditionally assumed claims of authorial omniscience, and the reader, whom Cervantes continually reminds with regard to the need to judge for himself, has been transformed into a critical, doubting but observant spectator, the very sort of reader skeptics so dearly sought.

As a final note, it is useful to recall the performance of the many other narrators in the Quijote. Some, such as Ginés de Pasamonte, Fernando, Anselmo, and probably Don Quijote, actively deceive at times. Most others, for example, Cardenio, Luscinda, and Ricote, attempt to provide truthful enough accounts, but their narrations are tainted by the very limited, and therefore inaccurate, nature of their knowledge. The total effect, I would contend, is not to make each point of view equally valid and truthful, but rather to demonstrate the inaccessibility of any such accuracy, or truth, for any narrator, to throw all into equal doubt, without fully destroying any, and to leave as the only possible “resolution” a skeptical suspension of judgment with regard to the ultimate truth of anything.

To conclude, Cervantes' treatment of the authorial role and the truth of the text, as well as his efforts to erode but not destroy the claim to truth of various conflicting sources, reflect and demonstrate with striking effectiveness the skeptical attitudes and tactics as interpreted during the Renaissance. As in the case of literary theories and precepts, rather than express directly the skeptical attitudes and techniques of his day, he chose to incorporate them into the very fabric of his masterpiece.


  1. This paper is a summary of one aspect of skeptical influences discussed in my longer study, Skepticism in Cervantes (London: Tamesis Books, Ltd., 1982).

  2. J. Allen, Don Quijote: Hero or Fool? (Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Press, 1969); R. El Saffar, Distance and Control in “Don Quijote”: A Study in Narrative Technique (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, Department of Romance Languages, 1975); E. C. Riley, Teoría de la novela en Cervantes (Madrid: Taurus, 1966); Ramón Saldívar, “Don Quijote's Metaphors and the Grammar of Proper Language,” MLN, 95 (1980), 252-294.

  3. For an excellent introduction to the impact of Sextus Empiricus on European thought of the Renaissance, see Richard Popkin, The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).

  4. Que nada se sabe, ed. and tr. M. Menéndez y Pelayo (Buenos Aires: Editorial Nova, 1944).

  5. Academica sive de judicio erga verum (Madrid: n.p., 1596).

  6. Aubrey Bell, Cervantes (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1947), pp. 118-157; A. Castro, Pensamiento de Cervantes, 2nd ed. (1925; rpt. Barcelona: Noguer, 1972), esp. pp. 346-351; E. C. Riley, “Who's Who in Don Quijote? Or an Approach to the Problem of Identity,” MLN, 81 (1966), 113-130.

  7. F. Sánchez, p. 64.

  8. The Complete Essays of Montaigne, tr. Donald Frame (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1971), pp. 108-109.

  9. Examen de ingenios (Madrid: Jerarquía, 1948), p. 408.

  10. Popkin, p. 3.

  11. Cervantes, Don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. Martín de Riquer, 2 vols. (Barcelona: Juventud, 1971), I, 36. Future references to this work will be found in the text.

Mary A. Gervin (essay date 1987)

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SOURCE: Gervin, Mary A. “Don Quixote as Existential Hero.” CLA Journal 32, no. 2 (1987): 178-88.

[In the following essay, Gervin explores what she perceives as Don Quixote's disaffection with life and his deluded view of reality in the first part of the novel.]

Although Miguel de Cervantes lived and wrote during the period of rebirth and discovery of the Golden Age of Spain, he was doomed by circumstance to be skeptical about the optimistic hopes and dreams of the humanists around him. Having every reason to consider himself an abject failure, Cervantes had had little success at any ventures until Don Quixote was published. Professed by the author to be a parody of the Gilded Age and received by his readers as a satire of the chivalric romances, the novel presents a hero whose beliefs and actions reveal striking similarities to some of the basic tenets of the twentieth-century existentialists: an inward yet oftentimes unfulfilling search for self-realization; the recognition of the duplicity of being; and an acute awareness of one's relationship to the other, the darker side of being.

In essence, the existential hero is in conflict with his self and thereby feels the isolation of experience in a hostile, indifferent world. In his quest for self-reconciliation, he confronts the void, strips away the numbing guise of humanity, and accepts the untoward behavior of his psyche. Moreover, the hero exercises the freedom of choice and accepts responsibility for his own behavior. It is not surprising, then, that Don Quixote has rendered his temperament, foibles, and ideals to avowed existential writers in a subsequent literary period. Inspired by the hero's inability to manage and guide his destiny along the road to truth, Dostoyevski created Myshkin in The Idiot.1 Likewise, the Don's intellectual disenchantment is resurrected in Goethe's Faust,2 whereas in France, Flaubert's Madame Bovary evinces Don Quixote's influence.3 These ideas are not intended to be mutually exclusive or all-encompassing of the principles of existential phenomenology. They are interrelated, interlocking concepts; therefore, it is impossible to discuss one without mentioning the bearing it has upon another as the ideas manifest themselves in Don Quixote's attitudes and actions. Moreover, this study is designed to encompass the nature of the hero's disaffectation with life and delusive reality, and, therefore, it will be limited to an exploration of the First Part of the novel but not its sequel. It is important to realize that Cervantes published the First Part of the book separate from the sequel. It was not until Alonzo Fernandez de Avellaneda of Tordesillas printed his spurious version in 1614 that Cervantes hastily produced his own edition in 1615. It is possible, then, to treat the First Part of Don Quixote as a work within its own right.

From the outset, the “feigned author” of this “impartial, punctuality of history”4 wants to present a mirror of reality. Both the hero and the “author” are concerned about the duality of nature or the duplicity of being in their search for truth. The writer of this historical account of knight-errantry creates a work which purports to be authentic, but he admits in his Preface to the use of ruses to convince the readership; in a word, he deceives the audience at the same time that he shows how elusive reality truly can be. He concocts a hero and places him out of touch with “reality” in order to point out life's paradoxes and man's foibles. As a perusal of Sartrean ontology will reveal, Roquentin with respect to his own hero, Rollebon, muses: “Beware of literature.”5 It can deflect as well as reflect truth, or at least make an individual conscious that appearances may not be actual fact.

Even as the narrative begins, the hero is preoccupied with the nature of his being. The townspeople are not even sure of his lineage: some call him “Quixada,” others, “Quesada” (p. 2). His origins are shrouded in mystery. He is among the townspeople, yet separated from them. His neighbors know of him, but have no sense of his past. As the hero tires of reading and thinking about knight-errantry—a mode of inaction in dealing with choices—he takes great pains to select a name and title representative of his demeanor and heritage:

At last he determined to call himself Don Quixote. Whence the Author of this most authentic History draws this Inference, that his right name was Quixada, and not Quisada, as others obstinately pretend. … So he resolved to call himself Don Quixote de la Mancha; which Addition to his thinking denoted very plainly his Parentage and Country, and consequently would fix a lasting Honor on that part of the World.

(p. 6)

According to Americo Castro, the painstaking selection of a name by the hero emphasizes the story as a symbol of becoming,6 the process of being and existing, for initially the protagonist is a nobody. So much reading about the valorous deeds of others makes the man acutely aware of his nothingness: hence, he sets out to make his mark upon the world and to leave his legacy to posterity.

According to John Weiger, the protagonist, at first, is simply “un hidalgo,” a member of a social class whose name is unclear.7 In effect, he is not an individual. He operates as a part of the collective consciousness of the society at large, and the character is actually guilty of the charge of which he accuses John Haldudo (p. 21), a mere commoner among men. The adoption of a name initiates the process for the hero's act of self-awareness. After he has impulsively decided to leave his bequest upon the world through a pursuit of knight-errantry, the Don culls his accessories and selects a noble steed. He dubs his nag Roziante, an action reminiscent of his own “metamorphosis.” The actions of the protagonist at this point have been attributed by some critics to the donning of a dramatic role. Margaret Church points out that the Don merely plays the part of a desperate, raving madman rather than one who goes insane as a means of escaping reality.8 At times compared to Hamlet, who is in a “mental tempest” feigning madness in Shakespeare's play,9 so too does Don Quixote “strut his hour upon the stage,” memorizing and practicing a role he has opted to play.

After reading so many chivalric romances, Quixote becomes overwhelmed, immersed in superfluous details, de trop, as is common in existential ontology; and the hero is outside himself, not grounded in reality until his penance and self-confrontation. As he pursues his adventures, Quixote eventually comes to grips with his finitude in relation to the universe. As H. J. Blackham points out, “The hero's discovery of the world as gratuitous and absurd is not disillusionment, not wild grief, not stoical resignation; it is above all the context which brings out the memory of man's separation from himself and from the world, an act which is at the root of existentialism.”10 Don Quixote is not distraught over the anxiety or suffering inflicted upon an unsuspecting world. The man is more concerned, at first, with creating a lasting impression for posterity.

In the beginning, the Don does not recognize that the essence of being lies in man's ability to make choices for himself and to determine what he is, yet Don Quixote (as Nietzsche, the scholarly bookworm, becomes the wanderer and his shadow)11 travels over the countryside, searching for self-reconciliation by an avid leap of faith.

In the hero's first sally, Quixote visits an inn, which he supposes to be a castle, and he wants the innkeeper to dub him a knight. The patrons decide to revert Quixote to “reality” where his imagination has diverted him, but Quixote responds, “I know very well who I am, and what's more, I know that I may not only be the Persons I have named but also the Twelve Peers of France, nay and the nine Worthies all in One” (p. 28). Since people cannot recognize matter without form and substance, the hero surmises that the order and schematic representation of the universe, properties to which an individual is accustomed, are illusions, veneers to hide the amorphous, viscous mass beneath the surface of reality. These systems help man classify and assimilate data; they serve as a ruse to help a person feel sane and safe.

In his state, Don Quixote can make free associations with objects by an act of fantasy. In short, he epitomizes the existential credo: essence is defined as function. So Aldonza Lorenzo becomes the Lady Dulcinea del Tobosa; the barber's basin as Mambrino's Helmet; the windmills, giants; and sheep, an army. The Don is mindful of the duplicity of being. He projects the idea that objects may have functions other than the purposes for which they are designed as he reveals that reality is not what it seems to be. The inimitable knight remarks to Sancho Panza about the flock of sheep: “'Tis any easy Matter for Necromancers to change the Shapes of Things as they please” (p. 118). Yet he does not admit that the objects are not what he wants them to be. When contrasted with William Barrett's contention about Goethe's Faust, one can denote Quixote's perception of the powers of magic in alchemy to be the symbol of man's aspirations of freedom and the craving to transcend ordinary humanity.12 The tendency places the existential hero outside of collective humanity and at odds with himself. Through the knight-errant's imagination and antics, the Don seeks to establish a higher and fuller level of being. As Barrett states in Irrational Man, “If [Quixote] loses his MANA, the security of his belief in himself, he will find himself sharing the desperation of the rest of humanity.”13 But at the time Don Quixote remains locked in his own mental cage. He acquires the designation of Knight of the Woeful Countenance to signify his malcontent with the disparity of existence, after his adventures have met disfavor from the very souls he sought to aid. This insight brings Quixote to terms with the other, the darker side of his psyche.

Because Don Quixote is assailed from all avenues by external forces, he begins to question his chosen mode of expressing his selfhood. As the knight-errant addresses Sancho Panza just before the squire takes his master's impassioned love note to Dulcinea, the Knight of the Woeful Countenance admits that he is aware of the duality in nature, the duplicity of being. He admits that the barber's basin is not a helmet, but he chooses to make it so, having seen the barber himself wearing it on his own head. “This is the very Reason why that which I plainly perceive to be Mambrino's Helmet, seems to thee to be only a Barber's Bason, and perhaps another Man may take it to be something else” (p. 188). The Knight finally realizes that the concepts alluded to about his behavior have already come to be. He realizes that the credo he has been giving lip service to and the actions he has been performing were freely chosen and deliberately enacted.

At the same time, Quixote admits to Sancho Panza that Dulcinea is really the daughter of Lorenzo Corchuelo, Aldanza Lorenzo (p. 192). The Don also confirms that he has been imitating the life of the bold, prudent knight, Beltenebros the Lonely Obscure (p. 185), who was as quixotic as Sancho's chosen sire. Quixote asserts that all knightly deeds are chimeric endeavors and so his ploy is actually no deviation from the “real.” Actually it is an extension of absolute reality.

This segment is crucial to understand Don Quixote's motive for his “imitation of life” just before his own confrontation with his psyche and perusal of the direction he has opted to take. Before the squire departs for town, Quixote notes:

I am mad and will be mad, 'till thy Return with an Answer to the Letter … to Lady Dulcinea, and if her reply is favorable, then my Madness and Penance shall end; but if she shuns my entreaties, then I will be emphatically mad, and screw up my thoughts to such an Excess of Distraction, that I shall be insensible of the Rigour of my relentless fair.

(p. 187)

Indeed, the protagonist creates and enacts his own destiny by overcoming or ignoring adverse circumstances.

As an existentialist, Don Quixote makes a commitment because of his recognition of his finitude in relationship to the other. He has chosen to accept the guise of knight-errantry to protect the weak, relieve the oppressed, and punish the wicked; but he is scoffed for his heroics. The Don commits himself to his task although no one appreciates his effrontery. Whenever he tries to relieve the afflicted—the prisoners, the young goatherd, Dulcinea—they see themselves more distressed because of the knight's bungling “good intentions.” Yet Quixote persists in carrying out his misadventures.

The revelation before Sancho Panza precludes the hero's soul-searching confrontation with his alter ego. The lonely retreat when he dismisses his trusty squire, sending him away on the nag Roziante, is congruent with the precept of existential solitude. As Sancho departs, the hero is alone as he attempts to come to terms with himself. He undergoes his penance to clear his mind of any encumbrances regarding his convictions and activities. He tells Sancho to take his armor because he wants “to strip [himself] as naked as [he] came out of his Mother's Womb, in case [he] determined to imitate Orlando's Fury, rather than the Penance of Amadis” (p. 188). Don Quixote commits himself to this solitary confinement to strip away the veneer of absolute reality, to free his consciousness from its methodical existence. By wrenching away the facade of his clothing, the Don becomes the unadorned man as he confronts his nothingness. In confronting the labyrinth of the void, the self is surrounded by blackness and Quixote is in an appropriately titled locale—the Black Mountains of Sierra Moreno. At this point in the novel, the Don can align himself as an “object” to the “subjectness” of other entities. In a sense he can perceive the life force in matter.

In the Black Mountains the Knight of the Woeful Countenance seeks redemption for his misconstrued behavior, and it is here that the consciousness of the hero awakens. The solitude makes Quixote wary of his mad quest, filled with noble intentions, but undercutting this virtue has been an ulterior motive—to ensure his permanence in society. At this point in his life, the knight realizes that seeking “privileged or perfect moments” is futile. He has striven to be the ideal knight, but to no avail. To wit, his en soi is out of joint with the pour soi, so Quixote has been committing his chivalric deeds as an expression of self-containment (en soi), but not as an act of acute consciousness (pour soi). After the episode at Sierra Moreno, the actions the Don commits are conscious acts of will, choices the knight-errant freely makes, and so he continues his valorous sallies regardless of the effects.

In an effort to rediscover peace and restore the harmony of his en soi and pour soi, the protagonist must come to see himself in perspective to the other, beyond the blind passions which motivated his first adventures. Don Quixote looks inside himself and unravels his assets and failings. After the confrontation with the void, the Don becomes cognizant of the human freedom of the conscious will to act: he has freely chosen to resume the pursuit of knighthood and is willing to take full responsibility for the consequences.

Soon after his emergence from isolation at Sierra Moreno, the knight hears about the manuscript of “The Curious Impertinent,” the man too curious for his own good. The tale reinforces the symbolic, inward quest upon which the Don himself has embarked: a man's dependence on tested experience to determine truth. Like the husband in the novella, Don Quixote discovers that the attitude “seeing is believing” uncovers not truths, but deceptive reality. The story-within-a-story contrasts the state of the hero before his confrontation at the foothills of the Black Mountains. In the end, however, the hero has achieved self-awareness through his adventures. The appearance of the manuscript also shows a contrast between the flesh-and-blood creations of the knight and the dubious figures in the novella. The rendition of the adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha is supposedly a “real” account of a knight's sallies, whereas the story of Anselmo and Camilla is an illusory, contrived piece of fiction. This recapitulation of events resounds the motif of illusion versus reality and the paradox of life treated earlier in this discourse.

Even after the penance, the Don insists that reality is contingent upon relativism. He still insists that the barber's basin is functional as Mambrino's Helmet, and ironically the patrons of the inn are swayed by his logic. After the purgation at Sierra Moreno, Don Quixote has no difficulty discerning essence from existence, a dilemma in the existential hero's quest for absolute reality. He chooses to see beyond the realm of ordinary existence, transcending the boundaries of consciousness. Jean Cassou supports the notion that the Don's imagination is his conscious means of arriving at truth.14 Quixote reveals that the world is not really what it seems to be, for each man perceives it individually and embellishes what he sees according to his personal directive.15 So the Don transforms external experiences into outwardly manifested life processes.

The premise of illusion persists in the references to necromancy toward the end of the First Part of Don Quixote. As the knight and his squire talk, the Don reminds Sancho that enchantments can take different forms, according to circumstance—a reiteration of the leitmotif of duality of being pervading existential literature. Like literature—novels, plays, histories—the incidents in necromancy depict the image of truth and ultimate reality, a real chimera at best. But the works he cites become personifications of the real. Since they have been written, they exist, and the heroes in them—Achilles, Tristan, El Cid, Pierre, ad infinitum—have all become a part of reality. So it is at the close of these adventures that Don Quixote meets a goatherd who reveals himself to be one of the characters, Eugenio, who appears earlier in the manuscript “The Novel of the Curious Impertinent.” Herein, illusion has again become a part of reality.

And so the Don is borne home in a cage, still mad, and seemingly not grounded in absolute reality. But the sustaining affliction of madness at the conclusion of Part One of the narrative reveals that madness does inflict itself upon the real world. The appearance and appeal of the tale of Don Quixote de la Mancha, Knight of the Woeful Countenance, has sharpened our awareness of quixotic personalities all over the world. So deranged or not, Quixote lives on in our books, our minds, and our hearts. In essence, he too exists!

Suffice it to say that despite the fact that Don Quixote was written in the seventeenth century as a reactionary satire, it abounds in many of the pervasive qualities of the existential era in modern literature.


  1. Ludmilla B. Turkevich, “Cervantes in Russia,” Cervantes Across the Centuries, ed. M. S. Bernadete and Angel Flores (New York: Dryden Press, 1947), pp. 355-57.

  2. Lienhard Bergel, “Cervantes in Germany,” Cervantes Across the Centuries, ed. M. S. Bernadete and Angel Flores (New York: Dryden Press, 1947), pp. 318-19.

  3. Ester J. Crooks, “Translations of Cervantes into French,” Cervantes Across the Centuries, ed. M. S. Bernadete and Angel Flores (New York: Dryden Press, 1947), p. 302.

  4. Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, trans. Peter Matteux (New York: Modern Library, 1930), p. xxiii. Hereafter cited in the text by page reference only.

  5. Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea, trans. Lloyd Alexander (New York: New Directions, 1964), p. 56.

  6. John G. Weiger, The Individuated Self (Athens, Ohio: Ohio Univ. Press, 1979), p. 31.

  7. Weiger, pp. 32-34.

  8. Margaret Church, Don Quixote: The Knight of La Mancha (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1971), p. 33.

  9. Ivan Turgenev, “Hamlet and Don Quixote,” Anatomy of Don Quixote, ed. M. S. Bernadete and Angel Flores (Port Washington, New York: Kennikat Press, 1969), pp. 98-120.

  10. H. J. Blackham, “Anguished Responsibility,” Sartre, ed. Edith Kern (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1962), p. 166.

  11. William Barrett, Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1962), p. 178.

  12. Ibid., pp. 128-29.

  13. Ibid., p. 131.

  14. Jean Cassou, “An Introduction to Cervantes,” Cervantes Across the Centuries, ed. M. S. Bernadete and Angel Flores (New York: Dryden Press, 1947), p. 9.

  15. Ibid., p. 9.

Eric J. Ziolkowski (essay date October 1991)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8104

SOURCE: Ziolkowski, Eric J. “Don Quijote's Windmill and Fortune's Wheel.” Modern Language Review 86, no. 4 (October 1991): 885-97

[In the following essay, Ziolkowski considers what the windmill in Don Quixote represents as a symbol.]

The knight's combat with the windmills in Part i, Chapter 8, of Don Quijote de la Mancha (1605) is the most famous episode in what many view as the first and prototypical modern novel, a work that has been the most widely translated, published, read, and discussed text of that genre in literary history. By the time Miguel de Cervantes wrote the Quijote's second part (1615) he was evidently aware that the windmill adventure was the most favoured of all from the first part. Early in the sequel, when Don Quijote asks the bachelor Sansón Carrasco which of his adventures have become the most famous (‘las que más se ponderan’),1 the first one Carrasco mentions is that of the windmills. Later, as the mad knight prepares to do battle with a caged lion, his terrified squire entreats him to abandon that enterprise which seems to dwarf even the windmill adventure (‘en cuya comparación habían sido tortas y pan pintado la de los molinos de viento’ (ii, p. 387)).

Notwithstanding the perennial popularity of the windmill adventure from Cervantes's time to our own, and the conventional definition of quijotismo or quixotism as tilting at windmills, scholars and critics have reached no consensus about this adventure's significance. The question remains today: what, if anything, is the windmill meant to represent? During the last fifty years, while some have viewed it in general terms as representing ‘grey everyday reality’ (die graue Alltäglichkeit)2 or the modern technological domination of nature,3 others have seen it more specifically as a metaphorical allusion to the principle of evil in Jewish mysticism,4 the Cyclops in the third book of Virgil's Aenid,5 the Cross of Christ,6 the classical theory of the cyclic beginning of things which Augustine attacks in Book xii of De Civitate Dei,7 or the giants whom Dante likens to the towers of Montereggioni in Canto xxxi of the Inferno.8

Despite such remarkably diverse interpretations, almost four centuries of Quijote criticism have failed to uncover one of the most revealing implications of the windmill the knight attacks: its satiric embodiment of the wheel of Fortune, a concept which finds its origin in Greek and Roman Antiquity, and becomes a stock image in medieval and Renaissance literature. Although it has passed unnoticed until now, this linkage is consistent with Américo Castro's observation that to the Spaniard of Cervantes's day, ‘the supernatural and the natural, the religious and the profane, the spiritual and the physical, the abstract and the concrete, coexisted in one and the same unit of consciousness’.9 According to Castro this explains Cervantes's habit of ‘linking in a single expressive unit the mention of a physical and of a psychic ideal object’ (for example, ‘dejé la casa y la paciencia’ (i, p. 163)), a literary-linguistic phenomenon which, having begun in the Middle Ages, becomes ‘the epitome of the conception of man upon which Don Quixote is based’.10 This tendency of conjoining physical and psychic objects is taken one step further in the windmill adventure, where an abstract concept (wheel of Fortune) manifests itself in a concrete structure (windmill). Notwithstanding the Quijote's just reputation as a pioneer text in the development of modern realism, Cervantes's use of the windmill image recalls the fantastic illustrations of Fortune's wheel by medieval artists, who, according to Emile Mâle, ‘took everything in a literal sense and loved to clothe the most abstract thought in concrete form’.11

The implicit association of windmills and the wheel of Fortune in Don Quijote finds an explicit precedent in Le Mireour du monde, a fourteenth-century manual of instruction on the biblical commandments and various vices and virtues. In the section concerning ‘La quarte branche principal d'Orguel’, which is folebaerie or ambition, it states: ‘Se nos regardons ces citès, ces tours, ces Eglyses cathédraux, ces abbayes royaux, où dame fortune est qui tourne plus tost ce dessous-dessus que molin à vent.’12 While there is no reason to suspect that Cervantes knew this passage or even the book in which it occurs, it demonstrates how readily the association between windmills and Fortune's wheel could occur to someone living when both were still in wide use, the one as an industrial machine primarily for grinding grain, the other as a philosophical concept and literary image. Indeed, by Cervantes's time that association had apparently been assimilated into the vast body of popular proverbs which Don Quijote's squire is so fond of reciting. For it is a piece of local wisdom (‘lo que se dice por ahí’) that Sancho Panza invokes when, in commenting on his master's captivity in a cage on an ox-cart, he affirms that ‘la rueda de la Fortuna anda más lista que una rueda de molino’ (i, p. 280). The explicit link between the two types of rueda in this terse saying makes all the more compelling the identical connexion I am suggesting between Fortune's wheel and the windmill attacked by Don Quijote.

Before examining that connexion, I shall address the problem of how and why it might have come to suggest itself in the first place. To answer this question it is necessary first to take into account not only the history of the concepts and depictions of Fortune, Fortune's wheel, and the wind of Fortune prior to the Renaissance, but also the introduction of windmills to western Europe (in the late twelfth century) as highly visible machines energized by the revolving, wheel-like motion of spoked sails fortuitously blown by the wind.

The Castilian terms fortuna, destino, suerte, and ventura, which recur frequently throughout the Quijote's narrative, refer to ‘la causa incógnita que se cree presidir al éxito de las cosas’, with their subtle distinctions being summed up as follows: ‘La ventura hace, la fortuna quiere ó exige, la suerte decide, el destino ordena.’13 The idea of a capricious force that influences human affairs derives in part from the Latin notion of fortuna. Formed from the word for luck (fors), and more or less synonymous with the Greek tyche, this term denotes fortune, luck, or chance, though it is often confused with fate (fatum).14 It is surmisable that the concept of Fortune's wheel, the most familiar of her symbolic attributes in literature and art, originated when the image of the wheel as representing the idea of variation and vicissitude became joined in the popular imagination with the truism that a person's mood or luck in life can turn at any moment, for better or worse.

Scholars have often tried to locate the earliest references to a wheel of Fortune in either Roman or medieval literature. However, the idea seems to have originated among the Greeks, to whom the idea of a wheel (kuklos) of human affairs was familiar (for example, in Herodotus). The figure of Fortune's wheel first appeared in Pindar's second Olympian ode as one of his eternal ideas, and recurs in certain works of Sophocles and Hippodamus, the Pythagorean, before being passed on to the Romans.15 Among the latter, whose worship of Fortuna as a goddess was patterned after the Greek cult of the goddess Tyche, the rota Fortunae ‘was no metaphor, but an actual cult-utensil, probably a wooden wheel hung up in the temple and consulted as oracular, being made to revolve by means of a rope’.16 The earliest reference to Fortune's wheel in Roman literature is Cicero's In Pisonem, xxii, which describes a man who, while dancing naked at a feast, ‘ne tum quidem fortunae rotam pertimescebat’ (‘had no fear of the wheel of Fortune’). After Cicero, Fortuna's association with a revolving wheel (rota) can be traced chronologically through Tibullus, Propertius, Ovid, Horace, Seneca, Pliny, Fronto, Ammianus Marcellinus, and Claudian, to Boethius,17 whose De consolatione philosophiae (a.d. 524) was, in C. S. Lewis's words, ‘one of the most influential books ever written in Latin’, its Book ii containing ‘that great apologia for Fortune which impressed her figure so firmly on the imagination of succeeding ages’.18

Howard R. Patch points out that of all the pagan deities, Fortune was ‘the only one to survive the change in religion with the advent of Christianity’.19 To a large extent that survival owes itself to Boethius's Consolatione, whose impact on medieval thought in general, and on the development of the medieval concept of Fortuna and her wheel in particular, cannot be overestimated. As Patch observes elsewhere, all the details of the conventional portrait of Fortune in medieval literature find their beginning in the Consolatione: ‘One cannot hope to stop her wheel; if the goddess cease to be fickle, she ceases to be Fortune; she puts one up, another down: ideas like these in great number were first expressed for the Middle Ages by Boethius, and then passed round in common currency.’20 The fact that Boethius's writings influenced the intellectual development of practically every thinker of account in the Middle Ages helps explain the consistency which will later be observed between the Boethian concept of Fortune's wheel and Cervantes's use of the windmill image to embody it.

A most remarkable aspect of Boethius's theory of Fortune and her wheel is that he retained his belief in her despite his adherence to the Christian doctrine of an all-embracing, providential God. In so far as the concept of Fortune assumed the existence of a force outside God's purview, the conventional position of the Church fathers from Lactantius and Augustine to Aquinas was to deny her reality and regard her works as illusory. Although Augustine, as a pagan philosopher prior to his conversion, had accepted Fortune as an indispensable idea, he had to abandon that notion after his conversion.21 As Aquinas would do after him, he appropriated a modified form of Aristotle's thesis that chance is necessary to allow room for free will, and he found fortuna a useful term for the Aristotelian notion of causa per accidens. But, as Patch points out, both Augustine and Aquinas definitively rejected the goddess figure and affirmed that what may seem to occur by chance, in actuality has its own proper cause.

Boethius was the first and most important of those writers who, adopting an attitude of compromise between the pagan view of Fortune as an independent ruling power, and the Christian view of Fortune as a power completely subservient to another God, retained both Fortune and divine providence without trying to demonstrate how they could coexist in one and the same cosmos.22 Counter-balancing the view expressed in De civitate dei, he bequeathed to medieval historiographers, even one as late as Boccaccio (1313-75) in his De casibus virorum illustrium, the theory that political history is a cycle consisting of the rises and falls (casus) of kings and dynasties.23 Although one literary tradition after Boethius describes Fortune as seated upon the wheel and suffering its revolutions, another much more common tradition, one with roots in Classical literature, depicts her as seated or standing beside the wheel and turning it, usually by hand.24 The latter tradition, to which Boethius adhered, places human beings upon the wheel which Fortune turns, so that some of them fall while others rise.

This image fosters two prevalent motifs in medieval and Renaissance literature, poetry, and art which recur in the Quijote's windmill episode. The first motif, the roe-boe rhyme, plays on the wheel's most remarkable stunt, which is to spin a man from the top to the bottom. Perhaps its earliest example occurs in Alexandre de Bernay's Li Romans d'Alixandre (twelfth century), where we are told: ‘Sire, mains gentius hom seoit ier sor la roe, ❙ qui por le votre mort est ceus en le boe.’25 Lending itself to a convenient rhyme in Old French, the common motif of a man being cast from the top of the wheel (roe) into the mud (boe) is directly related to another theme: the so-called ‘formula of four’. This theme is manifest wherever a writer or artist depicts Fortune, usually with a solemn face, turning her wheel with one king sitting atop it and uttering regno (I rule); a second king falling off one side of it, uttering regnavi (I reigned); a third king rising on the other side, uttering regnabo (I will reign); and a fourth king crushed beneath it, uttering sum sine regno (I am without reign). That this theme was still current in Spain less than a hundred years before Cervantes began the Quijote is shown by the illustration of Dame Fortune, the wheel, and the four kings, with the tell-tale phrases inscribed above them in Castilian (reino, reine, reinare, sin reinoso) on the title page of a Spanish edition of Boccaccio's Cayda de principes (De casibus virorum illustrium) printed at Toledo in 1511.26

Medieval and Renaissance allusions to Fortune and her wheel are so numerous that it would be a vain task to try to determine all sources through which Cervantes became familiar with those images.27 Yet certain general surmises may be made. To begin with, it may be assumed that he knew Boethius's account of them in the Consolatione, the first of whose several Spanish translations had been written in the fourteenth century.28 Given the tendency among certain medieval authors, such as Pier della Vigna, Johannes of Dambach, Albertano of Brescia, and Alberto della Piagentina, to be prompted by their own Boethian sufferings in prison or exile to compose imitations of the Consolatione,29 it even seems plausible that that book's sober contemplation of Fortune's fickleness and her wheel's instability would have specially attracted Cervantes, a man who had experienced bondage both as a slave for five years in Algiers, and as an internee in a Spanish debtors' prison on at least one later occasion.

Aside from the discussion of Fortune in the Consolatione, Cervantes might well have been impressed by such later references as the one to Fortune's ‘changes’ in Dante's Inferno (‘Le sue permutazion non hanno triegue’ (Canto vii, line 88)), which he certainly knew, and the one to her wheel in Orlando Furioso (‘la ruota instabile’ (xxxiv, 74)), a work whose hero the Manchegan knight is fond of citing (Quijote, i, Chapters 13 and 25; ii, Chapter 40). But more important than any specific allusions must have been the overall impression made on Cervantes by the pervasiveness of the Fortune theme in the particular literature of which his novel is in part a satire. The Quijote parodies a body of late Spanish chivalry books that are more or less direct descendants of the earlier Arthurian Grail romances, which one scholar collectively describes as ‘a clear case of “fortune” narrative’.30 Indeed, in one well-known Middle High German text of that genre, Wirnt von Grafenberg's Wigalois (composed 1204-1210?), the titular hero becomes so closely identified with his benevolent destiny (diu sælde or diu sælicheit) that he takes on its symbol, the rota fortunae or gelückes rat, as his heraldic bearing and chivalric title: ‘The Knight of the Wheel’.31

In addition to chivalry books, Fortune's wheel figures crucially as a structural device in at least two other bodies of Spanish literature that greatly influenced Cervantes. With Love and Time, Fortune manifests itself as a definitive thematic convention of Renaissance pastoral poetics, as exemplified by Cervantes's own La Galatea (1585) and certain other representative sixteenth-century texts of that genre.32 At the same time, Fortune's wheel has been shown to play different functional roles in the composition of at least three Spanish works of the previous century which are often compared as progenitors of the novela sentimental: Juan Rodríguez del Padrón's Siervo libre de amor (1439-40), which ‘places man at a central juncture of Fortune's wheel with a real choice of following either a road to destruction or a road to salvation’; Diego de San Pedro's Cárcel de amor (1492), which ‘places man in an irreconcilably chained position on the perimeter of Fortune's wheel, with no real choice but to make his inevitable destruction coterminous with his salvation’; Fernando de Rojas's La Celestina (1499), whose protagonists ‘are chained together on the rim of Fortune's wheel’, so that when one falls off, ‘the others inevitably fall in swift consequence’.33

In the Quijote's windmill episode, the wheel of Fortune plays yet another functional role. Appearing there in the form of the windmill, it is attacked by the knight, whom it thwarts, and the whole encounter anticipates the circularity implicit in his oscillation between good fortune and bad from that point on. But before I pursue this thesis through a consideration of the text, the historical question must still be addressed: how and why would the windmill as a technological device have come to be associated with Fortune's wheel?

The earliest reliable report concerning the existence of a windmill, one located in Asia, dates from about a.d. 947, and the earliest known reliable testimony to one situated in western Europe dates from about 1180.34 Since it was from about 1190—only a decade later—that the image of Fortune with her giant wheel and four figures of kings became ‘fairly frequent’ in the work of European artists,35 and since images of windmills subsequently began to appear in literature and art,36 it seems plausible that the kinship between Fortune's wheel and the windmill could have been apparent from the end of the twelfth century.

Any windmill, regardless of its type, shares at least two characteristics with Fortune's wheel: its sails revolve around an axle like a wheel, and its movement is determined by a fortuitous force, the wind, which was conventionally associated with Dame Fortune from Pindar onwards through the Renaissance. In addition, windmills and Fortune's wheel had in common their sheer physical immensity. In the words of one molinologist, ‘the sails of the windmill constituted a wheel of spectacular size, even by modern standards. Turning briskly in a fresh breeze, they formed a dramatic focus of interest in a static landscape, and the working mill dominated the countryside for miles around’.37 That such a huge, windblown, turning wheel would eventually be linked with Fortune's wheel in Le Mireour du monde (quoted earlier), and again, several centuries later in the Quijote, seems no less natural than the speculation by one historian of art and literature that ‘the monumental Wheel Windows of medieval churches and cathedrals (Amiens, Beauvais, Basel etc.) probably soon came to be recognized as Wheels of Fortune, [even though] the earliest, Beauvais (about 1160), clearly had originally another subject’.38

The earliest known references to the existence of windmills in Spain occur in two poems, one dating from between 1203 and 1493, the other, from 1330.39 In the landscape of La Mancha, where windmills may have first appeared in 1575, or perhaps earlier, during a period of great drought between 1505 and 1545,40 they were well-known fixtures by the time Cervantes wrote the Quijote, to whose eighth chapter—as one windmill aficionado puts it—‘deben los Molinos de Viento su renombre universal’.41

According to Howard Mancing, the windmill episode, the first witnessed by Sancho Panza, provides the paradigm for Don Quijote's other adventures. While Mancing traces a decline in Don Quijote's enthusiasm for chivalry through his subsequent adventures on the basis of their decreasing conformity to ten criteria for quixotic adventure established in the windmill episode,42 the windmill's role as a satiric embodiment of Fortune's wheel has yet to be demonstrated.

One point worthy of consideration here is that, to be safe from the suspicion of Church authorities, authors writing in Spain and elsewhere during the age of the Inquisition had to be cautious about how they employed the term fortuna. As Américo Castro points out, the Congregation of the Index outside Spain censured Montaigne, Lipsio, Machiavelli, and Giordano Bruno for saying that the world is governed by the blind force of fate and for abusing the word fortuna.43 In this light, without having to accept fully Castro's well-known view of the Quijote's author as a kind of closet free-thinker who protected himself against the possibility of ecclesiastic censure by concealing his (allegedly) liberal attitudes on religion and philosophy behind a veil of hipocresía, one may understand why Cervantes would introduce Fortune's wheel as an operative force in his story not in its literal form but, rather, in the innocently ambiguous but unforgettable guise of a windmill mistaken for a giant by a madman.

To anyone familiar with the conventional concept of Dame Fortune, as Cervantes could have assumed most of his contemporary readers to be, Don Quijote's special vulnerability to the dangerous revolutions of her wheel would seem to stem from the motive that impelled him to sally forth as a knight: his desire to reap ‘eterno nombre y fama’ (i, p. 20). From Book ii of Boethius's Consolatione to Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (xxxiv, l. 74) and Chaucer's Hous of Fame (iii, l. 1547), fortune and fame are consistently associated, and that association carries with it an ominous implication. From the maxim of Tacitus in his Agricola to Milton's allusion to fame as ‘that last infirmity of noble mind’, there is a recurrent notion that—in C. S. Lewis's words—‘nothing so much beguiles those who have some natural excellence but are not yet perfected in virtue as the desire for fame’.44 As documented by such historiographical works as Boccaccio's De casibus virorum illustrium, those who are beguiled by fame often find themselves cast off by the centrifugal force of Fortune's wheel, the victims of tragic falls. Something of this sort is precisely what happens to the Manchegan knight in his conflict with the windmill.

Fortune's crucial role in that episode and, indeed, throughout the novel, is suggested by the first words Don Quijote utters to his squire upon spotting thirty or forty windmills on the plain and mistaking them for monstrous giants whom he must engage in battle: ‘La ventura va guiando nuestras cosas mejor de lo que acertáramos a desear’ (i, p. 43). However, Fortune (here, ventura) is not the only supernatural force to which he alludes on this occasion; as he states at the close of the same sentence, the reason he wants to annihilate the giants (windmills) is that to do so ‘es gran servicio de Dios’. From here on, until Don Quijote admits the omnipotence of divine providence and denies the existence of Fortune following his defeat by the Knight of the White Moon late in Part ii, God (or cielo, heaven) and Fortune will be cited by characters and narrator alike as forces of practically equal power in their governance of human actions and events.45 In this respect the Quijote is reminiscent of Boethius's Consolatione, whose more serious narration, while seeming to remain ambivalent about the precise relationship between those two forces, moves from an early emphasis on Fortune in Book ii to a grand defence of Providence in the fifth and final book. (Since Don Quijote and Sancho are never severely injured and do not die in action, the Boethian perspective of course loses much if not all of its tragic bite in the Quijote; indeed, by linking the theme to such a humorous pair this novel gives Fortune's wheel a comic spin!)

Fortune's all-important bearing on the windmill episode is again hinted at when Don Quijote, in response to Sancho's attempt to persuade him that what he sees as giants are actually windmills, quips that the peasant is clearly not ‘cursado en esto de las aventuras’ (i, p. 43). What is most ironic about this quip, and the knight's repeated insistence in the next line that the windmills are giants, is not his misperception per se, but rather, his use of the word aventura, which here denotes ‘adventure’, as it does repeatedly elsewhere in the Quijote, but which also happens to be the archaic term for ventura.46 Thus, while professing a knowledge superior to Sancho's in the business of aventuras, the knight remains unaware that he is about to attack—and become the victim of—an embodiment of Ventura's wheel.

The windmill's specific function as Fortune's wheel begins to become clear as Don Quijote prepares for battle despite his squire's repeated protestations. When a slight breeze (‘un poco de viento’ (ii, p. 44)) springs up—putatively by chance—and sets in motion the windmill's vanes, which the knight misperceives as the arms of the ‘giants’, we at once conjure the image of a huge revolving wheel driven by the wind's fortuitous force. Considered in connexion with the regno-regnavi theme, a variation of which emerges in what happens next, the arrogance Don Quijote betrays in challenging the mills as ‘cobardes y viles criaturas’ who flourish ‘más brazos que los del gigante Briareo’ (i, p. 44) does not bode well for him. For, according to medieval belief, Fortune's wheel holds sway not only over the worldly affairs of individual human beings but also over their spiritual condition. In congruence with the Judeo-Christian principle that pride cometh before a fall, ‘a figure might be filled with pride at the top of the wheel, but later at the bottom feel correspondingly humble, the two estates of pride and humiliation being caused by the frame on which he is turning’.47 The actual account of Don Quijote's tilt gives this medieval notion a new twist, presenting the spectacle not of the prideful man being toppled from the reigning position atop Fortune's wheel, but rather, of his attacking the wheel itself and being immediately repelled:

Pidiéndole que en tal trance le socorriese, bien cubierto de su rodela, con la lanza en el ristre, arremetió a todo el galope de Rocinante y embistió con el primero molino que estaba delante; y dándole una lanzada en el aspa, la volvió el viento con tanta furia, que hizo la lanza pedazos, llevándose tras sí al caballo y al caballero, que fué rodando muy maltrecho por el campo.

(i, p. 44)

As a variation on the medieval ‘formula of four’, this scene introduces a fifth figure to the conventional scenario. In addition to the four kings whom the tradition depicts respectively atop, below, climbing up, and falling off Fortune's wheel, we now have the would-be knight who, consistent with the Quijote's reputation as the prototype of the novel as a subversive genre,48 attacks the whole rotating structure from the front. Although neither fortuna nor ventura occurs as a term in the description of the attack, Fortune's active role is implicit in the blowing of ‘el viento’ as it was also several lines earlier in the ‘poco de viento’. It could even be argued that the chief victor in the battle is not the windmill or its vane, but rather, Fortune, who through her traditional agent, the wind, provides the force that turns the vane (‘la volvió’) at the fateful moment.

The spectacle of Don Quijote and Rocinante being sent ‘rodando muy maltrecho por el campo’ after their clash with the vane calls to mind the roe-boe rhyme, which, as already discussed, pictures the unlucky man cast off by the centrifugal force of Fortune's wheel into the mud. Unlike the regnavi figure in the ‘formula of four’, Don Quijote was never atop the wheel of Fortune (or windmill) to begin with. Yet his attack upon it leads him to suffer an identical misfortune—that is, a rough fall off the wheel to the ground. Hence, when Sancho rushes to his assistance and finds Don Quijote unable to move as the result of the impact of his fall with Rocinante (‘tal fué el golpe que dió con él Rocinante’ (i, p. 44)), we are reminded of two other closely-related Fortune motifs. Given Rocinante's involvement in the knight's tumble, the first motif is the image of the unfortunate rider who, in the manner of the anti-king Tancred as presented in Peter of Eboli's Sicilian Chronicle (c. 1197) and in numerous medieval pictures, is thrown by his stumbling horse and ends up writhing in the dust, his plight resembling that of ‘the king “without kingdom” or “crushed beneath the wheel” of the typical Wheel of Fortune’.49 The second motif, which became linked in the Middle Ages with such figures as Job, Jeremiah, Isaiah's Suffering Servant, and the Man of Sorrows (and would have plagued the mind of anyone who pondered the theme of Fortune's wheel with its four kings) is the image of the wretch sitting on a wayside in his misery, the laughing-stock of passers-by.50

The windmill episode is not the first to end with Don Quijote being found by another character while lying on the ground, unable to move, after tumbling with his horse as the result of an accident effected by chance. In his adventure with the merchants of Toledo (Part i, Chapter 4) luck (‘suerte’) caused Rocinante to stumble and fall as Don Quijote charged one of the traders, with the following result: ‘Cayó Rocinante, y fué rodando su amo una buena pieza por el campo; y queriéndose levantar, jamás pudo’ (i, p. 32). After then being beaten by a muleteer, he was left lying helpless on the ground, where he was subsequently found and assisted by a peasant from his village who showed up by chance (‘quiso la suerte’ (i, p. 33))—just as he is later aided by Sancho while unable to rise from the ground after the windmill incident.

How might the parallels between these two episodes bear on the windmill's connexion with Fortune's wheel? Given the parallels, we should not be surprised to find the fortuna theme in the windmill episode further illuminated by another work whose unmistakable kinship to the Quijote's first several chapters, particularly the one recounting the Toledan merchants episode, has often been remarked: the anonymous little theatrical piece Entremés de los romances (known in English as the Ballad Farce), which was first published in 1613 in Madrid, but whose author and date of composition remain unknown. It tells the story of a poor peasant, Bartolo, who goes mad from his excessive reading of the Romancero, as did Don Quijote from reading chivalry books; ludicrously, he is set on imitating the knights of the ballads. Bartolo's rantings and the mishaps into which they lead him are uncannily similar to those of Don Quijote in his encounter with the merchants. Having gone insane and become a knight, he intervenes on behalf of a shepherdess who is quarrelling with her shepherd lover; but the lover seizes the madman's lance and beats him to the ground with it, just as the muleteer abuses Don Quijote with the knight's own lance. Finally, sprawled similarly on the ground and unable to rise, Bartolo, like Don Quijote, blames his horse for his bad luck, and quotes aloud the same self-pitying verses from the popular ballad, ‘Marqués de Mantua’, as does Don Quijote.

Only one passage from the Entremés concerns me here, the first words Bartolo utters as he lies prostrate on the ground after his beating:

¡Ah cruel fortuna, proterva!
Apenas puedo moverme:
¡Contenta estarás de verme
Tendido sobre esta yerba!(51)

Disregarding the long-debated but unresolved question of whether the Entremés was composed before or after the Quijote's first part, and of whether Cervantes or someone else was its author, I presume that whoever wrote it would have deemed Bartolo's complaint to Fortune a verse that no less befits Don Quijote in his helpless condition following either the muleteer incident or his tilt against the windmill.

The account of Don Quijote's defeat by the windmill conforms so closely to such basic Fortune themes as the wheel topos, the fortuitous blowing of the wind, the roe-boe formula, the motif of the rider on a stumbling horse, and the image of the fallen wretch at the wayside, that it becomes almost impossible not to view the windmill as an embodiment of Fortune's wheel. Since fickleness and change are among Fortune's most notorious hallmarks, it seems appropriate that the initial excuse Don Quijote offers his squire for his defeat by the mill before blaming it on enchantment is that the affairs of war are governed by continual fluctuation (‘continua mudanza’ (i, p. 44)). Accordingly, the knight later makes reference to one of Fortune's other major traits, its tendency to deceive its victims, when he tries to account for his confusion during his nocturnal encounter with the water-powered fulling mills (in Part i, Chapter 20). Having been incited by the sound of their pounding hammers to pursue an illusory adventure in the dark before realizing what they were, he afterwards blames Fortune (la ventura) for ‘engañándonos con los batanes’ (i, p. 105).

The assumption that Fortune's wheel and Fortune's wind are implicitly operative in the windmill episode, even though neither is referred to there by name, finds support in several explicit allusions to those images later in the Quijote. (Indeed, were Cervantes's fondness for both images not so clearly evidenced by these later allusions, one might argue that we were simply reading the concept of Fortune's wheel and wind into the windmill episode.) Thus, the narrator of ‘La novela del curioso impertinente’ (Part i, Chapter 34) employs the phrase ‘volvió Fortuna su rueda’ (i, p. 208) to explain how the hoodwinked Anselmo finally learned of his wife's infidelity. And not only does Sancho, as already quoted, at one point describe Fortune's wheel as turning faster than a windmill, but also, in later urging that Quiteria should marry the man she loves rather than the man with money, he asks rhetorically whether there is anyone who can boast of having driven a nail into Fortune's wheel (‘echado un clavo a la rodaja de la Fortuna’ (ii, p. 397)). At the same time, following their beating by the Yanguesan horse-drivers, Don Quijote exhorts his disheartened squire to believe that ‘el viento de la fortuna, hasta ahora tan contrario, en nuestro favor se vuelve’ (i, p. 74). Much later, Sancho adopts this notion when, in trying to persuade his wife of the merits of his setting out on a second journey with his master, he asserts that one should know how to ‘gozar de la ventura cuando le vien’ and concludes: ‘dejémonos llevar deste viento favorable que nos sopla’ (ii, p. 338). Since the outcome of the first of Don Quijote's adventures witnessed by Sancho was decided by a fortuitous gust of wind, it is noteworthy that immediately after Don Quijote's defeat by the Knight of the White Moon, which puts an end to his chivalric career, we are told that Sancho sees all his own hopes as a squire swept away like smoke before the wind (‘como se deshace el humo con el viento’ (ii, p. 597).

If the windmill against which Don Quijote tilts embodies the wheel of Fortune turned by Fortune's wind, it is easy to fathom why Cervantes placed that episode at the very beginning of the knight's first journey with his squire. As the novel's most memorable image, the giant windmill with its revolving vanes encapsulates the pattern of circularity that characterizes not only Fortune's wheel but also Don Quijote's whole career as a knight. The novel opens with his lapse into madness, and closes with his repossession of sanity. For each of his three sallies from home, there is a return home, and throughout his career victories are followed by defeats, which are in turn followed by more victories and defeats. Don Quijote himself alludes to this circularity of fortune when, in discussing the published account of his own achievements with Sansón and Sancho, he asserts that ‘no hay historia humana en el mundo que no tenga sus altibajos’ (ii, p. 330). Although Don Quijote is referring here to the specific ups and downs suffered by Sancho during his famous blanketing at an inn (Part i, Chapter 17), the term altibajos would aptly sum up the whole course of the two characters' adventures together. The circularity of their fates might even help explain why this novel has been viewed as comic by some readers (focusing on the ups), and as tragic by others (focusing on the downs).

It may be concluded that the windmill episode occurs at the outset of the knight's first journey to alert the reader to the structural and thematic role which the image of Fortune's wheel will play throughout the novel. In fact, if the verb ‘to reign’ in the ‘formula of four’ were to be replaced with ‘to be a knight’ the entire novel might be summarized as, among many other things, the account of one man's revolution around Fortune's wheel. In the opening chapter, as a reader of chivalry books aspiring to be a knight, the hidalgo would appear on the wheel's ascending side, expressing: I will be a knight. From the second chapter to at least the end of Part i, as a madman imagining himself a knight, Don Quijote would appear atop the wheel, expressing: I am a knight. When he begins to doubt his knighthood, perhaps as early as the opening of Part ii or the encounter with the ‘enchanted Dulcinea’ (Part ii, Chapter 10),52 and definitely after his defeat by the Knight of the White Moon (Part ii, Chapter 64), he would appear on the wheel's descending side, expressing: I was a knight. In the final chapter, where he regains his sanity and renounces chivalry, Alonso Quijano would appear beneath the wheel, expressing in no uncertain terms: I am not a knight.

Anyone still sceptical about the bearing of the regno-regnavi theme on the Quijote should consider the even more obvious parody of it in the subplot of Sancho's quest to become governor of an island. Following Don Quijote's promise of a governorship to him during their first dialogue (Part i, Chapter 7), and the knight's reiteration of that promise on a number of later occasions (for example, Part i, Chapter 30; Part ii, Chapter 3), the peasant-squire entertains a constant dream corresponding with the aim of the regnabo figure ascending Fortune's wheel. When he assumes the rulership of a farcical province granted him by the Duke and Duchess (Part ii, Chapter 45) he incarnates a comical version of the regno figure enthroned atop the wheel. But later, after ‘falling’ in a mock battle and abdicating his rule (Part ii, Chapter 53), he comically conforms to the images of the dethroned regnavi figure cast off from the wheel, and the sum sine regno figure crushed beneath it.53

By the time Don Quijote meets his final defeat on the Barcelona beach, both he and Sancho have taken a full spin around Fortune's wheel, the one in pursuit of chivalric dreams, the other in quest of a governorship. It thus makes perfect sense that they have Fortune on their minds as they begin their homeward journey (Part ii, Chapter 66). Serving as a kind of epitaph to their whole career together, their brief but remarkable exchange on the subject of Fortune as they depart from Barcelona completes a circle back to the image of Fortune's wheel embodied in the windmill early on. When Don Quijote turns to gaze at the spot where he fell, and laments how ‘aquí usó la fortuna conmigo sus vueltas y revueltas’, Sancho responds by citing his own misfortune as fallen governor (‘si cuando era gobernador estaba alegre, agora que soy escudero de a pie, no estoy triste’) to support his own view of Fortune as ‘una mujer borracha y anojadiza, y, sobre todo, ciega’, who ‘no vee lo que hace, ni sabe a quién derriba, ni a quién ensalza’ (ii, p. 600). However, Don Quijote dismisses his squire's conventional medieval notion of Fortune. Utterly humbled by his defeat, the melancholy knight who once cockily attacked the wheel of Fortune in the form of a windmill now rejects the very concept of her in favour of divine providence, as did Augustine long before him—a step that must have pleased Cervantes's censors!:

‘Muy filósofo estás, Sancho’, respondió don Quijote; ‘muy a lo discreto hablas; no sé quién te lo enseña. Lo que te sé decir es que no hay Fortuna en el mundo, ni las cosas que en él suceden, buenas o malas que sean, vienen acaso, sino por particular providencia de los cielos, y de aquí viene lo que suele decirse: que cada uno es artífice de su ventura.’

(ii, p. 600)54


  1. Miguel de Cervantes, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (Mexico, D.F., 1981), Part ii, p. 329. All further textual references to Don Quijote are to this edition. For my English paraphrases I have consulted the Ormsby translation of Don Quixote, edited by Joseph R. Jones and Kenneth Douglas (New York, 1981).

  2. See Walter Nigg, Der christliche Narr (Zurich, 1956), p. 257.

  3. For example, Charles V. Aubrun, ‘The Reason of Don Quixote's Unreason’, translated by Louise K. Wornom and Ellen Lempera, in Critical Essays on Cervantes, edited by Ruth El Saffar (Boston, Massachusetts, 1986), pp. 60-66 (p. 63); Ruth El Saffar, ‘In Praise of What is Left Unsaid: Thoughts on Women and Lack in Don Quijote’, Modern Language Notes, 103 (1988), 205-21.

  4. See Dominique Aubier, Don Quichotte, Prophète d'Israël (Paris, 1966), Chapter 10, ‘Des moulins sans mystère’.

  5. See Arturo Marasso Rocca, Cervantes (Buenos Aires, 1947), pp. 19-20.

  6. See Francisco Maldonado de Guevara, ‘Molinos de viento, tres meditaciones’, Anales Cervantinos, 4 (1954), 77-100 (p. 77).

  7. See Ann Livermore, ‘Cervantes and St. Augustine’, Month, 212 (1961), 262-63.

  8. See William Avery, ‘Elementos dantescos del Quijote’, Anales Cervantinos, 9 (1961-62), 1-28.

  9. Américo Castro, ‘Incarnation in “Don Quixote”’, in Cervantes Across the Centuries: A Quadricentennial Volume, edited by Ángel Flores and M. J. Bernardete (New York, 1969), pp. 146-88 (p. 153).

  10. Castro, p. 154.

  11. Emile Mâle, The Gothic Image: Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century, translated by Dora Nussey (New York, 1958), p. 97.

  12. Mémoires et documents, Societé d'histoire de la Suisse romande, Volume iv, Le Mireour du monde, edited by Félix Chavannes (Lausanne, 1845), p. 67. The passage I quoted is incorrectly cited by Mâle, who attributes it to the Somme le roi (p. 95 n. 4), which was compiled in 1279 by the Dominican Friar Laurent for Philippe III of France. Le Mireour du monde is related to the Somme le roi, but is much longer. It was widely translated (for example, into English as Ayenbyte of Inwyt (‘Remorse of Conscience’) and printed by Caxton as The Book Ryal or the Book for a Kyng (1481)). I did not find the sentence about Dame Fortune in the section on pride in the Ayenbyte. (I have not checked Caxton or any of the other translations.) The Somme was also translated widely, including into Catalan and Spanish. It may be that those translations contain the passage about Dame Fortune. But it does not seem to be in Laurent's 1279 original.

  13. See Diccionario enciclopédico de la lengua castellana, compiled by Elías Zerolo and others, fourth edition, 2 vols (Paris, n.d.), s.v. ‘fortuna’.

  14. The most thorough study of the distinction is Vincenzo Cioffari's Fortune and Fate from Democritus to St. Thomas Aquinas (New York, 1935).

  15. See David M. Robinson, Pindar, A Poet of Eternal Ideas (Baltimore, 1936), p. 51; and his ‘The Wheel of Fortune’, Classical Philology, 41 (1946), 207-16 (pp. 207-12).

  16. A. B. Cook, ‘Zeus, Jupiter and the Oak’, Classical Review, 17 (1903), 403-21 (p. 421). For a full discussion of Fortune among the Romans, see Howard R. Patch, The Tradition of the Goddess Fortuna in Roman Literature, Smith College Studies, 3 (Northampton, Massachusetts, 1922), pp. 131-77.

  17. See H. V. Canter, ‘“Fortuna” in Latin Poetry’, Studies in Philology, 19 (1922), 64-82 (pp. 77-78), and Robinson, ‘Wheel of Fortune’, pp. 212-14.

  18. C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge, 1964), pp. 75, 81.

  19. Howard R. Patch, The Goddess Fortuna in Mediaeval Literature (New York, 1967), p. 3.

  20. Howard Rollin Patch, The Tradition of Boethius: A Study of His Importance in Medieval Culture (New York, 1935), p. 96. Compare pp. 121-22.

  21. See Augustine's De civitate dei, Book iv, Chapter 18, where he discusses Fortune and Felicity, and Book v, Chapter i, where he argues that the greatness of the Roman Empire is neither fortuitous (fortuita) nor fatal (fatalis), but rather, the necessary result of the order of divine providence.

  22. See Patch, Fortuna in Mediaeval Literature, pp. 17-35.

  23. See F. P. Pickering, Literature and Art in the Middle Ages (London, 1970), pp. 169-91.

  24. See Patch, Fortuna in Mediaeval Literature, pp. 152-54.

  25. Cited from the Michelant edition, page 522, lines 2-3, by Patch, Fortuna in Mediaeval Literature, p. 160. The development of this motif is traced by S. L. Galpin in ‘Fortune's Wheel in the Roman de la Rose’, PMLA, 24 (1909), 332-42 (p. 334). For other examples, see Patch, Fortuna in Mediaeval Literature, p. 160, n. 1.

  26. See James P. R. Lyell, Early Book Illustration in Spain (New York, 1976), p. 93, fig. 73. For earlier illustrations see Patch, Fortuna in Mediaeval Literature, pp. 60, 164, and plates 10 and 11; Pickering, Literature and Art, p. 190, n. 1, and plates 1b, 2a, 2b.

  27. In addition to Patch's Fortuna in Mediaeval Literature, especially Chapter 5, ‘Fortune's Wheel’, see Von A. Doren, ‘Fortuna Im Mittelalter und in der Renaissance’, in Vorträge der Bibliothek Warburg, 2 (1922-23), 71-114; K. Weinhold, Glücksrad und Lebensrad (Berlin, 1892).

  28. See Patch, Tradition of Boethius, p. 65.

  29. Patch, Tradition of Boethius, pp. 97-98.

  30. Pickering, Literature and Art, p. 192.

  31. See Wirnt von Grafenberg, Wigalois, The Knight of Fortune's Wheel, translated by J. W. Thomas (Lincoln, Nebraska, 1977), especially pp. 29-38.

  32. See Pilar Fernández-Cañadas de Greenwood, Pastoral Poetics: The Uses of Conventions in Renaissance Pastoral Romances—‘Arcadia’, ‘La Diana’, ‘La Galatea’, ‘L'strée’ (Madrid, n.d.), pp. 109-12.

  33. See Colbert I. Nepaulsingh, Towards a History of Literary Composition in Medieval Spain (Toronto, 1986), pp. 192, 194.

  34. See Jannis C. Notebaart, Windmühlen, der Stand der Forschung über das Vorkommen und den Ursprung (Paris, 1972), pp. 372, 378.

  35. See Pickering, Literature and Art, pp. 206, 214.

  36. For example, Boccaccio describes some of his young storytellers strolling toward a windmill (mulina) that is blowing in the breeze in the conclusion to the fourth day of the Decamerone, while the famous ‘Windmill Psalter’ (East Anglia, late thirteenth century) is named after the windmill pictured at the top of the illustration of the initial ‘E’ on the Beatus page. See Pickering, Literature and Art, plate 9b; Robert G. Calkins, Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages (Ithaca, New York, 1983), pp. 214-25.

  37. John Reynolds, Windmills and Watermills (London, 1970), p. 91.

  38. Pickering, Literature and Art, p. 218.

  39. See Notebaart, Windmühlen, pp. 193, 367-68.

  40. Notebaart, p. 196.

  41. Gregorio Prieto, Molinos (Madrid, 1966), p. 21.

  42. See Howard Mancing, The Chivalric World of ‘Don Quijote’: Style, Structure, and Narrative Technique (Columbia, Missouri, 1982), pp. 46-48.

  43. Américo Castro, Hacia Cervantes (Madrid, 1960), p. 195, n. 3. For an instance in La Diana where the author (Montemayor) apparently alters his argument regarding fortune to protect against the possible attack and censure of the Index, see Fernández-Cañadas, Pastoral Poetics, pp. 111-12, 112, n. 20.

  44. Lewis, The Discarded Image, p. 83.

  45. For example, in recounting the serendipity by which he came across Cide Hamete Benengeli's Arabic manuscript of Don Quijote's history, the narrator acknowledges that he would never have discovered it ‘si el cielo, el caso y la fortuna no me ayudaran’ (i, p. 49). Later, shut up in a cage on an ox-cart, Don Quijote confides to Sancho his hope of becoming a king of some kingdom, ‘favoreciéndome el cielo, y no me siendo contraria la fortuna’ (i, p. 293).

  46. The etymological kinship of these two terms accounts for the humorous error the housekeeper makes when she communicates to Sansón Carrasco her suspicion that Don Quijote is going to escape for a third time ‘a buscar por ese mundo lo que él llama venturas; que yo no puedo entender cómo les da este nombre’ (ii, p. 343). As Jones and Douglas remark in their note to Ormsby's English rendering of this passage, venturas, which the housekeeper mistakes for aventuras, would mean ‘strokes of good fortune’ (Don Quixote, Ormsby translation, p. 457, n. 1).

  47. Patch, Fortuna in Mediaeval Literature, pp. 170-71.

  48. See, for example, the introduction to and Chapter 1 of Frederic R. Karl, The Adversary Literature: The English Novel in the Eighteenth Century. A Study in Genre (New York, 1974).

  49. Pickering, Literature and Art, p. 201. See plates 3a, 3b, 4b.

  50. See Pickering, p. 204.

  51. Entremés de los romances, in Varias obras inéditas de Cervantes, edited by Adolfo de Castro (Madrid, 1874), p. 159. Reprinted in Cuatro entremeses atribuidos a Miguel de Cervantes (Barcelona, 1957).

  52. See Mancing, The Chivalric World, Chapters 3-5; Salvador de Madariaga, Don Quixote: An Introductory Essay in Psychology (London, 1961), especially pp. 146-85.

  53. In accordance with the roe-boe motif, Sancho's figurative ‘fall’ from power is reinforced by the physical falls he suffers in the process. Bound between two shields, ostensibly for protection during the battle, he eventually ‘fué dar consigo en el suelo tan gran golpe, que pensó que había hecho pedazos’ (ii, p. 544). Later, on his way back to the ducal castle, he is caused by ‘su corta y desventurada suerte’ (ii, p. 551) to fall into a pit with his donkey, whom he then bids: ‘pide a la fortuna … que nos saque deste miserable trabajo’ (ii, p. 552).

  54. I should like to thank Jan M. Ziolkowski for referring me to several of the studies on medieval literature cited in this article.

Edward Friedman (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8374

SOURCE: Friedman, Edward. “Reading Inscribed: Don Quixote and the Parameters of Fiction.” In On Cervantes: Essays for L. A. Murillo, edited by James A. Parr, pp. 63-84. Newark, Del.: Juan de la Cuesta, 1991.

[In the following essay, Friedman discusses how in Don Quixote Cervantes explores the relationship between literature and life.]

A blessing on Cide Hamete Benengeli, who has written the history of your great deeds, and a double blessing on that connoisseur who took the trouble of having it translated out of Arabic into our Castilian tongue for the universal entertainment of the people.

(II, 3, 438)

There comes a time in literary history in which those who create and those who partake of texts begin to presuppose the inseparability of literature and life. Writing and reading, two types of word processing, are no longer viewed as fringe activities but as part of the act of perception, as part of reality. Don Quixote is not the first text to acknowledge the interconnection, but it is arguably the most eloquent expression of the relation between the verbal order and other orders. Through a number of recourses, Cervantes articulates the place of the text in the world and the place of the world in the text. When the first part of Don Quixote makes its way into the real world—and when a literary enemy of Cervantes writes an unauthorized sequel—it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to accept the notion of a stable system of signs. If the world is a stage, writers and readers and directors, and deflectors, of meaning. The fact that Don Quixote aggressively is about literature does not render it less about life, less anchored to reality. Writing about reading points in both directions, or to a single, and eminent, domain.

In a very short story entitled “Continuidad de los parques” (“Continuity of Parks”), the Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar asks readers to contemplate the situation of a protagonist who, on reading about the maneuverings of two would-be assassins, discovers that the scene of the crime will be the study that contains the green velvet chair where he sits in anticipation of the novel's dénouement.1 This is a variation of sorts of what is called “the actor's nightmare,” the dilemma of being on stage with no script or no memory, a character in search of an author. In Cortázar's story, the reader is inescapably inscribed into the text; he can neither be passive nor anonymous, nor can he fail to make the readers “reading” him reflect upon themselves as signs, as part of the story. The operative term here may be emplotment, in a double sense: the author organizes the material into a plot, and readers find that as they decode the plot they must encode themselves. Reading is subject and object, common denominator and point of synthesis between life and art, text and context. Cortázar associates reading with life, an end to reading with death. In Don Quixote, Cervantes explores and expands the role of the reader, brings the book into the world and vice versa, and emplots into the practice of writing a theory of reading with precocious ties to contemporary theories of aesthetic response. His novel ends with the symbolic and ambiguous death of the reader/protagonist.

Art traditionally has been described as a mirror to life, and there is perhaps no mirror more pertinent to my topic than the painted mirror that occupies the center of Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas (The Ladies in Waiting), a work of art produced, like Don Quixote, in seventeenth-century Spain. Las Meninas is a tribute to self-referentiality. It depicts a room whose walls are lined with paintings. It shows an open doorway which converts an observer into the subject of a portrait. The window from which light enters implies a framed external reality, a fragment of life imitating art. The artist at work on a canvas is Velázquez himself, caught in the act of creation. He is positioned such that his focal point is not the young princess with her retinue but two figures—the king and queen of Spain—who stand before him and who make their way into the painting through a mirror image, yet another framing device. Outside the picture, the public may inhabit the regal sphere; the artist is poised toward them, the models for the unseen work in progress. Were the mirror real, they would be the central image, as well. The artist and the subjects of Las Meninas are observers—spectators—of a canvas seen only through reflection. Not only does Velázquez unite process and product, but he combines analogy (art within art) with the decentered image, or shifting focus. Perceiving the painting is alternating figure and ground, viewing viewers, entering the purview.2 The topic of Las Meninas is, ultimately, not the creation of art, which would link it to writing, but the observation of art, which links it to reading. While Don Quixote similarly devotes considerable space, literal and conceptual, to questions of composition—to the relation between the real author, the fictionalized Cervantes, and their numerous alter egos, and to history and poetry, truth and invention—one can hardly overemphasize the significance of reception, of reading, in the message systems of the text.

If nineteenth-century historicism gives priority to the author and if the various schools of formalism favor the text as an entity unto itself, recent theory has found a place for the reader. Informed by philosophy, psychology, and linguistics, among other disciplines, literary analysis may underscore the interaction of text and reader, object and consumer. Reader-response theory and criticism tend to emphasize three areas of investigation: what individual or collective readers bring into the reading process (their intertextual and experiential baggage, so to speak), how readers read texts, and how texts acknowledge the reading process. Practitioners generally regard their contribution as functionalist or pragmatic, a search for the effect rather than for the meaning of literature.3 This complex and fascinating enterprise is not without stumbling blocks or paradox. Despite the fact that every reader—and every reading—is different, the study of reception must be, in part, conventional, as opposed to purely subjective or free-form. Outlining the conditions and parameters of response is highly problematical. Readers are engaged and disengaged, informed and uninformed, attuned and oblivious to specific recourses, linguistically or culturally competent and incompetent, tolerant and intolerant, reading to learn and learning to read. A given reader will respond in a certain fashion to a first reading, in another to a second, third, or fiftieth. George Orwell's 1984 is not the same text in 1990 that it was in 1949 or even in 1983. Readers may refrain from asking what a text can do for them in order to examine what they can do for—and to—a text. And if this were not enough to challenge affective uniformity, or classification of response, one could mention the resistance of fictional texts to understanding and to analysis.

Texts contain indeterminacies and gaps, expectation norms and deviation from the norm.4 While moving through the text, the reader recodes the intertext—the literary and cultural legacy—and revises perspective, seeks consistency and justifies inconsistency. At times, battle imagery is appropriate for the encounter of text and reader, and the text seems to triumph. Jonathan Culler describes the confrontation as follows: “Reading is an attempt to understand writing by determining the referential and rhetorical modes of a text, translating the figurative into the literal, for example, and removing obstacles in the quest for a coherent result, but the construction of texts—especially of literary works, where pragmatic contexts do not so readily justify a confident distinction between the literal and the figurative or the referential and the nonreferential—may block this process of understanding. … The reader may be placed in impossible situations where there is no happy issue but only the possibility of playing out roles dramatized in the text.”5 Don Quixote is nothing if not a dramatized reader, strutting his hour upon a stage remade to conform to the geography of the romances of chivalry. Cervantes remakes the chivalric hero to foreground the effects of reading and to develop a correspondence between the protagonist and the consumers of the text.

Much of recent theory tells us that the “intentional fallacy”—the critical quest for the author's intention—is indeed a fallacy, while the “affective fallacy”—the focus on the reader rather than on the artifact in isolation—is perfectly valid. Stanley Fish uses the phrase “affective fallacy fallacy” to stress the crucial role of the reader.6 Georges Poulet notes: “Books are objects. On a table, on shelves, in store windows, they wait for someone to come and deliver them from their materiality, from their immobility. When I see them on display, I look at them as I would at animals for sale, kept in little cages, and so obviously hoping for a buyer. … Isn't the same true of books? Made of paper and ink, they lie where they are put until the moment someone shows an interest in them. They wait. Are they aware that an act of man might suddenly transform their existence? They appear to be lit up with that hope. Read me, they seem to say.”7 Reading is the union of man (or woman) and book, and aesthetic response theory views the relation as symbiotic, indivisible. Reading has a history, precedence, precedents. We are able to take books for granted, while the novelty of the printed word and the transition from an oral to a written culture offered a radically different experience for the seventeenth-century reader.

Current theory concerns itself with conventions of reading and with communities of readers; it acknowledges, at least implicitly, a longstanding creative and critical tradition. Cervantes, while always mindful of the texts that inspire and energize his own, seems conscious, as well, of tradition in the making. Alonso Quijano the reader is his test case. Part One of Don Quixote is at the same time an object under construction (and under deconstruction) and an object in the marketplace, a work written and read within its own pages and in its continuation(s). If the romances of chivalry are the inspiration—and the principal point of mediation—for the 1605 Quixote, the first part itself—along with Avellaneda's spurious sequel—mediates the “legitimate” second part. The plot of Part Two depends on the reading of Part One by Sansón Carrasco, the Duke and Duchess, and other characters, and the reading of the “false” continuation by Cervantes. In Part One, Don Quixote projects himself as a protagonist of the historical record; in Part Two, his “true history” is in the public domain. He discusses the reception of the text, and in a triumphant moment—for the knight errant and for metafiction—he has the opportunity to peruse the tome that details his exploits. Don Quixote lives by the book. Those who wish to combat his madness “write” themselves into the scenario by fighting fire with fire (sometimes literally), by actualizing—acting out—their own readings. When Part One enters the so-called real world, the madness and the distinction between fact and fiction become more difficult to define. The readers within the text emulate Don Quixote and validate his fantasies. The readers outside the text—ourselves—figure in the analogical system and belong to both realms. In his scrutiny of authorial control and aesthetic response—of writing and reading—Cervantes anticipates and incorporates the problems that inform modern theory.

In an essay entitled “What Is an Author?,” Michel Foucault uses the term “author-function” to sustain the thesis that literary discourse is the combination of various modes of discourse, one of which—but only one—derives from the author. The author is a dimension of multidimensional discourse, not the creator of language but a function added to or grafted onto existing forms of discourse.8 This view of the author suggests an identity crisis not unlike the struggle for authority (authority) in Don Quixote. The prologuist and his friend, the archivists of La Mancha, the Arab historian Cide Hamete Benengeli, the Moorish translator, the “second author,” Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, and the numerous storytellers and writers in the text bespeak a narrative coalition. The real Miguel de Cervantes cedes space and power to the fictional second—secondary—author. The situation would seem to confirm Foucault's point that the author is more an interpretive construct than the controlling agent of discourse: “[those] aspects of an individual which we designate as making him an author are only a projection, in more or less psychologizing terms, of the operations that we force texts to undergo, the connections that we make, the traits that we establish as pertinent, the continuities that we recognize, or the exclusions that we practice. All these operations vary according to periods and types of discourse.”9 Both Cervantes' corps of authors and Foucault's relegation of the author/creator to author-function place arbitration above independence, the variable above the fixed, and dialectical shifts above a preconceived design. In other words, the communicative process described by Foucault and put into practice by Cervantes prioritizes the reader over the writer.

Las Meninas is a painting about—among other things—false centers. The inclusion of the artist, works of art, and framed “reality” may seem to exalt Velázquez, the creator re-created in the portrait. From another perspective, however, the effect may be quite different. The paintings on the wall, the window, the open doorway, and the mirror are borrowings from other artists, artisans, and nature. They are Velázquez's raw material, his sources; he is their “second author,” the “author-function” of the canvas. His presence denotes an absence by denying omnipresence, by displaying his creative labor in the context of other works. He subordinates his authority by limiting his control over the finished product, by making himself a consumer, an observer. Cervantes' “second author” similarly inscribes himself into a tableau composed of writers, writings, and oral performances. His closest comrade in letters may be the Moorish transcriber of Cide Hamete Benengeli's manuscript, who writes as he reads, who imposes himself on the discourse of another with no claim to autonomy. The “second author” generates the text, not from his imagination but from his reading of the source material. In order to write, he must read. What he reads is about a reader and about a retinue of readers, and what he writes is self-consciously directed to his own readership. Cervantes transforms the chivalric hero into a voracious reader who gives new meaning to mimesis, to art as imitation. Don Quixote seeks poetic justice but must settle for poetic license. He is honor-bound to the literary past, and his actions establish the direction of the historical present, the moment of composition. The implied “first author” or, more properly, authors must witness the events to be recorded. The “second author” renders his account from theirs. Like the hero, the writer becomes a reader.

Cervantes' novel depends on a reciprocity reminiscent of the mirror image of Las Meninas, an image which brings the external world into the domain of art and at the same time recasts reality to conform to the conventions of the new medium. The result is neither the “real” monarchs nor their reflection but the pictorial expression of the reflection: a portrait thrice-removed from its source. The structure of Don Quixote presupposes a chivalric ideal based on a code of conduct, a movement from society to romance and back to society via Don Quixote's interpretive strategies. The final vision, or final version, of this venture belongs to the realm of art, but the locus of the knight errantry is an identifiable Spain. Although the written word is model and arbiter, Don Quixote must prove himself in the real world. The second part of the story owes its narrative thrust to the worldly success of Part One and to Cervantes' very real anger toward the author of the sequel. The interplay of truth and falsehood, perception and misperception, marks the trajectory of Part One. In Part Two, the distinction between the imaginary and the real cedes to reader response, that is, to a re-creation of Don Quixote's fictive urge by readers of the “true history.” These characters, in essence, “write” Part Two—and write themselves into Part Two—by dramatizing what they have read in Part One. Rather than expose Don Quixote to the things of the world, they verify his delusions. Rather than reject a tale of madness, they emulate the madman. They are, in short, the antithesis of idle readers.

The text not only tells a story but shares its method—lays bare its devices, as Russian Formalism would say—through metacritical discourse.10 In the essay, “Fiction as Interpretation,” Naomi Schor argues that

… from the notion that fiction is self-conscious and reflects upon its own representation of speech acts, to the notion … that novels also represent and reflect upon interpretation as performance, there is not such a very far way to go. … It has taken the importation of semiotics into the field of literary criticism for us to discover and turn to account a rather simple fact: novels are not only about speaking and writing (encoding), but also about reading, and by reading I mean the decoding of all manner of signs and signals. If, as I am suggesting, interpretation is viewed not as something that is done to fiction but rather as something that is done in fiction, then to be against interpretation becomes an untenable position, for it is tantamount to rejecting a considerable body of … fiction that is explicitly, indeed insistently, concerned with interpretation: its scope and limits, its necessity and frustration. In dealing with what I call the fictions of interpretation, the critic [and, one might add, the reader] finds himself in somewhat the same situation as Joseph K. [in Franz Kafka's The Trial]: ‘He hardly had the choice now to accept the trial or reject it, he was in the middle of it, and must fend for himself.’11

Schor borrows—from semiotics—the term interpretant to describe the interpreting character whose circumstance invites comparison with the reader/critic's, to the degree that “if there existed a barometer capable of measuring the narcissistic gratification afforded by literary works, then fictions of interpretation would push the needle way over, for what could comfort and delight the interpreter more than to find the interpretant, his specular image, shimmering on the printed page, mirroring his confusions as well as his triumphs?”12

Don Quixote and the “second author”13 occupy much of the interpreting space of Don Quixote. The knight errant's sallies are active readings of the romances of chivalry (just as the metaplots of Sansón Carrasco, the Duke and Duchess, and other characters in Part Two stem from active readings of Part One). The “second author” addresses his first prologue to the desocupado lector (the idle reader), yet the narrative plan calls for a reversal of idleness through engaged, critical, active reading. The text deconstructs three apparent examples of passivity: the leisure reading of the hidalgo Alonso Quijano, the routine compilation of data by the second author (who in the prologue is reduced to listening in silence to the words of his friend), and the escapist fiction or historical facts that would place few demands on the reader. Aroused by the spirit of chivalry, Don Quixote leaves home. Moved by the sense of an ending, the fictional Cervantes goes in search of missing pages from the historical record. Embroiled in deciphering signs and determining a course of attack—in following Don Quixote—the reader enters the game, and the frame.

Despite the claim, brilliantly argued, by a number of British Hispanists—among them Peter Russell, Anthony Close, and Edwin Williamson—that Don Quixote is, first and foremost, burlesque, satire, a “funny book,”14 the novel seems intent upon flouting the mechanisms of writing and the mechanics of reading, upon admitting—forcing—the reader into the text. Satire is generally more straightforward than literary theory or self-referentiality; only rarely is it a treatise on form, and almost never is it an exercise in ambiguity. The “funny book” approach is based on the history of reception, on reaction to Don Quixote by seventeenth-century readers. Reader response, as distinguished from reception, works to articulate the interaction—the sense of immediacy—between text and reader. At times, response is directly related to reception, as Close has shown in his study, The Romantic Approach to Don Quixote, which argues that the modern reader is predisposed to read the novel “seriously” as a result of the legacy of German Romanticism. (Close and his colleagues may be accused of falling into the same trap, by attempting to predispose the reader to read Don Quixote as burlesque, just as I am making a case for approaching the text as variations on the theme of performance.) Reader response would accentuate the internal history—the stories in and of the text—to demonstrate how the narrative addresses, underscores, and undermines the reading process. Both Don Quixote and the “second author” continually face the question of how to proceed. The romances of chivalry and the “true histories” are their guides. The account of their choices serves as the principal marker for the filling-in of gaps, for the resolution—or justification—of indeterminacies by the reader. The ingenious author and the ingenious gentleman lead parallel lives: their respective quests are functions of literary convention, while the execution of their goals is unconventional, anticonventional. Both rewrite the intertext, and both possess a historical self-consciousness. Both let themselves be led by words, imprinted on the page or on the mind. This pursuit of a verbal order, amid confusing and contradictory signs, is their link with the reader.

At the end of the eighth chapter of Part One, when “the author of this history leaves the battle [between Don Quixote and the Biscayan] in mid air,” the “second author” has no story to retell; he is a reader who has turned the last page of his book. We do not know who this author—who should be a composite of authors—is, but the next chapter provides a new manuscript and a “first author” with a name, albeit in a foreign tongue. The “second author” can continue reading, this time in translation. Cervantes structures the remaining chapters of Part One around the motif of the interrupted story, which calls attention to performative elements—writing, reciting, reading out loud—and to reception. In the closing chapter of Part One, the history repeats itself: “But the author of this history, though he has devoted research and industry to the discovery of the deeds achieved by Don Quixote on his third sally, has been unable to obtain any information respecting them, at any rate derived from authentic documents.”15 An aged physician produces a leaden box containing parchment records of further adventures, a find which promises to enrich the plot line and to shatter the already precarious temporal scheme. In chapter 8, the “author of this history” seems to be an implied first author; in chapter 52, “the trustworthy author of this new and unparalleled history” sounds like the “second author” when he “asks of those that shall read it nothing in return for the vast toil it has cost him in examining and searching the Manchegan archives in order to bring it to light” (402). Ten years later, when the second part is published (or one month later, when the story resumes), authorship is, thanks to the ironies of history—true history—a real issue. The prologue centers on the reception of the first part and on the intrusive power of the Avellaneda continuation. Cervantes states his case before the reading public, who become, in essence, the protagonists of Part Two.

In light of the real struggle for authorial control—a burden for Cervantes and a blessing for the novel—the problem of authorship within the text takes a new direction. Fate casts Cervantes into the role of the “second author” of Part Two, for someone has beat him to press. Just as Don Quixote must fight to defeat Sansón Carrasco disguised as the Knight of the Mirrors, Cervantes must exert his authority over the pseudonymous writer of the sequel, to correct—to eradicate—a false image. Part Two of Don Quixote is populated with readers-turned-writers, each of whom seeks to usurp the creative control of the knight, and, by implication, of the real author. Ironically, the first chapter of Part Two ignores the truncated history and the newly-discovered exploits in Gothic script which end Part One, to begin: “Cide Hamete Benengeli, in the Second Part of this history, and third sally of Don Quixote, says that the priest and the barber remained nearly a month without seeing him in order not to recall, or bring back to his memory, what had taken place” (425). The narrator chooses not to revive the authorship question nor to shake the collective memory of his readership. But we know from the earlier book that memory is not so important if one can read. If Part One engenders authors who become readers, Part Two engenders readers whose intertext—and nexus—is Part One.

Reduplication—and with it, multiplication—is perhaps the central motif of Don Quixote, Part Two. We, the readers, see how numerous readers react to the reading experience, within and beyond the fiction. One of these readers is, of course, Cervantes himself. Miguel de Unamuno notes on various occasions that Don Quixote invented Cervantes—made him immortal16—and one may add that Cervantes keeps Avellaneda alive by bringing him into the “true history.” Not only do Sansón Carrasco, the Duke and Duchess, and other characters respond to Part One, but Don Jerónimo and Don Juan—guests at the inn in Part Two, chapter 59—speak disparagingly of the sequel and let Don Quixote read a portion of the text. When, in chapter 72, Don Alvaro Tarfe appears, Don Quixote knows from his own reading that the gentleman is a prominent character in the false continuation. When Don Alvaro signs an affidavit before a public notary to the effect that this is not the Don Quixote he has known previously, Cervantes does what Mateo Alemán had done earlier to avenge a false continuation of Guzmán de Alfarache: he bests the competition yet gives his rival a place in posterity, an identity for future readers. This type of irony may determine a reading of the end of Part Two. Alonso Quijano dies, but Don Quixote lives on in the book. On his deathbed, he begs the pardon of the author of the second part of his adventures, but he has assured that author and his colleagues of a treasured page in literary history. And his literary existence has presented the act of reading in a unique and beautifully reflective light.

In Guzmán de Alfarache, Mateo Alemán allows the publication of the spurious sequel to alter not only the direction but the spirit of his work. The voice of the author, always implicit and generally intrusive, breaks even the illusion of narrative autonomy in the legitimate Part II. The autobiographical unity, the path toward conversion, the interplay of sin and penitence, and the movement toward the formation of the “perfect man,” however precarious in the first part of the novel, are upstaged in the second part by Alemán's obsession with revelation and revenge.17 The ironic naming of the pseudonymous author of the sequel and the symbolic condemnation of the theft give the text—supposedly Guzmán's—a new and unsettling orientation. In terms of literary artistry, the unveiling of the author, the analogical re-creation of the plagiarism, and the besting of a picaresque rival may be considered high points of the Guzmán. Alemán dramatizes his anguish and perhaps finds release in the invented conquest. He exposes and belittles his enemy, just as Guzmán outshines his own fraudulent counterpart, Sayavedra. The internal symmetry and the subtlety of this portion of the text cannot conceal a significant miscalculation on Alemán's part: an inversion of the value of superiority. Since the text contains no post-conversional narrative events—no description of Guzmán's life following the conversion—the discourse itself becomes the story, the means by which to judge the sincerity of the professed change. Guzmán's apparent goal is to emphasize the linear action leading to the moment of contrition, yet Alemán interrupts the progression by dedicating himself to proving his superiority over his imitator and Guzmán's over Sayavedra. Guzmán's victory is pyrrhic, in the sense that his creator and advocate stresses his aptitude for sinful pursuits as the text strays from its pretext. Guzmán is “better” than his competitor, not because he is more inclined toward righteousness but because he is more adept at crime, in short, a more exemplary pícaro. Alemán accuses Mateo Luján (Juan Martí) of misreading Part I, while in Part II he, in effect, misreads the initial objectives of the narrative.

A consequence of the shift from the protagonist's story to the author's revenge in Guzmán de Alfarache is the corresponding recasting of the implied reader. The narratee or fictional reader, the consumer of fiction, is consumed by the wrath of Mateo Alemán. The real reader, the historical reader, the arbiter of the struggle for authenticity becomes the object of the textual messages as the fictional cover is lifted. The dedications to Don Francisco de Rojas (Part I) and Don Juan de Mendoza (Part II), levels above the norm for obsequiousness, contrast with the negative attitude toward the general public, toward the vulgo. In Part II, Alemán must win the favor of the reader, and he places his rhetorical skills at the service of his own redemption. A number of critics view picaresque narrative as a type of self-defense in which the protagonist argues his case before the reader.18 In Guzmán de Alfarache, and especially in Part I, Alemán attempts to distance himself from the lowborn, sinning, New Christian subject, whose source of inspiration is a ludicrous quest for nobility, or for social acceptability. Through the elaborate analogue based on the motif of robbery, Alemán transforms the character's self-defense into his own and, at the same time, and perhaps unwittingly, shortens the distance between creation and creator.

In Alemán's novel, as in Don Quixote and Las Meninas, the real world makes its way into the fiction, but in the picaresque variation there is no glorification of the art object. Alemán diverts the reader's attention from pseudoautobiography and from scrutiny of the penitential stance to the author's destiny in literary circles. He relates to the protagonist as a victim of fate and of human cruelty, and the happy ending may be forced in each instance. The unauthorized sequel disrupts the narrative flow to produce what may be called a countertext, not unlike the display (or intrusion) of baroque language in the narration of Francisco de Quevedo's Buscón. Despite the parallel situation in the history of Don Quixote, and despite Cervantes' distaste for the sequel and for its anonymous author, the continuation by Avellaneda illuminates the semiotic premises of the original. While Alemán sets forth a secular variation of the spiritual confession, Cervantes addresses questions of signification and of the place of texts in the world. Martí's book robs Alemán of his narrative illusion; it distracts the author from the task of defining a unified perspective, from transferring his thoughts, in a reasonable and consistent manner, into the discourse of his narrator. The reader of the Guzmán becomes a citizen, a judge not of the internal fictional proceedings but of a defense, an invective, motivated by extratextual (albeit literary) concerns. The publication of the false Part II of Guzmán de Alfarache leads to the undoing of Mateo Alemán in the public sector and in the pages of his novel. He redeems himself, but, it could be argued, at the expense of verisimilitude and narrative coherence. The ignominious act of Avellaneda is, on the other hand, the best thing that could have happened to Cervantes.

The (true) second part of Don Quixote is built around the fame of the protagonist based on the success of the chronicle(s) of his adventures. The Duke and Duchess are the primary encoders of the plot of Part II, and other characters respond to a reading or recitation of the published text. Don Quixote must confront his verbal representation and the inevitable misreadings of what ironically has become reality. The exploration of signs within the text parallels the semiotic macrostructure of the Quixote. Because the first part of Cervantes' novel, as an entity in the real world, has a definite function in Part II, Avellaneda's sequel amplifies the critical scope and the analytical potential of the genuine continuation. Don Quixote has the opportunity to evaluate both versions of his story, and he is a real reader of the two books while Avellaneda becomes an unlikely implied reader of the 1615 Quixote. The notions of judgment, interpretation, and polysemy are plot elements which engage Don Quixote and his co-readers and which debunk the concept of the “idle reader.” Reading is an active and retroactive pursuit, marked by the strata and the stratagems of self-referentiality. To note the benefits of Avellaneda's intrusive gesture, one need only think of the trip to Zaragoza, where Don Quixote and Sancho would have traveled for the jousting tournaments. Cervantes alludes to the journey at the end of Part I, and Avellaneda incorporates the idea into his work. Cervantes substitutes a trip to Barcelona, where, among other things, Don Quixote visits a printing establishment and finds proof(s) of the spurious sequel. This leads to further confrontations with the false history and puts reading (and readers) at the source of the “action” of Part II.

Juan Martí puts Mateo Alemán on the defensive, and the pseudoautobiography of the first part of Guzmán de Alfarache moves toward vendetta, toward a thinly disguised, if embellished, autobiography in the second part. When Guzmán complains in Part I about life, love, and earthly justice, it may be difficult to separate his voice from Alemán's. When the bitterness grows and is accompanied by the symbolism of the theft in Part II, Guzmán seems to disappear; he becomes the shadow of Alemán, just as Sayavedra becomes the shadow (“la sombra”) of Guzmán before jumping to his death at sea. What may be of interest from the perspective of psychohistory may be an impediment to literary decorum. Don Quixote, which rebels against decorum from the opening sentence of the first chapter (and, earlier, in the introduction), is served by the “shadow” of Avellaneda. The most important intercalated tale in the 1615 Quixote may be the spurious sequel. While Alemán's rival leads him to break the unity offered by the discourse of sin and conversion, Cervantes' rival helps him fulfill his promise to deal with the objections of critics of Part I. Alemán punishes Martí by naming him in the text, by devising a false biography, by re-creating the crime, and by drowning the counterpart of his protagonist. Cervantes profits from the breach of etiquette and from the anonymity of Avellaneda. His story, after all, is about rivalry: rival fictions and rival factions in the literary community, and, most importantly perhaps, competing perceptions of reality. The unauthentic, unauthorized text accentuates the instability of signs, a factor which serves to reinforce the metalinguistic premises of Cervantes' work.

The semiotics of theology links religious faith with a faith in the power of words to convey stable meanings. The argumento which accompanies a number of texts originates as an aid to the reader, not as an ironic counterpoint to the “real” plot. Yet as the world's view of signs changes—a product of the new science, skepticism, or social consciousness—so changes the role of the reader. The idea of a fixed system of interpretation gives the author and the work a certain advantage, or authority, over the reader. Correspondingly, the instability of meaning, which Julia Kristeva sees as a transition from symbol to sign,19 opens texts and gives the reader a new ground of influence. Following such models as the Libro de buen amor, picaresque narrative, with its defensive and potentially ironic rhetoric, marks a loss of faith in the universality of signs and an increased dependence on the reader as decoder of messages. In Don Quixote, Cervantes grants the reader a privileged role in the creative enterprise by exaggerating the variability of signs. The question of truth explored in Part I of the “verdadera historia” is expanded, and complicated, by the objective reality of the published text, and the project receives unexpected support from the unsolicited manuscript of Avellaneda. Both Alemán and Cervantes incorporate the false histories into the legitimate continuations. Alemán finds a means of portraying the theft, but his achievement in the realm of aesthetics cannot mask a breaking of decorum on the discursive level. In spite of the first-person narration of Guzmán, relatively little need be “implied” about the author's presence in Part II. Cervantes, in contrast, may add the voices of the Avellaneda text to those of his own novel. By turning fiction into fact, the spurious sequel strengthens Cervantes' case for the comprehensive vision of narrative and for the open nature of signs. The inconsistency that threatens to mar Guzmán's account is the essence of Don Quixote's history and the principal marker of the reader's task.

In “The Text, the World, the Critic,” Edward W. Said notes that “the Western novelistic tradition, from Don Quixote on, is full of examples of texts insisting not only upon their circumstantial reality but also upon their status as already fulfilling a function, a reference, or a meaning in the world.20 Said's interest in the text as a sign in and of culture—its dialectical relationship with the contexts which alternately embrace it and are embraced by it—suggests the concept of the graft associated with Jacques Derrida and deconstruction. In a discussion of Derrida, Jonathan Culler speaks of “the expansion of context produced by the reinscription within a context of the description of it.”21 Internal and external commentary on a text adds a supplement, a graft, which modifies the product under consideration. The metacommentary within Part I, the published text, the Avellaneda sequel, the popular and critical reception of the texts, and their historical and ideological contexts, as grafts, are inseparable from the signifying systems of the novel. Cervantes seems precociously to work within this expanding frame by providing his own grafts and by reacting to those of others. He shifts focus and perspective in a most conspicuous manner, and he makes the reader the subject, as well as the object, of his writing. Readers outside the text see themselves as grafts reflected in the implied mirror at the center of the novel.

Gerald Prince points out that “many a narrative text … performs some of the reading operations that a given reader may perform. It specifically answers questions pertaining to the nature, the meaning, the role, the appropriateness of its constituent parts. It functions as a text reading itself by commenting explicitly and directly on these constituent parts. …”22 The notion of a text reading itself may be the dominant motif of Don Quixote, which redefines literary realism before the culmination of this phenomenon in nineteenth-century Europe. The writer inserts himself—with other writers, and readers—into the text to ensure the status of the frame, or of what in theater semiotics is called the performance continuum. Cervantes seems to intuit that in its extreme forms (in naturalism, for example), realism displaces the author and, by extension, the reader. The uniqueness of the object, its literariness, is what needs to be concealed. Cervantes rejects the illusion of reality by seeking strength in the analogue, in the verbal order. By internalizing writing and reading, he fights fire with fire. He shows that there is no reality devoid of perception, no vision without a frame, no narrative free of interstices. Don Quixote is about recording events and about such fundamental dichotomies as truth versus fiction and sanity versus madness. The text tells us that the written record reflects, at best, a second or third degree of reality, and also that this is as close, or as far, as one can approximate reality. The writer and the reader are the key players in the game of perception, and of reception. Their mutual dependence suggests that binary oppositions may find a point of contact in the mediating space between the extremes. The questions posed by Cervantes and his narrative allies (and foes)—in a novel ultimately about reader response—call for the active participation of the reader. The text “reading itself” is like the proverbial falling tree; it is dependent on an observer to justify its impact.

In “The Readerhood of Man,” Christine Brooke-Rose divides readers into three categories, as defined by the texts which confront them: the hypocrite lecteur, born of an overdetermined code; the hypercrite lecteur, born of an underdetermined code; and the hypnocrite lecteur, improperly encoded into the text and free to assert anything or nothing about its contents.23 A work such as Lazarillo de Tormes may be seen as a testament to underdetermination and, as would follow, to a joint trust in fiction and in the reader. In Don Quixote, Cervantes carries this trust to its uppermost limits, but at the same time he plays with the ironies of perception and with the conventions of his medium in order to “encode” the reader, in every sense of the term. The writers in the text, “real” and metaphorical, are both overdetermined and underdetermined, as are their “readerly” counterparts. There is, if anything, too much text—too many texts—but the narrative, paradoxically, remains open. It is as if Cervantes wanted the novel to carry its own intertextual (and metacritical) baggage and, at the same time, to maintain the promise of resolution. Readers are hardly absent, unencoded, but there are competing and conflicting explanations of events and of the act of recording events. The reader's place is secure because it is always in transition. This is perhaps not so much the vagueness or deceptive ambiguity of the nouveau roman as a paean to the heightened status of signs, to narrative as experience.

Cervantes, in Don Quixote, recognizes the space between signifier and signified, where indeterminacy and multiplicity of meaning dwell. He emphasizes the limitations, as well as the strengths of the verbal sign, thus converting apparent weakness into strength. He recognizes the force of point of view, rendering discourse a story unto itself. He knows, or intuits, that a given text may use and recreate other texts and devices, that every text represents a confrontation with preceding texts, and that the text will change as literature progresses, as it interacts (“posthumously”) with succeeding texts. He unites word and world. He grants privileged status to the author and to the writing process. He grants equally privileged status to the reader and to the reading experience. Like the aesthetic-response theorists, he is concerned with the background, expectations, and processing strategies of the reader, and with the self-consciousness of both reader and text. Contemporary theorists have been charged with overreaching: while arguing for the freedom of subjectivity, they seek to conventionalize—to objectify—the reading process, a process which may at times correspond to second readings rather than to the spontaneous confrontation of consumer and product. Cervantes is a master of what Wolfgang Iser calls “the wandering viewpoint,” the reader's movement through the text, marked by the unfolding of interconnecting perspectives which are offset whenever there is a switch from one to another. Don Quixote supersedes the problems of reading as process by keeping all options open, by refusing to admit stasis and by bringing points of view—and viewers—into the work of art. In this verbal construct, a paradoxically mimetic construct, literature mediates literature as it interacts with, illuminates—but never upstages—the world.


  1. Julio Cortázar, “Continuidad de los parques,” in Final del juego (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1964) 9-11. For an English translation, see “Continuity of Parks,” in Blow-up and Other Stories, trans. Paul Blackburn (New York: Pantheon Books, 1967) 63-65.

  2. Michel Foucault, “Las Meninas,” in The Order of Things (New York: Pantheon, 1970) 3-16. See also Jonathan Brown, “On the Meaning of Las Meninas,” in Images and Ideas in Seventeenth-Century Spanish Painting (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978) 87-110; Joel Snyder, “Las Meninas and the Mirror of the Prince,” Critical Inquiry 11.4 (1985) 539-72; and Anthony Close, “Centering the De-centerers: Foucault and Las Meninas,Philosophy and Literature 11.1 (1987) 21-36.

  3. For a brief survey of this question, see, for example, Susan R. Suleiman, “Introduction: Varieties of Audience-Oriented Criticism,” in The Reader in the Text, ed. Susan R. Suleiman and Inge Crosman (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980) 3-45; Jane P. Tompkins, introduction to Reader-Response Criticism, ed. Jane P. Tompkins (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980) ix-xxvi; and Jonathan Culler, The Pursuit of Signs (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981) esp. 47-131, and “Stories of Reading,” in On Deconstruction (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982) 64-83. In Don Quixote: The Quest for Modern Fiction (Boston: Twayne, 1990), Carroll B. Johnson notes, “In the final analysis, we professors do not ‘teach literature.’ If we teach anything, it is something about being a reader” (89).

  4. The terms are from Wolfgang Iser's The Act of Reading (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978).

  5. Culler, On Deconstruction 81.

  6. See W. K. Wimsatt, Jr., and Monroe C. Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy” and “The Affective Fallacy,” in W. K. Wimsatt, Jr., The Verbal Icon (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1954) 3-18 and 21-39; and Stanley E. Fish, “The Affective Fallacy Fallacy,” in Self-Consuming Artifacts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974) 400-10.

  7. Georges Poulet, “Criticism and the Experience of Interiority,” trans. Catherine Macksey and Richard Macksey, in Reader-Response Criticism, ed. Jane P. Tompkins, p. 41 [41-49]. See also Paul Julian Smith, “The Erasure of Rhetoric in Cervantes,” in Writing in the Margin: Spanish Literature of the Golden Age (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988) 172-201.

  8. Michel Foucault, “What is an Author?,” in Textual Strategies, ed. Josué V. Harari (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979) 414-60.

  9. Foucault, “What is an Author?” 150.

  10. See, for example, Victor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique” and “Sterne's Tristram Shandy: Stylistic Commentary,” in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, trans. and intro. by Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1965) 3-24 and 25-57.

  11. Naomi Schor, “Fiction as Interpretation/Interpretation as Fiction,” in The Reader in the Text, ed. Susan R. Suleiman and Inge Crosman, 167-68 [165-82].

  12. Schor 169. See also Robert Alter, “The Mirror of Knighthood and the World of Mirrors,” in Partial Magic: The Novel as a Self-Conscious Genre (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975) 1-29; and Linda Hutcheon, Narcissistic Narrative: The Metafictional Paradox (New York and London: Methuen, 1980).

  13. The highly complex and often unfathomable narrative structure of Don Quixote has been an object of critical scrutiny by such scholars as Ruth El Saffar, George Haley, John J. Allen, Howard Mancing, R. M. Flores, John G. Weiger, and James A. Parr. I view el segundo autor, the “second author,” as the writer—within the fiction—of Chapters 1-8 of Part I, who has used the archives of La Mancha and other sources and who discovers Cide Hamete Benengeli's manuscript in the Toledan marketplace (I,9). For a commentary which separates these voices, see Parr, Don Quixote: An Anatomy of Subversive Discourse (Newark, Delaware: Juan de la Cuesta, 1988) esp. 3-19. In a series of essays, Elias L. Rivers has studied the play of voices in Don Quixote through an application which combines Mikhail Bakhtin's “dialogical principle” with speech-act theory.

  14. See, for example, P. E. Russell, “Don Quixote as a Funny Book,” Modern Language Review 54 (1969): 312-26; Anthony Close, The Romantic Approach to Don Quixote (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977; and Edwin Williamson,” ‘Intención’ and ‘Invención’ in the Quixote,Cervantes 8.1 (1988) 7-22. See also Daniel Eisenberg, “Teaching Don Quixote as a Funny Book,” in Approaches to Teaching Cervantes' Don Quixote, ed. Richard Bjornson (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1984) 62-68, and A Study of Don Quixote (Newark, Delaware: Juan de la Cuesta, 1987) esp. 3-44.

  15. Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, The Ormsby Translation, ed. Joseph R. Jones and Kenneth Douglas (New York and London: Norton, 1981) 402. Subsequent quotations from the text will refer to this edition, and page numbers will be indicated in parentheses.

  16. Unamuno underscores this point in Chapter 31 of the novel, Niebla (Mist, 1914), in an existential debate between the fictionalized author and his protagonist, Augusto Pérez. It is significant to note that, for a number of readers and critics, the winner of the debate is the literary character. For an English version of the text, see Miguel de Unamuno, Novela/Nivola, trans. Anthony Kerrigan, Bollingen Series 85.6 (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1976) 3-246.

  17. For a discussion of the spurious sequel to Guzmán de Alfarache by Mateo Luján de Sayavedra (Juan Martí), see Donald McGrady, Mateo Alemán (New York: Twayne, 1968) 113-29. James Mabbe translated Guzmán de Alfarache in the first quarter of the seventeenth century as The Rogue or, The Life of Guzmán de Alfarache [4 vols., London: Constable, 1924]. A standard translation of Lazarillo de Tormes and El Buscón is Michael Alpert's Two Spanish Picaresque Novels (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1969).

  18. Examples include A. Bell, “The Rhetoric of Self-Defence of ‘Lázaro de Tormes,’” Modern Language Review 68 (1973): 84-93; George A. Shipley, “The Critic as Witness for the Prosecution: Making the Case against Lázaro de Tormes,” PMLA 97 (1982): 179-94; and Anthony J. Cascardi, “The Rhetoric of Defense in the Guzmán de Alfarache,Neophilologus 63 (1979): 380-88.

  19. Julia Kristeva, “From Symbol to Sign,” in The Kristeva Reader, ed. Toril Moi (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986) 62-73.

  20. Edward W. Said, “The Text, the World, the Critic,” in Textual Strategies, ed. Josué V. Harari, 177 [161-88].

  21. Culler, On Deconstruction 128.

  22. Gerald Prince, “Notes on the Text as Reader,” in The Reader in the Text, ed. Susan R. Suleiman and Inge Crosman, 230 [225-40].

  23. Christine Brooke-Rose, “The Readerhood of Man,” in The Reader in the Text 120-48.

Julio Rodríguez-Luis (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5516

SOURCE: Rodríguez-Luis, Julio. “On Closure and Openendedness in the Two Quijotes.” In On Cervantes: Essays for L. A. Murillo, edited by James A. Parr, pp. 227-40. Newark, Del.: Juan de la Cuesta, 1991.

[In the following essay, Rodríguez-Luis examines the narrative function and implication of the endings of the two parts of Don Quixote to offer insights into the composition of the work as a whole.]

The question of closure in Don Quijote has received minimal attention in spite of its importance for understanding the composition of the work.1 Studying the narrative function and the implications of Don Quijote's ending, or, more appropriately, endings, since the book is composed of two distinct parts separated by a ten year hiatus, not only illuminates the structure of Cervantes' masterpiece, but also its author's intentions.

Narrative endings express our deeply ingrained belief in an order organized through causality toward a certain goal. It has been argued that endings serve to assert the pattern-seeking tendencies of the human mind, which finds in them the appropriate way of making sense of a chaotic world.2 This is why we naturally like fictional works to end in a decisive manner, and why, consequently, endings that do not seem to contain that sought after point capable of making “sense of what had none before”3 appear to be unsatisfactory.

Closure—a word that expresses better than “ending” its function as that which justifies the cessation of narrative by giving it its full meaning4—is the process through which a narrative reaches a supposedly appropriate conclusion in relation to its own structure or organization and the demands made on it by the work's themes, explicit purpose, and ideology. To be effective, an ending has to seem to come naturally from the narrative's structure; to be fully satisfying, a novel's ending has to fit what we have come to expect and, even more important, what we can accept of characters whom we feel we know well. Of course, our assessment of a text's closure's efficacy is based on the meaning that we assign to the units that make it up, a meaning which is itself a function of their relevance to the perspective that we have adopted.5 That perspective frames our interpretation of the work's closure.

It is almost impossible to determine with absolute certainty whether a given novel has an open ending or is “closed.” This is so basically because it is never possible “to tell whether a given narrative is complete. If the ending is thought up as a tying up in a careful knot, this knot could always be untied again by the narrator or by further events, disentangled or explicated again.” Thus “no novel can be unequivocally finished, or for that matter finished.”6

From early times some narratives tried to reproduce if not exactly the chaos characteristic of the world (for this we will have to await the arrival of modernism), at least the pure contingency of our lives, instead of bestowing upon the representation of human existence a coherence that is only an ideal. Literary closures give human lives as portrayed in literature a shape really unknown to lives in progress. Which is what Ginés de Pasamonte implies when he answers Don Quijote's question as to whether his autobiography is finished: “And how could it be finished when my life is not?”

If we look at the Quijote as a double work, it becomes immediately apparent that its two parts are very different regarding their closure. While the first one rejects it, the second seeks it.

The first part of Don Quijote looks very much like a work in progress, just as if Cervantes had wanted to reproduce in the text's structure the very fact that the life whose story he is narrating is in a forward course, as are all lives until death stops them. Except that this would imply a definite plan, and what characterizes the First Quijote is precisely a lack of a plan beyond what is immediately demanded from following the movements of a protagonist who has left his home also without a plan other than to act like a knight errant. But even depicting the self-proclaimed knight's wanderings as such was not that firm a goal for Cervantes. In 1920 Menéndez Pidal noted a connection between the Entremés de los romances and the first chapters of Don Quijote.7 In the entremés a farmer who has read too many ballads goes out into the world believing that he is a romance-type hero, gets beaten and thinks that he is the legendary character Valdovinos. Just the same as does Don Quijote after receiving his first beating (ch. 5). This coincidence led Menéndez Pidal to suggest that Cervantes had imitated the entremés and that such an imitation had actually helped him, as he turned to the use of knight-errantry instead of ballads, to refine the characterization of his loco-cuerdo away from the model provided by the simplistic protagonist of the entremés. Regardless now of whether Menéndez Pidal's thesis is correct or whether, as it has been argued, it was the entremés that copied Cervantes' work,8 Don Quijote's turning to the imitation of a ballad, and immediately afterwards to imitating the protagonist of the Novela del Abencerraje, suggests a certain wavering on Cervantes' part as to how to continue the story of Don Quijote after having brought it to its first stop.

After taking his first rest, which follows the first interruption of the plan of his life, Don Quijote acquires a companion, and through him the basis for a continuous dialogue that makes possible the indefinite continuation of the récit. The episode that follows the addition of Sancho, the fight with the windmills, has become emblematic with the book Don Quijote, since it establishes the model for all of the hero's adventures. These result, as happens in it, from the hero's momentary translation of reality into the language of his fantasies. But already by the next adventure Cervantes appears to have tired of the mechanism that he had devised in order to trigger Don Quijote to action, and he introduces an element (Cide Hamete) capable of adding a new comic dimension to the book and perhaps even of extending in new directions a story which otherwise would be in danger of exhausting its own possibilities very soon. Interruptions similar to the one that stopped Don Quijote's fight with the Basque may occur in the story of his life from now on (what if Cide Hamete's “history” is also unfinished; what if the translator hired by the “second author” left some passages untranslated?). But even if that does not happen (and it will not), we are made to feel uncertain as to the reliability of the supposedly “true” account of the life of Don Quijote that has replaced the one that we had begun reading eight chapters before. This uncertainty is not only akin to the basic comicity of the story of Don Quijote (it parodies the avowed historicity of epic narratives and their descendants, the romances of chivalry), but it reproduces the unfinished, perennially “in process” quality of the protagonist's life, a feeling already suggested by his brief substitution of role models.

The 1605 Quijote is definitely an open work, as its structure shows. Resorting to the romances as a model, adding a squire-interlocutor, pretending all of a sudden that the story he is telling cannot be continued because his sources left it unfinished, are all indications that Cervantes lacked a definite plan for his book when he undertook writing it. Whatever provisional plan he had for the Quijote, he was always ready to alter as he moved along, since, beyond the general purpose of portraying the madman's ridiculous delusion, Cervantes was in fact uncertain as to what to do next with the story of a life that is totally open, that is not yet a “history.”

The so-called interpolated stories of Part One come into the narrative in ways that underline that basic lack of plan. They are not really related to the protagonist's project, but get “pulled” into Don Quijote by the “real” author's attraction to genres other than the romances of chivalry (the pastoral, the comedia, the sentimental and the courtly novelle). And also by his growing lack of interest in the hero's “adventures.” The first one of those stories (Grisóstomo and Marcela) begins already in chapter 12 (ch. 10's title, by the way, refers to an episode already finished and to another one that will not take place until five chapters later) and may very well be a text written earlier, as is almost certainly the case with the novela of the Curioso Impertinente. The beginning of Cardenio's story in ch. 24 fits only partially into the sentimental genre to which it actually belongs, and lets itself be influenced by the knight's “genre” and by techniques typical of oral tales, showing how Cervantes is at that point still undecided as to what to do next.9 From the moment that Cardenio takes the forefront, when he starts telling his story in earnest, in ch. 27, Don Quijote withdraws to a second plane for practically the rest of the book. This amounts to most of the second half of it, which is taken up by the stories of Cardenio, the captive, Don Luis, Vicente de la Rosa, and the Curioso Impertinente.

At the end of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (as the first Quijote is titled), “the author of this story,” who now seems to be Cervantes himself, informs his readers that he has been unable to find any accounts of the knight's third sally or of his death except for the legendary notion that he had gone to Zaragoza, and some poems, eulogies and epithets in his praise. This ending is the one that best serves Cervantes' intentions at the time, which are to leave the door open for a possible continuation of the work. It is not, consequently, one that would try to impart meaning to the protagonist's life and close in any kind of coherent way the book's themes. On the contrary, the narrative, as we come to the conclusion of what eventually will be its first part seems to be still “alive” and refusing to accept the announced death of its subject and motor. The narrative is at this point far from reaching what D. A. Miller calls “the state of quiescence” that a novel recovers at the end; it is, on the contrary, still booming with the “suspense and general insufficiency from which a given narrative appears to arise” (Miller, p. ix). Instead of finality, that ending shows a tendency to keep going, an openness which is what characterizes narrative in the final account. The ending of the 1605 Quijote epitomizes, furthermore, the book's (i.e., Part I) intrinsic readiness to accept interruptions, diversions, extraneous materials; all of which serves to constantly defer closure and what this means as a general giver of meaning. There is in Part I a valorization of narrative for its own sake which results, naturally, in a basic lack of concern with closure.

In a recent article, Edwin Williamson distinguishes in particularly useful ways between the first and second parts of Don Quijote in relation to Cervantes' intention, which is, basically, to make readers laugh.10 Realizing that the knight's madness would become tedious were it to continue simply colliding with the world, Cervantes shifts very early the emphasis of the work “from the inevitable slapstick to the madman's rationalization of his behavior” (p. 11). In Part II “Cervantes begins to realize the narrative logic latent in the adventures of the mad knight. Part II pulls the first part into shape, endowing the narrative with a coherent aesthetic purpose” (p. 15).

For Williamson, Dulcinea's “enchantment” constitutes “the true middle of the action [of Don Quijote] in the Aristotelian sense, for it produces an irrevocable change of fortune in the career of the mad knight” (p. 16). It “takes up the narrative thread that had been left in suspense in Part I, chapter 31 [actually since ch. 27, when Cardenio tells his story to the priest and the barber]” (ibid.). But that thread leads now toward “pain and harm” (p. 17), which is what Don Quijote will very often experience from now on.11 The hero's sufferings bring to the forefront the contradiction between the ridiculousness of Don Quijote's madness, which makes him do laughable things, and his intrinsically noble and intelligent self, afflicted by a madness that, because it cannot be considered a punishment for anything he had done, appears as “a grotesque and unnecessary curse” (p. 19).

The 1615 book develops not haphazardly, like the 1605 one, but according to a careful plan. That plan is represented at the level of the story by the way Don Quijote leaves his house, not secretly, as in Part I, but after elaborate preparations and long discussions with those who want to dissuade him from pursuing his ideal. Sansón Carrasco, the vehicle for Don Quijote's eventual return is introduced in ch. 3 and begins setting in motion his plan for making Don Quijote come back as soon as his friend leaves home. It seems, in fact, as if a work based on a previous one would naturally demand a careful plan capable of developing the relationship between the sequel and the original book. Part of that relationship are the comments on the role of the “original” author, on the interpolated stories, on the reaction by several readers to Part I, i.e., the meta-fiction aspect of the Quijote that has produced so much insightful criticism.

Part II's plan includes giving freer range to Don Quijote's madness. This happens not only because some characters indulge his fantasies (in order to amuse themselves), but also because the hero is more easily accepted as what he pretends to be, a knight errant. The acceptance of Don Quijote by those who meet him facilitates a “relaxed” type of exchange between the protagonist and the world. Interacting normally with society makes it possible for the protagonist as well as his squire to fully show their intellectual and moral worth. The increase in opportunities in Part II for Don Quijote to discuss important issues is also the consequence of the diminishing in importance of the adventure as the main tool for making the plot advance. Another reason why the Second Quijote's narrative focuses more consistently on its protagonist is because it does not include extraneous stories. The result is that the 1615 Don Quijote and Sancho become more complex and also more sympathetic (we regret the humiliations that they endure). They are less comic too.

And finally the knight is brought back to his house so that his death, to which the epitaphs quoted at the end of Part I referred, can take place before our eyes. That death is thus the natural culmination of Part II. (Of course, the appearance of the apocryphal continuation of Don Quijote in 1614 must have sealed Cervantes' determination to ensure that his hero would get buried by the end of the 1615 book.) Don Quijote's explicit renunciation to his mission as he recovers his sanity is also an integral part of the Second Part's master plan. It is meant to ensure that the character who has shown so much lucidity, especially since he left home the third time, would not die a fool. However, because Don Quijote was given so much prominence in the course of the 1615 book and was so often characterized as a lucid and noble man while, at the same time, he was so often humiliated and ridiculed before his final defeat, he appears to many a reader as having “been abandoned by Providence,” and as if “a kind of metaphysical injustice holds sway over his destiny” (Williamson, p. 21).

This is not the way that Cervantes and his seventeenth century readers interpreted the book, which for them was essentially comic, even if implicit in the comic picture that it drew was a “parodic world-upside-down” view (p. 22), this being a topic common in medieval and Renaissance literature. But in the eighteenth century, “when religious belief was on the wane, the novel was interpreted as a poetic and philosophical metaphor of human existence. The Romantics, in fact, picked out and greatly exaggerated the tragic elements in the novel, selectively appropriating Don Quixote as a mythic figure for their own time.” Although these readings are “distorted and historically determined,” having no “meaning for the artist who inspired them,” they have a “plausible basis in the structure of the action and its effect upon the character of the protagonist” (ibid.). The action and the protagonist, let us stress, not of the whole Quijote, but basically if not exclusively of the 1615 book.

The manner in which Don Quijote was portrayed throughout Part II has resulted in that his death and final words have left legions of readers unsatisfied. This could not have happened in Part I, where Don Quijote's death was not enacted in the narrative and did not include giving up a goal that was also, because of the characterization of the protagonist up to the conclusion of the 1605 book, not taken seriously at all, but constantly mocked as the delusion of a madman. In his ground-breaking Theory of the Novel, Lukács, who was trying to develop a coherent view of the evolution of the novel at the time (1915) when the traditional or epic nature of the genre was rapidly breaking down, argues that the novel begins with Don Quijote. That work expresses the search for authentic values in a world that had been rendered problematic, insecure, and inauthentic by the collapse at the end of the Middle Ages of the values tied to the belief that the world was firmly centered by an ever-present God. Values became no longer secure, but questionable, subjected to a critique of the type that we see expressed in Don Quijote about the worth of the romances of chivalry. Consequently, the knight's decision to affirm his values, which are those of a bygone era, and to re-shape the world accordingly is by definition doomed. This is so also because by being undertaken in a corrupt present, that project absorbs, in spite of itself, the impossibility of transcending reality; it is degraded.

It cannot surprise us then that Don Quijote's readers would feel uncomfortable at hearing the hero state, instead of that his project was destined to fail because of the modern world's corrupt nature, as Lukács explains, that he embarked on it solely because he was mad. This is the same as saying that the ideals that he had made us become enamoured of could only have been dreamed by a madman. Obviously, this attitude makes for an unsatisfactory closure, as the heroic protagonist whom we have come to love and even to admire renounces the best of himself for the sake of the “bourgeois” values held by his niece and housekeeper (his friends wish him to go on being mad by becoming a literary-type shepherd). Since Don Quijote's values are truer and purer than the ones that dominate the world in which we live, we regret that he would give up his project to restore the Golden Age in order to get reconciled with the same world that he fled before. In his Theory, a work charged with a great deal of romantic idealism, Lukács argues that, since the novel is the modern epic, all great novels, from Don Quijote on, portray a failed search, one similar to Don Quijote's “degraded” project. That search goes on forever, carried out by fictional heroes, because the values that it represents are, although unattainable, universally appealing. The eternal failure of the quest is bound to leave in us a feeling of unfulfillment similar to the one we get in the Quijote from watching how the old epics' heroes' values are no longer operative. The search for an authentic world—for “totality,” says Lukács—that moves the protagonists of modern novels expresses their authors' consciousness of the problematic nature of modern existence.

Although extremely useful to explain how the transition from the medieval to the modern world affected the epic genre, I fear that one may lose a great deal regarding the understanding of the Quijote through the strict application to it of Lukács' theory, which was actually induced from Cervantes' masterpiece. Cervantes must have upheld as being unquestionably the purest and the noblest the ideals that Don Quijote expounds in his speech on the Golden Age, for instance. But the narrator knows too well that such an age never was. In the long run, Don Quijote's dream expresses a universal wish of being able to always destroy evil and impose justice (as does, among others, “Superman”). It so happens, though, that the mediator between Don Quijote's dream and what stirs it to life are bad books, those romances of chivalry that shaped the hidalgo's imagination. Don Quijote's quest is not only corrupt because of its contact with a world in which there is no room for epic-type quests, but because its vehicles are degenerate descendents of the epic, books which transformed epic quests into strings of adventures, heroic magnification into unbridled fantasy, and epic language into mindless rhetorical devices.12 Those books are the medium through which Don Quijote develops his project to become a knight errant in order to increase his own honor and to serve society and “irse por todo el mundo con sus armas y caballos a buscar las aventuras y a ejercitarse en todo aquello que él había leído que los caballeros andantes se ejercitaban, deshaciendo todo género de agravio, y poniéndose en ocasiones y peligros donde, acabándolos, cobrase eterno nombre y fama.” The hidalgo's commitment to fight injustice ennobles him forever, lifting our perception of his behavior above the madness that characterizes it and that in fact results in worsening the situation of those that he wanted to save or in harming others: episodes of Andrés, of the bachiller accompanying the dead man and whose leg Don Quijote breaks, and of the freed galeotes, all of Part I. In Part II, as was mentioned, the hero engages in a type of exchange with society that very often avoids showing the crazier side of his conduct. Nevertheless, all along Parts I and II Cervantes is constantly pointing to his protagonist's madness through the thousand references to his wish to emulate all kinds of far-fetched actions described in the romances of chivalry. This is Cervantes' way to remind us that they constitute a degraded literary form, so corrupt in fact that a continuous contact with it can cause madness.

It is necessary to differentiate very carefully between the ideals that the hero describes so movingly in several occasions and the books that inspired them and set them in motion. It is not his project nor the ideal represented in it that the “good” Alonso Quijano rejects in his deathbed (he does not mention them), but the source of his acquaintance with the knights errant, the romances of chivalry. They caused his madness, which, in turn, reproduced the very absurdity of those books. This is why once the protagonist recovers his sanity, he calls those romances his enemies and feels ashamed of what they made him do, i.e., to become a fool. The attack on the books of chivalry during the last scenes of Don Quijote links its ending to its 1605 preface: to destroy the (already very much on the wane) popularity of those books is Don Quijote's explicit goal. But meanwhile, Alonso Quijano's lucid words, his abhorring of his crazy self, which stands for the worst aspects of the romances of chivalry—the part of them that had nothing to do any longer with the epic or with the ideals of a Golden Age—and his sense of fairness toward Sancho as manifested in his will, act to link Don Quijote's death with the best expressions of his chivalrous project. We react by feeling sorry that he could not accomplish any part of it and by regretting what seems like a denunciation of it, although in fact it is not. The book's concentration at the end on the mediator for its protagonist's (mostly) noble madness is what is needed structurally, but it ends up problematizing the narrative's closure insofar as it makes us wish that Don Quijote would not have been so thoroughly defeated in what he had set out to do, and also, perhaps, that he should go on with his project.

It should be pointed out that Lukács' Theory tends to overlook that the impossibility of restoring old values in the modern era is caused not so much by a religious crisis as by the new materialism and the rapid spread of the type of behavior and the mentality associated with an economy in which exchange values become the measure by which the real, use value of the objects is measured. The restlessness and even anguish caused by having to depend on quantitative rather than qualitative values and on the mediation of money in order to obtain what is desired is represented often and in many ways in the Quijote, always making a contrast with the values that Don Quijote would like to restore. Cervantes' position with respect to the revolution of values taking place during his time suggests that he may have experienced what René Girard, in his model for the development of the novel, calls “vertical transcendence.”13 Instead of still sharing with his protagonist, at least to some extent, the weight of the crisis caused by the realization of the abyss separating contemporary reality from old ideals, and which constitutes the background of Alonso Quijano's project to restore an older ethics, Cervantes must have overcome that crisis, coming to the realization that in the real world, all quests for transcendence were doomed. He was, in other words, no longer anguished at the time he set down to write Don Quijote (as he probably had been earlier) by what he saw around him.

This is reflected, of course, in the detached irony with which Cervantes treats his protagonist. And it is also reflected in the author's inability to first develop and then stick to a detailed plan for representing how the books of chivalry—and thus enacting them as Don Quijote tries to do—are emblematic, in their grotesque exaggeration of the epic ideal, of the death of that ideal. The prevalent fragmentation of existence which Don Quijote would like to repeal informs the picture of his life with its characteristic formlessness—the openness that modernism has taught us to admire. It also acts as a force against the development of any kind of fixed structure capable of containing and shaping the narrative of Don Quijote's life—until, having decided to conclude the book that had given him more fame, Cervantes goes back to where he had left his hero and this time does map out a story allowing Don Quijote to pursue his mad quest to its exhaustion.

To conclude, of the two discrete units that make up Don Quijote, the 1605 book is an open narrative in which the author, still undecided after he has written eight chapters as to what he really wishes to do with his mad hidalgo and his impossible project, distances himself from his creation (through the invention of the Arab author) and after a while leaves Don Quijote very much aside in order to play his hand at various genres (and also to discuss literature: conversations with the canon from Toledo: ch. 47-48). At the end, he returns the focus to Don Quijote, but since he is still unsure as to what to do with him, Cervantes does not round up and close his protagonist's quest, but postpones his death, so that the hiatus between the end of the action and the protagonist's death some time afterward, could be expanded, if the author so wishes, into a new book.

The 1615 Quijote demands, on the contrary, a firm closure. Its author is no longer unsure of what he will have his protagonist do on each occasion, but directs him according to a plan. This consists basically in narrating the knight's (Don Quijote is now called a “caballero”: Segunda parte del ingenioso caballero. …) last journey, in the course of which, and before he returns to his home, recovers his sanity and rejects the romances of chivalry, as mandated by the 1605 book's preface, Don Quijote will meet with many representatives of contemporary society. That social interaction will give him ample occasion to display both his intelligence and comicity. Don Quijote should also encounter in the course of that journey abundant proofs of his fame, which is also that of his creator. That plan results in a more conventional structure than the one of Part I, even as far as the division into chapters.14 The journey-with-a-return structure calls for a firm, non-questionable closure portraying the end of the journey, an end which was not demanded of the open, constantly changing structure of Part I. Yet, because of its implications regarding the knight's project, the ending of the Second Quijote—and of the Quijote as a whole, finally, since the closure of the 1615 book projects its meaning over the entire story of the hidalgo-caballero's life—seems unjustified. We feel that Don Quijote (the Don Quijote of Part II taking over the entire book) should not renounce his ideal so easily, a feeling represented in the text by the protagonist's friends' insistence that he become a shepherd.

The closure of the Quijote appears then not as the appropriate one, but forced, in fact, upon a narrative that still wishes, in spite of its author's determination to close it, to go on; thus confirming the intrinsic artificiality of closures, or how they are always imposed on the narrative text from needs that fall outside those created by its own nature.


  1. The category of closure or ending does not appear in Murillo's or in Drake's bibliographies of Don Quijote. Obviously, some of the works dealing with the structure of the book may touch on it.

  2. See Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending. Studies in the Theory of Fiction (Oxford Univ. Press: 1967).

  3. Frank Kermode, “Sensing Endings,” Nineteenth Century Fiction, 33, 1 (1978), 144-58, p. 154.

  4. D. A. Miller, Narrative and Its Discontents. Problems of Closure in the Traditional Novel (Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), p. xi, n. 2.

  5. Gerald Prince, La nausée and the Question of Closure,” Yale French Studies, 67 (1984), 182-90.

  6. J. Hillis Miller, “The Problematic of Ending in Narrative,” Nineteenth Century Fiction, ibid., 3-7, p. 7.

  7. “Un aspecto en la elaboración del Quijote,De Cervantes y Lope de Vega (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1964; origin. pub. 1921), pp. 9-60.

  8. Erwin Koppen, “Gab es einen Ur-Quijote? Zu einer Hypothese der Cervantes-Philologie,” Romanistisches Jahrbuch, 27 (1976), 330-46.

  9. See my “Los dos comienzos de la historia de Cardenio,” Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica, XXV (1976), 102-11.

  10. Intención and invención in the Quixote,Cervantes, VIII, 1 (1988), 7-22.

  11. I fully agree with Williamson that Dulcinea's “enchantment” has a key function in allowing the continuation of the narrative of Don Quijote's life that had been left very much interrupted toward the middle of Part I. But this is so because the episode constitutes the first “adventure” of the hero's third sally. I don't agree with the critic on his contention that the “enchantment” of his lady changes Don Quijote into a tragic figure, or, in general, with the importance so often accorded to Dulcinea, whom Williamson sees as “the unifying thread of Cervantes' comedy” (p. 13).

  12. The canon from Toledo (I, 47), probably speaking for his creator, says that he had read the beginning of most of the romances of chivalry then in print, and then goes on to criticize them, mainly because of their lack of verisimilitude (which is why he can never finish those books), adding, however, that they offer the opportunity “para que un buen entendimiento pudiese mostrarse en ellos, porque daban largo y espacioso campo por donde sin empacho alguno pudiese correr la pluma.” In fact, he once began a romance of chivalry and wrote more than a hundred pages of it.

  13. Deceit, Desire, and the Novel. Self and Other in Literary Structure (The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1966; origin. pub. 1961), “The Conclusion.”

  14. In his seminal The Phantom Chapters of the ‘Quijote’ (1953), Raymond S. Willis showed that the structuring of the book's chapters is devised to reveal the absurdity of trying to partition into neat compartments the representation of a life's flow. Through a series of seemingly comical devices pertaining to the ways chapters end and begin (thrusting forward into the next one, hanging on to the preceding one), Cervantes calls our attention to the artificiality of dividing into chapters the narrative of an existence. This, of course, constitutes further proof that Cervantes saw his protagonist's life and the narrative of it as decidedly open; especially in Part I, as suggested by the fact that a majority of Willis' examples, and the most striking too, are from the 1605 book.

R. M. Flores (essay date fall 1993)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7921

SOURCE: Flores, R. M. “Don Quixote as a Genre of Genres.” Romance Quarterly 40, no. 4 (fall 1993): 211-25.

[In the following essay, Flores argues that the first sentence of Don Quixote sets the stage for the rest of the novel and that the first chapter explores the major themes and devices of the novel as a whole.]

My intention here is twofold. I propose to show: (1) that the first sentence of Don Quixote is both a record of intention and a promise of things to come, and (2) that the first chapter of the novel is a compendium of the ideas, creative devices, and literary caveats that dominate the entire work.

Cervantes sets us squarely on three totally different genres in his very first sentence, with an economy of words seldom surpassed: “En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco, y galgo corredor.”1 The majority of authors of romances of chivalry who had preceded him had begun their works by telling their readers the general geographical area from which their heroes were originary (England, Tirant lo Blanch; “la pequeña Bretaña,” Amadís de Gaula; “las Indias,” El Caballero Cifar), and so does Cervantes in the opening clause of his novel, but with a twist. He cunningly hints at a specific village by mentioning a general area (“en un lugar de la Mancha”) and immediately proceeds to break well-established rules by doing what earlier writers had assiduously avoided before him. He openly introduces himself as the omniscient, omnipresent, willful creator of fiction (“de cuyo nombre [yo] no quiero acordarme”); thus giving birth to the author of the modern novel who needs not hide under any of the many masks fashioned by earlier writers to conceal themselves, but who may, on the other hand, create and use at his will as many masks as he chooses. The last clause of Cervantes's opening sentence is, with its brevity and down-to-earth details, a radical throwback to traditional folk tales.2 But what I find especially striking about this opening sentence of Cervantes's is the uncanny ability of the author to withhold purposely from his readers some of the most essential information and, simultaneously, introduce facts and characters which he proposes never to use again. Although we never learn the exact name of the village where Don Quixote lived, presumably all his life, we are told that he owned a galgo corredor, even though the greyhound is never again mentioned in the novel. Neither the absence of what one would consider a vital piece of information, nor the presence of a trivial piece of intelligence can be explained satisfactorily with other than artistic intent. The theory suggested that Cervantes refused to give us the name of Don Quixote's hometown because he might have had some unpleasant personal experiences in just such a place is not entirely convincing. If even the memory of the name of such town was repulsive to Cervantes why, then, did he choose this very village as the centre and fulcrum of his narrative? He would have realized that shrouding the name of an existing village in malicious mystery would generate far more interest in the reader than not mentioning it at all. On the same token, if the galgo was to the hidalgo as important as the lanza, the adarga, and the rocín were, why was the greyhound singled out for oblivion and, unlike the other three elements of the quad, was never mentioned again? The answer to these puzzles is, I believe, simply one of artistic consistency.

The immediate models for Cervantes's main character are knights (Amadis of Gaul), not knaves (Lázaro de Tormes). Had Cervantes specified the name of Don Quixote's hometown, he would have limited the scope of his tale. Don Quixote of Tordesillas, let us say, lacks the breath and impact of the heroic. Don Quixote of Spain, on the other hand, would, in a Spanish novel, lack the mystery of the unknown. Neither too restrictive nor too encompassing, neither too much nor too little; these are the perfect formulas for the opening of the story beginning to unfold before the very eyes of the reader, and Cervantes was aware of this fact. When Don Quixote is searching for an appropriate name to give to his lady, Cervantes pointedly states: “buscándole nombre que no desdijese mucho del suyo … vino a llamarla Dulcinea del Toboso” (I, 1, 78). It is obvious that Don Quixote was aware of a scale of values between El Toboso (or any other similar village), La Mancha (a geographical area), and a real, present-day kingdom (Spain). Cervantes's categorical statement to the effect that he does not want to remember the name of Don Quixote's hometown should be seen, therefore, as an affirmation of the prerogative of an author to withhold from his readers what he does not want to tell them. Moreover, following traditional models, the very thought of the hidalgo's future role as an errant knight has from the very beginning of the story an important bearing on what we learn, what is left out, and what is mentioned on passing but will never reappear in the novel. Cervantes, who in his opening sentence is juggling with the past (“no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo”) the present (“un lugar de la Mancha”; “no quiero”), and the future (the hidalgo, the lanza en astillero, the adarga antigua, and the rocín flaco will transform later on into a knight, a fighting weapon, a protective shield, and Rocinante, respectively), can there and then both mention and dispense with the past of the hidalgo (the greyhound) with which the future knight will have nothing to do. What we in fact have in this first sentence of Cervantes's is, therefore, the equivalent of the beginning of traditional Arab fairy tales: Kan ya makan—“There was, there was not.” And this is precisely the theme Cervantes develops in the remaining lines of his first paragraph:

Una olla de algo más vaca que carnero, salpicón las más noches, duelos y quebrantos los sábados, lantejas los viernes, algún palomino de añadidura los domingos, consumían las tres partes de su hacienda. El resto della concluían sayo de velarte, calzas de velludo para las fiestas con sus pantuflos de lo mesmo, y los días de entresemana se honraba con su vellorí de lo más fino. Tenía en su casa una ama que pasaba de los cuarenta, y una sobrina que no llebaga a los veinte, y un mozo de campo y plaza, que así ensillaba el rocín como tomaba la podadera. Frisaba la edad de nuestro hidalgo con los cincuenta años; era de complexión recia, seco de carnes, enjuto de rostro, gran madrugador y amigo de la caza. Quieren decir que tenía el sobrenombre de Quijada, o Quesada, que en esto hay alguna diferencia en los autores que deste caso escriben; aunque por conjeturas verosímiles se deja entender que se llamaba Quejana.

(I, 1, 69-71)

As he had done in his opening sentence, Cervantes mentions in this excerpt a character and some objects which will never be mentioned again (duelos y quebrantos, lantejas, pantuflos, vellorí, mozo de campo y plaza, podadera), and some days and items which will recur throughout the story (olla, vaca, carnero, salpicón, sábados, viernes, palomino, domingo, sayo, calzas). After the craftsmanship displayed by Cervantes in his opening sentence, the striking aspect of this selectiveness is not the fact that many of the items listed are not mentioned again, or even that the great majority of those which do recur bear no direct relation to Don Quixote, because the needs of the hidalgo are not the same as those of the knight (only three of the items listed reappear in connection with Don Quixote). What is striking is the fact that three of the four occurrences which do have a bearing on the adventures of Don Quixote are directly linked to the question of whether or not he is a knight: the still unknighted hidalgo leaves his hometown for his first sally on a Friday, “acertó a ser viernes aquel día” (I, 2, 86); the galley-slaves try to steal his “medias calzas,” but part of his armor prevents them from doing so (I, 22, 276); and the hidalgo is brought back to his village, where no-one sees him as a knight yet, on a Sunday, “entraron en la mitad del día, que acertó a ser domingo” (I, 52, 602). In other words, only a reference to the day when Don Quixote arrives in Barcelona, “los viernes está muda, y hoy, que lo es” (II, 62, 511), an episode Cervantes wrote over ten years after he had written the opening paragraphs of his novel, has no relation whatsoever to how Cervantes's hero is being perceived at the time. Cervantes is, once again, preparing his reader for the differences that will arise throughout his narrative as Alonso Quijano el Bueno goes from being an unknown hidalgo to becoming a renowned knight. By naming specific days of the week and grouping them together in his first paragraph, Cervantes circumscribes the life of the hidalgo within a repetitious, circular, seven-day boundary (Sundays, weekdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and so on). By making the adventures of the knight take place later on in nameless days and a mythical year of perpetual spring and recurrent summer,3 Cervantes is opening the door to the free mixing of structural elements and literary devices from different genres, and to the possibility of creating everchanging fictional circumstances that characterize the modern novel. The tedious predictability of what the hidalgo eats and wears from day to day during the boring, regimented life he spends in his hometown will contrast sharply with the exciting unpredictability of what the knight experiences during the adventurous, calendarless life he leads abroad, whose only confining aspect is that the initiated should always obey and follow the rules of chivalry.

It has been suggested that originally Cervantes intended to make of the mozo de campo y plaza a squire to Don Quixote. But it should be kept in mind, however, that not once in the first two chapters of the story does Cervantes make any reference whatsoever to any of the squires of the legendary knights mentioned in this section of the novel (Belianis, Palmerin, Amadis, the Knight of Phoebus, Galaor, the Knight of the Burning Sword, Bernardo del Carpio, Reinaldos of Montalban, Ganelon), nor to the obvious fact that his hero is going to need a squire. Even more mystifying is the fact that this idea never crosses the hidalgo's mind. This is an altogether inconceivable lapse of memory in Don Quixote, who has read every novel of chivalry he could get hold of, knows by heart the conditions and terms under which squires serve their knights, and spends weeks planning his first sally, cleaning and fixing his weapons and armor, finding a lady with whom to fall in love, and making up appropriate names for himself, his horse, and his lady. Cervantes must have had a clear purpose in mind for allowing this lapsus to happen. It is evident that Cervantes had from the start no intention of planting even a seed of the squire-to-be at the beginning of the novel because he wanted Don Quixote back in his village soon after he leaves it for the first time. By letting Don Quixote undertake his first sally alone and having the innkeeper point out to him the next morning that a knight needs a squire, Cervantes forces the knight to return home.4 Don Quixote must, therefore, turn back and suffer an ignominious trouncing at the hands of a muleteer, arriving back at his village trashed, wearing his armor, and mounted on a donkey like a madman, which is just the excuse the priest needs to sack the hidalgo's library and have the housekeeper burn her master's beloved books, under the pretext that they were the cause of Don Quixote's madness. Had Don Quixote initially left his village already in the company of a squire, who would have no doubt taken with him all the necessary provisions and monies needed for the trip, the knight would have had no reason to return to his hometown, and, thus, the priest would have had no excuse to ransack Don Quixote's library and would have had to keep all his critical remarks concerning the artistic values and weaknesses of specific literary works in petto. Moreover, it is obvious that what Don Quixote needs is a companion, a friend with whom he can discuss his adventures openly, a squire who would respect him, certainly, but one who can from the very beginning talk to him straightforwardly without being hampered by the formal restraints of an earlier master-servant relationship. A mozo de campo y plaza cannot fulfill this role. He, like the gracioso in the Spanish Comedia, would have had to make all his remarks aside and hide his true feelings under a cloak of hypocritical respect and humility. Like the galgo, the pantuflos, the vellorí, the podadera, and the sayo, the mozo de campo y plaza does not belong in the hidalgo's future. He is part of the hidalgo's past, and so is too, for the moment, the real name of Don Quixote.

What little Cervantes tells us about his characters is usually craftily aimed at eliciting questions which he has no intention of ever answering. For instance, he tells us that the housekeeper is over forty years old, that the niece is not quite twenty, and that the hidalgo is close to fifty. But exactly how old were they? We never find another word on the subject. What about the hero's lineage in an epoch when proof of purity of blood and an ancestral surname were two of the most sought-after and cherished heirlooms? It is said, Cervantes answers, that his family name was either Quijada or Quesada; though some believable guessing suggests that it was Quejana.5 What is the hidalgo's Christian name? What is the niece's name? What is the housekeeper's name? Cervantes steps nimbly over these, and all the other questions he is sowing in his path: “Pero esto importa poco a nuestro cuento; basta que en la narración dél no se salga un punto de la verdad” (I, 1, 71). These two last lines of the paragraph are Cervantes's coup de grace. Involving his readers in the narrative (“nuestro cuento”), Cervantes tells them that the question of whether the hidalgo's Christian name is Quijada, Quesada, or Quejana is a matter of little importance to the story. What does matter, he continues, is that the telling of the cuento stays always with the truth; but cuento in Spanish means a tale, an untrue story. In other words, even though the narrative should not go astray from the truth, the hidalgo's true Christian name, and, by extension, his true given name, the true names of the niece, the housekeeper, and the male servant, and the exact ages of these characters, are irrelevant and should be of no concern to the reader. There is no contradiction here, however, verdad in this context does not mean historical truth (what did exist or did happen), but fictional truth (what could and can exist or happen), verisimilitude. But before this literary credo is made, Cervantes had once again turned to the formulaic disclaimers of his literary models for support (“quieren decir,” “autores que deste caso escriben”).6 We are left, therefore, with a series of tangible facts and artifacts which cannot be proven wrong, but precious little else, and no-one to resort to for answers. In the last sentence of his first paragraph Cervantes is, in my opinion, once again staking his claim for the right of an author to have absolute control over his creation, rather than, as it has been repeatedly suggested, playing games with his readers and trying to confuse them. Cervantes makes it crystal clear in his prologue that he is the sole author of Don Quixote, a fact which should not be glossed over. Certainties is the currency historians barter with, but the best, and more lasting and enthralling fiction feeds on uncertainties.

The scarcity of details in Cervantes's descriptions of the physical appearance of his characters serves, on the other hand, a completely different purpose; one of which Cervantes could not have been aware of, but a fascinating one none the less. About the features of the niece, the housekeeper, and the male servant we are told naught. Don Quixote, we are told, was “de complexión recia, seco de carnes, enjuto de rostro.” Period. But with these few firm strokes of the brush Cervantes has given us everything that really matters about the physical appearance of Don Quixote for us to imagine the rest of it accurately. All the details we are given piecemeal later on concerning the features of the hidalgo fit within this initial description. To be sure, they produce a more focused picture of Don Quixote, but add little to the overall image created at the opening of the novel. The sketch is the embodiment not only of the knight's physical appearance in Cervantes's story, but also of what he has become to represent in Western thought. Cervantes has managed to create with a few words a perfect visual image of his character, and hundreds of painters and illustrators who have rendered Cervantes's words into pictures have found it impossible to create a different overall image of Don Quixote than that which Cervantes awakens with these few words in the minds of his readers. Cervantes's threadbare descriptions project visual images far richer and far more complex than one would think at first glance, and it is precisely this threadbareness which has inspired and given rein to the imagination of artists like Paul Gustave Doré to bring these literary descriptions into full visual fruition in their works.

Cervantes loses no time in bringing the one other inherent characteristic of the hidalgo's personality which has become inseparable from his physical presence to the reader's attention, reinforcing in the process some of the ideas introduced earlier.

Es, pues, de saber, que este sobredicho hidalgo, los ratos que estaba ocioso—que eran los más del año—se daba a leer libros de caballería con tanta aficion y gusto, que olvidó casi de todo punto el ejercicio de la caza y aun la administración de su hacienda; y llegó a tanto su curiosidad y desatino en esto, que vendió muchas hanegas de tierra de sembradura para comprar libros de caballerías en que leer, y así llevó a su casa todos cuantos pudo haber dellos; y de todos, ningunos le parecían tan bien como los que compuso el famoso Feliciano de Silva, porque la claridad de su prosa y aquellas entricadas razones suyas le parecían de perlas, y más cuando llegaba a leer aquellos requiebros y cartas de desafíos, donde en muchas partes hallaba escrito: La razón de la sinrazón que a mi razón se hace, de tal manera mi razón enflaquece, que con razón me quejo de la vuestra fermosura. Y también cuando leía: … los altos cielos que de vuestra divinidad divinamente con las estrellas os fortifican, y os hacen merecedora del merecimiento que merece la vuestra grandeza. Con estas razones perdía el pobre caballero el juicio, y desvelábase por entenderlas y desentrañarles el sentido, que no se lo sacara ni las entendiera el mesmo Aristóteles, si resucitara para sólo ello.

(I, 1, 71-72)

In this passage Cervantes is killing two birds with one stone. He is both criticising Feliciano de Silva's style (the clarity of his prose and his complicated conceits “le parecían de perlas [a don Quijote]”), and playing with the very words whose repeated use and abuse he is censuring (razón—in its differing and various meanings: conceit, cause, mind, way of thinking, rightly—sinrazón, divinidad, divinamente, merecedora, merecimiento, and merece). Irony, in the guise of a light, humorous remark with which the reader is familiar, and wordplaying are the two new stylistic devices introduced here by Cervantes. These two fundamental elements are, in my opinion, the two most important stylistic ingredients of the novel. They make up the backbone of Don Quixote as a funny book, and hold it in place throughout the story.7 The cumulative effect produced by these flashes of humor in the reader's mind is especially pervasive because of their subliminal nature. The great majority of these casual remarks operates below the threshold of consciousness, leaving unerasable messages on their trail, but passing undetected by the conscious mind during normal reading. Cervantes's offhand peppering of the narrative with this sort of wordplaying and humorous remarks makes the reader relax, without fully realizing what is happening to him, or why, and gives him the lasting feeling of well-being that will remain with him throughout the reading of the novel.

The repetitious monotony of the seven-day-week cycle outlined in the first paragraph is here imperceptibly, and, thus masterly, both reduced (ratos) and stretched (año) into a pervasively boring year made up of countless intervals of idleness linked together, when the only active pastime of the hidalgo (hunting) and the care of his property are neglected, giving way (acreage is sold) to the passive activities of a knight on the making (buying and reading professional manuals—romances of chivalry). It is in instances like this that one cannot but bow low to the wordsmanship of a master. Past, present, and future are given to us with the brevity of the first verses of Genesis.

The remainder of the second paragraph is devoted to: (1) poking double-edged fun at the writings of Feliciano de Silva with a semantic contrast and a closing remark,8 and (2) stating the reasons for the hidalgo's antics. The etiology of Don Quixote's fragile state of mind is, we are told, his reading romances of chivalry indiscriminately (“llevó a su casa todos cuantos pudo haber dellos”) and his losing sleep (“desvelábase”) trying to make some sense of the absurdly complicated wording and style of some of these writings. In spite of the hidalgo's soft spot for everything chivalric, Cervantes tells us a few lines below, Don Quixote himself was not entirely at ease with some aspects of the stories he read:

No estaba muy bien con las heridas que don Belianís daba y recebía, porque se imaginaba que, por grandes maestros que le hubieran curado, no dejaría de tener el rostro y todo el cuerpo lleno de cicatrices y señales. Pero, con todo, alababa en su autor aquel acabar su libro con la promesa de aquella inacabable aventura, y muchas veces le vino deseo de tomar la pluma y dalle fin al pie de la letra, como allí se promete; y sin duda alguna lo hiciera, y aun saliera con ello, si otros mayores y continuos pensamientos no se lo estorbaran.

(I, 1, 72-73)

It is important to note here that the innumerable battles and foes that Belianis fought and his triumphing over them all against all odds do not bother Don Quixote, what he questions is the lack of verisimilitude in the Western-hero combed, shaved, and pristine appearance of the knight after his feats. Suspension of disbelief is clearly at work here. He accepts the reality of all the exploits of Belianis even though he knows that they are impossible, but he would like to see a hair out of place or an occasional bruise on a paladin he admires. Taking the train of thought of his character a few steps further in his story, Cervantes forces him to pay for his foolhardiness, thus making Don Quixote a more humane and sympathetic figure than the knight's legendary models. The hidalgo, Cervantes tells us:

Tuvo muchas veces competencia con el cura de su lugar—que era hombre docto, graduado en Sigüenza—, sobre cuál había sido mejor caballero: Palmerín de Ingalaterra o Amadís de Gaula; mas maese Nicolás, barbero del mesmo pueblo, decía que ninguno llegaba al Caballero del Febo, y que si alguno se le podía comparar era don Galaor, hermano de Amadís de Gaula, porque tenía muy acomodada condición para todo; que no era caballero melindroso ni tan llorón como su hermano, y que en lo de la valentía no le iba en zaga.

(I, 1, 73)

In other words, the past hidalgo, as opposed to the future Don Quixote, had purposely kept within the rules observed by others (the priest and the barber) when talking about matters chivalric, limiting himself to discussing romances of chivalry and arguing with his neighbors about the virtues of fictional knights only (Palmerin, Amadis, the Knight of Phoebus, and Galaor); and this homogeneous group of characters is given to us in dramatic contrast with the mixture of historical figures (the Cid, Muhammad), fabulous warriors (the Knight of the Burning Sword, Bernardo del Carpio, the giant Morgante), legendary heroes (Roland, Rèinaldos of Montalban, Ganelon), and mythological figures (Hercules, Antaeus) that are mentioned in the paragraph immediately following, making no distinction whatsoever amongst them. This remarkable contrast between fiction on the one hand and fiction-history on the other, occurs, precisely, as the hidalgo transforms into the knight.

En resolución, él se enfrascó tanto en su letura, que se le pasaban las noches leyendo de claro en claro, y los días de turbio en turbio; y así, del poco dormir y del mucho leer se le secó el celebro, de manera que vino a perder el juicio. Llenósele la fantasía de todo aquello que leía en los libros, así de encantamentos como de pendencias, batallas, desafíos, heridas, requiebros, amores, tormentas y disparates imposibles; y asentósele de tal modo en la imaginación que era verdad toda aquella máquina de aquellas sonadas soñadas invenciones que leía, que para él no había otra historia más cierta en el mundo.

(I, 1, 73)

Though Cervantes tells us immediately afterwards that Don Quixote “used to say” that the Cid had been an excellent knight, and that he also “used to say” that the gigant Morgante was affable and well-bred, these two “he used to say” are not addressed to anyone in particular and are probably meant as reflexive forms. Crazy or not, Don Quixote is still keeping for himself this blurring of the boundaries between history and fiction because he does not want to be prevented from leaving in his quest for adventures.

Don Quixote loses his mind. Fiction intermingles with history. The stories written about the adventures of the Knight of the Burning Sword and the heroics of the Cid become equally true. Or, equally untrue? A, no doubt, unintended ambiguity hovers over these passages because no reference is made specifically to the romances of chivalry.9 The term libros could equally well refer to sixteenth-century tales of fiction, historical fiction, and/or historical treatises. In fact, the only elements of those listed which are not characteristic of the three genres are the encantamentos and the disparates imposibles, though in seventeenth-century Europe even these elements could be transposed quite easily from one genre (romances of chivalry, enchantments, impossible nonsense) to the other (historical accounts, miracles, quixotic feats). It is only after the hidalgo decides to become Don Quixote that we learn that he wants to put in practice himself all he has read knight-errants did.

En efeto, rematado ya su juicio, vino a dar en el más estraño pensamiento que jamás dio loco en el mundo, y fue que le pareció convenible y necesario, así para el aumento de su honra como para el servicio de su república, hacerse caballero andante, y irse por todo el mundo con sus armas y caballo a buscar las eventuras y a ejercitarse en todo aquello que él había leído que los caballeros andantes se ejercitaban, deshaciendo todo género de agravio, y poniéndose en ocasiones y peligros donde, acabándolos, cobrase eterno nombre y fama. Imaginábase el pobre ya coronado por el valor de su brazo, por lo menos, del imperio de Trapisonda; y así, con estos tan agradables pensamientos, llevado del estraño gusto que en ellos sentía, se dio priesa a poner en efeto lo que deseaba.

(I, 1, 74-75)

Earlier, the reader had to deduce from the text, rather than know from being told expressly, that the principal reason for the hidalgo's leaving his hometown in search of adventures was, in all likelihood, plain and simple boredom. The normal life of the average Spaniard living in a small seventeenth-century village was boring; but because Cervantes lived just such a life, he could not fully appreciate the fact that this sort of mind-numbing existence was in itself sufficient reason for leaving behind relatives, friends, home, and past altogether. Sancho, the priest, the barber, and the majority of the itinerant characters one finds in the pages of Cervantes's works take to the road for reasons other than the ones stated, in an effort to escape the dullness and monotony of their respective lives. Boredom is thus presented to us in the first two paragraphs of the story not as the most important reason for Don Quixote's undertaking, but rather as just a simple fact, part and parcel of the average seventeenth-century man's life.

The stated reason for the hidalgo's embarking in search of adventures is, on the other hand, one which most sixteenth and seventeenth-century Spaniards understood well, one with which they could sympathize and identify themselves: the quest for gold, glory, and honor. Don Quixote's quest is not an entirely altruistic enterprise. There are, like in the ventures of the conquistadors and the Church, a great deal of self-serving intentions embedded in it. Don Quixote never does anything in the service of his country, and it is crystal clear from the text that righting wrongs is not the goal, but merely the means for Don Quixote to gain everlasting renown and fame, … and the crown of an empire. And yet, it is “righting all sorts of wrongs” which has become the guiding principle stamped on Don Quixote's banner. The adjective “quixotic” means “extravagantly chivalrous or romantic; visionary, impractical, or impracticable; foolhardy”; but from the knight's clearly selfish goals (as stated in the previous excerpt), and from some of the textual evidence that follows, “quixotic” should in effect stand for “conceited; ambitious beyond all reasonableness.”10 There is, however, a sound reason for Alonso Quijano el Bueno's grandiose designs. Like any good actor, he has totally immersed himself into the role he is about to play. He has begun to think as a knight in order to escape a boring and empty life.

Once the hidalgo has made up his mind to take to the road impersonating a knight, he begins making his preparations, and the first thing he does is to clean some weapons that had belonged to his ancestors.

Limpiólas y aderezólas lo mejor que pudo; pero vio que tenían una gran falta, y era que no tenían celada de encaje, sino morrión simple; mas a esto suplió su industria, porque de cartones hizo un modo de media celada, que, encajada con el morrión, hacían una apariencia de celada entera. Es verdad que para probar si era fuerte y podía estar al riesgo de una cuchillada, sacó su espada y le dio dos golpes, y con el primero y en un punto deshizo lo que había hecho en una semana; y no dejó de parecerle mal la facilidad con que la había hecho pedazos, y, por asegurarse de este peligro, la tornó a hacer de nuevo, poniéndole unas barras de hierro por de dentro, de tal manera que él quedó satisfecho de su fortaleza, y sin querer hacer nueva experiencia della, la diputó y tuvo por celada finísima de encaje.

(I, 1, 75)

The importance of this excerpt is the fact that it introduces the feeling of ambivalence that permeates and envelops the most important character theme of the entire story, the hidalgo's presumed madness. Whether or not Don Quixote has his two oars in the water is a question which will never be answered to everyone's satisfaction; but from the excerpt quoted above, from numerous other similar occurrences, and from his seriously considering taking up the idyllic life of the fictional shepherds of his pastoral romances (II, 67), one can safely conclude that his quest for adventures was essentially a board game played out in a realistic seventeenth-century Spanish setting.

This passage is, in my opinion, the key to Don Quixote's view of, and approach to, the imaginary world he is about to enter. Like a child playing dolls or war games, an adult playing with electric trains, toy people, and little towns built on scale, or a whizkid surreptitiously playing the stockmarket on his computer, Don Quixote's game is an imaginary world of his choice. And, like children and adults who project their games into real life, he soon finds out that a cardboard helmet cannot withstand two brutal slashes given with a true weapon even though it may be being brandished as a toy. After the hidalgo's seeing the devastating effect that a couple of sword strokes had on the half-helmet it had taken him a week to fashion, he strengthens the armor piece with some bars of iron (wisely refraining himself from any further testing; “sin querer hacer nueva experiencia”), accepting the suitability of the toy (“quedó satisfecho de su fortaleza”) and praising the craftsmanship and looks of the piece (“celada finísima de encaje”), rather than its strength. These are not the steps likely to be taken by a man deranged. Each isolated step in itself seems foolish, but together they prove no sillier or riskier than riding a motorcycle in shorts and without the proper helmet. They intimate, in fact, the attitude of a man getting ready to play a game. A perilous game, to be sure, but one of his own choosing. Rocinante, Don Quixote, and Dulcinea came to be because the board pieces of a Knights and Ogres game require imaginary substance and meaningful names.

Fue luego a ver su rocín, y aunque tenía más cuartos que un real y más tachas que el caballo de Gonela, … le pareció que ni el Bucéfalo de Alejandro ni Babieca el del Cid con él se igualaban[,] … y así, después de muchos nombres que formó, borró y quitó, añadió, deshizo y tornó a hacer en su memoria e imaginación, al fin le vino a llamar Rocinante[.] … Puesto nombre, y tan a su gusto, a su caballo, quiso ponérsele a sí mismo, … y al cabo se vino a llamar don Quijote [de la Mancha] … Limpias, pues, sus armas, hecho del morrión celada, puesto nombre a su rocín y confirmándose a sí mismo, se dio a entender que no le faltaba otra cosa sino buscar una dama de quien enamorarse[.] … Decíase él a sí:

—Si yo, por malos de mis pecados, o por mi buena suerte, me encuentro por ahí con algún gigante, como de ordinario les acontece a los caballeros andantes, y le derribo de un encuentro, o le parto por mitad del cuerpo, o, finalmente, le venzo y le rindo, ¿no séra bien a quien enviarle presentado y que entre y se hinque de rodillas ante mi dulce señora, y diga con voz humilde y rendido: «Yo, señora, soy el gigante Caraculiambro, señor de la ínsula Malindrania, a quien venció en singular batalla el jamás como se debe alabado caballero don Quijote de la Mancha, el cual me mandó que me presentase ante vuestra merced, para que la vuestra grandeza disponga de mí a su talante»?

¡Oh, cómo se holgó nuestro buen caballero cuando hubo hecho este discurso, y más cuando halló a quien dar nombre de su dama! Y fue, a lo que se cree, que en un lugar cerca del suyo había una moza labradora de muy buen parecer, de quien él un tiempo anduvo enamorado, aunque, según se entiende, ella jamás lo supo, ni le dio cata dello. Llamábase Aldonza Lorenzo, y a ésta le pareció ser bien darle título de señora de sus pensamientos, y … vino a llamarla Dulcinea del Toboso, porque era natural del Toboso; nombre, a sur parecer, músico y peregrino y significativo, como todos los demás que a él y a sus cosas había puesto.

(I, 1, 75-78)

The stylistic device consisting of using, adapting, and making up funny-sounding proper nouns, which later on will become a staple component of the novel with names such as Sage Fritón (Fryon), Princess Micomicona (Chimpchimpette), vaciyelmo (basinhelmet), Sansón (Samson, given to a physically unimposing character), and so on, had already been hinted at with the surname Quijada (jaw) and the imperio de Trapisonda (Empire of Thescuffle), but not until this passage does it make its full-dress appearance; Rocinante (Hackafore), gigante Caraculiambro (Giant Bumfaceogre), ínsula Malindrania (Evilandria Island), and Dulcinea (Sweetalyn).

Don Quixote's grandiloquent speech is also the first example of another element characteristic of the story which here makes its first appearance. Until now it had been the narrator who had told us what the hidalgo was, said, wanted, and thought, but with the emergence of the knight, Cervantes lets him take center stage, assuming for himself, in addition to his earlier roles, those of commentator and deflator. “¡Oh, cómo se holgo nuestro caballero cuando hubo hecho este discurso, … !,” Cervantes tells us with tongue in cheek, and immediately proceeds to close his chapter with another piece of the tantalizing morsel with which he had opened the story: “en un lugar cerca del suyo había una moza labradora{,y} … vino a llamarla Dulcinea del Toboso, porque era natural del Toboso.” “In El Toboso,” he tells his readers, “a neighboring village to Don Quixote's hometown, which shall remain nameless, lived Dulcinea.” And with this flourishing of the pen, Cervantes gives us in a few lines a fictional hidalgo on his way to becoming a legendary knight; a peasant girl suddenly transformed into a Lady who, like the ghosts of the greyhound and the mozo of the opening paragraphs, would never appear in the story, but whose image would permeate with romantic overtones the entire tale; and a nonexistent, seventeenth-century Spanish village nested a few leagues away from El Toboso. And thus, in one single paragraph, the reader finds double-edged humor, and several of the essential elements found in history, fairy tales, folk stories, myth, and romances of chivalry, all rolled into one newly created genre, the modern novel.

True, most of the structural devices that will cement the various sections of the edifice are still missing. But the normal breaking of the narrative into chapters and parts (with Cide Hamete as the conspicuous tying element of the parts in Don Quixote, Part I), and the various intertwinings conceived to join the interpolated novelettes to the main story have yet not become necessary.11 The one and very character for whose creation Cervantes asks his readers to thank him, Sancho Panza, has not as yet been begotten.12 Some borrowings from the picaresque genre, the cliff-hanger device taken from the romances of chivalry and epic works, dialogue (so dear to the mind of Renaissance writers), and entire stories representing other literary genres still in vogue in those years (pastoral romances, Italianate, Byzantine, and Moorish novelettes) would either slyly burrow or openly force their way into the main narrative at later stages; but the artistic drive, the ideas, and the literary devices that will carry the story forward and will keep the narrative in motion for over ten years of creativity and throughout hundreds of pages are, as I have shown in this study, already in place in the very first chapter of Part I.

The five fundamental differences between Don Quixote and its literary predecessors are already present in the opening paragraphs of the novel: stated authorship, economy of words, no didactic purpose for writing the story, open and subliminal humor, and verisimilitude. Already present, as well, are the seeds from which myths sprout: no lineage for the hero, fiction mixed with a dosis of history (La Mancha, El Toboso, seventeenth-century Spain), facts shrouded in mystery (the name of the hidalgo's village, the names and exact ages of the hero, his niece, and the housekeeper), one-time references to ghost-like creatures who never again come to the fore (the greyhound, the male servant), and a hopeless quest for an ideal against all odds. Furthermore, with the bold stroke of authorial self-assurance displayed in the opening sentence of the novel, Cervantes has from the very beginning of the story laid the foundation for what in all justice has been called the first modern novel.

Cervantes neither distorted, nor deflated, nor made the stylistic flaws of the chivalric balloon burst with Don Quixote. He simply disrobed the romances of chivalry of their excesses, brought down their fantasies to a verisimilar milieu, mated them with some of the most endearing elements of literary works still in vogue in those years, and made them breed a healthy new-born genre. He used many of the literary and structural elements to be found in the old genres, adapting them and creating new and fascinating possibilities as he wrote.

The first chapter of Don Quixote, Part 1 is a testimony to this process, an unparalleled display of literary virtuosity. It is a shining commemorative plate displayed at the entrance of a new temple; a temple built upon, and with the very stones of the spent temples of yore. Cervantes's opening paragraphs are a glaring testimony honoring past genres and ushering in a genre to be.


  1. The first editions of Don Quixote, Parts I and II (Madrid: Juan de la Cuesta, 1605 and 1615) have no paragraph divisions. Here I follow the text, though not the exact paragraph division, of Luis Andrés Murillo's excellent edition of Don Quixote de la Mancha, 2 vols (Editorial Castalia: Madrid, 1978, and vol. 3, Bibliografía fundamental, 1980). All references and quotations are to and from this edition; given by Part, chapter, and page. Murillo deals with this section of Cervantes's novel in his A Critical Introduction to “Don Quixote” (Peter Lang: New York, 1988), illuminating and enriching the text from the outside in; see, especially, pp. 1-28. I shall remain within the text itself. For bibliographical entries on Don Quixote and the romances of chivalry see sections 150 to 156 in Murillo's Bibliografia fundamental, at pp. 43-45. I dedicate this study to Luis A. Murillo, my dear friend and colleague.

  2. Cervantes uses the verb querer—want, wish—also as an auxiliary verb with its value on insistence. “Quieren decir que tenia el sobrenombre de Quijada” (I, 1, 71), would translate as: “They [people, some chroniclers] insist on saying that his surname was Quijada.” Murillo's footnotes to the opening sentences of Don Quixote are apropos (see vol. 1, especially footnotes 2 and 3, at pp. 69-70), but I think that Cervantes is not simply using traditional formulas but also adapting them to serve his own innovative purposes. For other monographs on this section of the novel see Murillo's edition, vol. 3, Bibliografia fundamental, section 451, at pp. 107-8.

  3. An excellent study on this aspect of Cervantes's novel is Luis A. Murillo's The Golden Dial: Temporal Configuration in “Don Quijote” (Oxford: Dolphin, 1975); see especially pp. 33-66.

  4. “[Díjole el ventero] que tuvieron los pasados caballeros por cosa acertada que sus escuderos fuesen proveídos de dineros, … y cuando sucedía que los tales caballeros no tenían escuderos—que eran pocas y raras veces—, ellos mismos [los] llevaban” (I, 3, 90).

  5. When the hidalgo is searching for an appropriate name for himself, Cervantes notes: “Puesto nombre, y tan a su gusto, a su caballo, quiso ponérsele a sí mismo, y … al cabo se vino a llamar don Quijote; [sic] de donde, como queda dicho, tomaron ocasión los autores desta tan verdadera historia que, sin duda, se debía de llamar Quijada, y no Quesada, como otros quisieron decir” (I, 1, 76-77). Don Quixote's neighbor calls him “señor Quijana” (I, 5, 106), but at the close of the novel he is referred to as Alonso Quijano el Bueno (II, 74, 591). This is probably either a foul-case error or a compositorial mistake (the compositor either misread his printer's copy or assumed that the surname “Quijana” applied to Don Quixote's niece was the feminine form of their family name, and, thus, that Don Quixote's surname was “Quijano”). I accidentally failed to enter this printer's error in my edition of Don Quixote (Vancouver: University of British Comlumbia Press, 1988.)

  6. For more disclaimers in Chapter 1, and a cross reference to this passage, see: “de donde, como queda dicho, tomaron ocasión los autores desta tan verdadera historia que, sin duda, se debía de llamar Quijada, y no Quesada, como otros quieren decir” (p. 77).

  7. Another example of Cervantes's wordplaying in Chapter 1 is the sentence, Don Quixote's hack “tenía más cuartos que un real” (I, 1, 75), cuarto being used here with its double meaning of “sand crack in a horse's hoof” and “coin equivalent to one-eighth of the old Spanish real.” For more on Cervantes's work as a funny story see P. E. Russell's “Don Quixote as a Funny Book,” Modern Language Review 64 (1969): 312-326; and Alan S. Trueblood's “The puntualidades of Cide Hamete and the menudencias of Don Quixote,” On Cervantes: Essays for L. A. Murillo (Newark, Delaware: Juan de la Cuesta, 1990), 271-290.

  8. “[La] claridad de su prosa” versus “entricadas razones.” The barbed-wire nature of the criticism implied in these words is overtly provided by the passages quoted from the works of Feliciano de Silva's themselves, and by the closing, humorous remark of Cervantes's to the effect that not even Aristotle himself could have understood the meaning of the excerpts quoted had he revived for that purpose alone.

  9. The two occurrences of the word historia that appear in the paragraph (“no habia otra historia más cierta”; and “según dice su historia”; I, 1, 74) stand for the word “story,” not “history.”

  10. The pertinent excerpts in Chapter 1 are: “según se decía él a sí mesmo—no era razón que caballo de caballero tan famoso” (I, 1, 76); “quiso, como buen caballero, añadir [a su nombre el nombre de su patria], con que, a su parecer … la honraba con tomar el sobrenombre della” (I, 1, 77); “«Yo, señora, soy el gigante Caraculiambro, señor de la ínsula Malindrania, a quien venció en singular batalla el jamás como se debe alabado caballero don Quijote de la Mancha … »?” (I, 1, 78).

  11. For detailed studies of this process see my articles “Cervantes at Work: The Writing of Don Quixote, Part I,” Journal of Hispanic Philology 3 (1979): 135-160; and “The Rôle of Cide Hamete in Don Quixote,” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 59 (1982): 3-14.

  12. “[Q]uiero que me agradezcas [, querido lector,] el conocimiento que tendrás del famoso Sancho Panza, su escudero, en quien, a mi parecer, te doy cifradas todas las gracias escuderiles que en la caterva de los libros vanos de caballerías están esparcidas” (I, Prologue, p. 58).

Manuel Durán (essay date 1995)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5767

SOURCE: Durán, Manuel. “From Fool's Gold to Real Gold: Don Quixote and the Golden Helmet.” In Studies in Honor of Donald W. Bleznick, pp. 17-31. Newark, Del.: Juan de la Cuesta, 1995.

[In the following essay, Durán maintains that chapter twenty-one of the first part of Don Quixote, which deals with the adventure of Mambrino's helmet, is a microcosm of the entire novel.]

Reading Don Quixote is like biting into a plum pudding: some chapters are more rewarding, more full of juicy bits of fruit than others. Chapter XXI of Part I, “which treats of the high and richly rewarded adventure of Mambrino's helmet, together with other things that happened to our invincible knight,”1 can be praised on two scores: it is interesting in and by itself, and moreover it offers the reader a microcosm of the novel as a whole. In it we find action and reflection, psychological fencing and the joyous sharing of experience and hope, social criticism and philosophical insights.

In this chapter, as so often in the novel, Cervantes introduces action not for its own sake but in order to clarify and underline Don Quixote's vision of the world, Sancho's reaction, and the discrepancy between the two viewpoints. Don Quixote's eyes are struck by an image: he sees something moving, far away, and proceeds to interpret what he sees according to the fabulous literary world that has shaped his system of values: “They had not gone far before Don Quixote sighted a man on horseback wearing something on his head that gleamed like gold. …” The time is ripe for a new adventure, one that will redeem the shame and failure of the previous chapter with its night terrors and its ominous fulling hammers. As day follows night the glimmer of a golden helmet allows him to open his heart to high hopes, to expectations of “a better and more assured adventure, and if I do not embark upon that undertaking the fault will be mine, and I shall not be able to blame it upon those hammers or the darkness of night. I tell you this for the reason that, if I am not mistaken, there comes toward us now one who wears upon his head that helmet of Mambrino concerning which, as you know, I have taken a vow.” Throughout the chapter Don Quixote is in a buoyant mood. He has seen, far away, a glimmer of gold that he relates to his rich literary background. He is no longer dealing with the forces of darkness and of technology, as in the previous adventure, He feels at home: a golden helmet brings to his mind the Italian Renaissance epic, Boiardo, Ariosto, the best of all possible worlds. Sancho, on the other hand, feels depressed and argues at every turn against his master's poetic interpretation and against taking action too hastily. The dialogue unfolds amidst tension and often reminds us of Gerald Brenan's felicitous description,

The relationship between the pair may best after all be compared to that most intimate of partnerships, marriage. The long dialogue between them that takes up the principal part of the book suggests, in a more ceremonious key, the familiar dialogue of married couples. It is made up of the same inconclusive wranglings, the same recriminations and tu quoques, the same fixed recollections and examples dragged out again and again from the past to clinch an argument. Thus the fact that Sancho was tossed in a blanket early in their travels and that his master failed to rescue him and, to conceal his impotence, put the whole thing down to the work of enchanters, is brought up by the squire every time the question of enchantments is raised in the course of the book. It is one of the two rocks upon which his unbelief, when he is in the unbelieving mood, is founded. Just as in married life, every disagreement leads back to some classic precedent or ‘You said so-and-so.’


Cervantes manages to create a dialogue that is spontaneous, true to the situation and the psychology of each character, and which at the same time allows us to catch a glimpse of a crucial theoretical problem, the enduring conflict between Reason and Faith. Thus as soon as Don Quixote has mentioned Mambrino's helmet he is challenged by Sancho: “… upon my word, if I were free to talk as I used to, I could give you such reasons that your Grace would see he was mistaken in what he just said.” To which the knight retorts, “How could I be mistaken in what I said, you unbelieving traitor?” Does Sancho not see that knight coming towards them, mounted on a dappled gray steed, with a golden helmet on his head? (I underline the words “reasons” and “unbelieving” because I suspect that either deliberately or unconsciously they were used by Cervantes in order to give us a hint that the dialogue is about to enter a lofty plane: freedom of speech, appearance versus reality, the whole complex field of epistemology is unfolding as the knight and his squire try to make sense out of what each one perceives.)

Cervantes was well aware that each individual interpretation of what his senses convey to his mind is a complex and delicate construction, based in great part upon his previous education and experience. A few years after Don Quixote appeared it would be the turn of a great Frenchman, Descartes, to take up the problems of appearance and reality, of mental images and their interpretations and turn them into a system of thought. Don Quixote, of course, had established his own cogito, ergo sum when, at the beginning of the novel, he exclaimed, “I know who I am!” Descartes, who once remarked that from the top of a lofty tower the observer looking down upon the streets of a city does not really see men walking but sees merely hats and cloaks (or overcoats) and must assume that someone is inside such hats and cloaks, would be the ideal reader for Chapter XXI.2 Sancho is a Cartesian “avant la lettre” when he refuses to give a name to an object that he does not recognize. He is familiar with men, asses, colors. He proceeds from what he knows to what he does not know, identifying each part: “What I see and perceive, said Sancho, is a man upon an ass, a gray ass like mine, with something or other on his head that shines.” (My underlining).

We should not, of course, overlook a previous question, hinted at by Sancho: censorship versus freedom of expression. Without freedom there can be no philosophy, no wisdom. If Sancho is to be gagged, how can he warn his master against any impending danger? How is he to explain why he thinks the so-called golden helmet is no more, and no less, than a barber's basin? (Lest our readers come to the hasty conclusion that we are making too much of Cervantes as a social critic, we should remind them that, on the contrary, criticism has been painfully slow to acknowledge and interpret the numerous attacks launched by him against his times' attitudes and mores. We have had to wait until our own century to realize that the burning of Don Quixote's books by the curate and the barber, those two worthy representatives of the “Establishment” and of lower middle class “hard-hat mentality,” which takes place in chapter VI of the first part, resembles closely the censorship and the burning of heretical or controversial books which the Inquisition continually carried out during Cervantes' life. Finally, in this very chapter XXI Cervantes makes use of an ecclesiastical technical term, mutatio capparum, which properly applies to an exchange of hoods on the part of cardinals or bishops during a religious ceremony, to refer to Sancho's exchange of trappings between his own ass and the ass belonging to the absent barber. A jest, a joke, of course, but one not devoid of sly criticism.)

Yet, as was to be expected, Don Quixote will soon relent and Sancho will once more speak freely. Don Quixote is above all a generous, forgiving man—moreover, he enjoys Sancho's conversation. After the brief flurry of action at the beginning of the chapter, when the golden helmet is quickly commandeered and the barber is put to flight, the chapter soon reverts to conversation. Don Quixote is a tactful and sensitive man; he realizes that Sancho is in a restless, rebellious mood, and has to be appeased. If Sancho claims that the object acquired is a barber's basin, not Mambrino's helmet, this viewpoint is not to be rejected offhand; rather a curious rationalization and a reconstruction of possible past circumstances will allow Don Quixote to differ from Sancho without making his squire look ridiculous. Quite plausibly, Don Quixote argues that “this famous piece of that enchanted helmet must have fallen by some strange accident into the hands of someone who did not know, and was incapable of estimating, its worth, and who, seeing that it was of the purest gold and not realizing what he was doing, must have melted down the other half for what he could get for it, while from the remaining portion he fashioned what appears, as you have said, to be a barber's basin.” The rest of the chapter is equally an exercise in persuasion—we are almost tempted to write an exercise in mental seduction—in which the knight, at first at odds with his squire, manages to win him over completely. An exercise in what Salvador de Madariaga has called “the quixotization of Sancho.”

The problem, in a nutshell, is how to turn the “fool's gold” of humdrum events and everyday existence into the real gold of a vision enriched by lofty ideals and Platonic standards handed down through the ages by the poets. Turning Sancho into a true believer is not an easy task. It took years for Alonso Quijano to turn himself into Don Quixote. The conversion was sudden and dramatic for those who lived in his household. It was the end of a long process of reading and pondering about values, the projection—or rather the lack of projection—of these values in ordinary life, the need to animate our experience with beauty and truth by trying “to reach the unreachable stars.” What had happened to the knight could also happen to others. Enthusiasm is infectious. Yet first the knight must counter Sancho's obvious objections, his skepticism about what has been accomplished so far, especially in view of the fact that the great adventures of the knight and his squire will remain unknown for lack of witnesses—or, as we would put it in our modern vocabulary, a failure to create a sound system of public relations. How is a knight to become famous when there are no witnesses to his victories?

Don Quixote's answer is calculated to appeal to Sancho's greed, to his squire's love of riches and power. Sancho has tasted some of the sweet fruits of victorious adventure: he has just acquired a better saddle for his ass, the one that the barber, the “enemy knight,” had abandoned in his flight. Thus conditioned, he is not going to question the unfolding tale, the description of the ideal life of a knight-errant and his squire. It is worthy of note that the account begins in the future tense. The knight will have to serve a period of probation in order to win fame and become well known by the time he arrives at the court of some great king. Later in his speech Don Quixote is carried away by his enthusiasm and he starts using the present indicative tense, thus giving his descriptions a vivid immediacy.

After a brief description of the difficult early times, we are told that the knight will have become so well known that when he enters the gate of the city, all the young lads will follow and surround him, shouting, “There goes the Knight of the Sun,” or whatever other name the knight has received. When the knight reaches the king's palace, he is discovered to be the son of a king. After several romantic scenes and much flirtation, he marries the daughter of the king, and then, in rapid succession, “the king dies, the infanta inherits the throne, and, in a couple of words, the knight becomes king.” His good fortune is, of course, shared by his faithful squire: “here is where the bestowal of favors comes in, as he rewards his squire and all those who have assisted him in rising to so exalted a state. He marries his squire to one of the infanta's damsels, undoubtedly the one who was the go-between in his courting of the princess, and who is the daughter of a very great duke.” Sancho then bursts out, happy and confident about his glorious future: “That's what I want, and make no mistake about it. … That's what I'm waiting for. All of this, word for word, is bound to happen to your Grace now that you bear the title Knight of the Mournful Countenance.” Sancho has followed his master along the path of belief in the reality of literature. It is noteworthy that in the enthusiasm created by the description of what must happen both the knight and the squire forget their basic allegiance, Don Quixote to Dulcinea and Sancho to his wife. Glory and power have seduced them. Only a princess and a duke's daughter are good enough for them.

Two other points are also worth mentioning. First, the manipulation of Sancho by Don Quixote follows the classic pattern “carrot-and stick.” Don Quixote at the beginning of the chapter has menaced Sancho with bodily harm: “I will full your very soul,” i.e. I will hammer your soul out of your body, if you mention once more the adventure of the fulling hammers. Later the mood of both changes. Sancho is rewarded with the spoils from the barber's ass, and finally he is promised success, riches, glory, and the hand of a great duke's daughter. Don Quixote has first menaced Sancho with the stick (and Sancho, having seen his master in action, can have no doubt about his own fate) then proffered him the carrot. We know that the interrogation of an accused criminal by the police (or the brainwashing of a war prisoner) can be carried out most effectively by a pair of interrogators, one of whom is relatively kind and benevolent while the second one strikes and tortures the prisoner or menaces to do so. Don Quixote assumes these two different roles, one after the other, in this chapter, managing—for the moment at least—the complete submission of Sancho, who is now ready to believe in the common future so aptly described by the knight.

The second part to be stressed is, I think, of greater importance. It deals with the constant interaction between the various shifting planes—almost, in modern terms, a Calder mobile of mirrors—with which Cervantes builds his novel. Don Quixote has been carried away by his description of a glorious future. Suddenly he checks himself. He is not, as far as he knows, of royal blood. How could he marry the king's daughter?

I do not know how I am going to make myself out to be of royal line or even second cousin to an emperor; for the king will not wish to give me his daughter's hand unless he is first thoroughly satisfied on this point, however much my deeds merit the honor; and for this reason I fear losing that which my good right arm has so well earned for me. It is true that I am a gentleman property-holder with a country house and estate, I am entitled to an income of five hundred sueldos; and it may further be that the learned scribe who writes my history will so clear up my relationships and ancestry that I shall be found to be the descendant, fifth or sixth in line, of some king.

Don Quixote is here, at the same time, realistic (royal blood is required, at least within the context of his era, for a royal wedding), pathetic (an income of five hundred sueldos is meager indeed, since the sueldo was worth one or two cents) and visionary: he is aware that someone—a learned scribe—is writing his life: could it be that his biography would, in turn, react upon his future adventures, and by doing so ensure his ultimate success? Don Quixote, as a character in the novel, is an aging Spanish hidalgo turned into a mirror of another literary hero, Amadís. Yet Don Quixote is conscious, in a way Amadís never is, of being part of the written world, of history as fiction, ultimately of literature. Thus when he is in trouble he looks for literary solutions to his problems: in some cases the solution can be found not in the literary text itself, but in the very process of writing a literary text. All through the second part of the novel, Don Quixote, a man—an hidalgo, Alonso Quijano—who has become a book, or rather the central nucleus of a book, will be haunted by his own ghost; the character created in the first part of the novel becomes the invisible companion of Don Quixote, the hero's doppelganger, a ghost that only the hero's death can exorcise. The power of books over a man's life is therefore the constant theme of Cervantes' novel. Don Quixote appeals in chapter XXI to the writer of his life: could he help by discovering—he does not dare to suggest by inventing—a royal genealogy for his hero?

If literature is powerful, its power cannot go unchallenged. Literature as inspiration for our daily life can be compared to a melody. Its counterpoint is the stubborn resistance of our environment, the prosaic nature of our surroundings. A barber's basin refuses to become a golden helmet. Don Quixote works hard at his alchemist's task, yet the goal is not totally reached. As a perceptive contemporary American critic, Robert Alter, points out, one way of understanding how the modern novel came into being is to view the history of the novel as a dialectic between consciousness and things, between personality and the world of unyielding and stubborn objects that surround each personality. This dialectical tension was perfectly understood by Cervantes: he was perhaps the first one to grasp it in its entirety and to fathom its consequences. There is no such tension in the narrative forms before Don Quixote because they generally reflect a sense of organic connection between man and the objects around him. In a society basically untroubled by social and ideological conflict we tend to accept unconsciously our surroundings: we feel at home. Our objects—our clothes, our tools, our homes—prolong and extend our personality. We do not feel compelled to fight them in order to become ourselves. (Marshall McLuhan has written at length about this subject.) These objects are a help, not a hindrance. Sometimes certain privileged objects, such as the shield belonging to Achilles which is the subject of a detailed description by Homer, are central, sacred, since fashioned by a god, and explain a whole culture, as E. Auerbach's Mimesis points out.

Yet one of the negative aspects of the intellectual upheaval we call the Renaissance is that this feeling of organic connection between man and things breaks down. We can define this estrangement as a process of alienation, so often mentioned by Hegel, Marx, and, in a more contemporary setting, Herbert Marcuse. This process, as we well know, is far advanced in our own times, yet we should not forget that it was already present when Alonso Quijano decided to become Don Quixote and decreed that henceforth he would dedicate his life to a fight against the gray inert quality of the objects and the society that surrounded him. As Alter puts it,

his heroism consists in his brave, pathetic, noble, and of course mad attempt to force the indifferent things of his world into consonance with his own heroic ideals—basins into helmets, windmills into dragons, broken-winded nags into fiery steeds.


To put it succinctly, there is tension between the word—always, in his moments of vision, the poetic word, the magical word—used by our knight, and the thing he is describing or pointing out to the other characters in the novel. This tense interplay between the knight and his environment is one of the keys to Cervantes' enduring influence. In a dynamic world such as ours, the classical works we understand and like best are those that embody tension and drama. As E. C. Riley points out (and before him Ortega y Gasset and in my own way, in La ambigüedad en el Quijote I have also contributed to this interpretation) relativism plays an important role in the novel. Its text offers us layer upon layer of “relative reality,” of objects and situation seen as reflected in a complex set of shifting mirrors, situations and objects more and more distant from believable everyday “reality.”

For instance: as we read on in chapter XXI we cannot and should not forget that we are in the process of reading a tale, a work of fiction, and we know its author is Cervantes, yet he claims he is conveying to us a translation (perhaps distorted or unfaithful) of a text written by Benengeli, a ridiculous name for a Moorish historian, who is perhaps, as all Moorish historians were rumored to be, a liar. All along the chapter Don Quixote and Sancho disagree. The author, in this instance, sides with Sancho. Yet the role of perspective in our search for truth is emphasized once more. Perspective, as we know it, had been rediscovered by Renaissance artists and mathematicians, or rather artist-mathematicians, such as Alberti.3 It conveyed a precise description of the visible world from one viewpoint; it shifted and changed with each movement of this viewpoint, or rather its results, its total vision, changed as the spectator moved, hence its nature both objective—in its laws—and subjective—in its results. Although subjective in nature, with regard to one observer, it gave a good description of the world as seen by that observer at that specific moment. Cervantes makes use of several subjective viewpoints and perspectives: as Riley observes,

The Quixote is a novel of multiple perspectives. Cervantes observes the world he creates from the viewpoints of characters and reader as well as author. It is as though he were playing a game with mirrors or prisms. By a kind of a process of refraction he adds—or creates the illusion of adding—an extra dimension to the novel. He foreshadows the technique of modern novelists whereby the action is seen through the eyes of one or more of the personages involved. …

(as quoted by Lowry Nelson, 127)

And Angel del Río states,

What emerges from the Quixote and to a lesser degree from his other works (a few of the exemplary novels, some of the interludes) is that our world, our life, is above all ambiguous. That certainty is not possible, that the world is susceptible of many interpretations.


Don Quixote is usually quite sure of himself and of the way he interprets his surroundings. Yet the episode of the helmet shows the flexibility of the knight's mind in matters not directly related to literary legends and myths. Sancho wants to take over the barber's ass: “… what are we to do with this dappled gray steed that looks like a gray-colored ass?” Don Quixote objects: “It is not my custom … to despoil those whom I conquer. … And so, Sancho, leave this horse, or ass, or whatever you choose to call him. …” In chapter XXV this perspectivism comes to the fore once more when again Sancho expresses doubts about the basin being a helmet. Don Quixote states that everything that has to do with knight-errantry appears to be mad, chimerical—the reverse of reality. “So, this that appears to you as a barber's basin is for me Mambrino's helmet, and something else again to another person.” The enchanters play for Don Quixote the same distorting, ambiguity-creating role that the evil geni, le malin genie, will play for Descartes. This same perspectivism allows Sancho to create a new word: “… if it had not been for this basin-helmet, it would have gone hard with him that time. …” (XLIV). Michel Foucault describes accurately this ambiguous and frustrating relationship between words and things in Cervantes' novel:

With all their twists and turns, Don Quixote's adventures form the boundary: they mark the end of the old interplay between resemblance and signs and contain the beginnings of new relations. Don Quixote is not a man given to extravagance, but rather a diligent pilgrim breaking his journey before all the marks of similitude. He is the hero of the Same. He never manages to escape from the familiar plain stretching out on all sides of the Analogue, any more than he does from his own small province. He travels endlessly over that plain, without ever crossing the clearly defined frontiers of difference, or reaching the heart of identity. Moreover, he is himself like a sign, a long, thin graphism, a letter that has just escaped from the open pages of a book. His whole being is nothing but language, text, printed pages, stories that have already been written down. He is made up of interwoven words; he is writing itself wandering through the world among the resemblances of things. Yet not entirely so: for in his reality as an impoverished hidalgo he can become a knight only by listening from afar to the age-old epic that gives its form to Law. The book is not so much his existence as his duty. He is constantly obliged to consult it in order to know what to do or say, and what signs he should give himself and others in order to show that he really is of the same nature as the text from which he springs. The chivalric romances have provided once and for all a written prescription for his adventures. And every episode, every decision, every exploit will be yet another sign that Don Quixote is a true likeness of all the signs that he has traced from his book. But the fact that he wishes to be like them means that he must put them to the test, that the (legible) signs no longer resemble (visible) people. All those written texts, all those extravagant romances are, quite literally, unparalleled: no one in the world ever did resemble them; their timeless language remains suspended, unfulfilled by any similitude; they could all be burned in their entirety and the form of the world would not be changed. If he is to resemble the texts of which he is the witness, the representation, the real analogue, Don Quixote must also furnish proof and provide the indubitable sign that they are telling the truth, that they really are the language of the world. It is incumbent upon him to fulfil the promise of the books. It is his task to recreate the epic, though by a reverse process: the epic recounted (or claimed to recount) real exploits, offering them to our memory; Don Quixote, on the other hand, must endow with reality the signs-without-content of the narrative. His adventures will be a deciphering of the world: a diligent search over the entire surface of the earth for the forms that will prove that what the books say is true. Each exploit must be a proof: it consists, not in a real triumph—which is why victory is not really important—but in an attempt to transform reality into a sign. Into a sign that the signs of language really are in conformity with things themselves. Don Quixote reads the world in order to prove his books. And the only proofs he gives himself are the glittering reflections of resemblances.


It is the role of Mambrino's helmet to bring into focus—momentarily for the knight, perhaps lastingly for Sancho and for the readers—this inadequacy of words, the shadowy, slippery characteristics of our surroundings. The answer to such anguishing ambiguity will be rationalism, modern science, modern philosophy. These great intellectual movements have not dissipated all the mysteries and enigmas but have enriched our vision of the world. The ambiguity symbolized in this episode was a necessary step into the modern times: out of the fool's gold of a barber's basin Cervantes, like a great alchemist, has created the real gold of an art where the modern critical attitude is about to be born.


  1. I have followed in this quotation and in all other quotations of Don Quixote the translation by Samuel Putnam.

  2. Descartes:

    Now I am truly astonished when I consider how weak my mind is and how apt I am to fall in error … So I may chance to look out of the window and notice some men passing, in the street, at the sight of whom I do not fail to say that I see men … and nevertheless what do l see from this window except hats and cloaks which might cover ghosts or automata which move only by springs? But I judge that they are men, and thus I comprehend, solely by the faculty of judgment which resides in my mind, that which I believe I saw with my eyes.

    (Meditation II, 89)

    Michel Foucault comments along similar lines:

    At the beginning of the seventeenth century, during the period that has been termed, rightly or wrongly, the Baroque, thought ceases to move in the element of resemblance. Similitude is no longer the form of knowledge but rather the occasion of error, the danger to which one exposes oneself when one does not examine the obscure region of confusions. ‘It is a frequent habit,’ says Descartes, in the first lines of his Regulae, ‘when we discover several resemblances between two things to attribute to both equally, even on points in which they are in reality different, that which we have recognized to be true of only one of them.’ The age of resemblance is drawing to a close. It is leaving nothing behind it but games. Games whose powers of enchantment grow out of the new kinship between resemblance and illusion; the chimeras of similitude loom up on all sides, but they are recognized as chimeras; it is the privileged age of trompe-l'oeil painting, of the comic illusion, of the play that duplicates itself by representing another play, of the quid pro quo, of dreams and visions; it is the age of the deceiving senses; it is the age in which the poetic dimension of language is defined by metaphor, simile, and allegory. And it was also in the nature of things that the knowledge of the sixteenth century should leave behind it the distorted memory of a muddled and disordered body of learning in which all the things in the world could be linked indiscriminately to men's experiences, traditions, or credulities. From then on, the noble, rigorous, and restrictive figures of similitude were to be forgotten. And the signs that designated them were to be thought of as the fantasies and charms of a knowledge that had not yet attained the age of reason.


  3. As J. Bronowski writes,

    the perception of objects in space … was a subject about which the Greeks were totally wrong. It was understood for the first time about the year AD 1000 by an eccentric mathematician whom we call Alhazen, who was the one really original scientific mind that Arab culture produced. The Greeks had thought that light goes from the eyes to the object. Alhazen first recognized that we see an object because each point of it directs and reflects a ray into the eye. The Greek view could not explain how an object, my hand say, seems to change size when it moves. In Alhazen's account it is clear that the cone of rays that comes from the outline and shape of my hand grows narrower as I move my hand away from you. As I move it towards you, the cone of rays that enters your eye becomes larger and subtends a larger angle. And that, and only that, accounts for the difference in size. It is so simple a notion that it is astonishing that scientists paid almost no attention to it (Roger Bacon is an exception) for six hundred years. But artists attended to it long before that, and in a practical way. The concept of the cone of rays from object to eye becomes the foundation of perspective. And perspective is the new idea which now revivifies mathematics. The excitement of perspective passed into art in north Italy, in Florence and Venice, in the fifteenth century. A manuscript of Alhazen's Optics in translation in the Vatican Library in Rome is annotated by Lorenzo Ghiberti, who made the famous bronze perspectives for the doors of the Baptistry in Florence. He was not the first pioneer of perspective—that may have been Filippo Brunelleschi—and there were enough of them to form an identifiable school of the Perspectivi. It was a school of thought, for its aim was not simply to make the figures lifelike, but to create the sense of their movement in space.”


    Bronowski also points out that Alhazen's Optics was translated at Toledo:

    We think of Italy as the birthplace of the Renaissance. But the conception was in Spain in the twelfth century, and it is symbolized and expressed by the famous school of translators at Toledo, where the ancient texts were turned from Greek (which Europe had forgotten) through Arabic and Hebrew into Latin.


Works Cited

Alter, Robert. Fielding and the Novel. New York, 1969.

Brenan, Gerald. The Literature of the Spanish People. New York: Meridian Books, 1961.

Bronowski, Joseph. The Ascent of Man. Boston-Toronto: Little, Brown & Co., 1973.

Descartes, René. The Meditations on First Philosophy, New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co, 1960.

Duran, Manuel. La ambigüedad en el Quijote. Jalapa, Mexico: Universidad Veracruzana, 1961.

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things. An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Random House, 1970.

Nelson, Lowry. Cervantes. A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

del Río, Angel. Historia de la literatura española. Edición revisada. New York, 1963.

Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha. trans. Putnam, Samuel. New York: The Viking Press, 1949.

James A. Parr (essay date 1995)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5423

SOURCE: Parr, James A. “Some Narratological Problems in Don Quixote: Five Instances.” In Studies in Honor of Donald W. Bleznick, pp. 127-42. Newark, Del.: Juan de la Cuesta, 1995.

[In the following essay, Parr examines narrative technique in Don Quixote.]

It is no exaggeration to say that the plot, the main characters, the interpolated stories, and the complementarities among main and accessory actions have, together, dominated critical discourse on Don Quixote. It is also fair to say that the telling of the tale has generally taken a subordinate position to what in Anglo-American critical parlance is traditionally called “showing.” In the terms Plato used some centuries ago, mimesis has received more attention than diegesis.

Two chapters of my Don Quixote: An Anatomy of Subversive Discourse were designed to demonstrate how telling traces, and sometimes coopts, the main plot line of the text—from the perspective, that is, of one reasonably competent reader. I realize, however, that narrative technique was not illustrated in those two chapters as fully as it might have been, nor were certain problem areas addressed in the detail they deserved.

Without doubt, the central narratological problem involves the roles of the First Author, the Second Author, Cide Hamete, and the Editor (my “Supernarrator”). I shall not attempt to square that center, but it might be helpful to elaborate on the troublesome foursome just mentioned, along with some related reflections on Gerald Prince's notions of the nonnarrated and the nonnarratable. Space will not allow discussion of his more provocative concept of the disnarrated. A productive way to proceed might be to scrutinize specific narrative instances in order to ascertain who is speaking, in what tone, and from what level (extradiegetic, intradiegetic, or intra-intradiegetic), while focusing also, as appropriate, on the narratee. A “narrative instance,” in Gérard Genette's typology, is one in which there is communication between a narrator and a narratee.

Instance #1 (Part I, chapter 2)

Con éstos iba ensartando otros disparates, todos al modo de los que sus libros le habían enseñado, imitando en cuanto podía su lenguaje. Con esto, caminaba tan despacio, y el sol entraba tan apriesa y con tanto ardor, que fuera bastante a derritirle los sesos, si algunos tuviera.

Casi todo aquel día caminó sin acontecerle cosa que de contar fuese, de lo cual se desesperaba, porque quisiera topar luego luego con quien hacer experiencia del valor de su fuerte brazo. Autores hay que dicen que la primera aventura que le avino fue la del Puerto Lápice; otros dicen que la de los molinos de viento; pero lo que yo he podido averiguar en este caso, y lo que he hallado escrito en los anales de la Mancha, es que él anduvo todo aquel día, y, al anochecer, su rocín y él se hallaron cansados y muertos de hambre. …


The first paragraph has to do with characterization. The protagonist's discourse is described as a series of disparates, his initiative and creativity are called into doubt by pointing out his unfailing deference to written authority—imitation rather than creativity, in other words—and he is said to be not only addlepated (as we were told before) but brainless. The second paragraph begins by parodying a frequent device of the books of chivalry, the formulaic ellipsis employed in order to “fast-forward” the narration, and this has the effect of establishing a conspiratorial pact with the narratee, who is presumably competent to recognize such playful moves. The ironic technique employed in the fuerte brazo hyperbole is the fairly frequent one of praising in order to blame. Then come the references to other written versions of the story. Several authors are alluded to, and the collation of their texts seems to offer two possible sequences. The implication is that the story is the same in all versions, except for sequence. The sequence unearthed in the annals (and it is important to note that this is the only narrator who has recourse to this absurdity) is different still, and it turns out to be the one followed by this initial text speaker, who can properly be called the First Author or, more properly still, the first narrator.

The second paragraph begins by suppressing information and ends by supplying an overabundance of trivialities that might likewise have been left peacefully in the inkwell. The narrative strategies involved are, initially, ellipsis or the unnarrated, and, finally, the unnarratable or, in Prince's terms, material that falls below the threshold of narratibility because it is in no way unusual or problematic. This recourse to the trivial is, as must be evident, all part of the process of deflation. Just as Don Quixote's high-sounding description of his first sally onto the plains of Montiel is reduced by this same narrator to the laconic and dismissive “Y era verdad que por él caminaba” (80), so here we learn that the actual first “adventure” was not with the windmills or the Biscayan, but was merely the prosaic arrival, with his nag, both tired and hungry, at a humble inn.

The speaker in this passage is the so-called primer autor, or, in today's terms, the first narrative voice. At this early juncture, we have been exposed only to this text speaker, so there are no competitors for discursive authority. Indeed, he is quick to assert the authority of his research into unnamed sources, probably oral in nature (“lo que yo he podido averiguar en este caso”), and into the annals of La Mancha. In addition, he has collated other written versions and has determined that they divide along two sequential time lines. All of this tends to authenticate the version we have before us. On the other hand, it is evident that he is inordinately biased against the human subject of his story, so we must wonder why he bothers. In fact, he apparently does soon tire of turning the heroic on its ear and so retires from the scene, becoming, from the author's and reader's perspective, a “discarded voice,” as George Haley aptly puts it.

The tone of the passage is playful, ironic, somewhat conspiratorial. It playfully suppresses supposedly insignificant information only to provide a full quota of just such superfluous detail in the end. The ludic manner manifests itself to the discreet reader (you and I) in two principal ways: 1) in the inversion and implied interchangeability of the nonnarrated and the nonnarratable (this is, what lies just below the threshold of narratability is essentially the same trivial stuff, whether expressed or left unsaid); and 2) in the rigorous research program, the quest for origins and for establishing the authoritative text, undertaken by the independent scholar known here as First Author.

The unidentified narratee—there is no “Vuestra Merced,” as in the Lazarillo—is never addressed directly. That assumed textual presence is assumed to be astute and well-read, someone capable of sharing the humor surrounding the inversion of the heroic, while also appreciating the parody of some standard devices of the books of chivalry.

Instance #2 (Part I, chapter 8)

Pero está el daño de todo esto que en este punto y término deja pendiente el autor desta historia esta batalla, disculpándose que no halló más escrito, destas hazañas de don Quijote de las que deja referidas. Bien es verdad que el segundo autor desta obra no quiso creer que tan curiosa historia estuviese entregada a las leyes del olvido, ni que hubiesen sido tan poco curiosos los ingenios de la Mancha, que no tuviesen en sus archivos o en sus escritorios algunos papeles que deste famoso caballero tratasen; y así, con esta imaginación, no se desesperó de hallar el fin desta apacible historia, el cual, siéndole el cielo favorable, le halló del modo que se contará en la segunda parte.


Suddenly there surfaces, without warning and with no indication that a transition has occurred, a seemingly omniscient editorial presence. This is the second narrative voice within the text. He too remains nameless, like the First and Second Authors, to whom he makes reference (although he does not use the term “First Author”). He seems to be a reader of what we have been reading, but he knows more than we, for he is able to announce a new narrative presence and new source material that will bring the aborted story to an appropriate conclusion. There is no indication of the amount of story remaining before we come to that ending—a tremendous amount, obviously—nor of the fact that a proper ending (fin) will again prove elusive as we approach the end of chapter 52. In retrospect, we can see, then, that the editorial voice that takes shape here for the first time either is not omniscient or is not entirely forthcoming.

To introduce a second text speaker in this fashion is to play fast and loose with narrative protocol. It is a narrative transgression that establishes a pattern for many others to follow. Therein lies its importance as a diegetic device. It is also significant because it represents the entry into the text of a commentator on the efforts of other writers of record. The issue at hand is whether this is the dominant editorial presence that continues to appear unexpectedly among the interstices of the text, in both 1605 and 1615, or whether that commentator is the so-called Second Author, who will appear momentarily in chapter 9. Or are the tracings so tenuous and the inconsistencies such that we might better think of a conflation of the two?

However that question is resolved, it bears mention that Cervantes here and elsewhere concurs with modern narratology in assuming the priority of story—that story, in brief, exists independently of, and prior to, its emplotment and narrative presentation (Chatman 11).

Instance #3 (Part I, chapter 9)

Causóme esto mucha pesadumbre, porque el gusto de haber leído tan poco se volvía en disgusto, de pensar el mal camino que se ofrecía para hallar lo mucho que, a mi parecer, faltaba de tan sabroso cuento. … Esta imaginación me traía confuso y deseoso de saber real y verdaderamente toda la vida y milagros de nuestro famoso español don Quijote de la Mancha, luz y espejo de la caballería manchega, y el primero que en nuestra edad y en estos tan calamitosos tiempos se puso al trabajo y ejercicio de las andantes armas, y al desfacer agravios, socorrer viudas, amparar doncellas, de aquellas que andaban con sus azotes y palafrenes, y con toda su virginidad a cuestas, de monte en monte y de valle en valle; que si no era que algún follón, o algún villano de hacha y capellina, o algún descomunal gigante las forzaba, doncella hubo en los pasados tiempos que, al cabo de ochenta años, que en todos ellos no durmió un día debajo de tejado, y se fue tan entera a la sepultura como la madre que la había parido. Digo, pues. …


One thing that stands out is the radical change of tone, away from the negativism of the First Author, replacing that with a prolix, almost gushing, “re-vision” of a character who, up to this point, has had virtually nothing positive said about him, nor is he reported to have done anything of benefit either to himself or others. In fact, he has been presented as an inept reader, as mad, brainless, irascible, unproductively meddlesome, and violent to the point of attempted homicide against unarmed muleteers. How is it that the Second Author has managed to form an image largely contradicted by what is presented in the fragment to which he has (somehow, magically, mysteriously) been exposed? This is a question that must give pause.

I have proposed elsewhere that we have here another instance of the naive or incompetent reader, the counterpart of the main character in that regard, but on the diegetic level. This ineptness is shown to extend to other areas—for instance, to his hasty employment of the first Morisco he comes across as translator of the Arabic manuscript—but within the passage at hand it also becomes painfully evident in the anecdote about certain old women who went to their graves virgos intactas, just like their mothers!

The Second Author is an enthusiastic but naive reader, first and foremost, the “author” of only the first two-thirds of the present chapter, where he regales us with the story of his find in Toledo, and also the autor of the continuation. That is to say, he assumes the role of an autor de comedias, the entrepreneur who acquires and facilitates the “staging” of a text composed by the writer of record (Cide Hamete).

The Second Author is, then, a lector vulgar, who, like Don Quixote, has no notion of ironic detachment, and, at the same time, a facilitator who makes available a continuation. Cide Hamete, on the other hand, is presented as an historiador, presumably by his own definition, since the epithet forms part of the title of his version. He thus comes to stand for writing, with all its dangerous différance and potential for indiscriminate dissemination. Reading (Second Author) and writing (Cide Hamete) are shown to be not only complementary but, indeed, to coalesce in chapter 9 in the production of more text, giving form to the diffuse story of the beknighted Knight, which is always already there—in other written versions, in the annals of La Mancha, and in oral tradition—awaiting its definitive transcription in the fullness of time.

Instance #4 (Part I, chapter 9)

¡Válame Dios, y quién será aquel que buenamente pueda contar ahora la rabia que entró en el corazón de nuestro manchego, viéndose tratar de aquella manera!


This is the beginning of the second paragraph of what purports to be a translation of Cide Hamete's Arabic text. What do we make of the obviously Christian “¡Válame Dios!” in this context? Is it the bilingual Morisco's translation of more appropriate rhetoric, which would appeal to Allah (as at the beginning of II, 8), or is it a thinly disguised Christian voice making a mockery of the transparent parody of the found manuscript device? There is an unresolvable ambiguity here.

If it is a Christian voice asserting itself from within, or from behind, the ostensibly non-Christian version of an alien historian, is it the voice of the Second Author or the Editor who surfaced just as unexpectedly at the end of chapter 8? It seems to me that patterning should take precedence over immediate presence. Although the Second Author has intervened more recently, the pattern for his intervention is one of formal announcement, by a third party, whereas the editorial voice, who has also appeared only once, was seen to do so surreptitiously, taking the reader totally by surprise. His appearance at the end of chapter 8 is therefore more similar to what happens here than is the rambling, but carefully prepared, intervention of the Second Author that immediately precedes.

Remarkably like the instance just cited is one found in I, 46, where the controlling voice again reveals its presence: “¡Oh, válame Dios, y cuán grande que fue el enojo que recibió don Quijote oyendo las descompuestas palabras de su escudero!” (552). Once again, this is surely not Cide Hamete speaking, although there is no textual marker to guide the reader.

It is my contention therefore that it is the editorial voice, which I have dubbed the Supernarrator, that looms large behind the written text throughout, always ready to surprise us with an unanticipated intervention of one sort or another. Similar sightings occur in Part II, where we find in chapter 70, in the midst of what must be assumed to be Cide Hamete's rendered text, this surprising comment:

Durmiéronse los dos, y en este tiempo quiso escribir y dar cuenta Cide Hamete, autor desta grande historia, qué les movió a los duques a levantar el edificio de la máquina referida; y dice que. …


In cases such as this—and others will surely come to mind—it becomes a crystal clear that Cide Hamete and his text are transparent devices, parodies that reflect Cervantes's continuing gamesmanship, his winking at the discreet reader from a discreet distance, but that the principal narrator is the editorial voice that first came to light at the end of I, 8. If no other cases have come to mind, here are three that may catch the reader equally off-guard:

Pensar que en esta vida las cosas della han de durar siempre en un estado, es pensar en lo escusado;. … Esto dice Cide Hamete, filósofo mahomético. …

(II, 53; 440)

Y diciendo esto, besó su derecha mano, y le asió de la suya, que ella le dio con las mesmas ceremonias.

Aquí hace Cide Hamete un paréntesis, y dice que por Mahoma que diera, por ver ir a los dos así asidos y trabados desde la puerta al lecho, la mejor almalafa de dos que tenía.

Entróse, en fin, don Quijote en su lecho. …

(II, 48; 399)

… miraron que por ella se debía llamar la condesa Trifaldi, como si dijésemos la condesa de las tres faldas; y así dice Benengeli que fue verdad, y que de su propio apellido se llama la condesa Lobuna. …

(II, 38; 329)

In each of these examples, narrative continuity is disrupted by the reference to Cide Hamete from within what is generally assumed—until reminders such as these appear—to be an unmediated translation from the Arabic text. If there is an adversarial relationship involving narrators in Don Quixote, it is more properly between the editorial voice and Cide Hamete than between Cide Hamete and the main character, despite the red herring of racism introduced by the Second Author. The winner of that contest, since it really is no contest but, rather, a display of dominance, is manifestly the controlling and organizing voice, or Supernarrator.

There is another subtle but revealing usage in II, 63 that makes explicit the Christian voice that is in fact telling the story; it is similar in that regard to the ¡Válame Dios! of I, 9:

… los del bergantín [turco] conocieron que no podían escaparse, y así, el arráez quisiera que dejaran los remos y se entregaran, por no irritar a enojo al capitán que nuestras galeras regía. … Pero … dos turcos borrachos … dispararon dos escopetas con que dieron muerte a dos soldados que sobre nuestras arrumbadas venían.

(524-25; emphasis added)

The use of nuestras, pointing to an “us versus them” split along ethnic and religious lines is not likely to have originated with Cide Hamete. Someone else is speaking here. Usually he remains hidden, but, as we have seen, occasionally there are glimpses of that controlling presence from within the fanciful Moor's spurious manuscript.

With much greater frequency his presence and control are asserted overtly, however, as occurs in the following examples:

Cuenta Cide Hamete Benengeli, autor arábigo y manchego, en esta gravísima, altisonante, mínima, dulce e imaginada historia, que. …

(I, 22; 265)

Pero el autor desta historia, puesto que con curiosidad y diligencia ha buscado los hechos que don Quijote hizo en su tercera salida, no ha podido hallar noticia de ellas, … El cual autor. …

(I, 52; 604)

Cuenta Cide Hamete Benengeli en la segunda parte desta historia, y tercera salida de don Quijote, que el cura y el barbero se estuvieron casi un mes sin verle. …

(II, 1; 41)

“¡Bendito sea el poderoso Alá!”—dice Hamete Benengeli al comienzo deste octavo capítulo—, “¡Bendito sea Alá!,” repite tres veces, y dice que da estas bendiciones por ver que tiene ya en campaña a don Quijote y a Sancho. …

(II, 8; 92)

Y el prudentísimo Cide Hamete dijo a su pluma. …

(II, 74; 592)

Probably the most telling of these is the third, which launches Part II. There the extradiegetic narrator makes evident the relationship between his telling and Cide Hamete's writing. He is the ostensible speaker, the one who addresses an unnamed narratee in quasi-oral fashion, while Cide Hamete is relegated to the supplementary exercise of scribbling. The Supernarrator (a.k.a. Editor or Extradiegetic Narrator) will frame that illusory text, introducing it and frequently mentioning its author, while reserving the right to interject himself—and thereby the oral dimension—into that written text whenever the spirit moves. Several examples of this phenomenon were cited above. In point of fact, it is obvious that the ruse of the found manuscript and its Moorish author are totally dispensable, as can be inferred from the fact that neither is mentioned “as such” after chapter 27 of Part I.

Why, then, is the game rejoined with a vengeance in Part II, where Cide Hamete is mentioned by name six or seven times more frequently than in Part I? A likely explanation is that it represents a dimension of Cervantes's refutation of Avellaneda, who had created his own Moorish pseudo-historian, Alisolán. This would mean that Cervantes went back over the text of Part II, once he learned of the interloper, inserting Cide Hamete's name strategically and frequently.

Morán's thesis that something similar happened with Part I, namely that Cide Hamete was an afterthought, thus necessitating similar insertions—up to and including chapter 27, that is (122-23). The precedent for emendations of exactly this sort can be found in Part I, in other words. Martín Morán's extensive discussion of the narrative voices is by far the most sophisticated and complete to date, despite the fact that he takes Cide Hamete much too seriously and assumes that the editorial voice is that of the Second Author.

Instance #5 (Part II, chapter 5)

Llegando a escribir el traductor desta historia este quinto capítulo, dice que le tiene por apócrifo, porque en él habla Sancho Panza con otro estilo del que se podía prometer de su corto ingenio, y dice cosas tan sutiles, que no tiene por posible que él las supiese; pero que no quiso dejar de traducirlo, por cumplir con lo que a su oficio debía, y así, prosiguió diciendo. …


Here we have yet another editorializing presence through whom the story is filtered. His silence is much more pervasive than the Supernarrator's, but, lest we forget that his role is to add texture and density to the diegetic dimension, he is occasionally trotted out and assigned a few lines. He is part of the game, in other words. His existence, his raison d'être, depends entirely upon the found-manuscript and exotic-historian devices. In the same way that allusions to either of those transparent recourses serve to “bare the devices” of the text, thereby displaying an important dimension of its self-consciousness, the infrequent appearances of the translator contribute to that same objective. This game is played out at the extratextual level, between the historical author and his inferred ideal reader.

At the intratextual level, we have a series of narrators, each of whom can be assumed to address a narratee, a receiver encoded within the text. Probably it goes without saying that it is usually difficult to determine who is the intended recipient of a given narrator's overture. For instance, for whom can the translator's editorializing possibly be intended? Is the translator in fact a editorializing possibly be intended? Is the translator in fact a narrator in any real sense? The answer to the second question is yes, for he fulfills at least three of the five functions of narrators outlined by Genette, namely the directing or organizing function (which is seen even more clearly in his suppression of details, as when he leaves out the description of Diego de Miranda's house [II, 18; 169]), the testimonial (in this case, moral) function, and the ideological, which takes the form of a commentary on the “action” of narrating (Genette 255-57).

If the dominant editorial voice, or Supernarrator, is situated at the extradiegetic (or frame) level, the translator would occupy the position immediately below that in the narrative hierarchy, which is to say the intradiegetic level. And since Cide Hamete's discourse is filtered through both translator and Supernarrator, we are obliged to situate him deeper into the frame or farther into the background, as you will, at the intra-intradiegetic level. If this ordering (following Genette's scheme of narrative levels) is convincing, Cide Hamete cannot possibly be the main narrator—which is to say, the extradiegetic narrator.

Adding to the incongruity of Cide Hamete—assuming that he is indeed a narrator of sorts, although a deeply embedded one, since his “original” story has been coopted and thus demoted to intra-intradiegetic status—is the matter of his intended audience. To whom was he addressing a discourse in Arabic about an aberrant knight-errant of another faith? What could possibly be his motivation? There, indeed, is food for thought for those who maintain his preeminence within the present—or even a conjectured original—context. There, also, is an added layer of meaning for E. C. Riley's remark that the Moorish historian is an example of total inverisimilitude.

The idea of the mendacious historian leads to other considerations. If, as we have seen, Cide Hamete is presented as the quintessential writer, thus symbolizing that supplement to orality we call writing—that is, if we focus on his real role in the scheme of things—it is clear that this relatively passive role contrasts markedly with the feigned direct oral address of the typical narrative “voice” (e.g., First Author, Second Author, Supernarrator). If he is a writer like, say, Miguel de Cervantes, there should be a narrator (or more) at the intertextual level of his telling. Who is the narrator within Cide Hamete's tale? Can such a voice be isolated and identified? There is a quest worthy of a quixotic narratologist! He, as author, is—by definition—not the narrator of the story of Don Quixote (Genette 213). He writes for a reader; thus, he is not really involved in a narrative instance (as Genette defines it) at any level. His role as writer, as author, precludes his being a narrator. We might therefore do better to speak of him as an embedded pseudo-author (surely no one thinks he is a “real” author), or, more accurately, a pseudo-historian. A problem: Does the concept of “narrative instance” apply to history, or only to story? Do historians employ narrators? I think not.

What do these considerations do to our narrative scheme? Can we continue to say that Cide Hamete functions as an intra-intradiegetic narrator? The issue is thorny and complex, but it seems to me that within the telling of the present tale, we are justified in viewing his role in those terms, if for no other reason than to put him in his place, dislodging him from the honorary position of principal narrator, the place of privilege he is traditionally assigned.

Another issue unresolved, and perhaps unresolvable, has to do with separating the editorial voice (my Supernarrator) from that of the Second Author. When one is dealing with the degraded world of satire and its ubiquitous complement, unmitigated irony, it is very, very difficult to take any narrative instance at face value, or to assume that any of the narrators should be taken seriously. I can only reiterate my observation that the extra-diegetic narrator seems to surface at the end of I, 8—thus demoting the previous speaker, retrospectively extending his purview to encompass all that has preceded, while proleptically announcing important happenings to follow—and this pattern of narrative transgression is repeated at the beginning of the second paragraph of Cide Hamete's fanciful history (the “¡Válame Dios!”), again in I, 46, and much more frequently in 1615, where it becomes ever more apparent that the editorial voice is dominant, but still playful, in conceding space to the largely gratuitous comments of both the translator and the Moorish historian.

Paradoxically, the frequent flaunting of Cide Hamete's presence in Part II has the effect of marginalizing him just as thoroughly as did his disappearance in Part I (after chapter 27). This is so because each time he is mentioned it becomes increasingly evident that his position is subordinate to that of the voice then speaking. The frequent irruptions of the editorial voice, as though from within the Arabic text, have the complementary effect of demonstrating that someone else is in charge here and is, in fact, organizing and telling the story.

Thus it seems to me that Martín Morán misconstrues on two major counts when he states that, in Part II:

Los dos autores [Cide Hamete and the Second Author] se dividen … la responsabilidad de la narración, pero sin mucha ecuanimidad, dado que prácticamente siempre, excepto en los escasos momentos en que la labia del árabe parece decaer, prevalece el peso de Cide Hamete sobre el del segundo autor.


First, the editorial voice is probably not that of the Second Author; second, the dominant voice is certainly not Cide Hamete's but, rather, that of the entity he calls “segundo autor,” but which I call the Supernarrator.

I do not claim to have resolved the issues with which we began, but if they have been aired more fully and some tentative tactics outlined, maybe that is sufficient for now. The important thing, at this juncture, is to call attention to these narratological problems, so that others may begin to pay them the attention they deserve. There is much, much more to be done with narrative discourse in Don Quixote. Almost nothing has been done with focalization, for instance (see esp. Bal and Genette). Despite the good work that has appeared in the last several years on narrative technique in Don Quixote, this remains a relatively unexplored area—in comparison, that is, to what has been done on the plot, the characters, and the relations among the main plot and the several accessory actions. The diegetic dimension will repay closer scrutiny, for it offers subtleties and complexities that may challenge and eventually revise standard narratological paradigms, like Genette's. One of these is surely the “unmotivated narrator” exemplified in the Primer Autor, whose antipathy toward his human subject is transparent, but also in that paradigm of cross-cultural commentators, Cide Hamete Benengeli, whose telling and showing, if not “unmotivated,” are, at the very least, suspect.

Select Bibliography

Bal, Mieke. Teoría de la narrativa: una introducción a la narratología. Trans. Javier Franco. Madrid: Cátedra, 1990.

Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. 2 vols. Ed. Luis Andrés Murillo. 3rd ed. Madrid: Castalia, 1984.

Chatman, Seymour. “On Deconstructing Narratology.” Style 22.1 (1988): 9-27.

Fernández de Avellaneda, Alonso (pseud.). El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, que contiene su tercera salida y es la quinta parte de sus aventuras. Ed. F. García Salinero. Madrid: Castalia, 1971.

Flores, R. M. “The Role of Cide Hamete in Don Quixote.BHS 59 (1982): 3-14.

Genette, Gérard. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1980.

Haley, George. “The Narrator in Don Quixote: A Discarded Voice.” Estudios en honor a Ricardo Gullón. Ed. Luis González-del-Valle & Darío Villanueva. Lincoln, NE: SSSAS, 1984. 173-85.

Lathrop, Thomas A. “Who is the Narrator in Don Quixote?” Hispanic Studies in Honor of Joseph H. Silverman. Ed. Joseph Ricapito. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 1988. 297-304.

Locke, F. W. “El sabio encantador: The Author of Don Quixote.Symposium 23 (1969): 46-61.

Mancing, Howard. “Cide Hamete Benengeli vs. Miguel de Cervantes: The Metafictional Dialectic of Don Quijote.Cervantes 1 (1981): 63-81.

Martín Morán, José Manuel. El Quijote en ciernes: los descuidos de Cervantes y las fases de la elaboración textual. Torino: Edizioni dell'Orso, 1990.

Moner, Michel. Cervantes conteur: écrits et paroles. Madrid: Casa de Velázquez, 1989.

Nepaulsingh, Colbert. “La aventura de los narradores del Quijote.Actas del sexto congreso internacional de Hispanistas. Ed. Alan M. Gordon & Evelyn Rugg. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1980. 515-18.

Parr, James A. Don Quixote: An Anatomy of Subversive Discourse. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 1988.

———. “Plato, Cervantes, Derrida: Framing Speaking and Writing in Don Quixote.On Cervantes: Essays for L. A. Murillo. Ed. James A. Parr. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 1990. 163-87.

———. “The Role of Cide Hamete Benengeli: Between Renaissance Paradox and Baroque Emblematics.” Indiana Journal of Hispanic Literatures 1.1 (1992): 101-14.

———. “Don Quijote: meditación del marco.” Actas del X Congreso de la Asociación Internacional de Hispanistas. Vol. 1. Ed. Antonio Vilanova. Barcelona: Promociones y Publicaciones Universitarias, 1992. 661-69. 4 vols.

———. “Antimodelos narrativos del Quijote: lo desnarrado, innarrado e innarrable.” Actas del XI Congreso Internacional de Hispanistas, Ed. Juan Villegas. Irvine: 1992. Vol. 5: 134-40.

Prince, Gerald. “The Disnarrated.” Style 22.1 (1988): 1-8.

Riley, Edward C. Cervantes's Theory of the Novel. Oxford: Clarendon, 1962.

Diana de Armas Wilson (essay date December 1996)

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SOURCE: De Armas Wilson, Diana. “‘Ocean Chivalry’: Issues of Alterity in Don Quixote.Colby Quarterly 32, no. 4 (December 1996): 220-35.

[In the following essay, de Armas Wilson explores the relationship between Don Quixote and the “quixotic” Spanish conquerors of the books of chivalry and shows how Cervantes's knight-errant does not aspire to but rather mimics the conquistadors of the Golden Age of Spain.]

Although Don Quixote stridently identifies himself with the fictional figures of his favorite books—chivalric heroes such as Lancelot or Amadís or Renaldo de Montalbán—he has of late been assimilated, in studies of spiraling scholarly confidence, to the historical figures of the conquistadores. One critic claims that it is easy for the twentieth-century reader to see Don Quixote as “a comic incarnation” of “the conquistador mentality of Golden Age Spain” (Skinner 54). Another calls Cervantes's hero an “aspiring” and even “divinely inspired” conqueror, a figure who embodies “what is great and what is insane about Spanish imperialism” (Higuera 1-2). Such New World axes of identity for Don Quixote are an intrepid development from older constructions, which often used assertion as a mode of argument or, as what follows will show, invoked some literally preposterous connections. The aim of this essay is to explore the state of the union between Don Quixote and the “quixotic” conquistadores—all of whom are “other identified” with the heroic figures in the libros de caballerías [books of chivalry].1 After sampling the representational practices that hover over this triple interalterity, I shall suggest that Don Quixote not so much “incarnates” or even “aspires to” the conquistador mentality as that he “mimics” it. To that end, I shall borrow some of the recent insights on mimicry that address, from various colonial and postcolonial perspectives, the contingencies of identity formation.

A generation before any postcolonial notions of mimicry were circulating, Don Quixote's status as a sterile imitator had been established, albeit from a metaphysical rather than a colonial perspective. In René Girard's study of the history of imitative desire in novels beginning with Cervantes, he famously fulminated against the condition, which he regarded as a highly “contagious” ontological sickness (98). Where Girard saw Don Quixote as an essentially sick man, a character whose metaphysical desire is “to be another,” I would reinterpret Don Quixote as a mimic man, a character whose strategic vocation is to mimic another. There is a method to his mimicry. Don Quixote so closely imitates the same fictional chivalric heroes who motivated the conquistadores that these New World figures, by a kind of synchronic retaliation, are then identified as “quixotic.” Two discursive domains intersect here: chivalry, the feudal institution whose available and automatic language Don Quixote aims to revive, and imperialism, the more contemporaneous, if more covert, institution to which his exploits so often allude. Although this intersection has become more visible in the postmodern, Cervantes's response to the issue of “ocean chivalry”—William Prescott's poetic notion of what the conquistadores were practicing in the New World (1:217)—remains undertheorized.


Let's begin looking at the dark alterity between Don Quixote and the conquistadores through the perspective of William Prescott, the mid-nineteenth-century American historian, who availed himself of the one in order to describe the other:

What wonder, then, if the Spaniard of that day, feeding his imagination with dreams of enchantment at home, and with its realities abroad, should have displayed a Quixotic enthusiasm,—a romantic exaltation of character, not to be comprehended by the colder spirits of other lands!


Elsewhere and in the same ecstatic language, Prescott celebrates the “bold spirit” of the Spanish conquistador who, “not content with the dangers that lay in his path, seemed to court them from the mere Quixotic love of adventure” (2:45). Prescott's New World “cavaliers” are construed as displaying “Quixotic” qualities long before Don Quixote himself does. As such, they anticipate by precisely a century those conquistadores whom Father Bayle would describe in 1943, with notably fascistic overtones, as “Quijotes de la raza” [“Don Quixotes of the race”] (Gil 1:14). They also foreshadow Valentín de Pedro's conquistadores, still being described, in 1954, as quixotic dreamers: “participaron del sueño delirante de don Quijote” [“they participated in the delirious dream of Don Quixote”] (80). One of these delirious participants, Francisco de Pizarro, is even celebrated for the “palabras quijotescas” [“quixotic words”] that he vented on the Isla del Gallo (78). The application of the term “quixotic” to the conquistadores, it would seem, shows no sign of abating: Fernando Arrabal's new psychobiography of Cervantes celebrates Columbus for his “quijotesca empresa inspiradora de Cervantes” [“quixotic enterprise that inspired Cervantes”] (153).

The above linkages between Don Quixote and the conquistadores are preposterous—in the sense of the rhetorical scheme of prae-postere, i.e., putting the cart before the horse.2 Sometimes the use of such preposterous rhetoric is rectified in situ, as when Todorov describes Columbus as having been “a kind of Quixote a few centuries behind his times” (11). That so many quixotic words and deeds are located in events prior to Cervantes's time shows—a la Pierre Menard—how the later text of Don Quixote has altered our reading of the historiography of the Indies. America, it would seem, had been exceedingly hospitable to “quixotic” careers long before the adjective existed.

A number of more concrete, less rhetorical, connections between Don Quixote and the Americas have been surfacing since mid-century. In the 1950s, Don Quixote was described as “una sátira benévola del conquistador de ínsulas o de Indias” [“a benevolent satire of the conquistador of ínsulas or Indies”] (Porras 238). In the 1960s, Don Quixote (in his saner persona as Alonso Quesada) was linked to Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, explorer of El Dorado, founder of the Kingdom of New Granada, and governor of Cartagena—places in the Indies where Cervantes applied for work (Arciniegas 16). By the 1970s, various conquest chronicles available to Cervantes were being carefully catalogued (Cro). In the 1980s, Don Quixote was linked, on the grounds of its “textualidad caballeresca” [“chivalric textuality”] to “los primeros conquistadores y buscadores de mundos nuevos” [“the first conquistadors and seekers of new worlds”] (Testa 69). By 1992, the year of the Columbian Quincentenary, one writer wondered “si acaso hubiera sido posible la existencia del Quijote de no ser por el descubrimiento” [“whether the existence of Don Quixote would have been possible without the discovery”] (Acosta 15). In 1994, Bernal Díaz's “relación de fechos”—sent from Guatemala to Spain in 1575—was examined as a precedent to Cervantes's narratological experiments in Don Quixote (Mayer). Our New World readings of Don Quixote, in short, are beginning to move well beyond mere inventories of Americana.3


Critical discussion of the conquistadores often references their proclivity for the same books that crazed Don Quixote. The conquistadores “remember the Amadís,” Stephen Gilman notes, because “their impetus and vocation … are of the same stuff as Don Quijote's” (110). Let's take a closer look at the “stuff” that triggers Don Quixote's chivalric vocation. It is a commonplace that Cervantes ransacked, for his novel, a huge variety of already fixed narrative forms: epic poetry, Ovidian metamorphosis, Menippean satire (as a genre like Petronius's Satyricon), the ancient novel, pastoral romance, topographical legends, criminal/picaresque biography, the Italian novella, critical treatises, and even stage plays (masques and closet dramas and Arcadian plays). But although we confront a virtual encyclopedia of literary kinds in the parasitic and protean Don Quixote, the most resonant New World connections surface in the books of chivalry.

The discursive properties of these books had been codified into a genre long before Cervantes's invective against it. Originating in medieval feudal discourse, the genre flourished across the sixteenth century in both Spain and its colonies. Beginning with Montalvo's Amadís de Gaula in 1508, some fifty different books of chivalry were published in Spain and Portugal, many of which were either hand-carried or exported to the colonies.4 The role of these books in the production of Castilian cultural identity—in the cultural representation of Spain to the Spanish—was enormous. Like most literary genres, the books of chivalry were codified “forms of thought.” They originated in crucial and recurrent real-life situations, which were institutionalized, across time, into patterns of ritualized response to Spain's social order. The genre propped up the ideology of the Castilian ruling class, bringing to light many of its constitutive features and reaffirming its social hierarchies, its imperial schemes, and its chivalric ideals.

If the Amadís is a codification of the discourses of hegemony that “repeat” the values of Spain's aristocratic and chivalric class, then remembering the Amadís is, to say the least, a conservative gesture. Don Quixote remembers the Amadís, however, within a text that repeatedly announces its intentions to destroy the whole chivalric genre. Don Quixote parodies the books of chivalry with such a high degree of affectionate malice that, in the end, Cervantes's novel frees itself from the “stuff” of its chivalric subtexts. But it never frees the critic from rethinking the process of this parodic liberation—the moves required to dislodge the books of chivalry as a representational practice—as well as Cervantes's role in this process.

Books have their fates (Habent sua fata libelli), as Terence long ago remarked. And the books of chivalry were fated, before their decanonization, to produce at least three major psychological upheavals: the same genre gave the conquistadores their delirious dreams, Alonso Quijano a psychotic turn, and Cervantes a creative fit. Careful readers may wish to negotiate these three different responses—delirium,5 psychosis, and creativity—to one literary kind. Before undertaking any of these psychological negotiations, however, readers should ponder why it was also the fate of these books to be reviled, in Spain as well as the New World, long before Cervantes thematized their demolition.


With the advent of the books of chivalry in 1508, New World chroniclers were no longer obliged to call upon God—as Dr. Diego Álvarez Chanca had done in his letter to the Cabildo of Seville describing Columbus's Second Voyage6—to witness the truth of their texts. They could, instead, call upon a family of texts, the books of chivalry, to witness what lying—really shameless lying—would look like. Wishing to deny any connections between the books of chivalry and their accounts of the New World, writers abroad would continue, in the spirit of peninsular invectives, to vilify the genre. The virulent sixteenth-century attacks in Spain on these books of chivalry generally stress their toxicity. Although the genre was variously censured as “filth,” “excrement,” “infection,” and—in the colorful “poison topos” favored by writers like Vives—as “scorpion oil” (“aceite de escorpiones”), it was regarded, above all, as the genre of lies.7 Charles V enrolled himself in the catalogue of book abusers when he published a royal decree in 1531, prohibiting the export to Amerindian readers of “historias vanas o de profanidad como son las de Amadís y otros de esta calidad” [“vain or profane histories such as those of Amadís and others of its kind”], a piece of legislation reissued in 1543 and extended to include Spaniards (Torre Revello iii-vi). Some critics believe that these prohibitions went largely ignored (Adorno xv-xvi). Others lament their existence, arguing that the same books that served as both an “acicate y modelo de conquistadores” [“a goad and a model for the conquistadores”] would have served, after the “brutal” conquest of America, “de instrumento de liberación de nativos” [“as an instrument for the liberation of the natives”] (Arrabal 139). Whatever their degree of familiarity with Amadís as a literary model, however, the natives were all too familiar with the superhuman, and sometimes inhuman, behavior of the conquistadores.

Several years after these royal prohibitions, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Spain's official chronicler of the Indies, divorced himself from the books of chivalry in his Historia general y natural de las Indias (1535): “no cuento los disparates de los libros de Amadís ni los que dellos dependen” [“I do not recount the nonsense of the books of Amadís nor those that depend on them”] (1:179). Oviedo was well acquainted with all that lying nonsense, given the earlier publication of his Claribalte (1519), a work that earned him the status of America's first chivalric novelist. Cervantes's Canon of Toledo—who claims to have tried his hand at romance but privileges history—will iterate the attitude of an Oviedo: only a “bárbaro” culto, the Canon sniffs, could be satisfied to read about how “una gran torre llena de caballeros va por la mar adelante … y hoy anochece en Lombardía, y mañana amanezca en tierras del Preste Juan de las Indias” [“a tall tower full of knights goes sailing off to sea … and tonight it will be in Lombardy and the next day in the land of Prester John of India”] (Don Quixote 1:47).

The same fear of lying may be found in Pedro de Castañeda Nájera, chronicler of a narrative about Coronado's expedition to Cíbola (1540-42), who identifies himself as “an author who does not write fables, like some things we read now-a-days in books of chivalry.” Having advertised his allergy to the fabulous, however, Castañeda immediately lapses into the outdoing topos: “there are events that have happened recently in these parts to our Spaniards in conquests and clashes with the natives that surpass, as deeds of amazement, not only the aforesaid books but even the ones written about the twelve peers of France” (276). At the start of the 1590s, a decade in which no new books of chivalry would be published, the New World Jesuit historian José de Acosta continues to attack the genre. Anxious that readers might confound his Historia natural y moral de las Indias with one of the detested books of chivalry, Acosta seems to have anticipated and even epitomized the plot of Don Quixote: the world of Amerindians, he cautioned his readers, was not at all “like the world of Amadís, Palmerín or Don Belianís, a dangerous fantasy whose irreality might endanger the sanity of those foolish enough to read about it” (Pagden 149).

As one of those foolish readers, Don Quixote would soon after serve as a cautionary tale of both the psychic dangers of reading chivalric fictions and of their power to compel belief. The text that contains him, however, would simultaneously explode the notion that these fictions have less authority than history. Although both “true” and “fictive” modes of writing interpenetrate in the chronicles of the Indies, their writers ritually insist on the truthfulness of their texts, serenely unaware, as Bakhtin would put it, that “the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction are not laid up in heaven” (33). The historiographers of the Indies, in short, serve among the “real life” precursors for Cide Hamete, whose frequent truth claims and tireless self-presentation as a “veracious” historian strategically break down across the novel. Indeed, the fulsome praise lavished on Cide Hamete for having narrated every detail of his story—“por la curiosidad que tuvo en contarnos las semínimas [de la historia], sin dejar cosa, por menuda que fuese, que no la sacase a luz distintamente” [“for his curiosity in relating the most minor events of his story, without bringing to light every particular, no matter how small”] (2:59)—notably parodies the truthtelling anxiety of New World chroniclers such as Castañeda, Coronado's chronicler, who admits that his very status as a “reliable author” depends on his relating all the exploits of Captain Juan Gallego that he had “passed over in silence” in a former chapter (276). In making such an issue of the truth of his history, in short, Cide Hamete may be counted among the “parodists of history,” to use Homi Bhabha's felicitous phrase. And the writing that contains him, emerging somewhere “between mimesis and mimicry,” not only destabilizes the authority of the books of chivalry, but also “marginalizes the monumentality of history, quite simply mocks its power to be a model, that power which makes it imitable” (“Mimicry” 87-88). Cervantes, in short, mimes to deauthorize both the discourses of chivalry and “ocean chivalry.”


What sixteenth-century New World chroniclers had tried to put asunder—the lying books of chivalry and the “truthful” narratives of their conquests—would be put together again in the modern era. The romantic-minded Prescott anticipated, as early as 1843, a critical trend beginning in the 1920s that would link, in one way or another, the books of chivalry to the “empresa de las Indias” [“enterprise of the Indies”].8 Writing for an Anglo-American reading public primed by the publication of Tennyson's chivalric “Morte d'Arthur” (1842), Prescott declared that the spirit of enterprise which “glowed in the breast” of the sixteenth-century Spanish cavalier was “not inferior to that of his own romances of chivalry” (2:47). This exalted comparison between the conquistadores and their reading materials had been foreshadowed by the fanciful and sentimental Washington Irving, whose life of Columbus (1828) had declared the stories of the conquistadores as both beautiful and true: “The extraordinary actions and adventures of these men, while they rival the exploits recorded in chivalric romance, have the additional interest of verity” (1:xv). A number of contemporary scholars have reiterated the notion that the exploits of the New World Spanish explorers “to some extent copied,” or were “shadowed” by, or were “not very different from” the books of chivalry.9 Because most of these remarks look back to Irving A. Leonard's 1949 classic, Books of the Brave, his strenuous attempt to document the negative influence of the books of chivalry on the conquistadores bears a closer look.

As its title suggests, Books of the Brave reinforced Prescott's triumphalist notions—the notions of institutionalized Anglo-American historiography—about the glorious exploits of Spain's conquistadores. But Leonard also responded to some of their less glorious exploits.10 Many soldiers loitering about Seville while awaiting their sailing orders to the Indies, he argued, bought copies of Las Sergas de Esplandián, the fifth book of the Amadís cycle, on sale in the talleres of the Cromberger press in Sevilla in 1510. Las Sergas, as all cervantistas know, was the first book to be thrown into the bonfire of Don Quixote's library.11 It exemplified, for Leonard, “the highly seasoned fiction which inflamed their imaginations and distorted their conceptions of the lands they were to penetrate” (96). Reading Esplandián in camp and discussing it on the march seems also to have inflamed the acquisitive imaginations of these soldiers: “the ruthless confiscation of the treasures of Montezuma, of Atahualpa, and of other victims of Spanish greed owed not a little to the imaginative quill of the storytelling regidor of Medina del Campo” (Leonard 34-35). This remark is precisely in the humanist tradition of Juan Luis Vives, who wrote in De Officio Mariti (1529) that the “fables” of Tristan, Lancelot, Amadís, and Arthur are harmful for they “kindle and stir up covetousness” (Ife 14).

There can be no Talmudic knowledge about the exact influence of these books—or of any art—on life. Pronouncements about their influence will always remain speculative. But although “the degree to which chivalric fictions and values contributed to the psychology of the conquistadores remains open to debate,” as Adorno notes,12 that debate must be kept open. The assertion that fictions contribute to group psychology needs to be reformulated. Todorov's fourfold schematization of reading as construction leads, after a long itinerary through “projective psychology,” to the conclusion that readerly reinterpretation will be controlled by cultural constraints—“which are nothing but the commonplaces of a social group (notions its members deem plausible)” (39-49). It is to these commonplaces, modified by time, that any debate of influence must turn. Various postcolonial commonplaces, the fruits of an exploration of social and psychological pathologies, assist my own readerly reinterpretation.


In calling Cervantes's hero a mimic man, I do not mean to agitate the English line of descent of mimic men, which can be traced through such writers as Kipling, Forster, Naipaul, and Anderson. It is not only the discourse of English colonialism, however, that speaks in a forked tongue. Civilizing missions have epic intentions that often produce texts rich in the traditions of “irony, mimicry and repetition,” texts distinguished by a “comic turn from the high ideals of the colonial imagination to its low mimetic literary effects” (Bhabha, “Mimicry” 85-87). Although never invoked in Homi Bhabha's studies, Don Quixote—written toward the close of a century-long civilizing mission that left many visible traces in its text—instances this comic turn with astonishing precision. There are, of course, major differences between the English and Spanish civilizing missions, including their respective colonial ideals, which in Spain were feudal and chivalric. “We should not forget,” Peter Russell remarks in an untroubled tribute to the conquistadores,

that even the narrow and militant chivalric ideals of fifteenth-century Spanish knights in their way made some important offerings to the history of the Renaissance. It was, for example, men sustained by such ideals who had the energy and stubbornness to find and conquer the New World.

(“Arms” 58)

Don Quixote is “other identified” with these energetic men in an ambivalent way. Although on the side of the colonizers, he behaves like the colonized. In his mimicry he anticipates Daniel Dravot, the British colonial in Kipling's “The Man Who Would Be King,” who goes “mad in his head” as “king” of Kafiristan, even entertaining chivalric aspirations to become “a Knight of the Queen” (164). Like Dravot's, Don Quixote's mimicry repeats, not re-presents, its models. He is “almost the same, but not quite” a conquistador, to bend Bhabha's instructive formula to our purposes (“Mimicry” 86).

As a mode of colonial discourse, Bhabha's mimicry—also known as “colonial imitation” or “colonial mimesis”—has a double vision. It is, to begin with, a system of subject formation, a “complex strategy of reform”: mimicry desires “a recognizable Other” whose sense of personal identity will be “almost the same, but not quite” that of the conquering caste. But mimicry is also “the sign of the inappropriate, a difference or recalcitrance” which poses a threat to the authority of colonial discourse (“Mimicry” 86). Such discourse and power, as Bhabha claims elsewhere, is never “possessed entirely by the colonizer” (“Difference” 200). The colonizer is shorn of his power when instanced by Don Quixote, a kind of would-be world colonizer. As strategies of reform, signs of recalcitrance, and menaces to authority, modes of mimicry appear throughout Don Quixote. And when they surface, they profoundly disturb the regnant authorities. Don Quixote's “inappropriate” liberation of the galley slaves (1:22), for example, is explicitly depicted as a threat to, and a disruption of, the King's disciplinary powers. The king in question is, of course, Philip II, who presided over Spain's New World colonies and whom Cervantes irreverently addresses, in his popular sonnet to his ostentatious tomb (“Al túmulo de Felipe II”), as “el muerto” [“the dead man”].

The disrupting effect of Don Quixote's mimicry of the conquistadores is perhaps most visible in his offer of an ínsula to Sancho. The novel's very first allusion to Sancho mentions him as a “pobre villano” [“poor villager”] seduced into Don Quixote's service by the knight's promise to win “alguna ínsula y le dejase a él por gobernador della” [“some island and to leave him there as its governor”] (1:7). This promise functions as a parody of a feudal topos found in the books of chivalry: in Amadís, for example, the protagonist made his squire Count of Ínsula Firme. Parody has been classically defined as dealing with strictly literary norms: it is precisely through the metalinguistic uses of the preformed language of chivalry that we recognize Don Quixote as a parodic text. But satire can be transmitted through parody (Rose 47).13 And what is transmitted here is a satire of the conquistadores, who were far more likely to be made governors than counts. Columbus's gift of the island of “Bella Saonese” to Michele da Cuneo, for example (which anticipated innumerable other American “gifts” of this territorial kind), is as operative a Cervantine subtext as Amadís's gift of “Ínsula Firme” to his squire. The landlocked “ínsula” in Navarre over which Sancho, as the dupe of the Dukes, is finally installed as governor is neither firme nor worth his sufferings. In renouncing the governorship of Isla Barataria, Sancho renounces his squirely mimicry of the codes of chivalry, which the corrupt aristocracy are themselves mimicking. The episodes in Don Quixote on ínsulas—promised, desired, granted, and renounced—reprove the books of chivalry not only as medieval artistic forms but also as Renaissance codifications of Spain's imperialist culture in America.

Sancho's choice to leave the sham governorship of Barataria and to return to his barren village in La Mancha signifies, among other things, his renunciation of mimicry, his refusal to subscribe any longer to the ideology of chivalry. This ideology at work in a colonial context is sketched out by V. S. Naipaul, whose despairing portraits of “mimic men” differ radically from Bhabha's more emancipatory theories of mimicry.14 What Naipaul brings to any profile of the conquistadores, however, is an exemplary portrait of how the Spaniards in the New World—“paying for their history, the centuries of Muslim rule and the slow cleansing of their land”—remained committed to “an outdated code of chivalry” (El Dorado 43). This commitment is documented in Naipaul's case study of Antonio de Berrío, a chivalric conquistador who arrived in the Indies in 1580 (the year Cervantes was released from captivity), eventually to become governor of the Island of Trinidad. Naipaul works out of a number of chronicles to show exactly how Berrío “is made to look like a man from another age” (El Dorado 43). Cervantes may or may not have heard about Antonio de Berrío when he began to fashion his own cultural nostalgic, Don Quixote. What unites the two men—one a “real life” conquistador, the other a fictional would-be conquistador—is a shared commitment to the same abstract cognitive structure: the outmoded ideology of chivalry.


Don Quixote mounts a five-pronged attack on the books of chivalry: through satire, parody, irony, generic transgression, and intention—this last the explicit wish to topple “la máquina mal fundada” [“the ill-founded machine”] of the books of chivalry (Prologue 58). Cervantes's novel examines the chivalric genre within a context of a static past: the complacency, grandiosity, and vainglorious chivalric pretensions of its hero are systematically eroded across Part 2. But the text also examines the books of chivalry within the dynamic present, an age of American colonization that began, as Arrabal puts it, the very year of Cervantes's birth (152). Cervantes wrote during a time of tremendous social upheaval in Philip II's Spain, with its rise of a bureaucratic absolutism that extended from a centralized state across an empire bestriding two oceans. Cervantes's parody, a vehicle of satire, holds a mirror up to empire. The satire is aimed not at medieval chivalry (which would really be quixotic!), but at its Renaissance revival, an enterprise common to both Don Quixote and the conquistadores.

By the time Cervantes was writing Don Quixote, the books of chivalry already displayed what Bakhtin would have called “a hardened and no longer flexible skeleton” (3). With the Cave of Montesinos episode, Cervantes constructs a sepulchre to house that generic skeleton. “Only a man who ‘lives in language,’” as a Lacanian critic wisely notes, “can construct the dwelling we call a sepulchre” (Safouan 81). Cervantes forces his hero, moreover, to visit that sepulchre, where his chivalric identity begins to unravel. As his earlier attack on the Canon of Toledo demonstrates, Don Quixote regarded chivalry as an institution that had to be protected from the kind of blasphemies [“tantas blasfemias”] uttered by the Canon in his dismissal of Amadís, King Arthur, Tristan and Iseult, and Lancelot and Guinevere as apocryphal (1:49). When Don Quixote encounters the superannuated chivalric figures in the Cave of Montesinos, he discovers, amid much psychic distress, that chivalry is dead with Durandarte, a literally heartless and mummified figure who enjoins him to have patience and shuffle the cards [“Paciencia y barajar”].15 Enchanted for centuries, the erstwhile heroic figures in the Cave of Montesinos suffer financial hardships and rotten teeth and menopause, all the coarse realities of life designed to jolt Don Quixote out of his “other identified” state (2:22-23).

Cervantes helped to bury the closed, monolithic, and aristocratic narrative forms of the books of chivalry, a genre that had codified the discursive practices embedded in the social and political institutions of imperial Spain. The task of transition to Castilian-only as a national language—the project articulated by Antonio de Nebrija in 1492—had firmly tied grammar to empire. The loosening, if not the conscious subversion, of those imperial ties allowed for the birth of the Cervantine novel. Although I acknowledge the many complexities surrounding Cervantes's campaign against the books of chivalry—including the argument that he was “flogging a horse that was already dead” (Russell, Cervantes 25)—I nevertheless concur with Edward Friedman's claim that “the destruction of chivalric romance is what Don Quijote is about, if one understands the attempted erasure as a symbolic gesture” (41-42).16 The same literature that had propped up the medieval aristocracy, galvanized the conquistadores into performing acts of “ocean chivalry,” and turned Don Quixote into a crazed “mimic man” needed to be erased. And Cervantes was happy to oblige. Lord Byron tried to sum up Cervantes's accomplishment in a memorable canto of Don Juan:

Cervantes smiled Spain's chivalry away;
                                        A single laugh demolished the right arm
Of his own country;—seldom since that day
                                        Has Spain had heroes.

(358; canto 13, stanza 11)

Henry Thomas's assessment of the degree to which Cervantes accomplished his goals provides a check to such Byronic hyperbole: “si no obtuvo la dudosa distinción de extinguir de golpe un género ya moribundo, tuvo al menos la satisfacción de salvarnos de un posible renacimiento” [“if he did not earn the dubious distinction of extinguishing a moribund genre with one blow, he at least had the satisfaction of saving us from a possible renaissance”] (136). Neither assessment is wholly accurate. The chivalric genre has had its numerous renaissances and Spain has had its heroes. What we can safely conclude, however, is that Cervantes, like Byron, was “No Childe of Chivalry.”


  1. I translate the phrase libros de caballerías literally in this essay. On the Anglo-American penchant, not adopted by other European literary languages, for separating the Novel from the genre of Romance, see Doody 1 and 487n1.

  2. The figure of praepostere is variously known as reversio, inversio, anastrophe, epanastrophe, and hypallage.

  3. James D. Fernández cites some of these older “inventories” of the presence of America in Cervantes (969-70). Fernández's strong and persuasive “New World reading” of “El celoso extremeño” interprets the fortified house of the aged Carrizales “as an ínsula inhabited by a racially diverse group of natives” and zealously ruled over by an “indiano governor” (974).

  4. For these publication facts on the romances of chivalry, see Chevalier 64-65. Among the large number of studies of the books of chivalry, see especially Daniels, Eisenberg, Riquer, Sieber, and Thomas.

  5. Although the “delirium” of the conquest has been marked and remarked (Adorno xx), it bears noting that, as Kristeva defines it, delirium is “a discourse which has supposedly strayed from a presumed reality,” a discourse that presents, above all, a state of desire which has ensnarled the paths of knowledge (307).

  6. Dr. Álvarez Chanca, a physician to the fleet and a man given more to botanizing than theorizing, closes his eyewitness account anxious that readers may find him prolix or given to exaggeration. But as God is his witness, he concludes, he has not strayed “una jota de los términos de la verdad” [“one iota from the bounds of truth”] (Álvarez Chanca 1:72-73).

  7. See the long and censorious catalogue in Ife 12n20; also 34.

  8. This trend, which Adorno carefully documents, includes, among others, such figures as Thomas, Torre Revello, Rodríguez Prampolini, and Leonard, who seriously confronted the issue of the role of chivalric fiction on the popular imagination (xxviiin1 and xxxvn32).

  9. Deyermond writes that “the Spanish and Portuguese explorers were often inspired by, and formed their expectations on, the model of what they read in the romances, while the chroniclers of discovery and conquest wrote in similar terms; there is no doubt that life to some extent copied literature, as it always does” (162). Ramón Iglesia notes that “la sombra de los libros de caballería se proyecta sobre la empresa de los conquistadores” [“the shadow of the books of chivalry projects itself over the enterprise of the conquistadores”] (Gilman 110). Commenting on the confusion of fiction and reality during the sixteenth century, Juan Francisco Maura, editor of Cabeza de Vaca's Naufragios, speaks of it as a time when “lo fantástico de los Libros de Caballería no se diferenciaba mucho de lo que estaba aconteciendo en el Nuevo Mundo” [“the fantastic in the Books of Chivalry did not differ much from what was happening in the New World”] (“Introducción” 41). According to Kathleen N. March and Kristina M. Passman, Las Sergas de Esplandián cast “such a long shadow that the coast of California was named for Queen Calafia's domain” (297).

  10. “Careful readers take exception to the notion, implicit in chapter 1 [of Books of the Brave], that the conquistadores' consumption of tales of chivalry as ‘men of their times’ could be used to explain or even to justify their roles in wars of enslavement and destruction” (Adorno x).

  11. Leonard mentions Cervantes's “realistic picture of the reading of romances of chivalry in the 16th century by those of a social status similar to that of many of Cortés's soldiers” (44).

  12. Leonard's “most compelling demonstration” of the links between the conquistadores and the books of chivalry is his “case of the Amazons,” articulated in chapters 4-5 (Adorno ix). See also Leonard 25, 31, 53, and 65.

  13. For Rose, the terminological confusion between parody and satire stands as a sign of their cooperation, and, indeed, “the transmission of literary satire through the medium of parody has … been common practice” (47).

  14. Apart from the quixotic ability to choose his own character (if not the character of a dandy which he does choose), Ralph Singh, one of Naipaul's “mimic men of the New World” (Mimic Men 146), has little or no retrievable relation to Don Quixote. I thank Sharmila Mukherjee, a Naipaul scholar, for helpful commentary on an early draft of this essay.

  15. See Wilson on this episode.

  16. Although Friedman understands the attempted destruction as more of a metafictional than a moral attack, he justly allows that chivalry itself has ties to both literary convention and social reality.

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Russell, Peter. “Arms versus Letters: Towards a Definition of Spanish Fifteenth-Century Humanism.” Aspects of the Renaissance: A Symposium. Ed. Archibald R. Lewis. Austin: U of Texas P, 1964. 47-58.

———. Cervantes. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985.

Safouan, M. L'échec du principe de plaisir. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1979.

Sieber, Harry. “The Romance of Chivalry in Spain from Rodríguez de Montalvo to Cervantes.” Romance: Generic Transformation from Chrétien de Troyes to Cervantes. Ed. Kevin Brownlee and Marina Scordilis Brownlee. Hanover, NH: U P of New England, 1985. 203-19.

Skinner, John. “Don Quixote in 18th-Century England: A Study in Reader Response.” Cervantes 7.1 (1987): 45-57.

Testa, Daniel P. “Parodia y mitificación del Nuevo Mundo en el Quijote.Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 430 (1986): 63-71.

Thomas, Henry. Las novelas de caballerías españolas y portuguesas. Trans. E. Pujales. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1952.

Todorov, Tzvetan. Genres in Discourse. Trans. Catherine Porter. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.

Torre Revello, José. El libro, la imprenta y el periodismo en América durante la dominación española. Buenos Aires: Jacobo Peuser, 1940.

Wilson, Diana de Armas. “Cervantes and the Night Visitors: Dream Work in the Cave of Montesinos.” Quixotic Desire: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Cervantes. Ed. Ruth Anthony El Saffar and Diana de Armas Wilson. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993. 59-80.

Howard Young (essay date 2000)

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SOURCE: Young, Howard. “Game of Circles: Conversations Between Don Quixote and Sancho.” Philosophy and Literature 24, no. 2 (2000): 377-86.

[In the following essay, Young explores the complex friendship between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza by analyzing their intimate conversations, which he says express their tenderness, love, respect, anger, frustration, and growing closeness.]

Accolades accumulated during the centuries weigh heavily upon Don Quixote de la Mancha (Part 1, 1605; Part 2, 1615) making it a behemoth of a classic, not only in terms of its size and tendency on occasion to ramble, but also due to the enormous applause it has received from authors and critics the world over. More than a trail-breaking predecessor like the first picaresque novel Lazarillo de Tormes (1554) or one of its famous imitations Huckleberry Finn (1884), Cervantes's book has earned the unqualified praise of critics and writers alike. To top off the devotion of Fielding, Smollet, Sterne, Diderot, Stendhal, Flaubert, Daudet, there is Milan Kundera's assertion, “The artist need answer to no one except Cervantes.”1 All fiction is a recreation of the theme of Don Quixote, insists Lionel Trilling.

Sainte-Beuve called it “The Bible of Humanity”; one of the world's most translated books, its quick popularity inside and outside of Spain caused Franco Moretti to term it a precocious international bestseller2; the home of two of literature's most famous characters, whose ability to acquire a life of their own would only be surpassed by Holmes and Watson; purveyor of terms in many languages: quixotic, tilting at windmills; a book in which hilarity and sadness, idealism and mockery blend uneasily. The French ambassador to Madrid is supposed to have said with uncharacteristic generosity, when apprised that Cervantes had died a poor man, “He left his riches to the world.”

Readings from the 1940s until the relatively recent past focussed on such topics as the nature of madness, the mutability of reality, and the phenomenon of artistic self-awareness. Commendable as these viewpoints and discussions are (plurality of meaning, whether rightly or wrongly, is often associated with the greatness of a text), they have obscured one of the sources of the book's long life: the loving, irascible relationship between Don Quixote and Sancho. “I cannot think,” says Harold Bloom, “of a fully comparable friendship anywhere else in Western literature.”3 For although Don Quixote may not be the sagest sage that ever lived, as Melville would have had it, he was, despite his short temper, more loving, compassionate and steadfast in his treatment of Sancho than was Prince Hal to Falstaff. The day in and day out record of their friendship, which occupies ninety per cent of the novel, involves the exploration of a relationship that evokes the gamut of human relations. The two comrades deceive each other, mock each other, forgive each other, argue about the state of the world, provoke each other to extreme exasperation while each one acquires some of the characteristics of the other. It is one of the earliest well-rounded relationships in Western literature and certainly one of the most enduring.

The conversations provide the best insight into this achievement. Elias Rivers has pointed out how the novel is constructed as one long, complex dialogue between Don Quixote and Sancho, frequently interrupted by standing jokes or the intrusion of many different characters, but consistently returned to in such a way as to establish a growing closeness between the archetypal pair that expresses itself in tenderness, love, respect, discord, anger, and frequently just plain cabin fever.

Rivers has also analyzed the asymmetrical nature of their dialogue as seen in their differing social status (Don Quixote is always addressed as your grace by Sancho, and Sancho is the unadorned ), as well as the division between literacy and illiteracy which accounts for a tension between the prolonged hypotaxis of Don Quixote's Ciceronian prose and the paratactic brevity of Sancho's proverbs.4

But there are moments in this ongoing conversation—one of the longest in literature—when I and thou seem particularly embedded in the here and now of humanity, so that beyond the rhetoric of madness and peasant stubbornness there exists a level of personal give and take that for Bloom becomes canonical. The great Shakespeare personalities seem to stand alone, without sustaining friendships; Cleopatra listens to herself being Cleopatra. On the other hand, the Don and Sancho pay close attention to the other's plight, listen carefully and even allow a mutual influence. In an age in which conventions dominated much of literature, the Don and his companion go outside the strictures of conversation manuals in their discovery of each other. Whereas the picaresque novel serves as a source for the Exemplary Tales, Luis Murillo is right when he says there are no “literary sources” that can explain the intimacy of the Cervantine dialogues in the Quixote.5

After the elaborate presentation of Don Quixote (we know how he dresses, what he eats, and of his dangerous obsession), Sancho comes on the scene relatively free of background. A local farmer, poor but honest, with a reputation in the village for the small amount of salt in his brain pan. In today's language, Sancho might be said to have a dim front porch light, not only an unkindness, as Unamuno was quick to point out, but an inaccuracy, for Sancho's porch light in the course of the novel will grow brighter and brighter, at times eclipsing that of his master.

Modern day commentators, starting with Salvador de Madariaga, have underscored Don Quixote's initial one-sidedness. Until he is joined by Sancho Panza, his monomania stands alone against the world; but with the arrival of his deluded but, nonetheless, essentially rational companion he acquires a buffer, a confidant, and a friend. The appearance of Sancho is a stroke of genius. “Put him and his master together,” said Coleridge, “and they form a perfect intellect.”6 Theirs is a great literary relationship with a virtual reality as commanding as that of Holmes and Watson, who overshadow Conan Doyle as much as Don Quixote and Sancho eclipse Cervantes.

With Sancho on the scene, Don Quixote is complete. But leave it to Unamuno to spot a key feature in this relationship. Don Quixote needs Sancho, Unamuno points out, in order to talk, to think aloud with frankness, to hear his voice rebound, to have a chorus. Silence demarcates us on all sides, says Emerson, to be broken only by conversation. What is brought to being in Chapter Seven, Part One, with the introduction of Sancho is one of the longest conversations in all of literature, initiated by Sancho's reminder about the Island he may govern. (“Look, Your Grace, Señor Knight Errant,” his very first words are in the vocative; and his final plea, “Do not die, your grace, my lord; it is foolish to allow yourself to be undone by melancholy; you have read enough books to know that he who is defeated today, wins tomorrow.”) But in the scene that so affected Thomas Mann, Don Quixote replies that there are no birds in last year's nest, that reading will not bring back the thrush to warm the cold twigs.

It may not come amiss at this juncture to note the Spaniard's great love of conversation which has persisted into the new century. One has only to enter a Spanish bar at any level of society to be overwhelmed by what Jorge Guillén has called the orgy of Spanish conversation, or to stroll the streets of Seville or Madrid, take the AVE (high speed train) to note signal proof of the statistic that 12 million Spaniards use mobile phones to discuss many of the topics that motived Sancho and Don Quixote: who has what and which system works best. If Montaigne is right, Spaniards have always enjoyed good mental workouts: “The most fruitful and natural exercise of our mind, in my opinion, is discussion; I would rather consent to lose my sight than my hearing or speech.”7

Their first great adventure together, the prototype of many to follow, and the source of the phrase that has entered numerous languages, is the episode of the windmills. Thirty or forty of them come into view, and they cause Don Quixote to turn in his saddle and describe his version of reality: outsized giants to be conquered for their spoils. After listening to a full-blown gloss on the sights of the Manchegan hills, Sancho asks a simple but devastating question: “What giants?”

Devastating to anyone except Don Quixote, who dismisses Sancho's ignorance as due to lack of knowledge. This scene has engendered numerous commentaries, two of which I would mention. Unamuno's answer to Sancho: these giants are locomotives, dynamos, turbines, steamships, autos, machine guns. (Unamuno's Life of Don Quixote and Sancho was published in 1905. The futurists were yet to glorify machines and war and then watch these weapons decimate troops on the Western Front.) For Ortega, on the other hand, that scene is an example of how art functions: of course, there are really no giants, but on the slope between the windmills and the don's vision, one may posit the question when and how did giants first appear.

The end of this fiasco finds Sancho already acquiring an extra dimension. As he listens to a bruised and beaten master, he asserts, “I believe everything you say, but would your grace sit up a little straighter in the saddle, you look as if you are about to fall out.” Sancho quickly learns that he must play the game on the level of chivalresque rhetoric, reduce skepticism to a minimum, but his natural concern for Don Quixote as a human being is expressed from the beginning in an idiom free of literary conventions.

As in any long term relationship, anger, quibbling, and nagging make their presence known, but Sancho will continue to keep a caring eye on his Don Quixote. Their conversation will for a large part of the early pages focus upon Don Quixote's explanations about how things should be in a world conformed to his expectations. These are long, somewhat didactic, patient lectures on his readings of the books of chivalry, a careful analysis of the importance of each adventure. Sancho warily accepts this rhetoric, mindful always of his own delusion: the famous island. He still subjects Don Quixote's condition to the practical concern of a Manchegan peasant. “I don't know how to read or write,” he says, “but I am sure you are the most fearless of all knights. In the meantime, you have lost a lot of blood in that ear” (p. 98). And so the circles cutting into silence establish their very human bonds: by the tenth chapter Sancho and Don Quixote eat together in harmony and peace (p. 102).

The adventure of the hydraulic hammers pounding on new cloth (or fulling mills) in Chapter Twenty can serve to reveal how deeply the bonds of their friendship will reach. The sound of clanking chains against the roar of water inspires Don Quixote to action, but Sancho, who is not a creature of the night, is terrified at being abandoned in the dark and threatens to leave his master. No one can see our cowardliness at night, he notes with craven common sense. His pleading takes on the flavor of Don Quixote's archaic Spanish, which he is now beginning unconsciously to imitate. Unmoved, Don Quixote is prepared to set forth to investigate the fearful sounds until Sancho hobbles Rocinante, and the Don is stymied.

Don Quixote asks Sancho for a story to help pass the time. But the reenactment of Scheherazade on the bleak Spanish plain suffers the fate of all literature in Cervantes's novel. Don Quixote is a very bad listener. He constantly interrupts, corrects, and clarifies his squire's intentions, to the latter's intense annoyance. Don Quixote ruins the story that Sancho hopes to kill time with (the shepherd, the boat and the goat, a variation on the conundrum of how to achieve safe transportation for missionaries and cannibals) by immediately and impatiently losing count. “Do you mean the story is over?” asks Don Quixote. “It's as dead as my mother,” Sancho replies. One of Cervantes's considerable achievements is to have caught for the first time in European prose that tone of haggling and squabbling that envelops even the most sanguine relationships.

Spanish culture is not uncomfortable with physical acts so that when cold, fear and diet force Sancho into doing what no one could do for him, the resulting scene is merciless in its portrayal of Sancho satisfying the call of nature while still clinging to the side of Rocinante and hoping Don Quixote will not take notice. Don Quixote takes this scatological interlude in stride and calmly points out that his friendly manner may have led Sancho to take advantage of him.

Dawn arrives, and with it the discovery that the dreadful noise consisted of six hydraulic hammers. Don Quixote bows his head in despair, but allows himself a little smile as Sancho begins to laugh uncontrollably. Don Quixote is willing to see something laughable about the situation, but when Sancho mocks him by aping his boastful words of chivalry, the Don fetches him two smart blows on the neck, which might have ended the story if they had been a bit higher.

To Sancho's “I was just joking” comes Don Quixote's “I don't joke, my merry friend.” And indeed he never does, nor gaunt and mournful does he ever succumb to temptations of the flesh. Don Quixote, sensing that things are getting out of hand, asks that the conversation be restrained. “Never have I read anywhere of squires talking as much as you do.” Boundaries have been drawn, blows given, nature attended to, abject fear displayed, and for a brief moment Don Quixote even begins to laugh at himself. The conversation will not be restrained.

The notion of silence rankles Sancho, who for several pages will grumble and say portentously, “If I could talk as much as I used to,” or “Will your grace grant me permission to talk a little?” which elicits the reply, “Very well, but be brief.” Don Quixote upholds brevity as a virtue, if not the soul of wit, but neither he nor his companion will succeed in practicing it, except at the most intimate level of “You and I”: “Sit up a little straighter.”

As the conversation becomes more subtle and its registers of intimacy more certain, the opposing, or asymmetrical world views of Don Quixote and Sancho can be expressed in a more sensitive way, one that has contributed to the novel's strong attraction to twentieth-century readers as a text that plays with reality.

A light rain falls at the beginning of Chapter Twenty-One, and Don Quixote glimpses in the distance a man with something shining like gold on his head. Mambrino's helmet, he cries. More fulling mills, Sancho retorts. How do you get from fulling mills to helmets, complains Don Quixote. If I were allowed to talk as much as I used to I would tell you. I see a horseman wearing the Helmet of Mambrino on his head. Sancho resorts unconsciously to Don Quixote's use of synonyms, “What I see and make out is just a man on a donkey, the same color as mine, wearing something shiny on his head.” “That's Mambrino's helmet.”

The conversational ability of the two travelers has developed to the point where they are going to be able to discuss different aspects of reality without resorting to the categorical tone of the adventure of the windmills. The barber, who had covered his head with a brass basin against the light rain that is falling, leaps from his donkey and flees in terror as the gaunt Quixote charges him with lance in hand.

Don Quixote bids Sancho to pick up the object that the barber has dropped. The narrator with great grammatical subtlety uses the direct object to demonstrate the difference of opinion. Don Quixote asks Sancho to pick up the masculine el yelmo (the helmet), and Sancho takes in his hands the feminine la bacía (the basin).

There follows a perfectly rational discussion over the real nature of the object. It seems like a barber's basin to me, says Sancho; it's a helmet, half of which is missing, muses Don Quixote, who continues with great tolerance to speculate that someone not knowing the value of the helmet, separated it into two pieces, making it in effect seem, as you say, Sancho, like a barber's basin. Later in the inn when the unfortunate barber shows up, the squire and his knight will pay dearly for their toleration of each other's point of view (indeed rationality is never served well in this ur-novel). But in the meantime, the discussion on the dusty Spanish road is not too far from the fog-bound deliberations in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

Some of the endless conversations on roads and in villages have to do with language itself. The literate and well-read Don Quixote's ornate Ciceronian style cannot help but rub off on his illiterate companion, who proves to be eager to employ the don's vocabulary if not his phraseology. To do so, of course, would move him up a linguistic peg, and eventually cause people to marvel at his grasp of reason. Conversely, if Don Quixote has a literary lexicon, Sancho's treasure is his formidable collection of proverbs, sayings, refrains that represent the collective popular wisdom accumulated through generations. They are usually terse, often harsh, or cruel and, as Sancho keeps trotting them out, they tend to blunt the sonorous effect of the prose of Amadís de Gaula.

Both men are impatient with each other in this area. Sancho refuses to defer to the school master side of Don Quixote, who, in turn, takes great pleasure in pointing out errors of pronunciation. At times, Don Quixote does not hesitate to inform personages of high standing that he does not understand what they are talking about (see the episode of the Knight of the Green Overcoat, II.18).

What follows from the new Burton Raffel translation is not concerned with proper usage as in the Castilian grammars that began to appear after 1492, or in the conversation manuals of the Renaissance, but rather a comic misuse of words that Don Quixote gleefully pounces upon and Sancho defends.

“My lord, I've evinced my wife to let me go with your grace anywhere you want to take me.”

“You mean convinced, Sancho,” said Don Quixote, “not evinced.”

“Unless I remember wrong,” replied Sancho, “I've already asked your grace, once or twice, not to correct my words if you can understand what I'm trying to say, but when you don't understand, just say, ‘Sancho, god damn it, I can't understand you,’ and then if I don't explain you can go ahead and correct me, because I am so focile …”

“I don't understand you, Sancho,” Don Quixote interrupted, “because I don't know the meaning of ‘so focile’.”

“’So focile’,” replied Sancho, “means ‘that's exactly the way I am’.”

“Now I understand even less,” said Don Quixote.

“Well, if you can't understand me,” answered Sancho, “I just don't know how to tell you, because, may God help me, I don't know any better.”

“Ah, ah: I've got it,” replied Don Quixote. “You mean you're so docile—so mild-mannered, so easy—that whatever I tell you, you'll pay attention to and be guided by me.”

“And I'll bet,” said Sancho, “you got it right away, and knew what I meant, but you wanted to get me all bothered, so you could hear me make a couple of dozen more mistakes.”

“That's possible,” replied Don Quixote.8

This kind of linguistic infighting, not uncommon to domestic as well as professional conversations, provides Sancho with an opportunity to assert himself. He listens patiently, for example, when Don Quixote explains the difference in register between eructate and belch, but on the whole refuses his master's guidance on matters of mispronunciation, just as eventually his tongue will sharply put Don Quixote in his place: “Do you think,” he snaps, “that the reason for my pain is so obscure that you really have to tell me I hurt where the stick hit me?” (Raffel, p. 499).

Don Quixote is equally touchy about what he thinks is Sancho's unreasoned use of proverbs. You haul them in by the bucket load, he complains, you reel off four a minute. Where do you get them from? To which Sancho replies, “They are something that belongs to me because I don't have anything else, not a blessed thing except proverbs and more proverbs” (Raffel, p. 573).

When Don Quixote grumbles, “I shall tell the Duke you are nothing but a bag of proverbs and perversities,” Sancho says, “If you think that's the case then I do not want to govern the island.” To which Don Quixote responds with his usual generosity of spirit, “You are a naturally good man.”

Flaubert exclaims admiringly how real the Spanish roads seem even though nowhere does Cervantes expressly describe them. It is the conversations themselves that set up the sense of reality that the great French realist notes. Laughing, chatting, coming to blows, nitpicking, overbearing: here are two fully-rounded human beings, forerunners of nineteenth-century realism without the “realia.” It is this thread of a full-fledged human relationship that Don Quixote will snap when he takes to his bed, mourned by the inconsolable Sancho.

Out of these wonderful, and most ordinary conversations, so at odds with the codes of discourse in Castiglione or other Renaissance handbooks, is born a thoroughly human and humane figure, which must help explain in part why someone like Faulkner found it necessary to read the novel every year. Of the hundreds of examples of Cervantes's effect on writers throughout the ages, recently marshalled in a fine article by Jed Rasula, one of my favorites, for its political and literary aptness, is the case of Thomas Mann.

In the spring of 1934, Thomas Mann, setting sail for New York, unpacked his four volumes of the Tieck translation of Don Quixote. It was just the right book, he felt, to read on a voyage to the end of the world. One of the first and greatest of travel books would accompany one of Europe's leading novelists and intellectuals, as he departed the hatred and prejudice of an old world about to explode into the second world war.

Musing on the book and its evident greatness, Mann presents himself as less than satisfied with the book's ending. Had Cervantes kept to his original purpose, the ridicule of the novels of chivalry in which the dominant tone was the pratfall, the beatings, the cottage cheese dripping down the lean face, then a death ex abrupto might have been countenanced. But with Don Quixote become a lofty figure, he could not die on the road or live out the years of his life once again reading away the darkness. That is understandable. Nevertheless, Mann finds himself uncomfortable with the sudden appearance of sanity on the death bed, the dignified acceptance of the sacraments; in his unreason, says Mann, Don Quixote was too lovable.

As his ship enters New York harbor, the writer-victim of Nazism, the most evil enchanter of the age, stands against the rail and sees, in his own words, the skyline become a towered city of giants.9


  1. Jed Rasula, “When the Exception is the Rule: Don Quixote as Incitement to Literature,” Comparative Literature 51 (1999): 123.

  2. Franco Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900 (London: Verso, 1999), p. 171.

  3. Harold Bloom, The Western Canon. The Books and School of the Ages (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994), p. 131.

  4. Elias L. Rivers, Quixotic Scriptures: Essays on the Textuality of Hispanic Literature. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983), p. 123.

  5. The art of the dialogue, Murillo goes on to mention, did not allow for the intimate presence of the interlocutor until the advent of Cervantes. Luis Andrés Murillo, “Diálogo y dialéctica en el siglo XVI español,” RUBA 4.5a época, a. (1959): 57.

  6. Rasula, p. 127.

  7. Michel de Montaigne, Essays, ed. Donald Frame (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1985), p. 704.

  8. Miguel de Cervantes, The History of that Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha, trans. Burton Raffel (New York: W. W. Norton, 1995), pp. 393-94. Future references will be inserted parenthetically in the text.

  9. Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades, ed. H. T. Lowe-Porter (New York: Knopf, 1947), pp. 429-64.

Further Reading

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Allen, John J. Don Quixote: Hero or Fool? Part II. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1979, 120 p.

Expanded version of an earlier monograph that explores the reader's evolving relationship with the protagonist in Don Quixote.

Anderson, Ellen M. “Dreaming a True Story: The Disenchantment of the Hero in Don Quixote, Part II.” Essays on Life Writing: From Genre to Critical Practice, edited by Marlene Kadar, pp. 171-89. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.

Explores how history, story, dream, and enchantment are used to describe the progress of the protagonist's disillusionment and self-recovery through the meeting of objective and subjective reality.

Axelrod, Mark. “The Poetics of the Quest in Cervantes' Don Quixote.” In The Poetics of Novels: Fiction and its Execution, pp. 1-27. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Discusses the interrelationship between entertainment, self-discovery, and truth in Don Quixote.

Cascardi, Anthony. “History and Modernity in the Spanish Golden Age: Secularization and Literary Self-Assertion in Don Quijote.” In Cultural Authority in Golden Age Spain, edited by Marina S. Brownlee and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, pp. 209-33. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

Argues that the origins of literary modernity may be observed in Cervantes's novel.

Efron, Arthur. Don Quixote and the Dulcineated World. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972, 198 p.

Argues that Don Quixote is a novel of protest that presents a hostile perspective on the cultural norms of its time.

El Saffar, Ruth S. Distance and Control in Don Quixote: A Study in Narrative Technique. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: North Carolina Studies in Romance Languages and Literatures, 1975, 141 p.

Detailed study of the interplay among the characters, narrators, and readers of Don Quixote.

Fajardo, Salvador. “The Enchanted Return: On the Conclusion to Don Quixote I.” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 16, no. 2 (fall 1986): 233-51.

Discusses chapters forty-six through fifty-two of the first part of Don Quixote, in which the critic finds the tone of the novel changes from that of the romance to that of the modern realistic novel.

Gorfkle, Laura. Discovering the Comic in Don Quixote. Chapel Hill: North Carolina Studies in the Romance Languages and Literatures, 1993, 223 p.

Study of Don Quixote that analyzes the sources of humor in the novel.

Hampton, Timothy. “Examples, Stories, and Subjects in Don Quixote and the Heptameron.Journal of the History of the Idea 59, no. 4 (1998): 597-611.

Analyzes Don Quixote and Marguerite de Navarre's Heptameron to determine the ways in which exemplary images are linked to particular traditions of narrative form.

Haverkate, Henk. “The dialogues of Don Quixote de la Mancha: A pragmalinguistic analysis within the framework of Gricean maxims, speech act theory, and politeness theory.” Poetics 22 (1994): 219-41.

Analyzes the verbal behavior of the protagonists of Don Quixote in order “to shed light on the roles and personality traits of the characters of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza from the perspective of Gricean maxims, speech act theory, and politeness theory.”

Higuera, Henry. Eros and Empire: Politics and Christianity in Don Quixote. Lanham, Md.: Rowan and Littlefield, 1995, 199 p.

Claims that although Cervantes disguises the political dimension of his book, the novel is focuses on Spain and Catholicism.

Murillo, Louis A. The Golden Dial: Temporal Configuration in Don Quijote. Oxford, Eng.: The Dolphin Book Co., 1975, 178 p.

Examines the manner in which time is conveyed in Don Quixote.

———. A Critical Introduction to Don Quixote. New York: Peter Lang, 1988, 270 p.

Chapter-by-chapter analysis of the novel.

Nabokov, Vladimir. Lectures on Don Quixote. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983, 219 p.

Six lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1951 and 1952 exploring the structure, narrative, and major themes of Don Quixote.

Nadler, Steven. “Descartes's Demon and the Madness of Don Quixote.” Journal of the History of the Idea 58, no. 1 (1997): 41-55.

Compares the skepticism of philosopher René Descartes in his Meditations with Don Quixote's distrust of his faculties and rationalization of his illusions.

Presberg, Charles. “‘This Is Not a Prologue’: Paradoxes of Historical and Poetic Discourse in the Prologue of Don Quixote, Part I.” MLN 110, no. 2 (March 1995): 215-39.

Asserts that the prologue to the first part of Don Quixote is not only a fitting preface but an integral part of Cervantes's novel.

———. Adventures in Paradox: Don Quixote and the Western Tradition. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001, 245 p.

Shows how the characters and readers of Don Quixote engage in a series of parallel adventures in the course of the narrative.

Rasula, Jed. “When the Exception Is the Rule: Don Quixote as Incitement to Literature.” Comparative Literature 51, no. 2 (spring 1999): 123-51.

Surveys the critical approaches to and the enormous influence of Don Quixote and considers why the novel has inspired so many works of art.

Resina, Joan Ramon. “Cervantes's Confidence Games and the Refashioning of Totality.” MLN 111, no. 2 (March 1996): 218-54.

Argues that a philosophical reading of Don Quixote is compatible with the novel's burlesque spirit.

Sullivan, Henry W. Grotesque Purgatory: A Study of Cervantes's Don Quixote, Part II. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996, 210 p.

Interprets the second part of Don Quixote as an epic of spiritual salvation.

Ziolkowski, Eric J. The Sanctification of Don Quixote: From Hidalgo to Priest. University Park: The Pennsylvania University State Press, 1991, 268 p.

Examines works by eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century authors to argue that “to live a truly religious life in modernity is to appear (or to be?) quixotic.”

Additional information on Cervantes’s life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vols. 1, 14; Discovering Authors; Discovering Authors: British Edition; Discovering Authors: Canadian Edition; Discovering Authors Modules: Most-Studied Authors and Novelists; European Writers, Vol. 2; Hispanic Literature Criticism Supplement; Literary Movements for Students, Vol. 1; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 1; Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vols. 6, 23; Literature Resource Center; Novels for Students, Vol. 8; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; Reference Guide to World Literature, Eds. 2, 3; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 12; Twayne's World Authors; and World Literature Criticism.

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Critical Evaluation