The Ornament of the World

by María Rosa Menocal
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Somewhere in La Mancha Summary

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Last Updated on April 9, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 290

Menocal opens this chapter in 1605 in the desolate streets of Toledo. A man looks for a book of lost history and attempts to find the Jewish quarter, although at the time, no Jews were allowed to live in Toledo officially. The man sees a boy selling papers written in Arabic, which is dangerous, as only Old Jews and Muslims know how to read that language, even if they identify as New Christians. The man himself cannot read Arabic and, after buying one of the papers, must find someone who can. After finding a translator, the man discovers that he has found the text of the novel Don Quixote de la Mancha.

This is the beginning of Cervantes’s second part of Don Quixote, which was released in 1615. Menocal comments on how interesting it is that the opening contains a text in Arabic, a Jewish quarter, and a wandering Morisco, or New Christian. In reality, these New Christians had been expelled from Spain by 1615. Thus, Don Quixote was a tragic reminder of the interfaith, intercultural mix that Toledo had been. Menocal explains that this became an era of false appearances: windmills might be mistaken for giants; self-professed Christians might be Jews or Muslims (hence the exile); Arabic-looking script might actually be Castilian or Spanish written to appear Arabic; even the fiction of Don Quixote reflects a historical reality. Play-acting became an important skill in seventeenth-century Spain for non-Christians, to the point where the more conspicuously someone made a show of being Christian, the less likely they were to be Christian. Don Quixote thus stands as a kind of bittersweet homage to what had become of the once great Islamic Andalusia: a repressive Christian regime built on a quashed intellectualism and diversity.

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