Don Quixote

by: Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote de la Mancha

[A]ll that he had read of quarrels, enchantments, battles, challenges, wounds, tortures, amorous complaints, and other improbable conceits, took full possession of his fancy; and he believed all those romantic exploits so implicitly, that in his opinion, the Holy Scripture was not more true.

While introducing Don Quixote, the narrator explains that Don Quixote spends all of his leisure time reading books about knight-errantry, to the point that he has come to regard everything he has read as fact. At this point in the story, he has already descended into madness, and readers receive no information of what he was like before this obsession began.

He then asked, if he carried any money about with him, and the knight replied, that he had not a cent: for he had never read in the history of knights-errant, that they had ever troubled themselves with any such encumbrance.

After Don Quixote arrives at an inn, the innkeeper asks him if he has any money to pay for a room. Don Quixote answers in the negative because in his readings he never encountered a knight who carries money. Don Quixote clearly takes everything he reads about chivalry and knight-errantry very literally to not have considered whether he would need to pay for things on his quests.

It seems very plain, said the knight, that you are but a novice in adventures: these I affirm to be giants; and if thou art afraid, get out of the reach of danger, and put up thy prayers for me, while I join with them in fierce and unequal combat.

When Don Quixote and Sancho come across a field of windmills, Don Quixote insists that they are giants, despite Sancho trying to point out that what they see are merely windmills. Don Quixote’s confidence in what he sees and believes causes him to dismiss Sancho as not knowing enough about adventures and knight-errantry. His madness seems to run so deep that no one can convince him to see reality.

I affirm, that there never could be a knight-errant without a mistress; for, to be in love is as natural and peculiar to them, as the stars are to the heavens. I am very certain, that you never read a history that gives an account of a knight-errant without an amour; for, he that has never been in love, would not be held as a legitimate member, but some adulterated brood, who had got into the fortress of chivalry, not thro’ the gate, but over the walls, like a thief in the night.

Don Quixote disagrees with Vivaldo when Vivaldo suggests that not every single knight could always be in love. Don Quixote declares that a knight who is not in love doesn’t qualify as a knight, because a knight-errant does everything in the name of his beloved. Keeping his belief in mind, readers can understand why Don Quixote needed to choose a woman to honor, despite the fact that he does not know Dulcinea.

Believing therefore, this chimera (which was the work of his own brain) to be a firm and undoubted fact, he began to reflect with extreme anxiety, upon the dangerous dilemma into which his virtue was like to be drawn; and resolved in his heart, to commit no treason against his mistress Dulcinea del Toboso[.]

The narrator explains that when Don Quixote believes that the innkeeper’s daughter plans to seduce him, he wills himself to remain loyal to Dulcinea. Don Quixote not only feels convinced that his “genteel appearance” attracted the daughter, but he also becomes anxious at the thought of betraying a woman who does not know him, revealing the extent of his delusions.

You blockhead, cried Don Quixote, incensed, it neither concerns, nor belongs to knights-errant, to examine whether the afflicted, the enslaved and oppressed, whom they meet on the highway, are reduced to these wretched circumstances by their crimes, or their misfortunes; our business is only to assist them in their distress, having an eye to their sufferings, and not to their demerits.

Don Quixote chastises Sancho after Sancho claims he warned Don Quixote about what might happen if he set the slaves free. Earlier, these slaves, after being freed by Don Quixote, mugged him. Upset and offended by Sancho’s insinuation, Don Quixote explains that they have no right to judge anyone in dire circumstances, but only to help them. Don Quixote aims to be morally virtuous, but his attempts sometimes backfire.

I will own I look upon my master Don Quixote as an incurable madman; although sometimes he says things, which, to my thinking, and in the opinion of all who hear them, are so reasonable and well directed, that even Satan himself could not mend them[.]

Sancho speaks to the duchess about Don Quixote. Sancho understands Don Quixote’s madness from spending time with him, but he cannot ignore the occasions when Don Quixote seems to be completely rational and lucid. Here readers can see the contradictory nature of Don Quixote’s madness: His delusion only applies to the subject of chivalry, and even in his madness he can make sensible arguments.

When equity can, and ought to take place, inflict not the whole rigour of the law upon the delinquent; for, severity is not more respected than compassion, in the character of a judge.

Don Quixote gives Sancho this piece of advice before Sancho leaves to govern his island. With this advice, his sense of morality shows through. Although Don Quixote wants to protect oppressed or injured people, he has no desire to seek revenge on those who harm others, but let them be judged by God in the end.