From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
8.1 (1988): 7-22.
Copyright © 1988, The Cervantes Society of America
N THE CURRENT state of Quixote criticism, opinion is divided over the question of Cervantes's intentions. The broad consensus which underlays the interpretation of the novel has sustained a very strong challenge in recent decades from a number of critics who have argued that the so-called Romantic approach overlooks the awkward fact that Cervantes intended his novel to be nothing more than a parody of the romances of chivalry.2 In the view of these critics, the
article is the text of an address delivered to the Annual Membership Meeting
of the Cervantes Society of America held
during the MLA Convention in New York City on the 29th December 1986. I have
appended notes only when further commentary or bibliographical reference
seemed appropriate, but otherwise I have kept them to a minimum.
2 For anti-Romantic views see A. A. Parker, El concepto de la verdad en Don Quijote, RFE 32 (1948), 287-304; Erich Auerbach, The Enchanted Dulcinea in Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1953), 334-58; Oscar Mandel, The Function of the Norm in Don Quixote, MPh 55 (1957), 154-63. However, P. E. Russell first drew the attention of modern critics to the sustained parodic character of the novel in an influential article that stimulated the current controversy: Don Quixote as a Funny Book, MLR 64 (1969), 312-26. See also his Cervantes, Past Masters Series (Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1985); Anthony Close, Don Quixote as a Burlesque Hero: A Reconstructed Eighteenth-Century View, FMLS 10 (1974), 365-78. For a critical survey of Romantic interpretations, see Anthony Close, The Romantic Approach to Don Quixote (Cambridge: Cambridge U. P., 1978).
Quixote has been converted by the Romantics and their successors into
a serious, and indeed, tragic vision of man's struggle to find ideal values
in a relativistic, God-forsaken world. Instead of the laughable buffoon Cervantes
meant him to be, Don Quixote has been turned into a noble and heroic figure,
the supreme literary symbol of the alienated condition of the modern soul.
As further proof that such a vision could not have formed part of Cervantes's
intentions, it is pointed out that until the nineteenth century, the novel
was universally accepted as a very funny burlesque of the chivalric romances.
None of the philosophical or poetic implications which have been attributed
to it since the time of the Romantics appear to have been seen by Cervantes's
Let me say straight away that I believe that the Quixote is a comic novel in which Cervantes's parodic intentions are evident from first to last. Nevertheless, I am intrigued by the persistence of the Romantic myth surrounding it. It seems to be one of those myths that simply refuse to die, and this leads me to suspect that it is not entirely groundless. I therefore propose to examine the novel in the hope of discovering what elements, if any, might have given rise to this very powerful Romantic misreading of Cervantes's parody.
In the first place let me point out that a long comic narrative such as the Quixote is likely to contain a range of aesthetic features which may not necessarily provoke laughter. In fact, the artistic skill required to produce a great diversity of literary effects within a single work of fiction seems to have been greatly prized by Cervantes himself. It will be remembered that the Canon of Toledo, when moved to praise the freedom the writers of romance enjoyed, observed that: La escritura desatada destos libros da lugar a que el autor pueda mostrarse épico, lírico, trágico, cómico, con todas aquellas partes que encierran en sí las dulcísimas y agradables ciencias de la poesía y de la oratoria; que la épica también puede escribirse en prosa como en verso (I.47.483).3 When he undertook to write the comic epic in prose which is the Quixote, it is not inconceivable that Cervantes might have been attracted by the opportunity to mostrarse épico, lírico, and indeed trágico, within the predominantly burlesque mode which his subject matter required.
In the 1605 Prologue to the novel, Cervantes makes a forthright
refer to Don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. Martín de Riquer (Barcelona:
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reference to the way he hoped the work would be received by his readers:
Procurad también que, leyendo vuestra historia, el melancólico
se mueva a risa, el risueño la acreciente, el simple no se enfade
(p. 25). Unquestionably, laughter is the response Cervantes wants to provoke
in his readers. But it is also relevant to show that Cervantes is addressing
another kind of reader who, in addition to laughter, will be capable of
appreciating the inventive skill that sustains the comedy. He continues the
sentence I have just quoted by saying that he has tried to ensure that,
. . . el discreto se admire de la invención, el grave
no la desprecie, ni el prudente deje de alabarla. He expects that the
invención will invite admiration, respect, and praise from
those readers who are educated enough to appreciate good art. The word I
would underline here is admiración because of its obvious
affinity with the theoretical concept of admiratio. Although
admiratio is not at odds with laughter, it calls for a more reflective
and discriminating attitude from the reader. For admiratio is a kind
of pleasure which comes when a work of art exposes one's imagination to
unfamiliar emotions or to strange mental experiences. In Part II, chapter
44, Cervantes writes that los sucesos de don Quijote, o se han de celebrar
con admiración, o con risa (p. 850). It seems to me, therefore,
that if one wishes to come to grips with the problem of Cervantes's intentions
in the Quixote one would have to look at the comic invención
and at the ways in which it might elicit different forms of
admiratio as well as
No discussion of the invención could be successful, in my view, without entering into an analysis of the comic action of the novel. We know, of course, that Cervantes was well versed in Aristotelian theory. Yet, by and large, scholarly interest has centered on Cervantes's application of the principles of verisimilitude and the marvelous. Aristotle's main concern in the Poetics, however, was with the question of a unified action, and even though he confined himself for the most part to tragic drama and the epic, there is no reason to suppose that his specifications for a well-constructed story might not also apply mutatis mutandis to comedy. Certainly, Cervantes appears to have been exercised by questions of unity and variety in Don Quixote. From the declarations of Cide Hamete in Part II, chapter 44, we gather that
4 On the
question of Cervantes's intentions see Anthony Close, Don Quijote and
the Intentionalist Fallacy, British Journal
of Aesthetics 12 (1972), 19-39; and for a contrary view, John
G. Weiger, The Substance of Cervantes (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge
U. P., 1985).
Cervantes had been anxious while writing the first Part to avoid the adventures
of Quixote and Sancho becoming monotonous to the reader. His solution then
was to interpolate some romantic stories into the main narrative but he was
criticized for this. In Part II, he tells us, he tried as far as possible
to limit the action to the adventures of his two main characters. It may
not perhaps be too farfetched to imagine that Cervantes may have endeavored
in 1615 to create the kind of organically unified action Aristotle recommended,
an action in which the disparate adventures would be connected to a central
motivating theme in a probable if not necessary manner. If we look at how
Cervantes might have built up the action of his novel it may be possible
to throw some light on the way his invención elaborated upon
his initial parodic idea. I do not wish to imply, however, that Cervantes
forgot about, much less abandoned, his original intención to
derribar la máquina mal fundada destos caballerescos libros
(p. 25). This, in my opinion, would have been impossible for the simple reason
that the parody of the romances provides the basic rationale of Don Quixote's
The one thing to bear in mind when discussing the action of the novel is that the entire fabric of the narrative is woven from the knight's madness. If Alonso Quijano had not gone off his head, there would have been no story to tell. Cervantes's invención could only have proceeded, I would say, by working within the constraints imposed by the nature of the protagonist's particular kind of lunacy.
The most elementary fact about Don Quixote is that his madness is absurd. If Cervantes intended to make his readers laugh at the conventions of chivalry and courtly love with which a seventeenth-century public were deeply imbued, he needed to find a starting point which would immediately strike his reader as ridiculous. The starting point of the parody, then, is Don Quixote's ludicrous conviction that the books of chivalry portray historical fact. Cervantes can safely call this attitude insane because he is sure that no reader, however much he may love chivalric literature, would accept the validity of such a proposition. In this respect, Don Quixote's insanity is no more than a literary joke, a simple enabling device for Cervantes to launch his parody.
Because the madness is the indispensable pretext for the fictional game, Don Quixote is a comic instrument in the hands of his creator. He is not intended to represent a character with a verisimilar mental life. He has no independent psychological vitality, for there is nothing he can do to think, feel or act his way out of his trivial and ridiculous
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obsession with chivalry. Don Quixote is either mad or he is not. I cannot
see how there could be any intermediate stages between believing the romances
are true and not believing this. The moment the knight stopped believing
that proposition, he would recover his senses and the parody would come to
an abrupt end (as it in fact does in the last chapter of Part II). As a
character, then, Don Quixote is forever tied to the circumstances of his
birth as a funny idea that Cervantes rightly saw would make people laugh.
The parody cannot be developed by having Don Quixote, its major vehicle, question whether or not it is correct to think that the books of chivalry are true. The impetus for development lies elsewhere, at a secondary level of madness: the belief that he, Don Quixote, is equipped to restore the world of chivalry by his own efforts. This is the mission that absorbs all his conscious energies. During the course of the two parts of the novel, we are invited to follow the vicissitudes of this secondary belief as the madman seeks to implement it in the real world. But whether he succeeds or fails in this endeavor will not in any way affect his primary belief that the romances are historical. Thus whatever ideas Cervantes might have to spin out, the story will be contained within the two-fold structure of Don Quixote's madness: first his belief in the historical truth of the books of chivalry; and second, his conviction that he is himself capable of reviving that historical reality in contemporary Spain.
How far Cervantes will be capable of elaborating his parody will, in addition of course to his imaginative skill, depend on the particular kind of relationship he creates between the madman's chivalric obsession and ordinary reality. Initially, Cervantes made his character suffer from hallucinations. For example, we have the knight's bald assertion: Yo sé quien soy . . . in Part I, chapter 5. This suggests that he is conjuring up an arbitrary dream-world from inside his own head. But how long could this attitude last without becoming tedious? Can the reader be expected to laugh time and again at seeing the madman repeatedly bang his head against the brick wall of reality? By the time of his second sally, the knight is no longer a raving lunatic. Our attention will progressively shift from the inevitable slapstick to the madman's rationalization of his behavior. And we now have Sancho Panza to force him to explain himself and to interpret his beliefs for us. The comedy has acquired a new kind of interest, focusing as it does on the madman's wit and ingenuity in keeping his enterprise on the go against our common sense assumptions that it will collapse before very long. In short, Don Quixote has been given
an amazing knack of defeating our expectations of his disillusionment. Yet
if we are surprised by this knack of his, it is because we sense that it
is not purely whimsical; his approach to the world is structured by a different
logic from our own. Crazy it may be, but it is a logic nonetheless.
The method in the madness is derived from the chivalric ideology inherent in chivalric romance fiction. Its intellectual basis is Platonist.5 Knights actively seek adventures and serve a lady in order to uphold a spiritual order of absolute values and essential truths in the temporal world of changing appearances and sensations. But the trouble with Don Quixote is that he lives in an Age of Iron in which this spiritual order has been eclipsed by the passage of time. In seventeenth-century Spain, things do not disclose their essential character by their surface appearance. Don Quixote's task, therefore, is to restore the state of affairs reflected in the histories of chivalry where phenomena could be clearly related to their true identities. In the Spain of Don Quixote, castles may appear to be roadside inns, giants will seem to be windmills, Mambrino's helmet may be mistaken for a barber's basin, but if the knight could succeed in applying the code of chivalry, these uncouth disguises which cloak the world of romance would fall away to reveal the splendid reality which the books have faithfully recorded. Don Quixote sees everyday things as other people do, but he is constantly reading the texture of appearances for signs of this underlying chivalric order.
Obviously, he can have no truck with empiricism, for sense-perceptions are notoriously unreliable. To add to his difficulties, wicked enchanters conspire to travesty appearances even further. In this extremely treacherous world of misleading sensations, Don Quixote will look out for things that remind him of romance. If some person or object does not stir his imagination then he will assume that it does not possess a chivalric identity. However, whenever he judges a phenomenon to have romance potential, he will address it in the way prescribed by the code of chivalry. Should he draw a fitting chivalric response, he may conclude that his identification was correct.
Don Quixote's approach to reality, in my view, is tentative and
5 I discuss
the Platonist influence on Arthurian romance more fully in my book The
Half-way House o/ Fiction: Don Quixote and Arthurian Romance
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), pp. 1-28.
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exploratory; he sometimes makes mistakes, and will admit to them, as in the
adventure of the corpse in chapter 19. But his one, steadfast principle is
to rely on chivalry rather than on his senses as a guide to truth. Although
he addresses himself to the same reality as do Sancho and the other characters,
he systematically employs. a different criterion of truth, an alternative
kind of reasoning. The sharpness and dynamism of the comedy arise from this
finely-judged interplay between the knight's chivalric logic and other people's
The chivalric ideology which guides Don Quixote's thinking and behavior provides Cervantes also with the basic material for his narrative. The restoration of chivalry requires that Don Quixote realize within his own life the archetypal plot of a romance. In Part I, chapter 21, the madman sketches it out for Sancho's benefit: a knight must perform a series of great adventures in order to earn the love of a princess, whom he must then serve devotedly until such time as he will be given her hand in marriage, inherit a kingdom, and reward his faithful squire with an island and a noble title. But unfortunately, as with everything else in this fallen world he inhabits, Don Quixote will first have to identify an ordinary woman whom he judges to possess the hidden potential of a romance princess before he can properly embark on his adventures and love-service. To the amazement of Sancho, Don Quixote says he has chosen Aldonza Lorenzo, a girl from El Toboso. The madman fully realizes that Aldonza may not appear to be a princess. He admits that she is the daughter of a peasant family, that she serves at an inn, and that she can neither read nor write. What is more, he has seen her on four occasions, if that, and even then, she has taken no notice of him. He knows Sancho will not believe him when he insists that Aldonza is really the princess Dulcinea. Nevertheless, this is the whole point of his enterprise: he must draw out Aldonza's romance potential by chivalric methods in order to confound the doubts of empirical skeptics like Sancho.
The business of making Aldonza Lorenzo accord with her true romance identity as Dulcinea del Toboso constitutes the unifying thread of Cervantes's comedy. It brings into focus, and thereby epitomizes in a single topic, the manifold clashes between chivalric ideas and common sense that take place throughout the novel. Thus, when Don Quixote sends Sancho down from the Sierra Morena with a letter for his lady-love in El Toboso, he is taking an absolutely necessary step in his campaign to restore the world of chivalry. If Sancho were to return with a positive reply, Don Quixote can assume
that Aldonza has started to act like Dulcinea, and this will be a vital sign
that he is on the way to accomplishing his mission. As far as Don Quixote
is concerned, this is exactly what happens. Sancho reports back that he has
seen Dulcinea and that she has accepted the knight's love-service. Now Don
Quixote is filled with joy. He becomes extremely self-confident and optimistic,
for his chivalric claims are being proved correct. To add to his satisfaction,
he shortly comes across another princess Micomicona who spontaneously
pleads with him to rescue her from an evil giant. As if that were not enough,
he finds that the various noble persons who have providentially gathered
at the castle agree with him that the barber's basin is in fact the helmet
of Mambrino. The world does seem to be conforming to its underlying romance
identity even though appearances may not show it. At one point, Don Quixote
is moved to exclaim in sheer wonderment at his own success:
¿Cuál de los vivientes habrá en el mundo que ahora
por la puerta entrara, y de la suerte que estamos nos viere, que juzgue y
crea que nosotros somos quien somos? ¿Quién podrá decir
que esta señora que está a mi lado es la gran reina que todos
sabemos, y que soy aquel Caballero de la Triste Figura que anda por ahí
en boca de la Fama? (I.37.388). Don Quixote realizes that ordinary
reality does not have a chivalric aspect as yet, but he can now be sure that
a good part of that reality is beginning to operate in accordance with its
essential romance character.
So pleased is Don Quixote with the way things are turning out that when he is bound up and thrown into a cage, he can blithely argue against Sancho that he has been immobilized by an enchanter for all the world as if his being trussed up in a cage were compelling proof that he is a true knight errant. This perverse argument is an outstanding example of the way the comedy is produced by a collision of two mutually exclusive kinds of reasoning the chivalric and the empirical and not by some hallucinatory muddle on Don Quixote's part.
At the end of Part I, Don Quixote believes he is riding the crest of a wave of good fortune that will shortly bring him to ultimate success. The impetus that propels his optimism is the news he received from Sancho that Aldonza is behaving like Dulcinea. The next logical step in the chivalric scheme of things would be for him to visit Dulcinea in person and establish direct contact with her. However, other circumstances intervene to make him postpone this decision: he agrees to succor the princess Micomicona, and this determination is itself interrupted by the varied goings-on at the inn, and by
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his being diverted back to his home village by the priest and barber. Yet,
for all that, we have in embryo a central story line involving the relationship
between the madman, his putative lady Dulcinea, and Sancho Panza. Still,
the centrality of this story line is barely noticeable if we confine ourselves
to Part I. By and large, the Quixote of 1605 is composed of a multiplicity
of random adventures, complicated still further by the stories interpolated
into the main narrative. Part I is a comedy of situation, character and tone
but the comedy of action is still only inchoate: it has a beginning but as
yet there is no middle nor is there a proper end in view.
In the 1615 Quixote, however, 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. It was Erich Auerbach who observed that the scene in Part II, chapter 10, where Sancho deceives his master into thinking that an ugly peasant girl is Dulcinea enchanted holds a special place among the many episodes in the novel.6 Auerbach initially describes the episode in terms which make it sound, as he puts it, sad, bitter and almost tragic. But he goes on to insist that in fact it remains a farce which is overwhelmingly comic for although it may be expected to create a terrible crisis which could either bring on a much deeper insanity or an instantaneous liberation from his idée fixe, neither of these things happen, Don Quixote surmounts the shock. According to Auerbach, the reason why he survives the shock is that by choosing to believe that Dulcinea is enchanted, it is possible for him to meet the situation by means available within the realm of the illusion itself . . . The happy ending is a foregone conclusion. Thus, both tragedy and cure are circumvented.7
But is it as straightforward as this? Auerbach concludes that tragic implications are avoided altogether because he assumes that the knight's madness is somehow voluntary, a willful illusion that Don Quixote can manipulate freely for his own ends. In my view this is not the case at all. The madness is a state of mind which suddenly afflicts Alonso Quijano and thrusts him willy nilly into a mania for chivalry over which he has no control: he is totally determined by it and can do nothing to release himself from its grip however many shocks he might receive. Thus, when he is confronted by a hideous
6 The Enchanted
Dulcinea, p. 339.
7 Ibid., p. 340.
peasant girl who is said to be Dulcinea, he is truly shattered. Had he been
play-acting, he could have protected himself from disappointment by pretending
to see what Sancho tells him is there before his eyes. But he does not do
this. Unlike Aldonza Lorenzo, this vulgar girl does not remind him of chivalry
in any way and he is honest enough to admit that he cannot find any romance
qualities in her at all. Yet, being mad, he is forced to explain the situation
in a way that must accord with chivalric ideology, so he concludes that Dulcinea
has been enchanted despite its awful implications for his mission to restore
the world of chivalry.
This scene, in my view, is the true middle of the action in the Aristotelian sense, for it produces an irrevocable change of fortune in the career of the mad knight. Part I had described an ascending curve of happiness for Don Quixote but, after this episode, the madman is plunged into misery and his fortunes will henceforth enter into a steady decline. The knight's decision to go to El Toboso takes up the narrative thread that had been left in suspense in Part I, chapter 31. It was a necessary move to make in the unfolding of Don Quixote's career for it is impossible for a knight errant to be without a lady-love. But this move will inevitably lead to his discovery that his attempts to change the face of reality have not been successful. Thus, by a series of inherently necessary, or at least probable, steps, the madman has been led to make a discovery which reverses his fortunes.
We have here two ingredients of a complex plot as defined by Aristotle: anagnorisis and peripeteia. The third element in a complex tragic action is suffering or calamity, by which Aristotle appears to mean the portrayal of violent deeds that would arouse pity and fear. This does not occur in the Quixote. The ridiculous nature of Don Quixote's madness pre-empts any serious treatment of such acts. Pity and fear are not appropriate emotions to evoke in a comedy. Nevertheless, the crisis that is produced within Don Quixote's mad world bears important structural affinities, as I have argued above, with the ideal tragic pattern Aristotle describes in the Poetics.8 Even though the
observes that all the parts of an epic are included in Tragedy; but
those of Tragedy are not all of them to be found in the Epic
(Aristotle on the Art of Poetry, trans. by Ingram Bywater. Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1920, p. 34). This would apply a fortiori to a comic
epic in prose such as Don Quixote but, by the same token, its action
may include constituents found also in the serious epic and in tragedy.
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classic tragic emotions cannot arise, Dulcinea's enchantment introduces a
more somber quality to the comedy because it produces a critical change in
the nature of Don Quixote as a comic figure.
Aristotle defines the ridiculous as a mistake or deformity not productive of pain or harm.9 But after the discovery of Dulcinea's enchantment, Don Quixote's ridiculous madness begins to cause him pain and harm. This would not much matter if Don Quixote were a stock figure of comedy, one who, as Aristotle said, represented men worse than the average and therefore merited the chastisement of ridicule.10 Yet Alonso Quijano is neither better nor worse than the rest of us. His madness is indeed a ridiculous comic mask which distorts his mind but this is not a deformity which can be accounted for in moral terms, for it has descended on him without reason as an arbitrary imposition of fate. The madness, in other words, is not intrinsic to his nature as a man; it cannot be justified as a punishment for any evil he may have committed or for any flaw in his character. It is an error, of course, but an absurd and trivial one which will remain quite innocuous so long as the madman is insensible to it as he is in Part I.11 But in the second Part, Don Quixote will become acutely conscious that his chivalric obsession is causing him to suffer, and the more he is filled with gloom and foreboding about the condition of his lady, all the more will the fact that he is hopelessly mad take on the appearance of an undeserved misfortune, to use the phrase Aristotle applied to the tragic condition that awakens pity in the audience.12 Yet, at the same time, the inherently ridiculous nature of the madness makes Don Quixote do things which are laughable, and so it prevents the novel from acquiring the tone of high seriousness required by tragedy. Laughter will inevitably accompany the knight for as long as he is mad but the turn his fortunes have taken will also inspire a sense of pathos in the reader which mingles with amusement
Aristotle on the Art of Poetry, p. 33.
10 Ibid., p. 33.
11 For Aristotle, a tragic story portrays a man not pre-eminently virtuous or just, whose misfortune however is brought upon him, not by vice or depravity, but by some error of judgment, Ibid., p. 50. Alonso Quijano does not exactly fit Aristotle's definition of either a tragic or a comic character. His madness, however, can be regarded as an involuntary error which makes him pass from happiness to misery (p. 50). Thus the unfolding of his chivalric career is strikingly similar to a tragic reversal of fortunes.
12 Ibid., p. 50.
in ways which are too complex and elusive to analyze
Nevertheless, I would say that the crisis concerning Dulcinea will tend to increase the discordance between the knight's personal qualities and the absurdity of his chivalric lunacy. For the madman now has a more ambiguous attitude to reality; he begins to doubt whether he can interpret chivalric signs correctly and, as a result, he is no longer very sure about the effect his adventures might have in the campaign to restore the world of chivalry. Condemned still to prove his mettle in ridiculous exploits, he will emphasize his own inner virtues irrespective of the outcome of his actions. After the adventure with the lion, Don Quixote will declare to Don Diego de Miranda: ¿Quién duda . . . que vuestra merced no me tenga en su opinión por un hombre disparatado y loco? Y no sería mucho que así fuese, porque mis obras no pueden dar testimonio de otra cosa (II.17.660). The knight is very aware of the fact that he will look ridiculous to other people so long as he is unable to achieve a successful adventure. Progressively, he will see himself as the victim of a perverse fate over which he can exert very little control. When his adventure with the enchanted boat on the river Ebro ends in disaster, he expresses a sense of utter helplessness: Dios to remedie; que todo este mundo es máquinas y trazas, contrarias unas de otras. Yo no puedo más (II.29.755). The enchantment of Dulcinea has cut him off from the world of romance, and he finds himself stumbling in the dark towards a fate he can no longer predict.
This sense of fatefulness that hangs over Don Quixote is the direct result of his not having seen en su ser a mi señora (II.10.608). That crucial experience has created a complication in his career which will knit the various episodes of Part II into a more integrated narrative sequence than was the case in Part I. Not only does the narrator refer continually to the madman's distress, all of Don Quixote's efforts are consciously directed towards unravelling the knot of fate that has caused him such unhappiness. But above all, the enchantment of Dulcinea produces a running argument between the two main characters which did not exist in Part I. For Sancho too is drawn into the complication. In fact, he has helped to produce it, because it is based on a lie which Sancho has built on his previous lie about his first visit to El Toboso. As a result, Sancho is forced to play
have attempted a study of these combinations of parody and pathos in The
Half-way House of Fiction, pp. 170-202.
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a dangerous double game: he must cooperate with his master to some extent
if he wants to get his island, yet at the same time, he is anxious that his
deception might be uncovered, so he will try to disengage himself from the
tissue of lies he has told without alienating Don Quixote altogether. Knight
and squire have been bound to each other by the crisis as never before. Their
subsequent adventures will take on a special relevance for them because they
will be related time and again to the central question which each character
has to resolve in his particular way if he is to fulfill his goal in life.
Certain episodes such as those of the Cave of Montesinos, Maese Pedro's ape,
the chivalric pageant at the Duke's castle, the ride on Clavileño,
serve to add further crazy layers of perversity to the problem of Dulcinea.
The reader may not be able to get involved in the mad argument, but he can
stand back and marvel at the way this shimmering edifice of illusion has
risen to such majestic heights from its absurdly vacuous foundations.
The wonder one feels at the unfolding of the action is given an even sharper edge by the emergence of a strange paradox. In the process of elaborating his burlesque of chivalric romance into ever more intricate configurations, Cervantes has brought to life a parodic figure like Don Quixote who displays such rich moral and intellectual qualities by now that his fixation with chivalry seems to be a grotesque and unnecessary curse. It is as if the madman were bound to a comic treadmill which makes him suffer but from which he can do nothing to free himself and win the respect he deserves.
Despite his complexity as a character, Don Quixote is as mad as ever. The doubts that plague him in Part II do not bring him any closer to accepting empirical reality. He is haunted rather by the awful prospect that he will not be able to fulfil his chivalric destiny if his lady is not released from her spell. But this fear does not diminish his basic conviction about the truth of the romances. In Part II Cervantes is eroding Don Quixote's secondary level of madness: the belief that he will restore the world of chivalry. However, the primary level of the madness the belief in the historical truth of the books of chivalry is still intact because by its very nature such a belief cannot diminish gradually; it either exists or it does not. If the story is to continue, Don Quixote must remain a madman fated to obey the original parodic design of the author rather than any psychological or moral imperative of his own. There is, in fact, no intrinsic reason why Don Quixote's madness should not endure indefinitely if his creator so wished. Even if his hopes of disenchanting
Dulcinea and restoring the world of chivalry were to collapse entirely, he
would still be quite mad. Indeed, it is conceivable that he could die both
insane and a total failure without ever realizing that the whole enterprise
had been futile from the start. It is precisely this chilling fate of being
robbed of all hope while still continuing to believe in the truth of romance
that preys on Don Quixote in Part II.
The horror of such a fate will not present itself so long as Cervantes's parody has still to run its full course. After all, the collapse of Don Quixote's illusion that he can restore the world of chivalry is a necessary outcome of Cervantes's aim to derribar la máquina of romance. In the second Part, Cervantes is gradually depriving Don Quixote's world of all the symbolic devices and ideological resources by which chivalric romance represented the success of its heroes: the chivalric lady is enthralled by an evil spell, adventures no longer give a clear-cut result, no favorable portents appear, even Providence itself fails to intervene.14 The central crisis of the action is being worked out, but in a sense which is, of course, the exact opposite of the one Don Quixote is hoping for. At the Duke's castle, the resolution the madman is striving towards, and the contrary dénouement Cervantes has been preparing, actually intersect with each other to produce an exquisitely cruel irony. Just when Don Quixote has been led to believe that his reception by the Duke and Duchess is a sign of a decisive upturn in his fortunes, Sancho is rewarded with an island while he gets nothing at all. To all intents and purposes, his career has come to an end.
Now that the plot of romance has been fully inverted and travestied, the comic action could be said to have reached its logical resolution.15 There is no reason why Cervantes should not absolve Don Quixote fairly painlessly from the absurd error which triggered
more detailed commentary, see The Half-way House of Fiction, pp.
15 Aristotle says of the action of an epic that it should be a complete whole in itself, with a beginning, middle and end so as to enable the work to produce its own proper pleasure with all the organic unity of a living creature (Aristotle on the Art of Poetry, p. 79). However, this organic unity applies only to those elements that are essential to the plot, and not to every single episode in the story. At one point Aristotle remarks that the argument of the Odyssey is not a long one and after summarizing its four or five basic elements, concludes: This being all that is proper to the Odyssey, everything else in it is episode (p. 63). By analogy, one could say that, despite its wealth of episodes, the argument of the Quixote is not a long one. It is the story of a man who sets out to restore the world of chivalry; when [p. 21] he thinks he is about to prove his success, he suddenly discovers that it has eluded him; he undergoes a process of disillusionment which leads inevitably to a point where his total failure is manifest. In my view, this occurs at the Duke's castle. Subsequent episodes fall outside the organic unity of the completed action. They do, nonetheless, influence our response to the work, as I presently argue.
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the whole comedy in the first place by making him insane. All that Cervantes
would have needed to do was to get Don Quixote back to his village after
being defeated by Sansón Carrasco, and let him recover his senses
at home before allowing him to die. Still, we all know that this is not quite
the way the end comes about. For Cervantes, stung by the plagiarism of
Avellaneda, chose to prolong the madness well beyond the dénouement
at the Duke's castle. Don Quixote and Sancho are sent all the way to Barcelona
and back, and since the knight is still hopelessly mad, he will have to endure
further comic humiliations at the hands of various characters, including
Sancho himself. In what I consider to be an illogical and unnecessary series
of episodes during the Barcelona digression, the latent horror of Don Quixote's
madness, namely, the possibility that it could endure indefinitely without
finding deliverance, is brought very close to the surface of the narrative.
For at a stage when the parody of romance no longer has much point, Don Quixote
seems to be suffering ridicule to no purpose: he appears now as an eternal
victim of a relentless fate. The inversion of the chivalric world, which
was the basic aim of Cervantes's parody, assumes a demonic quality in this
late phase of the novel: Don Quixote has been abandoned by Providence, his
moral authority over Sancho has crumbled, the spiritual order he believed
in has disintegrated, and a kind of metaphysical injustice holds sway over
The depiction of such utter chivalric desolation resulting from the destruction of romance must clearly have been intended by Cervantes, and it is pitilessly intensified by the Barcelona digression. But it is a vision which is safely contained within the fictional bounds of Don Quixote's madness; it could not possibly have represented Cervantes's own beliefs about the real world. Once Don Quixote is cured, Cervantes reinstates the novel within the framework of Counter-Reformation Catholicism. Still, it is as well to point out that the madman is cured not by his own efforts but by an illness which descends like a deus ex machina and which creates a complete discontinuity between Don Quixote's crazy chivalric world and the
Catholic world to which he is mercifully allowed to return. After being restored
to his senses, Alonso Quijano can proclaim in gratitude: En los nidos
de antaño no hay pájaros hogaño the mad
past has no connection with the present.
The controversy over Cervantes's intentions in the Quixote is the result of the mistake of taking this parodic world-upside-down as an expression of the author's conscious or unconscious beliefs about the nature of reality. However, this topic of the world-upside-down is, of course, quite common in the literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It is therefore not surprising to find that the topsy-turvy romance world of the Quixote was accepted as an essentially comic fiction right up to the middle of the eighteenth century. But in an age 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. Such readings may be distorted and historically determined, but they have, in my view, a plausible basis in the structure of the action and its effects upon the character of the protagonist. All the same, it must be remembered that such a Romantic myth could have little, if any, meaning for the artist who inspired it. The final picture of an inverted order of things in which a good man is fated to make a fool of himself for no reason that he can understand, can be said to form part of Cervantes's conscious intención only in so far as it is seen to emerge from the invención of the parody.
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