Miguel de Cervantes, 1615
Translated by Edit Grossman, 2003
“God help us, for the entire world is nothing but tricks and deceptions opposing one another. “(652)
When I began my journey with Cervantes’ man of La Mancha I knew little about the many exploits of Don Quixote other than the famous scene depicting the scrawny knight madly attacking the windmills with his short and paunchy squire at his side. Now having finished both parts of Cervantes’ book I find myself satisfied for having traveled along the knight’s delirious adventures. The tales of Don Quixote speak the many voices spoken in the tales of human history for within Don Quixote lies stories of love lost and love found, honor and humiliation, but most of all, purpose in living a life chosen by oneself as an act of freedom from the constraints and expectations of the society one lives in.
The second part of Don Quixote was published by Cervantes ten years after the first and in that time the exploits of the first part of Don Quixote were published and widely distributed throughout Castillian Spain, even within the fictional world inhabited by Don Quixote. The fame of Don Quixote’s adventures provide a meta-fictional device wherein the characters that Don Quixote encounters in the second part of Cervantes’ novel have read about the knight errant with amusement and therefore, to further their amusement, when they encounter the true knight that populated the book that they enjoyed they further their enjoyment of Quixote’s madness by playing tricks on both Quixote and Sancho Panza, pretending to celebrate his heraldic acts while laughing about him behind his back. Furthermore, in this meta-fictional world, there exists a false Quixote written about in an alternate second part of Don Quixote, published by another author who discredits Don Quixote’s chivalry by having him disinherit the true Quixote’s devotion to his love, Dulcinea.
The many layers of self-referential fiction and criticism totally surprised me. Although the first part of Don Quixote was amusing with a blend of tragedy and slapstick comedy, it lacked the layered philosophical self-examination present in the second part. Additionally, the second part did away with the novel-within-the-novel device employed in the first part and remained fully focused on the development of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. There were fewer frivolous battles with imaginary giants or false armies and more periods of long dialogue between Quixote and Panza. Through their conversations the two characters became more developed and enjoyable than the flat aspects that were characterized in Cervantes’ first novel. Quixote goes in and out of periods of learned philosophical discourse and periods of delusions about enchantment while Sancho displays his prowess with an overly indulgent use of aphorisms.
In their travels they battle with several knights that are actually a friend of theirs pretending to be a knight in order to convince Quixote to return home and give up his chivalrous exploits. Out of laziness, Sancho convinces Quixote that the beautiful Dulcinea was enchanted to appear as a homely peasant woman. Both Quixote and Sancho spend an extended period at the castle of a Duke and Duchess who put on an extended masquerade to deceive both the knight and his squire for their enjoyment. In an even handed turn of events the Duke and Duchess convince Sancho that he must suffer three thousand lashes to relieve Dulcinea from the false enchantment that he created and Sancho falls victim to his own deception, believing that Dulcinea was actually enchanted. Sancho gains his dream of becoming a governor only to give it up because he lacks the discipline to lead. And ultimately Quixote suffers the humiliation of losing in a joust with another knight (his friend who deceives him) and must return to his village and give up the glorious life of the knight errant in order to protect his defeated honor.
The catalog of events that summarizes the action of the second part of Don Quixote that I have noted above are only a faint reflection of the depth of this novel’s enjoyment and meaning. For throughout the many exploits cataloged above Don Quixote and his noble squire explore the meaning of the freedoms of spirit and the boundaries of honor in a world full of deception. The entire story of Don Quixote is both inspiring and sad, laughable and sorrowful, but most of all liberating.
“Don’t you see, señor, that the benefit caused by the sanity of Don Quixote cannot be as great as the pleasure produced by his madness?” (889)