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Don Quixote 2: courage and identity

“I know who I am,” said Don Quixote, “and I know I can be not only those I have mentioned, but the Twelve Peers of France as well, and even all the nine paragons of Fame, for my deeds will surpass all those they performed, together or singly.” 

Don Quixote’s journey out of La Mancha is a journey out of himself. While Don Quixote sleeps off the injuries incurred in his first three days of adventuring, the priest and the barber examine the library from which Don Quixote’s very lucid and seemingly preposterous ideas appear to emanate. They do not recognise the exertion by which imagination is churned by work into life. “The housekeeper agreed, so great was the desire of the two women to see the death of those innocents; but the priest was not in favour of doing so without even reading the titles first.”

Don Quixote’s treatment by his niece and his neighbours is paralleled by the treatment of his books – arbitrary and inconsistent: “The author of that book,” said the priest, “was the same one who composed Garden of Flowers, and the truth is I can’t decide which of the two is more true, or I should say, less false; all I can say is that this one goes to the corral, because it is silly and arrogant.” 

“This book,” said the barber, opening another one, “is the The Ten Books of Fortune in Love, composed by Antonio de Lofraso, a Sardinian poet.” “By the orders I received,” said the priest, “since Apollo was Apollo, and the muses muses, and poets poets, no book as amusing or nonsensical has ever been written, and since, in its way, it is the best and most unusual book of its kind that has seen the light of day, anyone who has not read it can assume that he has never read anything entertaining. Give it to me, friend, for I value finding it more than if I were given a cassock of rich Florentine cloth.”

In Don Quixote, Cervantes creates a problem for the reader; to laugh at Don Quixote’s idiocy or admire his courage? The boundary between idiocy and courage is exposed to be very fine; infinitessimal. Don Quixote sets out on a journey which is a well researched (for who has read over 100 volumes on any subject without being well versed in it) imitation of the chivalric tales in his library. Don Quixote’s journey is one away from accepted social norms, away from the norms of chivalry but exposing, at the same time, the gulf between reality and imagination. What difference is it to be knighted by a king or a publican? What difference is it to be beaten by a knight or a mule driver, to be fed by a prostitute or a princess?

Indeed it is against social norms that Don Quixote wins the greatest victories. Don Quixote interprets the world he finds on his journey through the chivalric tales he has read and learned about. This is the narrative by which he explains the world around him, as others choose to refer themselves to a god or philosophy or a religion – Don Quixote says he is a knight errant – even Cervantes use of the word errant for itinerant carrying it’s double meaning of wayward, erroneous as well as wandering reflects a double edge of satire and accuracy – even as Cervantes satirises Don Quixote so he satirises the reader who sees Don Quixote only as an idiot to be laughed at – (and in the library: The Mirror of Chivalry).

All this by way of saying: Don Quixote lying pulped and motionless on the donkey of his neighbour having been beaten by a passing mule driver says “I know who I am”  and in subtext: ‘this is my choice and I have made it freely’ and that is a courage it is not so easy to satirise.

The Editors

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