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Don Quixote

zh-cn:堂吉诃德 zh-tw:堂吉訶德

Don Quixote (or Don Quijote) de la Mancha is a novel by the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. It is generally considered to be the first European novel (The Tale of Genji predates it) and the best book in Spanish. Originally written in Spanish, the story has been translated to many languages, including English. The adjective "quixotic," meaning "idealistic and impractical," derives from his name, and the expression "tilting at windmills" comes from his story.

Table of contents
1 The book
2 Importance
3 Exploitation
4 Films
5 External links

The book

The novel Don Quixote actually consists of two parts: the first was published in 1605 and the second in 1615 (a year before the author's death). In 1614, between the first and second parts, a fake Don Quixote sequel was published by somebody using the pen-name Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda. For this reason, Part II contains several references to an imposter, who Quixote rails against, and Part II ends with the death of Don Quixote (so no imposter could experiment with Cervantes' character).

Cervantes tells that the first chapters come from the "chronicles of La Mancha", and the rest was translated by a morisco from the original Arabic author Cide Hamete Benengeli ("Mr. Hamid Eggplant"). This and other narrative resources parody the knight genre.

Spoilers follow.

Don Quixote is knighted by an inn-keeper

The plot covers the journeys and adventures of Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza. Don Quixote is an ordinary Spaniard (an Hidalgo, the lowest rank of the Spanish nobility) who is obsessed with stories of errant knights (libros de caballerías). His friends and family think him crazy when he decides to become a knight errant himself, and to wander Spain on his thin horse Rocinante, righting wrongs and protecting the oppressed.

Don Quixote is visibly crazy to most people. He believes ordinary inns to be enchanted castles, and their peasant girls to be beautiful princesses. He mistakes windmills for oppressive giants sent by evil enchanters. He imagines a neighboring peasant to be Dulcinea del Toboso, the beautiful maiden to whom he has pledged love and fidelity.

Sancho Panza, his simple squire, believes his master to be a bit crazy, in particular he knows that there is "really" no Dulcinea, but he plays along. He and Quixote agree for instance that because Dulcinea is not as pretty nor does she smell as good as she should, she "must have been enchanted", and from that point on the mission is to disenchant her.

Both master and squire undergo complex change and development throughout the story, and each character takes on attributes of the other as the novel goes on. At the end of the second book, Quixote decides that his actions have been madness and returns home to die. Sancho begs him not to give up, suggesting that they take on the roles of pastors, who were commonly heroes of pastoral poems and stories.

Master and squire have numerous adventures, often causing more harm than good in spite of their noble intentions. They meet criminals sent to the galleys, and are victims of an elaborate prank by a pair of Dukes.

Many Americans may be more familiar with the musical Man of la Mancha than with the book itself. If they read the book, they would be in for some surprises: for example Dulcinea, or Aldonza Lorenzo, one of the main characters of the play, is never seen in the book.

In the novel, she is constantly invoked by Don Quixote as his lady, but never appears, allowing his hyperbolic statements of her beauty and virtue to go untested. However, the peasant girl he has mistaken for her, eventually, comes to his death-bed and acknowledges that she is, in fact, "his Dulcinea".


Don Quixote and Sancho Panza after an unsuccessful
attack on a
windmill. By Gustave Doré
Don Quixote is often nominated as the best work of fiction, ever. It stands in a unique position between medieval chivalric romance and the modern novel. The former were mostly disconnected stories with little exploration of the inner life of even the main character. The latter, of course, is focused almost always on the psychological evolution of a single character. In Part I, Quixote imposes himself on his environment. By Part II, he is no longer physically capable, but people know about him, "having read his adventures", and so, he needs to do less to maintain his image. By his deathbed, he has begun to assume a new identity, including a nickname, "the Good", just to die well.

There are many minor literary "firsts" for European literature - a woman complaining of her menopause, someone with an eating disorder, and the psychological revealing of their troubles as something inner to themselves.

Subtle touches regarding perspective are everywhere: characters talk about a woman who is the cause of the death of a suitor, portraying her as evil, but when she comes on stage, she gives a different perspective entirely that makes Quixote (and thus the reader) defend her. A grand discourse on beauty and its relation to truth follows. When Quixote descends into a cave, Cervantes admits he does not know what went on there.

Like his contemporaries, Cervantes believed that literature had to contain moral messages, but, he disliked preaching in works of comic entertainment. His solution was to include almost all the moral advice of the age, but to place it in Quixote's voice, an idiosyncratic and impetuous character, whose solutions most often go wrong. For instance when he frees a gang of galley slaves, who have proclaimed their innocence, by attacking their guards, then demands that they pay homage to Dulcinea, they pelt him with stones and leave. Accordingly, it is quite easy to read literally anything as the moral message.

Different ages have tended to read different things into the novel. When it first came out, it was usually interpreted as a comic novel. After the French Revolution it was popular in part due to its central ethic that individuals can be right while society is quite wrong and disenchanting - not comic at all. In the 19th century it was seen as a social commentary, but no one could easily tell "whose side Cervantes was on". By the 20th century it became clear that it was simply a unique and great work, the first true modern novel.


The autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha exploits the fame of Cervantes' novel to promote tourism in the region. A number of sites in La Mancha are linked to the novel, including windmills and an inn upon which events of the story are thought to have been based.


Several films are based on the story of Don Quixote, including:

External links