I’ve pulled out three themes from this week’s reading:
Spain is a country of mountain ranges and high sierras and in the 16th century it wasn’t difficult to get off the track and find yourself in a place only inhabited by lonely goat-herds and the creatures of wild places (wolves are mentioned but I think these were the Iberian wolf which is less dangerous to humans than some other varieties). In the Gospels, the mad man who had enough devils cast out of him to drive a herd of pigs over a cliff wandered in the wild places. The wilderness is a place of lunatics and mad adventurers, which must make it hard to those who have to scrape a living in those places by hunting animals or tending goats.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza travel through the wilderness while fleeing retribution for freeing a group of convicts destined to become galley slaves. They meet a young man with lacerations all over his body and wearing ragged clothes. His tale seems lucid enough – the Duke’s son he served had stolen his beloved Luscinda from him by trickery. But while he started his tale with sanity, a fit of madness came over him half way through, causing him to throw a rock at Don Quixote then beat Sancho to the ground and jump up and down on his ribs.
This might seem to be a good reason to return to something resembling civilisation, but not so Don Quixote. He decides that madness may have something going for it after all. Did not brave knights of old go mad through thwarted love? Should not Don Quixote prove his love for the Lady Dulcinea by also spending a period of madness? Sancho, with his unerring desire to prick the bubbles of Don Quixote’s fancies says,
“It seems to me that the knights who did these things were provoked and had a reason to do senseless things and penances; but what reason does your grace have for going crazy? What lady has scorned you, and what signs have you found to tell you that my lady Dulcinea of Toboso has done anything foolish with a Moor or a Christian?”
Don Quixote with his usual perverted logic replies,
“Therein lied the virtue and the excellence of my enterprise, for a knight errant deserves neither glory nor thanks if he goes mad for a reason. The great achievement is to lose one’s reason for no reason, and to let my lady know that if I can do this without cause, what would I do if there were a cause?”
And so Sancho is despatched to Lady Dulcinea with a letter asking her to confirm her love for him or to deny it, if the former, thus ending his time of torment, or if the latter, thus allowing him to end his life forthwith. As always, Cervantes shows how human weakness interferes with the best laid plans, for Sancho loses the letter (actually forgetting to take it with him in the first place!).
Perhaps this doesn’t matter all that much for he is able to recreate the bones of it with the help of a priest and a barber who he meets at an inn, and in any case, he knows the “Lady Dulcinea” rather well as a village girl as strong as the brawniest lad in the village and with a voice that can carry for half a league – and a reputation for being a bit of a trollop.
Pointless adventuring (again!)
Some people have Don Quixote’s well-being at heart. The priest and barber who Sancho meets at the inn decide to try to end Don Quixote’s fake madness by deceiving him into leaving the wilderness and heading for home. They travel with Dorotea, another betrayed lover, and tell Don Quixote that she is a princess who is in need of some brave knight to restore her kingdom to her – a perfect bait for Don Quixote, who is never able to resist a challenge like that. And by chance, the route to the Princess’s lands passes through his home village. Perhaps the priest and the barber will be able to hijack him there and compel him to give up his mad wanderings? We shall see.
Title: Don Quixote
Author: Miguel de Cervantes (trans. Edith Grossman)
Publication: Vintage (2005), paperback, 992 pages
All images are in the public domain