Don Quixote Readalong Part 3 – the complexities of love

Well, that’s about 280 pages of adventuring with Don Quixote so far. Fortunately, Miguel de Cervantes has turned out to be the writer everyone says he is and my interest has been held.

I’ve pulled out three themes from this week’s reading:

Wilderness

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.

Pointless suffering

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?”

Illustration 3 for Miguel de Cervantes’s “Don Quixote“ by Gustave Doré,

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
ISBN: 9780099469698

All images are in the public domain

12 comments to Don Quixote Readalong Part 3 – the complexities of love

  • Thank you for taking us with you, the Don and Sancho (and Rocinante, of course), Tom.
    I love Don Quixote’s conclusion, neatly demonstrating the limits of the syllogism (logician Lewis Carroll also played on this). Unfortunately for romantics, the notion can make a kind of emotional sense …
    Fascinating info. on Spanish wolves. [We have them in the hills here, to dismay of shepherds + - apologies for going O/T - this forms the plot of one of Fred Vargas's Adamsberg novels.]

  • Tom

    Minnie – amazing – you get Iberian wolves in France? I shall be more careful next time I’m wandering about in the French countryside. Interesting thought about Lewis Carroll, but I had to look up syllogism. Thanks for vistiing

  • I think Sancho Panza lost the letter on purpose to save Don Quixote further embarrassment.

  • Tom

    Hi Tony – not sure about that. I’ve looked up the relevant passages and read that “when Sancho found that he could not find the book (containing the letter), his face turned deathly pale, and quickly patting down his entire body again, he saw that he could not find it, and without further ado he put both hands to his beard and tour out half of it . . and then punched himself half a dozen times on the face and nose until they were both bathed with blood”.

  • That could just be Sancho Panza over-acting so his boss would believe him when he said he lost the letter.

  • Tom

    Tony – true, true. I think on the whole though, Sancho was taken in by his master – with occasional doubts admittedly, but he really wanted to go home and was only stopped by the promise of the lands he would inherit eventually when DQ came into his own

  • sancho seems as complex at times as his master and is a real suprise for me ,all the best stu

  • Tom

    Thanks Stu – let’s keep plodding on – part 4 next week!

  • Love the point you make here about Don Q’s “usual perverted logic,” Tom, because the character’s ability to more or less rationalize madness is one of his defining (and maybe endearing?) qualities for me. With that in mind, the quote you pulled (“The great achievement is to lose one’s reason for no reason”) is absolutely brilliant, ha ha!

  • Tom

    Richard – thanks for visiting. I expect the most dangerous madmen are those who know they are mad but have a good reason for being so!

  • ‘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.’

    That’s an interesting point about Don Quixote’s setting but symbolically the wilderness/desert is much much more than this. It’s the place where people go to escape from society,when rejected from society, to find themselves, to be tested and tempted, to find God and discover their inner resources, but maybe that’s reading too much into Cervante’s novel, but it does add another dimension into the landscape setting.

  • Tom

    Thanks Kevin – it would make a good theme for a study- the place of wilderness in literature. There’s plenty of it in religious writings but not so many in fiction I suspect. Thanks for visiting

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