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Thread: A few Thoughts of Mine on Don Quixote

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    A few Thoughts of Mine on Don Quixote

    Warning - this thread shall have uncomfortable religious thoughts in it, anyone who is of faith is advised not to read, in order not to be offended. These are simply and purely my thoughts, and they most likely are immature.

    This spring I was in Rome with my elder cousin, one night in a bar I was complaining to him on how such a civilized and wealthy country like America can have so many idiots who actually believe in creationism. And then he chided me for being so quick to insult other nations without looking at my own first. He said "for a scientific and logical mind, is the concept of Creationism any more absurd than the concept of The Virgin Birth. Is the former truly any more ridiculous than the latter. And yet the majority of Italians believe in the Virgin Birth as much as they believe that there is a moon."

    Yesterday I finished reading the first part of Don Quixote. And this conversation sprang up in my mind, whilst I was thinking about Don Quixote's madness. I do not know what Cervantes beliefs were, and were he a non-believer, he surely would not have let the slightest doubt arise concerning his thoughts, in a 16th century Spain were men were burnt alive for merely being of the wrong sect of Christianity. So we shall never know. But these my thoughts concern the book without concerning authorial intent.

    Firstly, how can we truly call Don Quixote mad? If we call him mad everyone around him is equally mad. The men in the book think him mad because he reads book and thinks that everything within them is true. Yet al those who call him mad do the same, they read the scriptures and believe that everything in them is true. Don Quixote beliefs in evil and good enchanters and magicians, and that is mad - when he is struck by misfortune he blames evil enchanters, and when he is fortunate he thanks the wise and good enchanters; and this is mad. Yet everyone around him, when they have good luck thank god and the good angels for it, and when they have bad luck they blame the devil, and that is sane. Don Quixote reads his chivalric books of fictions and seeks to emulate and impossible ideal, and that is madness which everyone laughs at. Yet who laughs when the sam men which laugh at Quixote read fictions of saints and they seek to emulate an impossible ideal.

    At the beginning of his Journey, if Don Quixote had not read of it he would refuse to do it, he vowed not eat except at banquets because in the tales he read the only times the Knights are described eating, is during banquets. ANd this is pure and hysterical madness. Yet how many men were sent to the stake, how many wars were started merely because in the other book, something was not mentioned and because it was not mentioned people made equally mad vows as the Don.

    During various passages we see that Don Quixote is a learned and reasonable man, except for his madness when it comes to Knight errantry. And at first I found this hilarious and laughed out loud whilst reading several times. And yet how deeply unsettling that there was nothing mad in this for most men of his time were exactly like him. They were perfectly reasonable and intelligent men, until it came to religion, and there they lacked as much reason and sanity as Don Quixote when it comes to Chivalric tales.

    The more I thought of it, the more this comedy became darker. I remembered the hilarity that whenever someone would disagree with Don Quixote upon a certain thing concerning Knight Errantry he would enter in a wild rage and attempt to kill the man who questioned his beliefs, and these scenes made me laugh a good deal. But how many sane and intelligent men, as soon as someone did not agree with them on a certain point concerning their Book, grabbed their swords like Don Quixote and were ready to kill the man who questioned them with the same ease that Don Quixote was ready to kill the men who questioned him.

    Another interesting point continuing this vein of thought is Sancho. At the beginning of the journey, he is cowardly and vulgar but he is sane, sane to the fullest extent (in that no one around him called him mad.) Yet by the end of the first book we seem him just as mad as Don Quixote with his Enchantments and Countships and Insulas. And this sparked up another thought in my feeble mind. Quixote is Sancho's superior, and Sancho follows and listens to Quixote with a perfect believe that Quixote's word is law and that everything he said must be true. And the result of this mostly unquestioning obedience is that Sancho the sane, after 17 days with Quixote becomes Sancho the mad. Needless to say I found this hilarious. yet if anything it is a perfect illustration of how religious madness can become the norm in society as it was in Spain.

    The last point I wish to make, is the reaction of many characters to Don Quixote's Madness, many wish to burn the books of Chivalry which made him mad, and yet we cannot truly say that the book made him mad, for most other characters read them and did not turn out like Quixote. And in fact, these books of chivalry show an ideal of valor and Courage and Honesty and Justice, that they seem to be only a good influence, yet these books which seem to contain only lessons on how to be an honorable man, lead Don Quixote do do many dishonorable things and leave the people he wishes to help in much worse conditions. And here the similarity of the Holy Books is as amusing as it is tragic, books which in truth contain only good teachings, yet from these books look at the evil men especially in 16th century Spanish society did in the name of these books.

    What right have we to call Don Quixote mad, in truth he is just as sane as everyone around him, yet he is called mad because his madness is draped in a cloak of silver whilst the madness of all those around him wears a cloak of gold. The book becomes suddenly very tragic when the 16th century spanish reader realizes, that he lives in a world ruled and surrounded and controlled by Don Quixote's. And there is not a single voice of out there who can call Don Quixote what he really is; mad.

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    u reminded me of a lot of the novel which I read many years ago. I keep very few books. This is one of them. In the context of the post am taking the Q to be if Quixote is mad others are also, particularly the religious. I'd agree there's a bit of perfectly to be expected immaturity in this as we have so much more info now to background the general themes. Just read any internet comment board including this one to see various degrees of irrationality. And we have a lot of knowledge of brain science which shows both how difficult it is to be consistently logical and how frequently people act and think on their prejudices instead of common sense. Religious intellectuals these days by and large distinguish faith from science the mantra being, hey, we believe this.

    I never studied Quixote closely. if the fictional character planned the whole episode being of sound mind and body, then i'd agree that Q was other than mad. Very intelligent as I recall the final chapter.

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    So, anyone else ?

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    It seems to me that on one level we might consider Don Quixote mad... in that his particular madness does not conform to the accepted norms... which may be equally mad... of society. We may interpret Quixote's "madness" as symbolic of many things... and considering the unhinged state of the Church in Spain, it is not a huge stretch of the imagination to imagine Quixote's madness as a religious obsession. Of course it might do well to simply take the narrative at face value and accept the fact that Quixote's particular madness is an inability to discern fantasy from reality as a result of his excessive reading of fantastic romances and early "novels" like Tirant Lo Blanc. This may seem an improbable affliction... although Flaubert suggests it may not be so... and considering the great many today who seemingly struggle with the ability to recognize fact from fiction when it comes to what they see on television, the Internet, the movie theater... or in political commentary... I begin to doubt just how outrageous the Don's affliction truly is.

    I'll point out that there is another way of approaching Quixote's "madness". I'm thinking especially of William Blake's quote... from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

    "If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise."

    This might be reinforced by another quote from the same source:

    "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

    Upon first reading Don Quixote, I too laughed at him... and found him to be a clown... a buffoon... a fool. But I doubt the novel could have sustained my interest (nor that of many others) if that was all there was to it. His constant failings and defeats at the hands of others would seem sadistic after a while... would they not? No... rather what struck me about Quixote was the manner in which he begins as this fool... this nobody who takes it upon himself to make something grandiose of himself... and who in spite of all his failings and defeats ultimately strikes me as more noble and heroic than any number of the endless array of flawless, superhuman heroes who never taste defeat.

    There's the famous scene from Cyrano de Bergerac that makes it clear just how Cyrano is of Quixote's mind:

    Antoine Comte de Guiche: As for you sir, have you read "Don Quixote"?
    Cyrano de Bergerac: I have, and found myself the hero.
    Antoine Comte de Guiche: Be so good as to read once more the chapter of the windmills...
    Cyrano de Bergerac: Chapter thirteen!
    Antoine Comte de Guiche: Windmills, remember, if you fight with them... may swing round their huge arms and cast you down into the mire!
    Cyrano de Bergerac: Or up, among the stars!


    It seems that a great majority of the finest achievements of mankind began with a degree of madness. I have looked at some of the greatest artistic works... cathedrals, sculpture, painting... and thought to myself... "What on earth were they thinking? They must have been mad!" What lunatic would have taken it upon himself to invest half of his wealth employing a great majority of the finest artisans available to build a shrine to his dead wife? And yet...



    Yes... you can interpret Don Quixote's madness as akin to the insanity of any form of Idée fixe or monomania... religious or otherwise. But you can also interpret the Don's "madness" (as a great many of the Romantics undoubtedly did) as the unique "madness" of the poet, artist, dreamer, or visionary.
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    I kind of agree with St. Luke's Guild. I'm only about 300 pages into Don Quixote but I'm familiar with the story and...


    Spoiler Alert warning:









    If I'm not mistaken at the end Don Quixote actually does become a hero, Sancho does actually get to be governor of an island, etc.

    And all this is because his delusions are so powerful that he cannot become discouraged. A regular man could've never achieved what he achieved because he would be realistic and practical.

    It's like that old GBS quote goes: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man"

    IF we were to look at the story in the way that you're saying, though, I would think Sancho as more of a religious hypocrite. He's willing to swallow any crazy belief so long as he stands to benefit from it. He's not a true zealot like Quixote is, he's sort of a parasite who eats up the promises of the preacher.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander III View Post
    Warning - this thread shall have uncomfortable religious thoughts in it, anyone who is of faith is advised not to read, in order not to be offended. These are simply and purely my thoughts, and they most likely are immature.

    This spring I was in Rome with my elder cousin, one night in a bar I was complaining to him on how such a civilized and wealthy country like America can have so many idiots who actually believe in creationism. And then he chided me for being so quick to insult other nations without looking at my own first. He said "for a scientific and logical mind, is the concept of Creationism any more absurd than the concept of The Virgin Birth. Is the former truly any more ridiculous than the latter. And yet the majority of Italians believe in the Virgin Birth as much as they believe that there is a moon."

    Yesterday I finished reading the first part of Don Quixote. And this conversation sprang up in my mind, whilst I was thinking about Don Quixote's madness. I do not know what Cervantes beliefs were, and were he a non-believer, he surely would not have let the slightest doubt arise concerning his thoughts, in a 16th century Spain were men were burnt alive for merely being of the wrong sect of Christianity. So we shall never know. But these my thoughts concern the book without concerning authorial intent.

    Firstly, how can we truly call Don Quixote mad? If we call him mad everyone around him is equally mad. The men in the book think him mad because he reads book and thinks that everything within them is true. Yet al those who call him mad do the same, they read the scriptures and believe that everything in them is true. Don Quixote beliefs in evil and good enchanters and magicians, and that is mad - when he is struck by misfortune he blames evil enchanters, and when he is fortunate he thanks the wise and good enchanters; and this is mad. Yet everyone around him, when they have good luck thank god and the good angels for it, and when they have bad luck they blame the devil, and that is sane. Don Quixote reads his chivalric books of fictions and seeks to emulate and impossible ideal, and that is madness which everyone laughs at. Yet who laughs when the sam men which laugh at Quixote read fictions of saints and they seek to emulate an impossible ideal.

    At the beginning of his Journey, if Don Quixote had not read of it he would refuse to do it, he vowed not eat except at banquets because in the tales he read the only times the Knights are described eating, is during banquets. ANd this is pure and hysterical madness. Yet how many men were sent to the stake, how many wars were started merely because in the other book, something was not mentioned and because it was not mentioned people made equally mad vows as the Don.

    During various passages we see that Don Quixote is a learned and reasonable man, except for his madness when it comes to Knight errantry. And at first I found this hilarious and laughed out loud whilst reading several times. And yet how deeply unsettling that there was nothing mad in this for most men of his time were exactly like him. They were perfectly reasonable and intelligent men, until it came to religion, and there they lacked as much reason and sanity as Don Quixote when it comes to Chivalric tales.

    The more I thought of it, the more this comedy became darker. I remembered the hilarity that whenever someone would disagree with Don Quixote upon a certain thing concerning Knight Errantry he would enter in a wild rage and attempt to kill the man who questioned his beliefs, and these scenes made me laugh a good deal. But how many sane and intelligent men, as soon as someone did not agree with them on a certain point concerning their Book, grabbed their swords like Don Quixote and were ready to kill the man who questioned them with the same ease that Don Quixote was ready to kill the men who questioned him.

    Another interesting point continuing this vein of thought is Sancho. At the beginning of the journey, he is cowardly and vulgar but he is sane, sane to the fullest extent (in that no one around him called him mad.) Yet by the end of the first book we seem him just as mad as Don Quixote with his Enchantments and Countships and Insulas. And this sparked up another thought in my feeble mind. Quixote is Sancho's superior, and Sancho follows and listens to Quixote with a perfect believe that Quixote's word is law and that everything he said must be true. And the result of this mostly unquestioning obedience is that Sancho the sane, after 17 days with Quixote becomes Sancho the mad. Needless to say I found this hilarious. yet if anything it is a perfect illustration of how religious madness can become the norm in society as it was in Spain.

    The last point I wish to make, is the reaction of many characters to Don Quixote's Madness, many wish to burn the books of Chivalry which made him mad, and yet we cannot truly say that the book made him mad, for most other characters read them and did not turn out like Quixote. And in fact, these books of chivalry show an ideal of valor and Courage and Honesty and Justice, that they seem to be only a good influence, yet these books which seem to contain only lessons on how to be an honorable man, lead Don Quixote do do many dishonorable things and leave the people he wishes to help in much worse conditions. And here the similarity of the Holy Books is as amusing as it is tragic, books which in truth contain only good teachings, yet from these books look at the evil men especially in 16th century Spanish society did in the name of these books.

    What right have we to call Don Quixote mad, in truth he is just as sane as everyone around him, yet he is called mad because his madness is draped in a cloak of silver whilst the madness of all those around him wears a cloak of gold. The book becomes suddenly very tragic when the 16th century spanish reader realizes, that he lives in a world ruled and surrounded and controlled by Don Quixote's. And there is not a single voice of out there who can call Don Quixote what he really is; mad.
    Your post is very insightful and not the least bit immature. I am still pondering on whether I should read this or not- Don Q seems like my kind of person. I heard it is a very difficult book, and too long.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KCurtis View Post
    Your post is very insightful and not the least bit immature. I am still pondering on whether I should read this or not- Don Q seems like my kind of person. I heard it is a very difficult book, and too long.
    It is not the simplest novel certainly, but as for length it is not too bad. People who have both books in one volume (as many modern editions do) tend to overlook how different book 1 and book 2 are. When people speak of Don Quixote, they are more often than not speaking of book 1. Book 1 is the famous one, book 2 is entirely different (but in my opinion better (although the better of two great books is a bit redundant))

    As for Don Quixote's madness, my take has always been that he is not necessarily mad but overly sentimental in a world that does not permit it. Thus, the world sees him as mad. Don Quixote is much like Prince Myshkin, I find. He is not really an idiot, he is just too trusting for his cruel world. Don Quixote lives in his books - which means he lives in an idealized world that he tries to enact in reality. Those around him deem him mad but slowly discover that the mad world is the far better world.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    It is not the simplest novel certainly, but as for length it is not too bad. People who have both books in one volume (as many modern editions do) tend to overlook how different book 1 and book 2 are. When people speak of Don Quixote, they are more often than not speaking of book 1. Book 1 is the famous one, book 2 is entirely different (but in my opinion better (although the better of two great books is a bit redundant))

    As for Don Quixote's madness, my take has always been that he is not necessarily mad but overly sentimental in a world that does not permit it. Thus, the world sees him as mad. Don Quixote is much like Prince Myshkin, I find. He is not really an idiot, he is just too trusting for his cruel world. Don Quixote lives in his books - which means he lives in an idealized world that he tries to enact in reality. Those around him deem him mad but slowly discover that the mad world is the far better world.
    Is book 1 easier to read? Don't get me wrong, I like a challenge, but even the best literary people find the book long and in some places tedious.

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    He is a template for every "holy" warrior. Reading Books he clouldn't place between fact and fantasy, he soon took the short-cut. He switched off his reason and started a crusade. In Sancho he found the perfect willing follower (like always in history). Although Pansa couldn't grasp any of Q's motives, he was soon persuaded with
    promises of "El Dorado" (so to speak).

    Nowadays I see his Q's shadow everywhere and a lot of Sanchos. And whatever
    the Promises are, don't believe a word...
    Buy the Ticket, take the Ride...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander III View Post
    Firstly, how can we truly call Don Quixote mad? If we call him mad everyone around him is equally mad. The men in the book think him mad because he reads book and thinks that everything within them is true. Yet al those who call him mad do the same, they read the scriptures and believe that everything in them is true.
    This is an excellent question, and it has me completely stumped and flummoxed, LOL.

    I guess it's the difference between faith and hallucination - faith is believing in the existence of something one cannot actually see (or perceive with one's other senses). Hallucination is almost the opposite - seeing something which isn't actually there.

    Faith, whether it's a belief in ghosts or fairies or Santa Claus or God, is not considered madness, however delusional the believers may seem to those who do not believe in those things.

    Believing in the existence of ferocious giants is not madness, but looking at a windmill and perceiving it as a ferocious giant is definitely a disorder of the brain.
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

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    In my essay titled "Cervantes's Treatment of Religious Extremism: The Opening of a Free Society" I argue that Cervantes undercuts Christian fanaticism during the Spanish Inquisition in a number of ways. First, he mocks mandatory self-flagellation by having Sancho Panza refuse to mechanically whip and pound his body to disenchant Dulcinea. Second, Cervantes impugns nationwide expulsions of whole groups of people on religious grounds, like the Moriscos, for example. Third, Cervantes mocks religious symbols of heaven-and-hell, angels-and-demons, and condemnation-and-shame by staging a series of satiric ecclesiastical episodes where everything becomes a sham. Fourth, Cervantes blasts religious interference in the Aristocracy by blasting a "grave prelate" for: his strict narrow-mindedness; his harsh public criticisms; his quick temper; and his angry threats. Fifth, Cervantes revives pagan values by speaking about classical heroes (like Alexander the Great, for example, or Julius Caesar, for instance) in admiring terms. Sixth, Cervantes opposes divine miracles, like the Balsam of Feirbras, for example, by showing readers how violently ill the quack nostrum makes Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Seventh, Cervantes criticizes the religious policy of book burning by having a priest and a barber refuse to burn a score of books which they justify on firm intellectual grounds. In all these ways, an more, Cervantes focuses on the liberation of the common man from the shackles of religious extremism.

    If this topic interests you you can read a free sample of this essay by visiting www.don-quixote-explained.com

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