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.