Wednesday, February 3, 2010
In Cervantes’ Don Quixote de La Mancha, the main character Don Quixote is overcome by the ideals of chivalry and knighthood that he transposes the things he reads into reality. Quixote tries to imitate the things knights were made famous for, and in essence he tries to become a knight of the old.
What is chivalry? Chivalry is the code of rules that knights were to conform to, if they did not they were disgraced. Chivalry comes from the French word cheval (horse), the reason being because one needed a horse to be a knight. When one thinks of knights the one image that pops up in the mind is that of slaying dragons, or rescuing damsels in distress, or riding for days looking for adventures, but there was more to it than just that. A major influence on chivalry and knighthood was the literature of the times like the stories of King Arthur and his knights. Francis Gies explains that it helped to fix the self-image of the knight and it also defined the standards of knightly behavior which were set down in the codes of chivalry (77). It is by these works of literature that Don Quixote was able to learn of the rules and regulations that knights had to be held accounted for, as Gies further explains that these rules of conduct were mainly social (77). Knights were to be of certain character, according to Thomas Bulfinch, they were heroic in character, with invincible strength and valor, justice and courtesy (39-40). Bulfinch goes on to explain that the knights who set off for adventures were called knights-errant, whose mission is to redress wrongs, or to fulfill a vow of love (40). Knights also underwent a ceremony which was the hallmark of knighthood. Don Quixote tries very much to do these things, and to be these things.
Quixote is so inspired by all of these things, that he tries to transform himself to be a knight. He changes his name from Alonzo Quijano to Don Quixote de la Mancha. Quixote learns how he should act and as Marianne Sturman notes, “He has sacrificed his usual pastime of hunting and caring for his estate for the all-consuming passion of reading books of chivalry”(9).Don Quixote becomes absorbed and in a way obsessed with this way of life that he strives to live it as his own. Sturman continues by noting, “Quixote feels himself inspired to become a knight-errant and systematically collects the effects necessary to his calling“(9). Quixote acquires weapons, armor, squire and a horse to get started. Sturman describes that “Quixote shines his great-grandfather’s armor devises a visor and a cap, working on them for a week, and renames his skinny stable horse Rosinante“(9). Quixote is so into his devotion that he is patient enough to try and make his own equipment.And as well to conform with the rules of chivalry he finds a “noble” to have him knighted. Sturman describes in detail by writing, the innkeeper agrees to perform the ceremony at dawn, and Don Quixote goes about the ritual of watching his arms and meditating throughout the night. He sets his weapons in a horse trough, and when a carrier approaches to water his mules, after laying aside the sacred armor, Don Quixote rushes to attack the poor man. As soon as the fancied enemy is dispatched, another carrier approaches to water his animals, and he too is laid low next to his companion. Don Quixote now fancies that the place is infested with enemies, and he prepares to defend himself against anyone who approaches. The clever innkeeper wishes only to preserve the peace of his courtyard and begs the knight to make ready for the dubbing-”two hours watch is all that is needed”- which he accomplishes after the manner described in books of chivalry (11).
As Bulfinch explains it on page 42 of his work,the knights were to fast and pray
the whole night before and he was the go to confession and receive the sacrament. They were bathed and dressed in pure white (simple) clothing. The next day he would go before the Church and with his sword around his neck, a priest would bless it. Then the sponsor would issue the oaths and receive his spurs, mail, hauberk, and lastly his sword was girded around his waist. Then the president would give him the three strokes on the shoulders with the flat edge of a sword and declare him a knight saying to him: “ In the name of God, of St. Michael, and St. George, I make thee a knight; be valiant, courteous, and loyal!”.The knight was then given his helmet, shield, and spear. Quixote at least tried to conform to these rules, but even in reality the ceremonies were sometimes conducted in the middle of combat and were not so exquisite.
Quixote tries to be heroic like the knights. A classic example of this is the confrontation with the windmills. Quixote sees the molinos as monsters, and he must defeat them and vanquish them. All the while his companion is trying to convince him they are just molinos. Quixote none the less steps up and is focused solely on defeating them. He gathers his lance and speeds towards them and attempt to attack them but is thrown off his horse. Quixote was not worried of becoming injured but he tries to be brave and face the evil monsters. Quixote goes as far as to tell Sancho that, “ en esto de las adventuras; ellos son gigantes; y si tienes miedo, quitate de ahi, y ponte en oracion en el espacio que yo voy a entrar con ellos en fiera y desigual batalla.(VIII17)” In other words he is trying to say that Sancho is not brave enough to face the monsters so the only other person that is valiant enough is himself. Quixote as well tries to possess invincible strength. In light of the windmills again, it can be seen of his attempt to hold this strength. The way he just ferociously charges the molinos is evident by the way he is flipped over. He is literally thrown from his horse and his lance is broken. The sheer cause is that not only of his speed but his “strength”. He must have been so focused that he was not aware of how he used his force.
All throughout the story, Quixote is set on becoming a knight errant. But as W.H. Auden concludes he only becomes a parody(76). What does Quixote need to become a knight errant? According to the Auden’s outline, a knight errant must possess “epic arete of good birth, good looks, strength etc. as well as the use of it to rescue the unfortunate and protect the innocent and combat the wicked“(76). Quixote is of lowly birth and furthermore he is poor and is fifty-something, not to mention that he is not even a real knight. To support his passion, Auden notes that Quixote must sell his lands to buy books(76).
Nonetheless, Quixote does have the motives of a knight errant, which Auden list as: the desire for glory, the love of justice, and the love of an individual woman(76). His pursuit of glory can be seen at the windmills. When he is thrown from his horse and Sancho tells him “I told you so!”, Quixote responds by saying: “que las cosas de la Guerra, mas que en otras estan sujetas a continua mudanza; cuanto mas, que yo pienso, y es asi verdad, que aquel sabio Freston que me robo el aposento y los libros ha vuelto estos gigantes en molinos por quitarme la gloria de su vencimiento: tal es la enemistad que me tiene; mas al cabo, han de poder poco sus malas artes contra la bondad de mi espada (VIII44-50).”
In essence he is saying that, it was the forces of evil that made him see the mills as monsters and to confuse him, changed them back into mills once he attacked to steal away his glory in defeating the evil beasts. Quixote is also convinced that he must serve out justice. As Sturman suggests that, the sooner the knight-errant can adventure in the world, then the sooner will evil enchanters, like the ones in the minds of the curate and the barber who wall up the library entranceway, be banished(14). These people are convinced that the books which Quixote reads are so corrupt that they must be destroyed. These are the types of people Quixote are fighting against. As Lowry Nelson describes it, here the priest and the barber undertake to pronounce sentence on the books of chivalry in Quixote’s library and judging them and handing them down to the housekeeper to be burned. In such a way that they hope to strike at the root cause of Quixote’s mania(1). And in order to keep his “reality” assured he needs to get out and have adventures and administer fair justice to show that it is not the books that bind him to his actions but his own mindset. Sturman further annotates that he makes an eloquent speech about the virtues of the Golden Age when men lived in close communion with nature. When human nature lost this purity and innocence, then the order of knighthood was established in order to oppose the torrent of violence(16).
As far as his woman goes he creates a fair lady out of a common girl. Sturman points out that, “Now thought Don Quixote, after renaming himself, his horse, his ambitions, he must name the lady of his pure heart, for a knight-errant “without a mistress, was a tree without fruit or leaves, and a body without a soul.” Therefore he selects a young country lass named Aldonza Lorenza for his own Dulcinea del Toboso although she is all but a complete stranger to him“(9).
Quixote takes this girl that he hardly knows but has noticed her and has kept an eye on her, uses her as his love, as his woman for whom he will claim victories in his conquests. In the night after the whole molinos incident, Quixote all that night refused to sleep, but instead stayed up thinking about Dulcinea, just like the knights in his books did thinking of their loves (Cervantes, 48). To further show his love for Dulcinea, he exclaims:
Oh, senora de mi alma, Dulcinea, flor de la fermosura, socorred a este vuestro caballero, que, por satisfacer a la vuestra mucha bondad, en este riguroso trance se halla! (Cervantes, 51)
Here Quixote is following in the words of the troubadours, he is using flowery, eloquent language to express his love for Dulcinea.
Throughout all of this Quixote is serious of his “world”. Sturman makes the point that, one can argue that he approaches knight-errantry not like a madman who believes that he is someone else, but rather like an actor who memorizes and practices a role(10). Quixote doesn’t think that he is actually a true knight but his is trying to act as if he was. He uses the books, where he gathered his knowledge as a guide to his script. Gerald Brenan says that Don Quijote had a strong desire to play a noble and heroic part in life- to right wrongs and assist the unfortunate and by doing so become famous(19). Brenan adds however that his madness is confined to one thing his belief, that the books of Chivalry were true histories (18). It could be possible that Quixote in reading these materials took them at face value. E.C. Riley notes that Don Quixote says of the hero who was so vividly real to him: “ I can almost say that I have seen Amadis of Gaul with my own two eyes” (130). Quixote through his reading could have thought that he can see Amadis and his actions vividly because of his reading, which allowed him to imagine about knightly things. Brenan adds that, this was granted, it was no more mad for him to attempt to revive the profession of knight errantry than it was for a monk to imitate the Fathers of the desert (18). To further display that Quixote makes up his own truths, Sturman takes note of the helmet making scene, by commenting when testing his handiwork after the homemade visor and cap are complete, he swings a sword at it and completely cleaving the pasteboard helmet and then he makes a new and doesn’t test it because “to have faith in strength is enough, thinks the hero, for reality is always weaker”(10).
Could this be why Cervantes pokes fun at the ideas of Chivalry? Could Cervantes be trying to make a statement? According to Sturman, the aim of Cervantes is merely to “ destroy the authority and acceptance the books of chivalry have had in the world”(8). What does all this mean? What is wrong with Chivalry? Cervantes wants to point out that chivalry doesn’t work anymore because it is antiquated and if every one does not play by the same rules, then what is the use of having it, besides the real world is different than portrayed in literature. Brenan confers that the Innkeeper too believed in the truths of the books, but felt that they just ceased to take place, as a result he was content to take the world as he found it so long as he could go on cheating it (18-19). So in reality Chivalry is considered to be dead, everyone admires it but do not have what it takes to “be” or “do” it.
In conclusion, it is no surprise that the ideas of Chivalry play a big part in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It influenced Cervantes to poke fun at it, therefore resulting in Alonzo Quijano to not only to believe in them, but to transform himself into Don Quixote, a knight errant, set on his adventures of glory, justice and his “love” Dulcinea. Which to him were very true.
Auden, W.,H. “The Ironic Hero: Some Reflections on Don Quixote”. Cervantes A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Lowry Nelson, Jr. N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1969. 73-81.
Brenan, Gerald. “Cervantes”. Cervantes A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Lowry Nelson, Jr. N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1969. 13-33.
Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s mythology: The Age of Chivalry, the legends of Charlemagne and others. Ny: The New American Library of World Literature, 1962.
Cervantes. Don Quixote de la Mancha. Buenos Aires: Espas-Calpe, 1947.
Gies, Frances. The Knight in History. Ny: Harper Row, 1984.
Nelson, Lowry, Jr. “Introduction”. Cervantes A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Lowry Nelson, Jr. N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1969. 1-12.
Riley, E.C. “ Literature and Life in Don Quixote”. Cervantes A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Lowry Nelson, Jr. N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1969. 123-136.
Sturman, Marianne. “Don Quijote”. Lincoln: Cliff Notes, 1998.
Cervantes. “Don Quixote: chVIII.“ Panoramas literarios Espana. Kienzle B., Faith T. Ny: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. 112-114.