Thursday, August 6, 2009

Don Quixote (Quijote) on Ex Libris II

The Story. In Part 1, Alonso Quixano (Quijano), an elderly Spanish "hidalgo," or country gentleman, goes mad after reading too many stories about knights errant (heroes of romantic chivalry who travel in search of adventures in which they exhibit skill, prowess, and generosity). He takes the name Don Quixote (here Don means Mr. or Sir), and clad in ancient armor, sets out on his nag of a horse, Rosinante, to right wrongs and fight for justice. He desires to be a champion of the oppressed and savior of damsels in distress; in short, to be the hero of his own book of chivalry. Naturally, his material conditions - age, physique, social and economic circumstances - are thoroughly unsuitable for such a design - so much so that the idea could only be seriously entertained by someone whose mind was unbalanced. (1)

Almost immediately upon setting out to search for chivalrous deeds to perform, the noble Quixote acquires an ignoble squire, Sancho Panza. Sancho, a tout little fellow, more concerned with where his next meal will come from and where he will sleep that night, believes that by following his master he will eventually be rewarded with an island-kingdom of his own. Early in their journey, they meet a young peasant woman, Aldonza, who in Quixote's imaginary world becomes Dulcinea del Toboso, his beloved lady fair, Reality is harsh for these "tragicomic" figures and they frequently run into difficulties.

In Part 2, the knight and his squire are well known and many people they meet have read Part 1. These people play up to his delusions by staging adventures for his benefit as well as their own amusement. Even though he is often mocked, his dignity raises him above his taunters. Gradually, however, as his dream fades, his sanity is restored (partly from the eccentric behaviors of those he meets) and he returns home to die, as Alonso Quixano.

At the time it was written, most readers viewed his novel as pure entertainment - like a comic book or farce. Later it was interpreted as a romantic novel with pathetic or even tragic elements. Over time it has also been seen as a satire, possibly of the Catholic Church or Spanish politics. Quixote and Sancho are often seen as two halves that form a whole; Quixote's idealistic interpretation of the world and Sancho's bodily functions combined with his hungers interact to teach them both that human experience is made up of both imagination and reality. (2) Sometimes what we perceive as one is, in fact, the other. Arguments over the book's purpose have existed since it was written. Multiple volume scholarly study editions that include historical explanations, parallel literary texts, and contemporary lore were printed as early as 1797.

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