Assess The Strengths And Limit Essay, Research Paper
Assess the strengths and limitations of the view that Don Quixote is a funny book . This quotation is adapted from an article by P.E Russell in Modern Language Review, 64 ( 1969 ).
To answer this essay question, first of all the reasons for supporting the view in the above quotation shall be examined. Secondly, the limitations of regarding Don Quixote as nothing more than comical shall be discussed. Finally a conclusion shall be reached in relation to the issues raised throughout the essay.
For centuries Don Quixote has been a celebrated work for very different reasons. For this part of the essay we must assess the reasons for appreciating it as a funny book by looking at the main examples and types of humour that Cervantes employs throughout his account of Don Quixote s adventures.
Cervantes contemporaries certainly found the book very funny indeed. Felipe III commented on hearing somebody laughing hysterically, aquel estudiante, o esta fuera de si, o lee la historia de Don Quixote. ( quoted from, A Study of Don Quixote, Eisenberg, p.114 ). The King thought that the student laughing was either potty or was reading Don Quixote.
The book is fundamentally a parody of the books of chivalry, which is why it was so comical for cultured readers of its day who despised this genre for its lack of verisimilitude and the fact that it appealed more to the senses than the intellect. This ridicule of books of chivalry is constant throughout Don Quixote. These books were guilty of patent excesses or disparates , for example they were commonly set in fantastical or faraway kingdoms such as North Africa or Asia. Cervantes mocks this fact by setting his fiction in contemporary Spain. His choice of the arid and sparsely populated plain of La Mancha as the place of origin of the adventures of Don Quixote is a clear reversal, to achieve a parodic effect, of what was typical in the books of chivalry.
Cervantes parodies the classic chivalresque hero , who was far too idealised to be authentic, by creating a ridiculous equivalent protagonist for his own book. Instead of being a young, handsome knight, Alonso Quixano is an old man who is physically unattractive. He is enjuto de rostro , has a gaunt face, ( PI,cap 1,p.33 ); he rides an old rozin which is an ordinary horse and accentuates the hilarity of this by naming him Rocinante ( PI,cap 1,p.38 ) as if he is now destined to be ante and claim precedence from all other ordinary horses. His helmet is made half of cardboard and is held on by ribbons (jhjf . Instead of being knighted by a king an innkeeper carries out this task and a prostitute, instead of a virgin, puts on his sword (kjgfThe credentials of our knight-errant are hardly compatible with the dashing young knights of the books of chivalry.
Cervantes protagonist foolishly believes that choosing new names for himself and his horse, lady and friends is sufficient to establish himself as a knight. However his choice of names, in particular his own as Don Quixote de la Mancha are comical. Calling himself a Don is pretentious as he is promoting himself to a higher grade of the nobility from gentleman ( hidalgo ) to knight ( caballero ). However unlike the knights in books of chivalry who were usually from foreign kingdoms, such as Amadis de Gaula, he is from La Mancha. This is hardly an exotic place of origin and of course a mancha is a stain, something quite inappropriate for a knight.
Don Quixote s concept of chivalry is an exaggeration of the already distorted knight-errantry of the libros de caballeria . Chivalry for him basically signifies service to women. However it is not the case that the women actually need his help. For example, Dorothea pretends to be Princess Micomicona whose father s throne has been usurped and has been forced to flee her country. Don Quixote vows to go back to the princess kingdom and slay the giant. Of course the whole story is just a ploy to get Don Quixote on the road to his home village ( ajjh. The use of the name Micomicona itself is a parody of the ridiculous names used in books of chivalry. Another example is when Don Quixote is led to believe by the Duchess that she is Countess Trifaldi, cursed by an evil giant who has caused her to grow a beard. Again our knight gallantly promises to do battle with the giant, but it is all just a practical joke played on Don Quixote by the Duke and Duchess for their own amusement ( aqfjv
The parody of these books continues with Don Quixote s love interest in the story. It was usual for a knight in books of chivalry to fall in love with a woman of similar status. Dulcinea del Toboso is not really an appropriate choice for a caballero . She is in fact a peasant girl named Aldonza Lorenzo who Sancho Panza describes as a moza de chapa , or manly,(nvmn and not really the kind of lady expected to conquer a knight s heart. To add ridicule to Don Quixote s attempts to emulate great knight-errants by having a love interest is the underlying irony that he has never even spoken to Dulcinea and she is completely unaware of his courtship. This is an example of Cervantes using comic irony. All the fearless antics Don Quixote does in the name of his love for Dulcinea, such as the harsh penance he is prepared to endure in the Sierra Morena ( ajdf ) , are without true foundation as she is unaware of his existence.
Another feature of the hilarity of Don Quixote as a parody of books of chivalry is the fact that he does not fight to restore queens to their thrones or help kings repel invaders or for any such noble reasons. Cervantes mocks chivalresque adventure by making Don Quixote remain in Spain which was a peaceful nation by the end of the 16th century. For this reason his hero deliberately seeks out opportunities for combat and forces innocent people to fight. Don Quixote re-creates the real world as it should be seen in books of chivalry as he is loco , insane. Ordinary phenomena excite his imagination and he sees them as something out of a book. The most famous example of this, mainly due to the dramatic vision it conveys, is when Don Quixote seeing windmills in the distance imagines them to be evil giants and attacks them at full speed ( PI,cap 8 ). This kind of action is really pure slapstick humour, which is a reason for the wide appeal of Cervantes book. The pointless battles in which Don Quixote gets involved invariably result in either he or Sancho receiving a good drubbing. This type of physical humour is common of the entremes farces.
If Don Quixote s ridiculous adventures are not the result of crazed hallucinations, ironically he then justifies his antics when he sees things as they really are by deluding himself into thinking that an enchanter is making the situation seem normal. This is exactly what he does after he has been dragged along the ground by the mechanical arm of the windmill. Don Quixote refuses to concede he was hallucinating and claims that the evil enchanter Freston has changed the giants into windmills in order to embarrass him ( PI,cap 8 ). Cervantes constructs this most comical and ironic vicious circle as the reason behind Don Quixote s hilarious exploits.
In Part II of the book Cervantes produces humour through the actions of Don Quixote and Sancho on account of the adventures the Duke and Duchess create to amuse themselves. The trickery involved at the palace is again characteristic of entremes type humour. Sancho is the bobo , fool, who together with his crazy master succeeds is misinterpreting the situations created by the Duke and Duchess and their servants. These made up adventures are parodies in themselves, which further accentuates their humour. For example, one of the giants Don Quixote is meant to fight is cross-eyed (jhhg which just makes the whole situation even more ludicrous and shatters the whole ethos of the chivalresque nature of the situation.
Cervantes develops his protagonist s character as not exactly typical of a knight who took to the road in search of adventures to put ideals of courage and honour into practice. Far from being fearless, Don Quixote is frightened by the noise of water-powered machinery ( PI,cap 20 ). Again reversal is employed to parody the chivalresque hero . Our knight is hardly modest and wants his fame to last forever. Noble knights usually stayed in castles, whereas Don Quixote sleeps in inns and then doesn t pay his bill (jknc , leaving poor Sancho to face the innkeeper s wrath which is not in the least honourable of his master.
When a young lady of the Duke s court, Altisidora, falls in love with him Don Quixote is determined to remain faithful to Dulcinea. However he encourages Altisidora s declarations of love by standing at the window, showing weakness for flattery ( hgggd Therefore, unlike the heroes of books of chivalry who were above the negative characteristics of common mortals, Cervantes parodies this by making his knight lifelike and guilty of the weaknesses of ordinary people in a comic analyses of human nature.
Don Quixote can shift from a heroic manner to one which is common and colloquial. For example he addresses a funeral procession in a haughty tone when he defends his attack on them with the twisted logic of blaming them for looking too much like ghosts ( jhh,h . Shortly afterwards however he answers Sancho with Yo- que diablos se ? ( what the hell do I know! ) in a most banal fashion (nhmc)
Don Quixote even distorts the rules of knighthood to the extent of freeing criminals on their way to serve as galley slaves ( PI, cap 22 ) in a complete joke by Cervantes making his hero the least chivalresque knight possible.
Not only is Don Quixote a burlesque hero, but his history is a burlesque book. The whole narrative is a literary joke. The fictional authors of books of chivalry were wise men and usually Christians whose manuscripts had been carefully and honourably preserved. Cervantes book contains a parodic pretence of historicity as he introduces a Moorish translator, Cide Hamete Benengeli, ( PI,cap 9 ) who is often an incompetent narrator. In this jocular way he presents his book as a historical fact.
The character of Sancho Panza is central to the hilarity of the book. He is particularly representative of saying funny things as he is simple , stupid. The illiterate Panza constantly confuses words and has a tendency to quote folk sayings and proverbs at length which are most amusing. He is hardly an appropriate squire for a knight-errant, agreeing to serve Don Quixote out of pure greed as the latter promises to make him governor of an island .The physical alignment of opposites Cervantes employs in making Sancho fat, stupid and greedy creates a most comical and ironic visual image of the pair.
Cervantes sense of humour is ironical and thousands of examples and types of irony can be found in the book, some of which have been mentioned already such as visual irony.Clearly the fact that the book is a parody makes it intrinsically ironic. One common feature of Cervantes use of irony is contrasting a high style of narrative with absurd situations. For example when he steals a barber s basin he lavishly describes it as being a yelmo de oro , helmet made of gold, and indeed believes it to be the helmet of Mambrino, a very brave character from the book of chivalry Orlando Furioso ( PI,cap 7,p.2 ). This emotive language is in stark contrast to the rather mundane reality that the helmet is in fact a basin.
In addition to irony, Cervantes uses techniques such as puns and other types of word play to make his book hilarious, for example in the choice of names Don Quixote bestows on everyone ( discussed above ). In Don Quixote there are abundant references to the body, especially from Sancho making comments about bodily functions and disgusting odours (hkhg). Also there are episodes where the humour descends to what is basically a dirty joke. An example of this is ( PI,cap 27,p.1 ) when the barber Nicolas borrows an oxtail that the innkeeper uses to hang his comb in to use as a false beard. Some wise-cracks about this are made when the landlady later demands that Nicolas gives her her tail back because her husband needs it!
It is clear from the preceding discussion that there is indeed much strength in the view quoted in the essay title that Don Quixote is a funny book. Indeed in the prologue, through a fictional friend, Cervantes presents his book as a parody of the books of chivalry with the aim of (que ) el melancolico se mueva a risa, el risueno la acreciente.. ( kindling mirth in the melancholic and heightening it in the gay ), ( Prologo, p.18 ). However he also states intention ( que ) el simple no se enfade .. and el discreto se admire de la invencion.. ( to challenge attention from the ignorant and admiration from the judicious ).
This suggests that Cervantes wanted his book to offer more than just comedy. He wanted it to appeal to el discreto and discrecion was a distinctive quality of Golden Age writers. It was a skill of discerning judgement and an ability to relate the circumstances in a harmonious and concordant way. He also states in the prologue that he wishes to please the serious reader, el grave , hinting that he hopes his work to be edifying. In this way he accentuates the absurdity of the books of chivalry.
For this second part of the essay we must examine the limitations of the view that Don Quixote is a funny book . What is discussed in the above paragraph suggests that Cervantes did want to establish limitations to this viewpoint. In contrast to Cervantes contemporaries, who accepted Don Quixote as fundamentally a parody of the books of chivalry, by the 18th century the book was being appreciated and interpreted very differently. It was held to be a classic. The humour of the book was played down as it was considered by many intellectuals to diminish the importance of other themes in the book. Some of the most influential of these shall now be considered.
The romantic approach to Don Quixote originated in Germany in the 19th century. This tradition was serious, sentimental, patriotic and philosophical. The knight s exploits were interpreted to make him a tragic figure whose insanity is often hard to separate from his intrinsic goodness. His consistent fidelity to his ideals, although invariably resulting in failure and causing more harm than good, make him an admirable character. Of course, one of the reasons for Don Quixote s resilience is his insanity, but many intellectuals took this to be a sublime form of madness. He is seen as a heroic figure rebelling against a materialistic world.
There is certainly evidence in the text which suggests that Cervantes is trying to communicate his ideas and feelings about the society in which it is set- contemporary Spain. Often one gets the impression that even though his antics are ludicrous, Don Quixote comes across as morally superior to those around him. For example the behaviour of the Duke and Duchess in Part II in teasing a crazy man and his peasant servant for fun is rather distasteful. They are living in a fantasy world just like Don Quixote, only theirs is the product of the boredom and aimlessness common to their class. Marcela s speech ( PI,cap 14,p.141 ) is again evidence of Cervantes observing the hypocrisy of his society. Her reaction to Grisostomo s poem about unrequited love points out that a beautiful woman cannot be expected to return the love of every man who falls for her. Men like women who are modest and chaste, yet they always try to get the women they desire to make an exception for their sakes and give up their modesty.
Don Quixote s character could even be described as a fairly accurate portrayal of a revolutionary. Our knight sets out to transform the world in accordance with his vision. Just like the fanaticism of real-life religious or political crusaders he can be laughable, even dangerous. For example, when Don Quixote tries to save Andres the shepherd boy from a beating from his master ( PI,cap 4 ), we later are told that because of the knight s interference the master took out his rage by beating the boy even harder ( PI,cap 31 ). However his persistence does succeed in some cases, such as in its influence on Sancho Panza. In various scenes Sancho seems quixotised and takes on his master s mad quest. In the last chapter of the book he begs his master not to die and encourages him to pursue his life as a knight saying el que es vencido hoy ser vencedor manana he who is conquered today shall conquer tomorrow ( PII,cap 74,p.1096 ). It is as if Sancho is confident that his master has an important role as a knight-errant.
Many critics have underlined the importance of the role of perspective in Cervantes tale. This approach stems from philosophical relativism; the truth can only be described in relative terms. E.C Riley stated:
The Quixote is a novel of multiple perspectives. Cervantes observes the world he creates from the viewpoints of characters and reader as well as author. It is as though he were playing a game with mirrors or prisms.
It is clear that Cervantes understood that the truth can be elusive as people can perceive the same thing in a different way. For example at the Bodas de Camacho Don Quixote only sees a pageant whereas Sancho seems only aware of there being a banquet ( PII,cap 20 ). Through this game with mirrors Cervantes skilfully succeeds in maintaining a relative level of verisimilitude but also produces the effect of admiracion and carries his readers away to wonderful and extraordinary experiences.
There are many layers of illusion and reality in Don Quixote. First, there are the knights own mad delusions. Later, his friends play tricks on him and disguise themselves in order to get him to give up his quest and return home ( PI,cap 27 ). The distinction between reality and fantasy is blurred, for example when Don Quixote has a dream in the Cueva de Montesinos one is not certain whether the dream is just another delusion or whether it is a product of his sane alter-ego, Alonso Quixano ( PII, cap 22 )
In addition to these complications in the plot itself, one is constantly reminded that what one is reading is only a text of a historian Cide Hamete Benengeli- an imaginary creation ( PI,cap 9 ). However Cervantes also interrupts the story to comment on the action. For example ( PIUJU Don Quixote is involved in mortal combat, but we are left in the height of suspense until Cervantes finds the missing pages of Benengali s manuscript. The knight and his squire are even made aware that they are not only characters in a book, but also in a bogus sequel ( PII,cap 36 )