Post tenebras spero lucem
If I were to adapt Don Quixote to the silver screen, the last scene would depict Cervantes hard at work finishing the manuscript. The audience would hear his voice dictating the last sentence. The last shot would slowly close in on Cervantes’ face and as the voice finishes the sentence, he would look up into the camera and smirk. Go to black. Begin credits.
Don Quixote gallantly wonders the land as a diluted knight-errant in a time void of chivalry. His derangement innocently swells from an exaggerated obsession with chivalry books. One might assume that Cervantes mocks such literature and humiliates his hero. However, the idea of emulating extreme value sets commonly presents itself in all generations. People aspire to characterizations in all manner of attitude and behavior. The novel appears hyperbolic but accurate – humorous but sadly normal. Cervantes mocks human senselessness of artificial, pompous emulation, not chivalry or romantic literature in particular. The author resembles Don Quixote in his own preface, imagining himself grander and as an imagined persona rather than a man.
Consider Don Quixote’s ambition to right the wrongs of the world and aid the helpless. Such youthful and innocent ambition drives us all in some form. Fantasy does not hold exclusive rights over such inspirations. Would we laugh at those so equally charged? Do we scorn our modern day philanthropists? Or has modern culture arrested our sentiments and inclinations toward our chosen methods of execution?
Yet in all this, Cervantes brilliantly weaves an acute sense of sarcasm in his chastisements. In a way, I think Cervantes makes fun of his readers while mocking Don Quixote on stage. If Cervantes were a puppet master, he might dangle Don Quixote on stage and cause the audience to laugh though audience and actor perfectly resemble one another. All the while Cervantes laughs at the ignorant audience who essentially laugh at themselves without knowing it.
More so than chivalry, I think Cervantes satirically chastises arrogant scholars and haughty academics. In his own preface he mocks himself by listening to friendly advice encouraging him to adopt quotes and epithets from other notably wise men. In a literal sense, is this not what Don Quixote does? Throughout the narrative people credit Don Quixote with an incomparable intelligence and pity him that such an intellect should go to waste in madness, adopting ideas from those books. The simple power of books – readers react to them similarly to Don Quixote when those books impart “wisdom”, “knowledge” and culturally exalted qualities. However, perhaps Cervantes warns against allowing any book to overtake our free mind and to speak or behave in our stead. Even great books function best when challenging an equally thoughtful mind rather than a blank slate upon which they can dictate their designs or an empty body which they might possess.
One must commend Cervantes on his layering of realities and hypocrisies. He wrote the first three dimensional novel! Characters within the novel read Cite Hamate Bengali’s novel which Cervantes uses to write the novel we read. How beautifully ironic that the chivalry volumes referenced in this work have been rebuked as false and socially detrimental, but Don Quixote claims to be based on a true history of Don Quixote – apparently the only real historical knight-errant. I wonder if Cervantes intends to dismantle the critical argument against the novel as a form of literature by employing the same tools. Though lacking in historicity, do any of the values depicted in a novel render themselves meaningless or false?
Consider his educated friends who, in order to save him from the poison he has ingested, judge which of his books ought to experience a Bradburyian burning. Ironically, the judges, educated by books and deciding their fates based on their own education and opinion, separate goat from sheep and in so doing reflect the same fallibility as those they judge. The literary apocalypse is a farce! The books are not to blame as, again, hypocritically, the judges separate according to their own education from books. Their learned decisions come from books, as do Don Quixote’s decisions and actions. They condemn Don Quixote’s stories because they are false histories. Yet Cervantes magnificently bases his own manuscript on a true history of a real man named Don Quixote written by Cite Hamate Bengali. So we either believe the educated of Don Quixote’s friends and believe that all stories of knights-errant as false in history and intellectual value (which would include the one the reader holds in his hand) or we deflate such a claim with the ONE story written based on a true history. They can believe it or not, but regardless of Don Quixote’s indictment of insanity, such a knight-errant existed for them which should logically force them to consider how they judge such literature.
Not to mention that the real people and real stories encountered through Don Quixote and Sancho’s wanderings resemble romance and chivalry. If Cervantes did not intend such encounters to introduce the reality of romance, they may have beckoned the necessity for chivalry, albeit to a less fantastic degree. For example, the curate, previously credited with the medicinal burning of Don Quixote’s books, reads “The Tale of Ill-Advised Curiosity” and discounts its validity as a historical event simply because he can’t fathom such a play between husband and wife. If he read the tale of Don Quixote, without knowing Don Quixote while the reader of Cervantes’ book knows he is real based on Cete Hamate Bengali’s true history, would he discount its validity because of its hyperbolic events? If he would, he would be wrong since in the curate’s world, Don Quixote is real. Since he would be wrong, can we say that Don Quixote is wrong for viewing chivalry literature as true?
No other pair in any other piece of literature will the reader cherish as much as the coupling of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Each man embodies characteristics entirely void in the other. Don Quixote is highly educated, articulate and intellectual whereas Sancho is illiterate and substitutes wits with proverbs. Don Quixote imagines a world full of enchanters, dragons, giants and ogres while Sancho sees a windmill as a windmill. However, Sancho follows Don Quixote through all his adventurous schemes knowing full well of their insanity. Thus the age-old question: who is the idiot? Sancho’s circumstances depend entirely on the whims of Don Quixote. When Sancho attempts reason, he cowers at Don Quixote’s threats. When Don Quixote promises reward, Sancho jumps to Don Quixote’s deranged service. He resembles the commoner under political power and the primal yearning for comfort which ebbs by the moment according to the power’s flow. Or, perhaps, Sancho flexes a kind of control unbeknownst to Don Quixote. After all, he counsels him wisely but loses power to Don Quixote’s bold strength. Yet in his simplicity, and despite his singular moronic belief that his following Don Quixote will result in his own material gain and social rank, Sancho proves the best of companions in defending and supporting his master, Don Quixote, in all things – even to his own detriment. Where Sancho lacks intellect, he employs devotion from which form consequences that render his motivations immaterial. And despite all their misgivings and conceivable regrets, neither would trade the other’s companionship.
Alas, post tenebras spero lucem. If all men follow the example of the great Don Quixote of La Mancha, they will find themselves again. After the deep throngs of pitiful self-qualification, after our eternal bout with all things once revered, after they model themselves on what they honor as magnificent, they will find solace in the essence of their being. If all men suffer the same delusional urge to qualify themselves by outside influences, then they will inevitably find themselves on the other side of that great hill to see themselves truly and value themselves as they are. We are Don Quixote, in one form or another, but may we all live a fool in order to die a sage.
In structure and entertainment, characterization and composition, Don Quixote remains peerless in design and stands as the one true pioneer of its form.