The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Don Quixote

Statues of Don Quixote (left) and Sancho Panza (right)
Statues of Don Quixote (left) and Sancho Panza (right)

Don Quixote de la Mancha (pronounced /) is a novel by the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. It is one of the earliest novels in a modern European language and many people consider it the finest book in the Spanish language.

The adjective "quixotic", meaning "idealistic and impractical", derives from the protagonist's name, and the expression "tilting at windmills" comes from this story.


The book

The novel actually consists of two parts: the first, titled El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, was published in 1605 (off Juan de la Cuesta 's printing press in Madrid on December 20, 1604, mama and made available to the public on January 16, 1605) and the second, Segunda parte del ingenioso caballero Don Quijote de la Mancha, in 1615 (a year before the author's death). In 1614, between the first and second parts, a fake Don Quixote sequel was published by somebody using the pen-name Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda. For this reason, Part II contains several references to an imposter, whom Quixote rails against, and Part II ends with the death of Don Quixote (so no imposter could experiment again with Cervantes' character).

Cervantes tells that the first chapters come from the "chronicles of La Mancha", and the rest was translated by a morisco from a found manuscript by the original Arabic author Cide Hamete Benengeli ("Mr. Hamid Eggplant"). This and other narrative resources parody the knight genre.

Don Quixote is knighted by an inn-keeper
Don Quixote is knighted by an inn-keeper

The plot covers the journeys and adventures of Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza. Alonso Quijano or Quesada is an ordinary Spaniard (an hidalgo, the lowest rank of the Spanish nobility) who is obsessed with stories of knights errant (libros de caballerías ). His friends and family think him crazy when he decides to take the name of Don Quixote de la Mancha and become a knight errant himself (a don being a title of a higher nobility, and a quixote in Spanish was a piece of armor). Then he sorties to wander Spain on his thin horse Rocinante, righting wrongs and protecting the oppressed.

Don Quixote is visibly crazy to most people. He believes ordinary inns to be enchanted castles, and their peasant girls to be beautiful princesses. He mistakes windmills for oppressive giants sent by evil enchanters. He imagines a neighboring peasant to be Dulcinea del Toboso, the beautiful maiden to whom he has pledged love and fidelity.

Sancho Panza, his simple squire, believes his master to be a bit crazy, in particular he knows that there is "really" no Dulcinea, but he plays along, hoping to get rich. He and Quixote agree for instance that because Dulcinea is not as pretty nor does she smell as good as she should, she "must have been enchanted", and from that point on the mission is to disenchant her.

Both master and squire undergo complex change and development throughout the story, and each character takes on attributes of the other as the novel goes on. At the end of the second book, Quixote decides on his deathbed that his actions have been madness. Sancho begs him not to give up, but to no avail.

Master and squire have numerous adventures, often causing more harm than good in spite of their noble intentions. They meet criminals sent to the galleys, and are victims of an elaborate prank by a pair of Dukes, when Sancho is made "governor" of fake Barataria.

Many Americans may be more familiar with the musical Man of la Mancha than with the book itself. If they read the book, they would be in for some surprises: for example Dulcinea, or Aldonza Lorenzo, one of the main characters of the play, is never seen in the book.

In the novel, she is constantly invoked by Don Quixote as his lady, but never appears, allowing his hyperbolic statements of her beauty and virtue to go untested.

Opening sentence

En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.
"In some village in La Mancha, whose name I do not care to recall, there dwelt not so long ago a gentleman of the type wont to keep an unused lance, an old shield, a greyhound for racing, and a skinny old horse."

The phrase de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme was made famous by the book, and, like other fragments of the book, is a common cliché in modern Spanish.


Don Quixote and Sancho Panza after an unsuccessful attack on a windmill. By
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza after an unsuccessful attack on a windmill. By Gustave Doré

Don Quixote is often nominated as the best work of fiction ever. It stands in a unique position between medieval chivalric romance and the modern novel. The former were mostly disconnected stories with little exploration of the inner life of even the main character. The latter, of course, is focused almost always on the psychological evolution of a single character. In Part I, Quixote imposes himself on his environment. By Part II, he is no longer physically capable, but people know about him, "having read his adventures", and so, he needs to do less to maintain his image. By his deathbed, he has begun to assume a new identity, including a nickname, "the Good".

There are many minor literary "firsts" for European literature—a woman complaining of her menopause, someone with an eating disorder, and the psychological revealing of their troubles as something inner to themselves.

Subtle touches regarding perspective are everywhere: characters talk about a woman who is the cause of the death of a suitor, portraying her as evil, but when she comes on stage, she gives a different perspective entirely that makes Quixote (and thus the reader) defend her. A grand discourse on beauty and its relation to truth follows. When Quixote descends into a cave, Cervantes admits he does not know what went on there.

Like his contemporaries, Cervantes believed that literature had to contain moral messages, but, he disliked preaching in works of comic entertainment. His solution was to include almost all the moral advice of the age, but to place it in Quixote's voice, an idiosyncratic and immobile character, whose solutions most often go wrong. For instance when he frees a gang of galley slaves , who have proclaimed their innocence, by attacking their guards, then demands that they pay homage to Dulcinea, they pelt him with stones and leave. Accordingly, it is quite easy to read literally anything as the moral message.

Different ages have tended to read different things into the novel. When it first came out, it was usually interpreted as a comic novel. After the French Revolution it was popular in part due to its central ethic that individuals can be right while society is quite wrong and disenchanting—not comic at all. In the 19th century it was seen as a social commentary, but no one could easily tell "whose side Cervantes was on". By the 20th century it became clear that it was simply a unique and great work, the first true modern novel.

Following the Cuban revolution, the revolutionary government founded a publishing house called Instituto Cubano del Libro (Cuban Book Institute), to publish large runs of great literature for distribution at low prices to the masses. The first book published by the Instituto was Don Quixote.


The autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha exploits the fame of Cervantes' novel to promote tourism in the region. A number of sites in La Mancha are linked to the novel, including windmills and an inn upon which events of the story are thought to have been based. Several trade marks also refer to Don Quixote's characters and events.

In 2004, a scholarly team lead by Francisco Parra Luna announced that it had identified the "real" hometown of Don Quixote, which is never actually named in the novel (the very first line of the book begins, "In a village of La Mancha the name of which I have no desire to recall ..."). Based on clues in the novel, along with computations of the time it would have taken a man on horseback to reach the various locations referenced by the author, the team identified the place as Villanueva de los Infantes, a small town some 144 miles south of Madrid.

As reported in press accounts, Mariano Sabina, the mayor of Villanueva de los Infantes, said upon hearing the news: “I’m delighted that my town is the famous place in La Mancha. Now I hope the whole world will know us.”

Literary Influence

Influences for Don Quixote include the Catalan novel Tirant lo Blanc, one of the first chivalric epics, which Cervantes describes in Chapter VI of Quixote as "the best book in the world."

The novel's landmark status in literary history has afforded it a vast and nearly innumerable legacy of influence. To just enumerate a few examples:

Films and Iconography

Several films are based on the story of Don Quixote, including:

Hanna-Barbera released a short-lived children's cartoon based on the story called Don Coyote and Sancho Panda . Other than the anthropomorphic main characters, the other roles' species have not been changed, and use the original names.

Don Quixote inspired a large number of illustrators, painters and draughtsmen such as Gustave Doré, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Antonio de La Gandara.

Don Quichotte, opera by Jules Massnet, premiered at Monte Carlo Opera on Feduary 24, 1910. In the title role at the first performance was the legendary Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, for who the part was written.

Richard Strauss composed the tone poem Don Quixote, subtitling it "Introduction, Theme with Variations, and Finale" and 'Fantastic Variations for Large Orchestra on a Theme of Knightly Character.' The music is full of musical tics, pops, and other random sounds symbolizing Don Quixote's insanity, and they increase in volume and frequency as the music develops.

Spelling and pronunciation

Quixote is the original spelling in mediaeval Castilian, and is used in English. However, modern Spanish has since gone through spelling reforms and phonetic changes which have turned the x into j.

The x was pronounced like an English sh sound (voiceless postalveolar fricative) in mediaeval times—/kiˈʃote/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet—and this is reflected in the French name Don Quichotte. However, such words (now virtually all spelt with a j) are now pronounced as a voiceless velar fricative sound like the Scottish or German ch (as in Loch, Bach) or the Greek Chi (χ)—/kiˈxote/. English speakers generally attempt something close to the modern Spanish pronunciation when saying Quixote/Quijote, although more Anglicized pronunciations of "Don Quixote" often sound more like "Donkey Hotey" or "Don Quicks Oat".

See also

External links

Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46