Monday, April 4, 2011

Don Quixote of the Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

The First Part of The Delightful History of the Most Ingenius Knight Don Quixote of the Mancha was written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in 1605 and first translated by Thomas Shelton in 1612. Cervantes was compelled to complete the Second Part after a spurious Second Part was published by Avellaneda in 1614, an admirer of Lope de Vega, Cervantes' rival. There is no consensus as to who Avellaneda was. The well known Harvard Classics edition (1910), translated by Shelton (1612), is limited to Part One (52 chapters spanning 4 books) and states that Part Two "is generally regarded as inferior." That was in 1910 - generally critics now agree that Part Two is more developed and deeper. Ironically, must editions of the book are either abridged (Parts I and II) or Part One only. Amis (The War Against Cliché) opines "While clearly an impregnable masterpiece, Don Quixote suffers from one fairly serious flaw - that of outright unreadability...Written in the day before novel-reviewing - indeed, in the days before novels - Don Quixote was probably never intended to be read in the modern manner: that is, straight through. Group or family recitations of a chapter a night were, in all likelihood, the most that Cervantes expected anyone to manage. His epic is epic in length only; it has no pace, no drive. An anthology, an agglomeration, it simply accrues. The question 'What happens next?' has no meaning, because there is no next in Don Quixote's world: there is only more."

Cervantes chooses to act the role of historian in the book, rather than novelist. The representation of authorship in the novel is intriguing, since Cervantes intercedes early in the book (1st Part, Book 2, Chap 1) explains how the history of the famed knight has been cut off at this point. In the first 8 chapters, mention is made of an anonymous chronicler: "Who doubts, in the ensuing ages, when the true history of my famous acts shall come to light, but that the wise man who shall write it....And, thou wise enchanter, whosoever thou beest, whom it shall concern to be the chronicler of this strange history..." (1st, 1, 2).

In his Moorish travels the author has discovered in Toledo an old manuscript written in Arabic by an historian named Cid Hamet Benengeli. Cervantes uses this as a device to ensure the objectivity of the storyteller, the author is a Moor, for an infidel would try very hard to understate the achievements of a Spaniard. This assures the reader that the history of Don Quixote is true and unexaggerated. "And if any objection be made against the truth of this, it can be none other that the author was a Moor; and it is a known property of that nation to be lying: yet, in respect that they hate us mortally, it is to be conjectured that in this history there is rather want and concealment of our knight's worthy acts than any superfluity; which I imagine the rather, because I find in the progress thereof, many times, that when he might and ought to have advanced his pen in our knight's praises, he doth, as it were of purpose, pass over them in silence; which was very ill done." In effect, the balance of Part I is based on the pretended discovery of a pretended translation of a pretended Arabian account. In the Burning of the Books chapter (1st, 1, 6) there is a reference made to "The Galatea of Michael Cervantes." The priest claims Cervantes is a friend of his, his book is clever but does not fulfill its potential. He saves the novel, expecting that the sequel Cervantes has promised will be published.

At the end of the book, Cervantes finds an aged physician who has found parchments with sonnets ad epitaphs in a leaden box. The final sentence gives hope to eager readers that a scholar has pieced together a manuscript "with the cost of many nights' watching and other great pains, and that he means to publish them, and also gives hope of a third sally made by Don Quixote" (1st, 4, 25).

The structure of the First Part is based on two quests or "sallies," the first solo by Don Quixote and the second with his squire Sancho Panza. These "adventures" comprise the most famous scenes from the novel (comprising 22/52 chapters) included in the first sally (the "castle" inn, knight dubbing, the whipped boy André, return and burning of the books) and second sally (conscription of Sancho Panza, attack of the windmills, duel with Biscainer, fight with the Yanguesian Carriers, mix up with Maritornes, flock of sheep episode, the funeral party, the fulling-mill hammers, Mambrino's helmet, and the galley slaves). I have described some of these in the post on Bellow's Henderson the Rain King. DQ and Sancho reach the Sierra Morena where DQ does penance in the wilderness and the balance of the novel is comprised of listening to inset tales or novellas. In some ways, the tales are most interesting and all revolve around lost love. Of course, DQ devotes all his knight-errantry to Aldonsa Lorenzo, whom renames Dulcinea del Toboso. Cynics claim that the epic length of the tales is a result of Cervantes running out of ideas for adventures.

Chrysostom's Tale. Chrysostom, a shepherd, has died of love for Marcela, beautiful daughter of a rich merchant (1st, 2, 4-6). She dresses as a shepherdess and toils in the fields. Marcela appears at the funeral and screams "I cannot conceive why, for the reason of being beloved, the party that is so beloved for her beauty should be bound to love her lover." Marcela's life as a shepherdess parallels DQ's life as a knight-errant. Both exemplify the nobility of free will overcoming society-dictated reality. While Chrysostom pines to death, DQ, equally unsuccessful in love, sublimates his frustration ans is inspired to accomplish immortal deeds.

Sancho's Tale. A simple but amusing tale, a gag, is told by Sancho in a manner which drives DQ crazy (1st, 3, 6). A goatherd was going with his flock where his eyes would never more behold the girl who had been unfaithful to him, Torralva. He came to the bank of the flood-swollen Guadiana River, which he could not cross. He saw a fisherman with a boat that could only take one man and a goat. He agrees to take the flock of 300, but it will take 300 trips. Sancho asks DQ to keep track of the number of trips. If he loses count, the story ends. "'Make account,' quothe Don Quixote, that thou has passed them all over; for otherwise thou will not make an end of passing them in a whole year's space.' 'How many,' said Sancho, 'are already passed over?' 'What a devil know I?' said Don Quixote." This is likely the funniest dialog in the book.

Cardenio's Tale. Cardenio’s Tale (1st, 3, 13) was later adopted by Shakespeare for a play of the same name. In brief, it is a story about Cardenio falling in love with Lucinda. Yet his friend, Don Fernando, isolates Cardenio from Lucinda, and marries her through some sleight of hand. Cardenio secretly watches the ceremony from a distant vantage point. Cardenio’s narrative presents problems because it is not exclusively his. He is not the only source for the story. His story is in part that of other characters in the book. The story is also fractured by the interrupted text presentation. Later, Dorothea relates details (1st, 4, 1) of the same story as she intersects with Cardenio’s tale by way of Don Fernando (she was a former lover, also shorted by the marriage to Lucinda). As different characters relate different aspects of the story, the skewed viewpoints offer a way for the reader to gather more of the facts than the individual characters have themselves. When Dorothea relates her knowledge of the wedding ceremony, Cardenio is shocked to hear that the letter that was found on Lucinda when she fainted at the wedding ceremony was a declaration in her hand that she was already Cardenio’s wife (in principle). Dorothea watched Fernando reading it. Hence, Cardenio is not fully apprised of his own tale until he hears Dorothea’s version. Finally, Don Fernando joins the others, and tells his own version of the story (1st, 4, 9).

The Novel of the Curious-Impertinent. As told by the curate at the Inn (1st, 4, 6-8), this tale is about Lothario and Anselmo and his wife Camella, a beautiful, rich, devoted and virtuous maiden. Anselmo desires to est his wife's virtue and wants Lothario to seduce her. Of course, despite Lothario's reluctance to follow through, he and Camilla ultimately fall for each other. Leonela, Camilla's assistant is bold about her own affair in the compound. Lothario mistakes Leonela's lover for another suitor to Camilla and reports this to Anselmo. Knowing Anselmo has returned and is spying on her, the two women stage a mock tragedy. Stabbing herself (superficially) she convinces Anselmo of her unimpeachable love. Eventually, Leonela's indiscretion shatters the fragile state of "affairs" amongst the two men and Camilla. Anselmo confronts Leonela about her behavior, and Camilla jumps ship for fear Leonela will spill the beans. Anselmo dies of melancholy upon hearing of his wife's departure.

This story tells of a man who depends entirely on tested experience as a way to determine truth. Anselmo is so persistent in demanding proof of his wife's virtue that he succeeds despite his deepest desires, in making her unfaithful. DQ would never submit his ideals to a test of the senses. He knows that an attitude of seeing-is-believing uncovers, not truths, but lies. Anselmo, an unfortunate cuckold dies, a victim to a faith which could not free itself from depending on tangible proofs.

The Captive's Tale. The so-called Captive’s Tale spans 7 chapters (1st, 4, 10-16) that take place at the Inn. Nabokov (Lectures on Don Quixote, p. 146) points out that the interpolated story unwittingly spans two “beavers” or luncheons served at the Inn, as apparently Cervantes lost track of his guest’s meal times. The “captive” and his Moorish lady friend arrive at the Inn, where he tells his tale. It is the story of Ruy Pérez of Viedma (name revealed in final chapter when he meets his long lost brother John), one of 3 sons who each chose among three callings according to their father’s wishes: “The Church, the Sea, or the Court” (1st, 4, 12). He became a soldier serving God and his king at the same time. He leaves his family in Castile and heads to Alicante where he boards a ship headed for Genoa. He joins the Duke of Alba's army in Flanders. He is captured at sea at Lepanto (name revealed in last chapter): “I leapt into the enemy’s vessel, the which falling off from that which had assaulted her, hindered my soldiers from following me; by which means I saw myself alone amidst mine enemies, against whom I could make no long resistance, they were so many. In fine, I was taken, full of wounds” (1st, 4, 12), then sent to Constantinople as a slave on the Turkish galleys. He and camarades are jailed in a special prison house called a bagnio, by Moors in Algiers, only to meet a beautiful woman, Zoraida, daughter of Aguimorato, whose villa overlooked the prison courtyard. As a young girl, she learned the ways of Christianity through a housekeeper. She sets up letter communications, frees the Christians, and escapes to Spain.

Historically, the Battle of Lepanto was in 1571 and allowed Spain and allies to defeat the main fleet of the Ottoman Empire. Cervantes fought in the battle and mentions his name in the text: the Captive says “Only one Spanish soldier, called such a one as Saavedra,…I would recount unto you things done by this soldier, which might both entertain and astonish you much more than the relation of my life” (1st, 4, 13). Cervantes took 3 gunshot wounds, 2 in the chest and one rendering his left arm useless. Based out of Naples (under Spanish control) for several years, he was captured on the seas by Algerian corsairs and spent 5 years in prison in Algiers before ransomed by his parents.

Knight of the Woeful Countenance. Sancho adorns DQ with this name (Knight of the Ill-favored Face in Shelton translation, Sad or Rueful Countenance in others) during the second sally (1st, 3, 5), which basically means "sad face." Careful readers will note that this is a result of lost teeth in the previous chapter (1st, 3, 4), not his mental state. DQ is hit by a rock in the jaw during the Sheep adventure. He asks Sancho to check his mouth "Yes, I pray thee, give me thy hand, and feel how many cheek teeth, or others, I want in this right side of the upper jaw." "'Well then,' quoth Sancho, 'you have in this nether part but two cheek teeth and a half; and in the upper neither a half, nor any; for all there is as plain as the palm of my hand.'" Presumably, cheek teeth are molars. In the next chapter, Sancho introduces him as "'...the famous Don Quixote of the Mancha, otherwise called the Knight of the Ill-favored Face.'...Don Quixote demanded of Sancho what had moved him to call him Knight of the Ill-favored Face" to which Sancho replied "'I stood beholding of you a pretty while by the taper light which that unlucky man carrieth, and truly you have one of the evil-favourdest countenances of late that I ever saw, which either proceedeth of your being tired after this battle, or else through the loss of your teeth.'"

DQ believes it was a sage rather than Sancho who came up with the name: "'This is not the reason,' said Don Quixote; 'but rather, it hath seemed fit to the wise man, to whose charge is left the writing of my history, that I take some appellative name...'"

Don Quixote's mole. Dorothea enquires about the knight-errant, whose name she can't remember (1st, 4, 3). Dorothea pretends her father said "'that he should be high of stature, have a withered face, and that on the right side, a little under the left shoulder, or thereabouts, he should have a tawny spot with certain hairs like to bristles.' Don Quixote, hearing this, said to his squire, 'Hold my horse hear, son Sancho, and help me to take off mine apparel; for I will see whether I be the knight of whom the wise king hath prophesied.'" Is Cervantes making a mountain out of a mole? According to Hodges, in the Muslim tradition, the seal of the prophet is sometimes interpreted as a physical seal in the form of a mole on Muhammad's back.

Best Lines. I was curious when I saw the expression "as they say, out of the frying-pan, into the fire" (1st, 3, 4). Later in the book: "What ails you, good madam ? I pray you think if it be any of those inconveniences to which women be subject" (1st, 4, 9) may be the first reference to menstruation in the western canon of literature !

Sancho's Wife Ain't Buying it ! The final scene in the book (1st, 4, 25) involves the return of the knight-errant and squire home. This is the most amazing corollary to the plight of the modern entrepreneur's wife you could hope to imagine ! Sancho's wife cuts to the quick:

At the news of this his arrival, Sancho Panza's wife repaired also to to get some tidings of the good man; for she had learned that he was gone away with the knight, to serve him as his squire; and as soon as ever she saw her husband, the question, she asked him was, whether the ass were in health or no ?

Sancho answered that he was come in better health than his master.

'God be thanked,' quoth she, ' who hath done me so great a favour; but tell me now, friend, what profit hast thou reaped by this thy squireship ? What petticoat hast thou brought me home ? What shoes for thy little boys ?'

'I bring none of these things, good wife,' quoth Sancho; 'although I bring other things of more moment and estimation.'

'I am very glad of that,' quoth his wife: 'show me those things of more moment and estimation, good friend I would fain see them, to the end that this heart of mine may be cheered, which hath been so swollen and sorrowful all the time of thine absence.'

'Thou shalt see them at home,' quoth Sancho, 'and therefore rest satisfied for this time; for and it please God that we travel once again to seek adventures, thou shalt see me shortly after an earl or governor of an island, and that not of every ordinary one neither, but of one of the best in the world.'

'I pray God, husband, it may be so,' replied she, 'for we have very great need of it. But what means that island ? for I understand not the word.'

"Honey is not made for the ass's mouth,' quoth Sancho; 'wife, thou shalt know it in good time, yea and shalt wonder to hear the title of ladyship given thee by all thy vassals.'

'What is that thou speakest, Sancho, of lordships, islands, and vassals?' answered Joan Panza (for so she was called, although her husband and she were not kinsfolk, but by reason that in the Mancha the wives are usually called after their husband's surname).

"Do not busy thyself, Joan,' quoth Sancho, 'to know these things on such a sudden; let it suffice that I tell thee the truth, and therewithal sew up thy mouth. I will only say thus much unto thee, as it were by the way, that there is nothing in the world so pleasant as for an honest man to be the squire of a knight-errant that seeks adventures. It is very true that the greatest number of adventures found out succeeded not to a man's satisfaction so much as he would desire; for of a hundred that are encountered, the ninety-and-nine are wont to be cross and untoward ones. I know it by experience, for I have come away myself out of some of them well canvassed, and out of others well beaten. But yes, for all that, it is a fine thing to expect events, traverse groves, search woods, tread on rocks, visit castles, and lodge in inns at a man's pleasure, without paying the devil a cross.'

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