Thursday, August 6, 2015

Another Foil for Don Quixote

Last time, I wrote about a comparison between Don Quixote and some insipid shepherds that Cervantes included in a subplot. Don Quixote certainly comes out on top in this comparison. But if the Knight of the Sad Countenance hangs on one side of a balance scale, shepherds who die of broken hearts aren’t the only characters we’re invited to place in the other pan. The whole book, of course, compares Don Quixote with the heroes of chivalric romances popular at the time. But right at the beginning of the book, I noticed a connection between one other personage and La Mancha’s most famous resident: Cervantes himself.

The preface to Don Quixote is all about writing a preface. Cervantes (at least the Cervantes that the author named Cervantes presents to the world) says that he despaired of ever writing a suitable introduction that could match the style of the many beautifully penned prefaces he’s read in other books. But then he claims that a friend came to him one day with a solution: steal parts from each of the prefaces he likes, and then just make the rest of it up. Now isn’t the Cervantes of the preface just like Don Quixote in trying to live up to the flowery books he's read? Come to think of it, isn’t his friend just like Sancho with his slightly immoral realism? The parallel is so striking, I wonder if this friend inspired more than just the preface.

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