Friday, August 28, 2015

Is Don Quixote Mad?

The thing about a Ten-Year Reading Plan is that the fellow doing the planning and reading looks forward to some books for years. And I waited with eager anticipation to reread Don Quixote for eight-and-a-half years. Then, as I began a year ago to put the calendar together for this twelvemonth of reading, I also started to look forward to blogging about the books on the schedule for 2015. And of all the blogging of the year, I looked forward most to writing this post.

Is Don Quixote mad? I’m not totally sure, but I’m pretty confident he isn’t. Yes, he says he’s a knight errant several hundred years after such characters supposedly existed. Yes, he attacks windmills while claiming that they are giants. Yes, he chooses a frumpy, unibrowed farm girl named Aldonza, rechristens her Dulcinea del Toboso, and then insists that everyone he meets declare her the most beautiful woman alive. But none of these facts makes me think that Don Quixote is insane. (1) He admits that he knows perfectly well who he is, that the books about knights depict them not as they actually were but as heroes ought to be, and that he simply wants to pattern his own life after the most virtuous models he can find, all of this making him idealistic, but not mad. (2) He doesn’t actually see giants when he attacks the windmills but instead claims that a sorcerer has changed the appearance of giants to that of windmills, making him gullible, but not mad. (3) He admits that no woman in a ballad is as lovely as the poet makes her out to be and that Dulcinea simply deserves to be called beautiful, making him extremely gallant and romantic, but not mad. No the detail that most tempts me to think him insane is his explicit deathbed confession that his days of knight-errantry were days of madness. But couldn’t this just be a figure of speech?

Sancho on the other hand truly believes (after a while) everything Don Quixote says. Who’s more mad: the madman or the fool who follows him?

Hmm. Was that brief exposition worth all the wait? Maybe not. But the great Spanish treasure, the book worth more than all the gold in all the conquistadors’ ships, was certainly worth the wait of a few paltry years.

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