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NA302212 - CERVANTES, M.: Don Quixote (Abridged)
Miguel de Cervantes
Don Quixote is the masterpiece of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and
the first great European novel. Everyone has an image of the story —
perhaps the old knight tilting at windmills, remembered from a children’s version — but the novel itself is a remarkably sophisticated and highly entertaining work, as enjoyable and relevant today as when it was first published in 1605.
Don Quixote is an elderly gentleman of the village of La Mancha who, after many years of poring over medieval chivalric romances, decides that he will single-handedly revive the honorable life of a knight-errant, and takes to the road with his simple neighbor Sancho Panza as his squire and the old nag Rozinante as his steed. The story consists of a series of loosely connected adventures, almost all of which are based upon the simple (but profoundly human) premise of seeing what we wish to see, rather than what is objectively true. Normally a man of good character and understanding, Don Quixote’s life is grotesquely skewed by his romantic insistence on trying to turn the world of fantasy into that of reality. The episodes range from broad farce (the scene in the tavern) to almost surreal comedy (the windmills) and ludicrous misunderstanding (when Don Quixote takes a pair of traveling monks to be evil necromancers).
In these adventures he is repeatedly humiliated — beaten, tricked, laughed at — often because the people he encounters on the road understandably refuse to acknowledge the unsurpassed beauty of his lady-love, Dulcinea de Tobosa — actually a coarse peasant-girl who has never set eyes on the aged knight. Sancho Panza usually provides a corrective view — insisting that the windmills are indeed windmills, not giants — but even he is convinced that he may yet make his fortune in the service of Don Quixote.
The tale is, of course, a satire on the absurdities of medieval romance, and as such it is wonderfully comic. Cervantes also enjoys poking fun at himself as storyteller — the elaborate chapter-headings are often ironically verbose — but what lifts the novel into the sphere of greatness is the tenderness with which Cervantes also views his creation. Don Quixote is a kindly man, capable of shrewd and rational discourse —- as long as knight-errantry is not in question —- and by the end of the novel the reader’s sympathy for the hero is perhaps as great as his scorn. It is notable that Don Quixote is allowed to see his own folly before he dies: he repudiates the philosophy, which has led him into a kind of madness, and dies both sane and repentant.
Miguel de Cervantes was born in 1547. He lost the use of his right
arm at the battle of Lepanto in 1571 and was for five years a prisoner
in Algiers after his capture by pirates. Don Quixote was published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. Cervantes was also the author of a remarkable collection of short stories, Novelas ejemplares, and a number of plays.
He died in 1616. His influence on the development of the novel was
extraordinary — but he was a genius in his own right.
Notes by Perry Keenlyside
Edward De Souza
Edward de Souza is a familiar figure on the London stage having played leading roles in over a dozen West End plays and in several seasons at Stratford, the Old Vic and the National Theatre. Apart from many TV and
film appearances, (including The Thirty-Nine Steps and The Spy Who Loved Me) he has done numerous readings on radio and cassette, and is particularly well known to listeners as The Man in Black in ‘Fear on Four’ (BBC Radio).
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