Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes
Contributed by Jerrold Mcmenamin

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Prologue–1-Chapter IV
Summary

Prologue

Cervantes strikes a humble pose, claiming that he hasn’t invented the character of Don Quixote but rather discovered him in the history he rewrote. He recounts a most likely fictional conversation with a friend who told Cervantes that his novel is sufficient without the embellishments authors of the time typically added, such as references to famous authors, ballads, and sonnets. The friend makes the humorous suggestion that these kinds of elements could be added in after the book’s completion. Cervantes expresses his approval of his advice, encouraging readers to enjoy the simplicity of the novel.

Chapter I

Cervantes describes a gentleman from a village in La Mancha. His village is unnamed, and we discover that the gentleman is very eccentric. This gentleman has squandered all of his money, neglected his hereditary estate, and read an excessive number of books about chivalry, eventually driving himself mad. He is now fifty years old and gaunt in face and figure. He declares that he will become a knight-errant, and that he will embark on a wonderful adventure in search of eternal glory. He feels his helmet needs a new pasteboard visor and he makes one, and he polishes his old family armor. He gets an old nag, which he calls Rocinante, and he adopts a new name: Don Quixote de la Mancha. He believes that he needs to perform great deeds in the name of a lady, and decides upon a farm girl he once had romantic interest in. He gives her a new name: Dulcinea del Toboso.

Chapter II

We read about events as Don Quixote embarks on his first adventure, Cervantes claiming he found the details in La Mancha’s archives. After Don Quixote has been riding all day, he stops for supper and rest at an inn. He believes that the innkeeper is actually the keeper of a castle, and that two prostitutes outside are princesses. The prostitutes laugh at him when he reads poetry to them, but they play along. They want to take off his armor for him and give him dinner, but he f refuses to take off his helmet (as it is stuck on his head). However, he is able to enjoy the meal because he imagines he is in a magnificent castle and that princesses are tending to him.

Chapter III

Once dinner in halfway through, the fact that he hasn’t been properly knighted comes into Don Quixote’s mind. He asks the innkeeper to do the honor himself. The innkeeper knows that Don Quixote is mad, but he goes along with the request for the sake of amusement. He uses flowery language when addressing the gentleman, and he attempts to cheat Don Quixote. Don Quixote, however, doesn’t have any money for him to steal. The innkeeper declares he must always have money on him in the future.

Don Quixote’s armor is now resting at the inn’s well, and Don Quixote gets upset when inn guests attempt to use the well to water their animals. He invokes Dulcinea’s name, smashing the skull of one guest and knocking another unconscious. The innkeeper is alarmed, and he quickly carries out a strange knighting ceremony before sending Don Quixote away. After thanking the innkeeper and begging for the two prostitute’s favor, he departs.

Chapter IV

As he makes his way home to get money and clean clothing, Don Quixote hears crying. A farmer is whipping a young boy. The farmer tells Don Quixote that the boy has not been carrying out his duties, and the boy says that his master hasn’t been giving him his pay. Addressing the farmer as a knight, he tells him he must pay the boy. He ignores the boy when he tries to tell him that the farmer is not a knight. The farmer assures Don Quixote that he will give the boy his pay, swearing on his knighthood. The farmer whips the boy even more harshly after Don Quixote rides away.

When Don Quixote comes across a group of merchants, he orders them to exclaim their praise of Dulcinea’s beauty. Don Quixote attacks them when they accidentally insult her. However, Rociante stumbles and Don Quixote falls to the ground. His lance is broken when one of the merchants’ mule-drivers beats him. He is left face down beside the road and the group departs.

Analysis

The author’s claim that he did not invent the character of Don Quixote adds to the novel’s theme of self-deception. He states that he is only recounting a history that he found, and in doing this he becomes a sort of character in his own story. Acting as a kind of scholar, he leads readers through the story, adding in occasional interruptions to clarify his meaning. It is clear that Cervantes’s assertion that he is putting forth historically accurate information certainly doesn’t usually ring true. For example, he fails to name the village from which Don Quixote comes. He, in fact, draws attention to the fact that he opted not to tell readers the name of the town by asserting that he doesn’t “wish to name” this “certain village.” It is in this way that Cervantes undermines his claim that the story of Don Quixote is historical. It is ironic that each time he interrupts the story to tell us that it really happened and is not fiction, he is reminding us anew that the story is fiction. This is why we become skeptical of the author’s claims and start to interpret his interruptions as being tongue-in-cheek. In this manner, the novel’s content is a reflection of its form. Both the author and main character deceive themselves.

Don Quixote clearly parodies chivalric tails. Don Quixote, the hero of the novel, is constantly mocked by the author. His initial adventure ends in failure, not the rewards a knight might enjoy as result of a heroic quest, such as glory, treasure, or a beautiful woman. Don Quixote, however, doesn’t think that the adventure is an utter disaster. After all, he is made a knight and the prostitutes, who he thinks are princesses, receive honors. He believes in his quest with certainty, and this fills the story with a romantic spirit of adventure seen in other tales of chivalry. Therefore, while it’s true that Cervantes clearly sees the genre of romantic literature with scorn, he does embrace it in certain ways. Additionally, while he says in the prologue that there is no need for mention of great authors, Latin, ballads, or sonnets, he in fact includes many examples of the use of these conventions in his novel.

Don Quixote’s tragic role is highlighted by the reactions of other characters. While the reader knows that Don Quixote has good intentions, the other characters do not. They see him as dangerous and bizarre. The fears of many characters is typified in that of the innkeeper, who casts Don Quixote out after he attacks a fellow guest. However, there are some characters who are charmed by the protagonist’s wish to live in a simpler and bygone era. While the two prostitutes don’t understand Don Quixote’s poetry, he is able to gain their favor with his assertion of their royal status. The gentleman’s determination to be chivalrous make some people recognize that they inwardly wish for a simpler and more romantic world. However, his clumsiness and clownishness causes all his endeavors to seem utterly ridiculous. From the reader’s perspective, Don Quixote is not only absurd but tragic, as well. While he always hopes for the best, he frequently causes the worst to occur instead. We see this when he unintentionally causes a young boy extra harm because of his inability to perceive that the farmer is lying. It is in this way that the protagonist’s complexity of character both makes him endearing and repulsive. It’s true that he always has good intentions, but his behavior sometimes ends up causing harm.

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