Don Quixote and Reality: Part II (1615)
Part II of Don Quixote appeared ten years after Part I (1605), although in the “lives” of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza only a month or so had passed (II,1,). Part II starts with Don Quixote vigorously defending his chivalric world from attacks by the village priest (II, 1) and later his niece (whom he accuses of “blasphemy” II, 6). He is keen to know what his neighbours think of his heroic feats and is dejected when Sancho tells him that they consider him mad (II, 2). And when told by Sancho that a book (i.e. Part I) has just been published about their adventures, Don Quixote is pensive (“pensativo“) fearing that his deeds might not have been described adequately (II, 3). It turns out that Don Quixote has reason to be concerned because instead of narrating his “heroic” exploits, Part I exposes him to ridicule (II, 3: the episodes referred to are in Part I, 8, 9, 18, 19, 20, and 22). Sancho, however, is delighted when he learns that he is one of the main characters in the book, and flushed with his fame, it is now he and not Don Quixote who initiates their next sally, prompted also by the neighing of Rocinante and the advice of the student, Sansón Carrasco, that they should go to some jousts in Zaragoza (II, 4).
Before heading for Zaragoza, Don Quixote insists on calling by El Toboso so the Dulcinea can bless his endeavours (II, 8). (Don Quixote has never seen Dulcinea, but he believes Sancho has when the latter supposedly delivered a letter from him to her in I, 25, 31.) It is night and their search is unsuccessful, so Sancho suggests they wait outside the village for Dulcinea. Here, separate from Don Quixote, Sancho reasons (II, 10) that Don Quixote will transform things as usual, and so decides to tell him that the first woman he sees leaving the village the following morning is the Dulcinea. And so it happens that when three village girls –each riding a donkey– approach, Sancho points one out as the peerless Dulcinea! But significantly Sancho has not noticed that Don Quixote transformed nothing in El Toboso, not even the church looming in the dark. He sees it as a church and not –say– a castle. The point is that Don Quixote no longer reshapes reality as in Part I, and what he sees approaching is not his beautiful lady but an ugly, garlic-smelling peasant girl.
The visit to El Toboso parallels the windmill adventure in I, 8, except that the roles of Don Quixote and Sancho are reversed. Now it is Sancho who “converts” reality and Don Quixote who sees things as they are. And it is Sancho who now says “Calle,” (“Be quiet.” Compare Don Quixote in I, 8, after the windmill episode) in defence of his “reality” (all this to cover up a lie in Part I, when Sancho told Don Quixote that he had delivered the latter’s letter to Dulcinea and had talked to her, I, 25, 31). How does Don Quixote reconcile what he sees with what Sancho tells him? He has no reason to think that Sancho is lying, so he resorts to blaming enchanters as usual; they have enchanted the very source of his inspiration into an ugly peasant wench. This is devastating, and Dulcinea`s disenchantment will be Don Quixote’s constant preoccupation for the rest of the novel.
Part II, 11 begins “Pensativo … iba Don Quijote por su camino” (“Don Quixote … was pensive as he went on his way”), and his next encounter with a group of actors does nothing to restore his confidence. Slowly the worm of doubt is creeping in. After challenging the actors (II, 11), he is left disillusioned, commenting “I affirm that it is necessary to touch appearances with our hands in order not to be deceived.” By now Don Quixote badly needs a tonic, which comes immediately when a knight –who goes under the name of the Knight of the Mirrors– suddenly appears and challenges him. Against all odds, Don Quixote emerges victorious, leaving the defeated Knight of the Mirrors – he is the student Sansón Carrasco in disguise– swearing revenge as his adversary trots off “extremely happy, joyful and proud ” (II, 15 and repeated almost word for word in II, 16).
It is Don Quixote’s first engagement with an “authentic” knight i.e. dressed like the knights from romances of chivalry, and comes at a psychologically important moment. He badly needed something positive to keep his spirit up following the enchantment of Dulcinea and the unhappy encounter with the actors. He receives a further boost in the episode of the Cave of Montesinos (II, 23). While he is is the cave, don Quixote is told by Montesinos that all those enchanted figures he sees there –including significantly the ugly Dulcinea of II, 10—are awaiting him as their liberator. With time, Montesinos adds, Don Quixote will be told how he is to disenchant them all. Predictably, Don Quixote feels very happy when he emerges from the cave. It was the “most beautiful and agreeable sight any human being ever saw,” (II, 22) he tells Sancho and the guide who led them to the cave; it gives him hope, something to strive for. There was only one thing that troubled him, and that was when one of Dulcinea’s maids approached him for a loan! It seems a trivial matter, but the presence of money in the chivalric dream world of the cave is a graphic representation of the reality that has always surrounded Don Quixote, and which he has managed to overcome.
Money is incompatible with knight-errantry, but in the Cave of Montesinos it has clearly insinuated itself into Don Quixote’s world, and has significant consequences later. Indeed, it turns up immediately after Don Quixote and Sancho leave the cave. As they continue on their way (II ,24), they run into a young man singing a song as he heads off to war: “Poverty is why I’m off to war, if I had money I wouldn’t go, believe me,” the young soldier sings. This is contrary to the chivalric ethos upheld by Don Quixote, but it is the reality of daily life, and very soon Don Quixote, too, resorts to the use of money. For example, he pays for the puppets that he demolishes in II, 26 and the enchanted boat he destroys in II, 29. More important, however, Don Quixote even agrees (in II, 28) to something that he has previously strongly resisted (see II, 7): to pay Sancho a salary!
After leaving the Cave of Montesinos, Don Quixote and Sancho get embroiled in three adventures (the puppet show, the braying villagers and the enchanted boat, II, 26, 27, 29), none of which turns out well for Don Quixote. By the end of II, 29, he is thoroughly despondent. “God help us,” he tells Sancho, “but this whole world is full of tricks and deceptions, one set against the other.” Don Quixote is badly in need of another psychological pick-me-up, and it seems that he has arrived at the right place…
Leaving the demolished boat “depressed and out of sorts,” Don Quixote and Sancho arrive at the palace of the duke and duchess, where they are greeted in a manner befitting knights-errant. It is, as the narrator makes clear, the first time that Don Quixote really believes himself to be a knight-errant: “And that was the first day that he truly knew and believed he was a true and not imagined knight-errant, seeing himself treated in the same way that he had read about those knights of the past” (II, 31). Here, as in his battle with the knight of the Mirrors (II, 14), he doesn’t have to transform reality; others do it for him.
Unfortunately for both Don Quixote and Sancho, however, the duke and duchess had read Part I, and recognising them –and knowing about Don Quixote’s madness– they set about creating “adventures” for their own amusement. Knight and squire are the butts of a series of practical jokes (“burlas” repeated like a leitmotiv throughout the long episode) which, in the last analysis, only serve to show how superficial and cruel their two hosts were. One such trick, that will have a bearing later, is the news that in order for Dulcinea to be disenchanted, Sancho has to whip himself voluntarily 3,300 times (II, 35)!
Don Quixote’s experience in the palace turns out to be disastrous. An object of ridicule, he hardly does anything. Elaborate practical jokes confuse him, he has to mend a run in his stocking (II, 44: how chivalric is that!), a cat scratches his face (II, 46), and when Doña Rodríguez comes to ask him for help (II, 48), he covers himself up in bed so that only his face can be seen (what would Amadís de Gaula say!). Words such as “pensativo y pesaroso,” (“pensive and dispirited,”) “despechado y pesaroso,” (“irritated and dispirited,”) “mohino y melancolico,” (“annoyed and sad”) appear with greater frequency. In a letter to Sancho (II, 51), Don Quixote alludes to “this idle life I’m living right now.” Everything that has happened to Don Quixote in the palace is actually alien to the world of chivalry, as the narrator makes clear at the very beginning of II, 52. Not surprisingly, after receiving permission from the duke to leave, Don Quixote’s first words touch on the joy of liberty (II, 58).
Don Quixote’s confidence, however, has been seriously undermined. “Up to now I don’t know what I am conquering by the strength of my labours,” he tells Sancho shortly after leaving the palace (II, 58). The “sé quien soy” of Part I, 5, has given way to doubt, and it’s a downward journey for Don Quixote from now to the end of the novel. There are still moments of satisfaction for him, but these have less to do with his knightly prowess and more with Cervantes’s concern about the recent publication in 1614 of a false continuation. What Cervantes does twice –in II, 59, 72– is demolish the spurious continuation by having readers of and characters from that continuation appear in his book and swear that “his” Don Quixote is the authentic one. (There are other uncomplimentary references to the false continuation in II, 61, 62.)
In Barcelona, Don Quixote suffers a major defeat at the hands of the Knight of the White Moon (II, 64). This is Sansón Carrasco (II, 12-15), who has pursued Don Quixote all the way from La Mancha to exact revenge for his earlier humiliating defeat (II, 14). As a condition of his defeat, Don Quixote is obliged to return to his village for a year. This is deeply felt, but Don Quixote suffers an even greater defeat when he eventually agrees to pay Sancho to whip himself and thereby disenchant Dulcinea (II, 71). It is not the power of Don Quixote’s arm, then, that finally disenchants Dulcinea but the power of his money! Nothing could be further from the chivalric ethos and nothing more destructive to Don Quixote’s ideals than the squalid reality of money! “Poderoso caballero, es don Dinero” wrote Cervantes’s great contemporary, Francisco de Quevedo. “A powerful knight/ is Sir Money.” Indeed, Sir Money is the one “knight” who has worn down Don Quixote’s resistance and finally conquered him.
Don Quixote falls ill in the final chapter (II, 74) and dies in his bed shortly after rejecting the absurdities of knight-errantry, and leaving Sancho, his niece and his housemaid in tears. Not everyone agrees that Don Quixote dies, but rather Alonso Quijano the Good (el Bueno). Don Quixote lives on achieving the kind of fame and immortality he craved, although ironically not for his chivalric deeds. He has passed into myth, his renown reflected in books, film, theatre, opera, ballet, musical compositions, painting, sculpture, radio, cartoons, television …
Allen, J. J Don Quixote: Hero or Fool Gainesville, Florida Part I 1969, Part II 1979
Close, Anthony J A Companion to “Don Quixote“, London 2008
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Mancing, Howard Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”: A Reference Guide Westport, CT 2006
Riley, E. C. “Don Quixote” London 1986
Russell, Peter Cervantes Oxford 1985