First Part Chapters I - V

Saturday, February 03, 2007
This was salvaged from my Don Quixote Blog which has since been deleted - I only posted once but I didn't want to lose what I wrote so I've copied and pasted it into my main blog....enjoy:


"Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago…”

So begins the opening chapter of Don Quixote where we are introduced to our hero, a gaunt man of about 50 who lives on a farm with his niece, housekeeper, and a handyman. He spends his days reading any and all books on chivalry that he can get his hands on. So obsessed with the knights in these tales, he neglects his farm, except to sell of parcels of land in order to buy even more books to read. Cervantes writes that the words in his books were more valuable to him than pearls and his days and nights were spent unraveling the mysteries of passages such as:

The reason for the unreason to which my reason turns so weakens my reason that with reason I complain of thy beauty” or “…the heavens on high divinely heighten thy divinity with the stars and make thee deserving of the deserts thy greatness deserves.”

Needless to say, thanks to reading from dusk til dawn and then dawn til dusk, getting no sleep, he slowly lost his mind.

He comes to believe that he must “for the sake of his honor and as a service to the nation” travel the world as a “knight errant” righting wrongs and gaining fame and glory. The first thing any knight needs is armour and a sword. Retrieving an old set of armour that once belonged to a long dead relative he polishes it up as best he can (which isn’t much). While doing his best to make the armour wearable, he realizes that the only a portion of the helmet remains. Undaunted he creates the missing parts out of cardboard and attaches it the headpiece. Having shattered his sword when he tests it out, he settles on a lance which is a magnificent weapon for a knight errant he thinks. All the best ones had a lance.

The only thing he is missing is a noble steed. He heads outside to see his horse. Rather than a noble steed, it’s an old skinny nag, whose hooves are cracked. To our hero, however, there is no horse greater than this and as such, it requires a great name. For four days, he thinks about what to name it. Finally, he settles on Rocinante, “a name in his opinion, that was noble, sonorous, and reflective of what it had been when it was a nag, before it was what it was now, which was the foremost nag in all the world”. Note that in the footnotes of my edition, the translator tells us that Rocin means “nag” and ante means before (in terms of both time and space).

As his horse now has a new name, he feels as though he too should have one and, after another week, settles on Don Quixote. Again, the footnotes tell us that this is actually the name of the piece of armour which covers the thigh. As most knights were not known simply by their names but also by where they were from, he decides to call himself Don Quixote of La Mancha.

In all the books he had read, there was always a beautiful damsel to whom the knights had promised to honour and perform great deeds for and Don Quixote is no exception. He recalls a lovely peasant woman with whom he was once in love but who didn’t seem to know he existed, and decides that she will be “the lady of his thoughts’. He once again puts his mind to the task of thinking up a suitable name for her (although she already has one) that would suggest she is a great lady – Dulcinea of Toboso (dulce means sweet).

Having all that he requires, Don Quixote (DQ) rides off to begins his adventures astride Rocinante. Shortly after setting out, however, he realizes that he has not been “dubbed” a knight. According to all of his books on chivalry, he “could not and must not take up arms against any knight” unless he too was one. Hoping to correct this oversight as quickly as possible, he determines that he shall have the first person he encounters dub him a knight. DQ rides throughout the day, spending hours talking to himself about the great deeds he shall accomplish in the name of his beautiful Dulcinea.

As a result, his pace was so slow, and the sun rose so quickly and ardently, that it would have melted his brains if he had had any.”

By dusk, DQ and Rocinante were exhausted and hungry, in need of a place to spend the night. They happen upon an inn not far off the road they are traveling. Riding up to the inn, he notices two women (prostitutes) at the door. In true Quixote style, he believes the inn to be a shining castle with towers, a drawbridge and a moat, and the “ladies of easy virtue” to be noble women. As he addresses them with the flowery, poetic language of a knight, they begin to laugh, offending DQ. Saving the day, the innkeeper comes outside to see what is happening. Seeing the comical figure of Don Quixote astride his equally comical mount, he quickly tries to calm the good knight down and offers him food and drink inside. The women, having regained their composure, escort our hero inside and assist him in removing his armour. They remove his breast and back plates but are unable to remove his helmet. We learn that it is tied on with pieces of green string and part of it is actually stuck to his head. Images of Kevin Kline running around in a cardboard helmet, pieces of green yarn dangling from his chin, and a pair of long, red underwear suddenly pop into my head at this point and I actually giggled out loud while reading this paragraph (note – this gets worse as the book goes on…).

Having satisfied his hunger, DQ throws himself to his knees in front of the innkeeper begging him to perform the ceremony whereby Don Quixote can become a knight. Realizing that his guest is indeed quite likely mad, the innkeeper agrees and concocts his own wild tales of his youth whereby he too had set off to become a knight. Hoping to relieve DQ of a few coins, he goes on to tell him how, after years of adventuring, he retired to this “castle” where he welcomed all knights “simply because of the great fondness he felt for them, so that they might share with him their goods as recompense for his virtuous desires”.

DQ proceeds to tell him that he carries no money with him as none of the books he read ever mentioned knights carrying any coins. The innkeeper instructs him that the authors of those books didn’t think it necessary to mention it as it would have been obvious. In addition to money, he should also always have an extra shirt and powerful healing unguents and elixirs with which to cure his wounds, all of which would be carried by the knight’s squire. To not have a squire was rare indeed. Don Quixote agrees that he shall do so from now on.

As there is no “chapel” in the “castle” in which to perform the ceremony, the innkeeper directs DQ to a corral where he can stand watch over his armour until the ceremony is performed in the morning. After retiring to the corral and setting up his armour, a muledriver who was staying at the inn enters the corral to water his animals. As DQ’s armour was sitting on the trough, the muledriver picks it up and moves it out of the way. Shocked at the man’s lack of respect, Don Quixote picks up his lance and proceeds to smash the poor man over the head with it. As the man falls to the ground, DQ collects himself, returns his armour to it’s place on the trough, and resumes his vigilant watch.

A second muledriver approaches, not realizing what had happened and the scene repeats itself. By now the muledrivers’ companions have realized what’s happened and begin to throw stones at our knight who does his best to deflect the missiles. The innkeeper, hoping to rid himself of Don Quixote as quickly as possible, convinces the men to stop attacking him and tells DQ that they will perform the ceremony immediately. Making it up as he goes along, the innkeeper mumbles a few words and, with the help of the two damsels, dub Don Quixote a knight and send him on his way. To their relief, he sets off once again.

Remembering the advice from the innkeeper about the supplies every knight requires, Don Quixote determines to return to his home to get them. He also decides that he will try to convince one of the local peasant farmers “a neighbour of his…who was poor and had children” to become his squire. However, after a short while, he hears someone crying out in pain in a nearby wood.

He enters the wood and comes upon a peasant whipping a young boy of about 15 who is tied to a tree. When DQ orders him to stop, the peasant says it is his right as the boy, who is his servant, has not been doing his duty. The peasant unties the boy on DQ’s orders. The young boy claims that his master owes him wages for the past nine months. He orders the peasant to pay the boy his wages and be done with it. However, the peasant claims he has no money with him and tells the boy to come back to the house with him where he will be paid all that he is owed. Feeling the situation resolved satisfactorily, Don Quixote rides off with a warning to the peasant:

And if you wish to know who commands you to do this, so that you have an even greater obligation to comply, know that I am the valiant Don Quixote of La Mancha, the righter of wrongs and injustices, and now go with God and do not even think of deviating from what you have promised and sworn, under penalty of the penalty I have indicated to you.”

The boy and the peasant watch Don Quixote ride off. As soon as he is out of sight, the peasant grabs the boy and ties him to the tree again and whips him until he is almost half dead “…I want to increase the debt so that I may increase the payment”.

Our hero rides for a while, lost in thought, until he spots a group of merchants traveling along the road. Believing this to be the start of yet another great adventure, and wishing to emulate all the deeds of the knights in his books, Don Quixote rides up to them and demands they declare that there is no more beautiful women in the world than his beloved Dulcinea of La Mancha. Realizing quite quickly that this odd man was likely mad, but wanting to know “the purpose of the confession he was demanding”, one of their men answers that they don’t know this woman but if he was to show them a picture of her, they would be able to offer their opinion of her beauty. Don Quixote takes offence at their impertinence and once again threatens them. Realizing that things are getting out of hand, one of their numbers declares that they can tell by his convictions she must truly be a beautiful woman and they’re willing to side with him even if she is blind in one eye and bleeding from the other, but they still must she her before declaring it. Not the wisest thing to say.

“…he lowered his lance and charged the man who had spoken, with so much rage and fury that if, to the daring merchant’s good fortune, Rocinante had not tripped and fallen on the way, things would have gone badly for him. Rocinante fell, and his master rolled some distance on the ground, and when he tried to get up, he could not: he was too burdened by lance, shield, spurs, helmet, and the weight of his ancient armour. And as he struggled to stand, and failed, he said: ‘Flee not, cowards; wretches, attend; for it is no fault of mine but of my mount that I lie here.’”

Picking up Don Quixote’s lance which had broken upon his fall, one of the men picked up one of the pieces and began beating our hero with it. When that piece of the lance fell apart, he picked up the other pieces and used those to beat DQ with them as well. All the while, our hero “did not once close his mouth but continued to rail against heaven and earth…”. Eventually the man tired and the group of merchants continued on their way, leaving the knight lying in the road, too beaten and bruised to stand.

Unable to do much else, Don Quixote began once again to think of his books of the chivalrous knights and their daring adventures. Rolling around on the ground, he began reciting ballads. A farmer and neighbour of his who was returning home, happened upon DQ in the road. Recognizing him but unable to get him to make any sense, the farmer helped him to his feet and atop his mule. Leading the ragged Rocinante and the battered knight, he led them back to their village. Hoping to spare his good neighbour any embarrassment, the man waited until dark before entering the village and made his way to Don Quixote’s house. Inside he could hear DQ’s niece and housekeeper talking loudly with the local priest and barber and how all of Don Quixote’s books have driven him mad. His niece explained:

“…it often happened that my dear uncle would read these cruel books of adventures for two days and nights without stopping, and when he was finished he would toss away the book and pick up his sword and slash at the walls, and when he was very tired he would say that he had killed four giants as big as four towers, and the sweat dripping from him because of his exhaustion he would say was blood from the wounds he had received in battle…”

Hearing this, the farmer understood Don Quixote’s madness and called out to let those inside the house know that he was there with their friend. Unable to get an answer out of DQ, they vow to return the next day to discuss the matter and that of the library.

Next up….?

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