70 chapters into Don Quixote

October 6, 2020

The episode with the Knight of the Mirrors stands up there with the best stories of Vol. I.  And I did not see the reveal coming at all!  But it had been foreshadowed.

Then I wondered, if Samson Carrasco planned out this encounter with our priest back in La Mancha, then what about Samson’s report of the published history?  Was that part of the plot too?  Did the priest feed our student all the information he needed to know about Don Quijote’s history?

It seems not to be the case.  Going back, I see that when the priest makes his first visit to Don Quijote, one month after their return, he doesn’t yet know anything about how our knight is doing, much less what if anything he’s planning.  By the end of the visit, of course, he knows that Quijote is still crazy; and our priest ends his visit; but already Sancho is coming in then, with his news that Samson Carrasco has read that printed history, containing things that our knight and squire did when nobody could have seen them.  It’s only later that Samson and the priest speak to each other and make their plan.

And I’d forgotten: Samson says that the published history contains some errors, omissions and unwisely-inserted novellas.  What, can all this be criticism of the priest’s narration of events?

Then in ch. 17 of Vol. II the narrator speaks directly about the printed history, when he says that Don Diego de Miranda has not read it.

So it doesn’t look like Samson or the priest invented the published history.  But what is Samson up to, and how much does he believe in Don Quijote’s knighthood?  The narrator says that when he made his plan with the priest, they figured it would be easy to defeat our knight.  But when we first had seen Samson in the novel, he had nothing but straight praise for Don Quijote.  Now he no longer has that reverence.  But did he ever?  And what was he reading in that published history?  It certainly wasn’t our novel, which makes it clear that our knight is, well, quixotic. 

All the same, it’s very interesting, to give Don Quijote a nemesis.

I like the poem by Don Diego’s son, Don Lorenzo, in Vol. II, ch. 18, more than any other thus far.

Cervantes in these chapters is brilliantly fooling us, or fooling me, at any rate.  I really believed that there was a second quixotic-knight out there (and why not?)  I really believed that Death and Cupid were in that cart.  And I really expected Don Quijote to believe it too!  When the actors give their explanations and Don Quijote gladly and courteously sends them on their way, you can’t help laughing, partly because that action by Don Quijote is more astonishing than any other in the book so far, and also because you know Cervantes has just fooled you, and will keep fooling you.

Something has happened now to the character of Don Quijote, in the ten years separating Vol. I and 2.  His actions are just as crazy as ever but I can’t help liking him a lot more now, because the loveliness and brilliance of his mind is out.  I’m only a short way into Vol. II but already we’ve discovered that our knight is a lover of plays and of poetry, and that he’s something of a philosopher-critic.  His speeches are impressive, as all who hear him keep reminding us.  When he argues to Don Diego how great and beneficial poetry can be, he sounds very much like the cathedral priest at the end of Vol. I.  When he talks to Sancho about what plays can do, he sounds like Hamlet.

Our knight even seems to have changed some of the views he expressed in Vol. I.  In his first conversation with Samson, Don Quijote argues that heroes like Aeneas and Ulysses may not have been as great as their authors made them out to be – and this is the very same argument that the cathedral priest had made to him in their debate at the end of Vol. I.  Maybe our knight had actually listened.

Don Quijote has now intimated, many times in this second Vol., that he is playing a deliberate game.  He admits, when the lion episode is over, that he did something rash and dangerous.  He had said to Samson earlier that the wisest person in any history is the fool, “because he who pretends to be a simpleton must never be one.”  And so on.  Clearly Don Quijote is not entirely sane, but that’s all I know at this point.  Cervantes has well and truly kept me off-balance.  If this is a joust, I am unhorsed and lying on the ground – but smiling.

Sancho turns out to be a gifted and knowledgeable wine-taster.

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