D.Q. + S.P. Relationship Defined: Idealism and Realism Combined

I Want To See This Movie! 

The pairing of a “tall thin idealist [Don Quixote] with a short fat realist [Sancho Panza]”[1] dramatizes a constructive synergy between the world of ideas and the world of the material, where one viewpoint emphasizes the internal operations of one’s mind in an ideal, other worldly, dimension, while the other viewpoint emphasizes the external perceptions of one’s mind in a material, this worldly, place.  To clarify this point, Sancho Panza most closely adheres to Thales, an ancient Greek Philosopher, who believed that since the material is the only thing that exists only what we see “out there” is real.  Don Quixote, on the other hand, directly resembles Plato, the Classical Greek philosopher, who believed that the material world is not the real world at all but only an image or copy of the real world projected from another dimension. Given that Sancho Panza “is close to the material world”[2] what he sees, hears, touches, and smells, is real to him.  Given that Don Quixote is close to the spiritual world what he conceptualizes in his own mind becomes real to him.  This is why Don Quixote believes in the primacy of consciousness, his own consciousness, divorced from terrestrial reality, while Sancho Panza believes in the primacy of reality, divorced from deeper thoughts about the significance of that reality.  To Sancho Panza Don Quixote’s abstract morality is insignificant because it does not impact him, directly, in the here-and-now.  To Don Quixote, mere worldly concerns, like eating, sleeping, resting, paying at inns, pales in significance to his own ideas.   

Both characters, without the other, would only be half a man. Without Don Quixote, Sancho Panza would be a concrete bound, range of the moment creature, with virtually no regard for the long term consequences of his actions.  Without Sancho Panza, Don Quixote would either starve to death, be thrown in jail, or become an insomniac.  But together, they complete one another. 





[1] Dr. Roberto Gonzalez
Eschevarria, Sterling Professor of Hispanic and Comparative Literature, Yale

[2] Dr. Roberto Gonzalez
Eschevarria, Sterling Professor of Hispanic and Comparative Literature, Yale

How is Don Quixote a Novel about Individual Self-Fashioning?


The genesis of “Don Quixote” is an act of “self-invention” by a forty-nine-year-old man.  Contrary to the popular view that at age 49 your identity is set (i.e. you are who you are) Don Quixote creates himself anew.  “He leaves home in search of substance and meaning and individuality to his life.  He is concerned with the nature of the self.  His own self.”[1]  This is why Don Quixote engages in a path of self-discovery through which he discovers that his own worth is the result of what he does rather than what his forebears did. 


Besides his twenty-two-year-old niece readers do not learn anything about Don Quixote’s family.  He has no parents, no siblings, no extended family to speak of.  With no close family ties influencing him one way or the other, Don Quixote is free to reimagine himself, to reinvent himself, without all the normal social pressures we associate with family relations or birth circumstances.  Rather than being a socially determined creature as most of his contemporaries were, Don Quixote creates himself beyond his family birth.  His will is the determining factor in his behavior and he is ready for the imprint of his own volition. 

Since Don Quixote “knows who [he] may be if he chooses” he stresses that each individual, through the exercise of his own will, determines what kind of person he will be.  Instead of being a creature of circumstance buffeted to-and-frough by social forces beyond his control, Don Quixote designs his own fortune by enacting his own self-trajectory.  

Since Cervantes is a romantic writer, he is aware of how one’s nature effects his actions.  He recognizes, at least at some level, that human virtue, human well-being, and human prosperity can be developed by choosing a proper life for oneself.  The view of man presented in Don Quixote is that he is capable of goodness, he is capable of prowess, he is capable of courage, he is capable of all these moral values.  There is no presentation of the view that the individual is a helpless victim crushed beneath the weight of social forces.  Don Quixote applies individual choice to literature to determine how far he goes in life and in what way.  This is how Cervantes shows his readers that they are not what society makes them but what they make 

themselves.  That by choosing to actively pursue their values they have control over the make-up and quality of their lives. 

[1] Dr. Roberto Gonzalez Eschevarria, Sterling Professor of Hispanic and Comparative Literature, Yale University.

What is the Role of Poetry in Don Quixote?

“Don Quixote” has 78 poems in the book―17 couplets, 15 sonnets, 15 epitaphs, 5 ballads, 5 singlets, 3 tercets, 1 madrigal, 3 pastoral poems, and 14 miscellaneous
―which either introduce certain segments of the book (i.e. the prologue) or are woven into the text itself.  

Take, for example, the below verses by Urganda the Unknowable to Don Quixote De La Mancha  

If you O book, are duly hee

To seek the company of du―,

You won’t be told by some prize du―

That you are but a fumbling gree―.

But if you are not on pins and nee―

You go off into fools posse―,

You’ll no doubt see, when least expect―,

It is the wrong horse that they’re ba―,

Although they will be so fra―

To show that they’re extremely cle―.

This verse form, which enjoyed popularity in Spain during the 17th century, consists of an abbaaccddc rhyme scheme with the last unstressed syllable of each line omitted.  What, in your view, does this type of “fill-in-the-blank” poem encourage its readers to do?

One function of the above verse form is to bring readers into “Don Quixote” by making them active participants in the process of literary creation.  Readers, as noted before, now had to use their imaginations to complete the full meaning of this type of verse line. Hence, they become active participants in the act of creating a poem.

Why, in your view, does Cervantes incorporate so many poems in his books?  What does he accomplish by relying on his readers’s active efforts to extract meaning from his poems?