Don Quixote Thesis pt 1

Don Quixote and The Knight of The Mirrors Essay

copyright 1996 Nick Cooper

Honourable Doctor Rea,

Thou maist beleeve mee, without swearing, that the original manuscript, which heaven did ordaine to be burned up by that Inchanter The Heate Mieser, was the true copie I meant apply for your protection. Yet, I doe humbly intreate that thou undergoe to reade this inferior step-child, in the hopes that thou gratifie me for atchieving no lesse than the barest minimum of that which I indeavoured to doe.

Nicholas Cooper de la Nueva York

Don Quixote and the Knight of the Mirrors

The madness of Don Quixote infects all those around him. Whether those he meets want to avoid being attacked, convince him of his errors, or just make fun of him, they must play along. In the First Book, group participation in Quixote's madness serves only to reinforce his inexorable delusions. In the second book, when Quixote meets characters who have read of him in the First Book, he has further proof that he is what he believes he is, a Knight Errant. The force that proves more powerful than madness is that of imitation. The false or 'Avellaneda' Quixote undermines Don Quixote and Cervantes himself. Quixote loses his final joust against the Knight of the Mirrors, an imitation of a knight, and Cervantes loses his powers of creation in the final duel against his own imitator.


In his review of Quixote's library, the priest asserts: "'However much care they take, and however much skill they show, they can never make their translations as good as the original.'" 1 In an attempt to get beyond the limitations of individual translations, I have read the Putnam translation, the Penguin translation and parts of the first English translation by Thomas Shelton.

There can never be another translator so well suited to translate Don Quixote into English as Shelton. He was a contemporary of Cervantes and like Cervantes, did not take his job too seriously. Shelton states in his dedication:

Mine Honourable Lord; having Translated some five or sixe yeares agoe, The Historie of Don-Quixote, out of the Spanish Tongue, into the English, in the space of forty daies: being therunto more then halfe enforced, through the importunitie of a very deere friend, that was desrous to understand the subject: After I had given him a view thereof, I cast it aside, where it lay long time neglected in a corner, and so little regarded by me as I never once set hand to review or correct the same. Since when, at the intreatie of others my friends, I was content to let it come to light, conditionally, that some one or other would peruse and amend the errours escaped; my many affaires hindering mee from that labour. Now I understand by the Printer, that the Copie was presented to your Honour: which at the first somewhat disgust mee, because as it must passe, I feare much, it will prove farre unworthy. . . . 2

Like Shelton, Cervantes used an introduction to call into question his own abilities, thinking readers might find his book, "as dry as a rush, barren of invention, devoid of style, poor in wit and lacking in all learning and instruction . . ." 3 It is possible that Shelton's undermining himself is in imitation of Cervantes, but in the Quixote, where being, seeming and claiming to be are all blended, the distinction between imitation and coincidence is inessential.

Shelton's translation adds on another layer, making it a fourth-hand version of the supposed Arabic original, by Cid Hamete Benengeli. This original was brought to a translator, whom we know nothing about except that he or she speaks a "better and more ancient language." 4 Shelton speculates in a marginal note: "To wit, a Jew." 5 This Spanish translation is then edited by Cervantes, and presented as Don Quixote in Spanish. Shelton's translation to English seems just like another step in the complex path Cervantes has already created for his text.

[T]ranslating the Arabicall into Spanish in a trice, he said that it began thus The Historie of Don-Quixote of the Mancha, written by Cyde Hamete Benengeli, an Arabicall Historiographer . . . . [H]e translated all the worke in lesse than a moneth and a half [my emphasis] . . . and if any objection be made against the truth of this, it can be none other, then that the author was a Moore, and it is a knowne propriety of that nation to be lying . . . . [I]t is to be conjectuered that in this History there is rather want and concealment of our Knights worthy Actes, then any superfluity; which I imagine the rather, because I finde in the progresse thereof many times, that when hee might and ought to have advanced his penne in our Knights prayses, hee does as it were of purpose passe them over in silence. Which was very ill done, seeing that Historiographers ought to and should be very precise, true, and unpassionate, and that neither profit, or feare, rancor or affection should make them treade awry from the truth, whose mother is History, the Emulatresse of Time, the depository of actions, the witnesse of things past, and advertiser of things to come. 6

It is appropriate that Shelton translated the Quixote into English as quickly as Cervantes declares the 'Jew' translated it into Spanish. Again we wonder if he copied Cervantes. Perhaps it actually took him longer. But, we have no confirmable information about Thomas Shelton outside of the text, so he is as fictional as Benengeli and the Jew. He is the only English translator contemporary to Cervantes, and received Cervantes' approval. James Fitzmaurice-Kelly, in his introduction to Shelton, refers to Cervantes' being familiar with Shelton:

With all his ungrateful contempt for translators and their work, Cervantes himself had been the foremost to applaud the breath and gusto of a performance still unrivaled . . . . 7

We encounter this sense of open dialogues between actors throughout the books. I use one term, 'actors,' to refer to characters, authors and translators because they all seem on the same level, and have so much in common. They play a part in our conceptualization, share interdependence, and have need of mutual connection for self-verification.

All the 20th century translations have the significant advantage of being easy to read. Shelton's translation demands slow reading of the present-day reader, which is inappropriate for the Quixote and most novels. Also, Shelton is not the best choice for accuracy. If there is a discrepancy between Shelton and the Penguin translation, I assume the Penguin has the right meaning. Despite all this, English translations other than Shelton's are incomplete, like cliff notes. I quote from Penguin's J.M. Cohen when syntax is more important, and from Shelton when the humour is more important.

Of course, most Americans are familiar with Quixote through drastically abridged versions. These are not only abhorrent, but also quite difficult to read. In place of each missing passage one finds a synopsis, as meaningless as a synopsis of a poem. It is no wonder that many Americans should find one of the world's most readable books inaccessible.

The First Book

In the prologue, Cervantes opens up a dialogue with a friend about prologues. Self-referential from the outset, the author needs advice and support on how to appear to be a writer. We are introduced to the conflict of seeming versus being. Cervantes implies that he is unsure about how to make his seem like other books. His friend comes over and finds him doubting his ability to produce the necessary trappings of such a novel -- sonnets, mentions of famous authors and Latin quotes. His friend gives him some simple advice: Fake it. Write whatever, attribute it to whoever, copy a list of authors from wherever, and use whichever stock Latin maxims seem relevant. The friend convinces Cervantes that he can easily fake being a real writer, just as Don Quixote's friends help him convince himself that he is a real Knight.

We first encounter mirror imagery in the prologue. We learn we are to meet the "light and mirror of all Knight Errantry." 8 A darkness has been illuminated to reveal the true face of Knight Errantry. And what a face it is! Quixote is a mirror of other knights from literature, especially Amadis de Gaul, who himself is referred to by Cervantes as "flower and mirror of knights errant."9 This makes Quixote a mirror of a mirror, which implies infinite reflection, eternity and the end of perception.

We join Quixote as he decides to "turn knight errant and travel through the world with horse and armour in search of adventures, following in every way the practice of the knights errant he had read of . . . ."10 Though many of the novel's actors might agree that this imitation does not make him a true knight, it is sufficient for him to be addressed as one:

[T]he innkeeper . . . was on the point of joining the young women in their demonstrations of amusement. But, fearing such a collection of armaments, he decided to speak politely, and adressed him thus: "If your worship is looking for lodging, Sir Knight . . ." 111

This is the first example of someone going along with Quixote out of fear. Shortly after, we have the first instance of someone going along out of folly. The same innkeeper

who, as we have said, was pretty crafty and had already a suspicion that his guest was wrong in the head, was confirmed in his belief when he heard this speech, and, to make some sport for the night, decided to fall in with his humor. So he told him he was doing a very proper thing . . . . 12

Similarly, the merchants go along with something they know to be ridiculous.

[B]oth from his appearance and his words they divined that the speaker was mad. But wanting to know more fully . . . one of them, who was a bit of a joker and very sharp-witted, said, "Sir Knight . . . ." 13

Thus, before Quixote has returned home from his first overnight Knighthood, two confirmations of his status have come in. Then, for the first time since he became errant, he encounters someone who recognizes him. Quixote, beaten, babbling and referring to both himself and his neighbor as literary characters, is admonished.

"I am not Don Rodrigo . . . but your neighbor Pedro Alonzo. And your worship is not Baldwin or Abindarraez, but that worthy gentleman Master Quixada."

"I know who I am," replied Don Quixote, "and I know too that I am capable of being not only the characters I have named, but all the Twelve Peers of France . . . for my exploits are far greater than all the deeds they have done . . . ." 14

Here, we learn for the first time that reason will not disillusion Quixote. Therefore, even simple conversation with him will require some pretending.

Many who speak to Quixote as a knight are jokers, like the innkeeper, the merchants, and the traveler, who

decided that Don Quixote was out of his wits, and realized what form of madness it was . . . [T]o relieve the boredom of the short journeys . . . he tried to give Don Quixote an opportunity of continuing his wild talk, and consequently observed: "It seems to me, Sir Knight Errant, that you have adopted one of the strictest professions on earth . . ." 15

Others go along with Quixote's delusions, or even add to them, in elaborate measures intended to cure him. When the library has been sealed up for his own good, his niece explains:

"That was . . . an enchanter who came one night on a cloud, after you went away, and getting down from the dragon he was riding on, went into the room . . . ." 16

Later, the priest works out a plans to bring him home, such as one involving "pretending to be an afflicted damsel in distress." 17

And this is the scheme they contrived . . . all under the orders and directions of the priest, covered their faces and disguised themselves in various ways . . . [W]hen he woke up with a start he could not stir or do anything but gaze in wonder . . . . And at once he fell into the illusion his wild imagination was continually suggesting to him, and assumed that those figures were the phantoms of that enchanted castle . . . . All this was precisely what the priest, the inventor of the scheme, had expected. 18

It is common that those interested in disillusioning Quixote should further confuse and entrench him in fantastic adventures. Sancho, who is neither dishonest nor malicious, initially must go along with Quixote's delusions only to avoid being beaten.

When Sancho heard him call the Basin a helmet, he could not containe his laughter, but presently remembering on his Masters choler he checkt it in the midst. 119

Sancho's further reason for going along with plans he often recognizes as insane is his own delusion, his hope that he will become governor of a province or island granted him by Quixote. When the priest and barber find Sancho on his way to deliver Quixote's letter to Dulcinea, he was planning to become

an Inheretrix of some great and rich state on the firme land . . . . And all this was related so seriously by Sancho, and in so perfect sense . . . so as the two were strucken into a new amazement, pondering the vehemencie of Don Quixotes frensie, which carried quite away with it in that sort the judgement of that poore man, but would not labour to dispossesse him of that errour, because it was better to have him in it, that the recital of his follies might turne to their greater recreation . . . . 20

What could speak truer of the connection between master and squire than their common ability to fantasize? Just as they confuse his master, they simultaneously expect Sancho to play along with their schemes and believe he will benefit.

[H]e . . . told him it was of the utmost importance to go thus clothed and disguised, if they were to save Don Quixote of the miserable life he had chosen . . . . they felt certain that they could bring him to a better life, and so contrive it as to put him immediately on the road to becoming an Emperor . . . 21

Both the priest and Don Quixote promise Sancho the same thing: governorship; Quixote, in the hope that they will continue their journeys, the priest, in an attempt to end them.

The priest and barber then go to great lengths to set up this theater. Dorothea is enlisted to play the part of a damsel in distress, and like a passage straight out of Quixote's library, says to him,

I will not arise from hence thrice valourous and approoved Knight, untill your bountie and courtesie shall grant unto me one boone, which shall much redound unto your honour and prize of your person. and to the profit of the most disconsolate and wronged Damzell that the Sunne hath ever seene. 22

The priest also lays it on as thickly as possible,

For it shall suffice me, who am an unworthy Priest, to get up behind some one of these other Gentlemen that ride in your company, if they will not take it in bad part, yea, and I will make account that I ride on Pegasus, or the Zebra of the famous Moore Muzaraque, who lies yet inchanted in the steepe rocke ‚ulema, neere to Alcala of Henares. 23

Even Sancho eventually joins in the creation of fiction, or artifice. He is instructed by the priest and the barber to pretend to have brought the letter to Dulcinea. He even makes fun of Quixote's Dulcinea, though he has never met her.

"I got a sniff of something rather mannish. It must have been because she was running with sweat from the hard work." 24

A Reflection of the Story in the Substory

In the tale of foolish curiosity, a substory also translated as the tale of the curious impertinent, we learn what happens to those who wish to tempt their wives to prove their chastity. Like most of the substories, it is rather flat compared to the action of Quixote. However, this substory offers reflection on maintaining the illusions of others. Anselmo gets his friend, Lothario, to agree to try to seduce his wife. At first, he doesn't really try, because he thinks it wrong. Then he falls in love with her and woos her all he can, until she gives in.

I once read an article by John Berryman which asserted that the Samuel Putnam translation should be disqualified for moralizing the translation of her surrender. The Penguin translation reads "he overcame Camilla's chastity . . . . Camilla gave in; she gave in." 25 According to Berryman, this is the correct translation. Shelton reads "he came in the end to triumph . . . . Camilla rendred herself." 26 Shelton omits the repetition. As Berryman points out, Putnam mutilates it: "Camila gave in, she fell."

Now that Camilla and Lothario have something to hide, his purpose changes. He continues to report to Anselmo that he's wooing her and she's not giving in (or falling). Before, it was a lie because he wasn't really wooing. Now it's a lie because she's really giving in. How similar the scenario is to the schemes devised for Quixote's benefit!

Lothario . . . realized Camilla's plan when she told him to make Anselmo hide. So he fell in with her scheme most cleverly and aptly, and the pair of them made their imposture pass for truer than truth itself. 27

When Quixote or Anselmo want to hear something badly enough, those around them will pretend for them. Their persistence will allow them to hear what they want to hear, but such placations are committed in word only.

Shakespeare -- Mirror of Cervantes

There was much speculation about Cervantes influencing Shakespeare's lost Cardenio play, until recently, when it was discovered and published deemed Shakespeare's worst play. There has been much note of the magical connection between the contemporaneous masters sharing a death date, but due to Spain and England having discrepancies in their calendars at the time, it wasn't the same year.

The deepest connections come not from their influencing each other, but from nonetheless being similar. The two are splashing around in the newness of playing with levels of creation - God / man / fictional characters / fictional characters created by those fictional characters, plays within plays, stories within stories. They both take familiar motifs, such as the chivalry motif or the pastoral motif, and use them while simultaneously making fun of them.

In the Quixote, one is reminded constantly of As You Like It, with poetic country folk popping out of the woods at all times. The priest expresses the sentiment,

"I know by experience that the mountains breed scholars, and sheep-cotes contain philosophers." 28

reminding us of the Duke Senior's

and this our life, exempt from public haunt,

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks

Sermons in stones, and good in everything. 29

You have to turn to the Shelton translation to see how Shakespearean things become. Compare these lines:

"But then Camilla answered, Why then belike all that which inamoured Poets say is true?

In as much as Poets, quoth Lothario, they say not truth; but as they are inamoured, they remaine as short as they are true." 30

to these:

Audrey:I do not know what poetical is: is it honest in deed and word? is it a true thing?

Touchstone:No, truly: the truest poetry is the most feigning; and lovers are given to poetry; and what they swear in poetry may be said, as lovers, they do feign. 31

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