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Free Barron's Booknotes-Don Quixote by Migel de Cervantes-Free Book Notes
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Don Quixote still believes that Sancho Panza has delivered his letter to Dulcinea. Afraid to admit that he lost the letter, Sancho invents ridiculous answers to the Don's questions about Dulcinea and her reactions to the letter. Fortunately, something happens to distract Don Quixote's attention. At a roadside fountain the travelers meet up with Andrew (Andres), the shepherd Don Quixote saved from a whipping in Chapter 4. Andrew tells everyone that his master was so angry at the Don's interference that he took out his rage by beating him all the harder. He has only recently left the hospital. Once again, Don Quixote looks like a fool and a meddler in the eyes of his friends. The story of Andrew illustrates the moral that good intentions alone are not enough. Often, naive and ill-considered interferences only make a bad situation worse. In this case, the Don is sincerely sorry to learn that Andrew had to suffer for his bad judgment. But, do his sincere regrets atone for the mistake? Some readers feel they do. It is inevitable, they say, that some attempts to do good will not succeed. If we worry too much about results we will end up as cynics, who stand by doing nothing while evil takes its course. Other readers disagree. This group sometimes compares the Don's attempts to help Andrew with the visionary program of Marxist revolutionaries or other varieties of political crusaders. It is not enough, these readers say, to have a vision of the perfect society. Unless we are also thoughtful enough to foresee how such visions will work out in practice, we may wind up doing more harm than good. What do you think?


The next day the travelers reach the inn. While Don Quixote is put to bed in a loft room, the others are served dinner by Maritornes, the innkeeper, and his wife. (The innkeeper considers the Don's madness amusing, and since he's been promised that this time his guests will pay for their lodging, he holds no grudge.) During the meal, the innkeeper admits that he, too, is a great fan of books of chivalry. "When I hear tell of those furious and terrible blows that the knights hand out," he confesses, "I long to be doing the same myself." Maritornes adds that she, too, enjoys the "lovely goings on" in these romantic stories. The only thing she can't understand is why the female characters are so coy. How could any woman let a man pine away and die for want of a little affection?

Like many who are addicted to romance novels or soap operas today, Maritornes wants to escape the depressing realities of her own situation. Even while he makes fun of the silly invention of chivalric romances, Cervantes shows in this scene that he understands why some people have a need for escapist entertainment. Notice, however, that while Maritornes is in some ways pathetic, her attitude toward these romantic stories is basically sensible. She knows that she cannot afford to be as aloof as the heroines of the stories she enjoys. You may find it interesting to compare her attitude with that of Altisidora-a young girl who is more cynical when her fantasy of romantic love fails to work out as planned.

Dorothea remarks that the innkeeper, who literally believes many of the fantastic stories told in these romances, is almost as crazy as Don Quixote. But there is a difference between the two kinds of belief. The innkeeper will never actually try to become a knight-errant because he knows that "it's not the fashion today." Because the innkeeper is content to pay lip service to the high ideals found in his favorite books, the world considers him sane. Since Don Quixote tries to put those ideals into practice, he is considered crazy. What do you think of this definition of craziness? Does it make you sympathize with Don Quixote? Or is the innkeeper right to take such a practical attitude?

Quixote's friend, the priest, remarks that he still thinks that books of chivalry are a bad influence and ought to be burned. To prove him wrong the innkeeper invites him to read a manuscript left behind by a traveler who recently stayed at the inn. Most of the next three chapters of the novel concern the priest's reading of the story.

The story is entitled "The Man Who Was Too Curious For His Own Good." (In some translations it is called "The Tale of Ill-Advised Curiosity" or "The Novel of the Curious Impertinent.") The main characters are two good friends named Anselmo and Lothario. Anselmo has a beautiful wife, Camilla. Unfortunately, he is the type of person who can never let well enough alone. He wants to test Camilla to see if she is really faithful to him. Anselmo, who is going out of town, makes Lothario promise to try to seduce Camilla, just so he can report on her reactions. The plan backfires. Lothario finds himself falling in love with Camilla. Camilla has been a faithful wife so far. But when Anselmo refuses to come home and help her deal with the lovesick Lothario, Camilla decides that her husband doesn't love her. She gives in to Lothario after all.

After Anselmo returns home, Camilla and Lothario resort to all kinds of ruses to keep Anselmo from finding out what is going on. Eventually, however, their guilty consciences catch up with them. Convinced that her maid is going to tell Anselmo the truth, Camilla flees to a convent. Lothario joins the army. Anselmo dies of a broken heart, regretting his foolish curiosity that caused so much trouble. Lothario is killed in battle soon after, and Camilla dies as well.


Anselmo presents another contrast to the character of Don Quixote. The Don has an idealistic view of what the world should be like, and if the evidence of his own senses doesn't conform to that view, he simply assumes that an evil enchanter has been deceiving him. Anselmo is just the opposite. He can't take anything on faith-not even the love of his own wife. He needs continual proof in the form of reports from his friend Lothario. By constantly trying to test reality, he ends up changing it. Once again, readers disagree about whether this story serves a purpose in the novel. Some argue that it is out of place and distracting. Others feel that it sheds new light on the character of Don Quixote-and on the nature of quixotism. What is your opinion? If you were editing the novel, would you omit this story about Anselmo?

While the priest is reading downstairs, something strange is going on up in the loft. At one point Sancho Panza interrupts the reading to announce that his master is doing battle with giants. Rushing upstairs, the innkeeper finds that the "giants" are large pigskin sacks filled with wine which have been stored in the loft. Half asleep, the Don has mistaken the winesacks for his enemies and slashed away at them with a knife. When the wine came gushing out he was sure he had drawn blood! For the innkeeper this "battle of the wineskins" makes him lose his patience. He agrees to let Don Quixote stay on only because the priest promises to pay for the damages.

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