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Evolution in Don Quixote

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 Web Paper 4

The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories

Evolution in Don Quixote

When in class one day we were asked whether literary critics could influence a specific piece of literature my mind immediately went to Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote.  As a class we went on to talk about how criticism can usually be seen as influencing a genre, or the works of a specific time period, but does not usually influence the progress of a specific piece.  Don Quixote, though, is an exception to that rule.  After that class I started to think about how Cervantes’ novel had many other qualities of evolution that we had been discussing in class.  I then started to notice that as discussions in my Spanish class, which was focused on Don Quixote, went on I would jot down little notes about overlapping topics.  These new connections were incredibly interesting and satisfying for me.  Earlier in the semester I was making connections with my Biology class, but that seemed too obvious to me.  Of course I was making connections between our class and a Biology class that talked about evolution.  The real eye opening moment came with these new connections that were not necessarily directly related.  The more I started to think about Don Quixote, though, the more it seemed to be the complete evolutionary novel, containing examples of almost every topic we have covered this semester. 

The one idea that got all the marbles rolling was the question of the influence of literary criticism.  Don Quixote was an instant bestseller after the first part of the novel was published.  Perhaps because of this, Cervantes chose to write a second part to finish his masterpiece.  However, Cervantes didn’t write the second part of the novel until ten years after the first part had been published.  This meant that Cervantes had to sit through ten years of literary criticism.  The main criticism that came out of the first part of the novel was the use of interpolated stories.  In the first part of Don Quixote, Cervantes uses what can be thought of as side stories to give the reader a break from the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.  These stories chronicle the lives of other characters and are narrated as separate entities.  In addition to their function as breaks from the constant action of Don Quixote, Cervantes also used them to show off his talents.  The different interpolated stories are from different genres; one is an Italian novella, one is a historical work, and one is a tragedy.  In my Spanish class we discussed the drawbacks of these stories, as critics could have interpreted them.  We decided that the biggest problem was that they took the reader’s attention away from the main characters, and we felt that during these stories, which varied in length from two to four chapters, we lost track of Don Quixote, which led to a lack of continuation, which was detrimental to the overall reading.  This was one clear change that the second part addressed.  Not only can this change be seen in the absence of interpolated stories in the second part, but Cervantes also addresses it directly.  Cervantes writes that “a kind of complaint that the [narrator] had concerning himself for becoming involved in a history as dry and limited as this one, for it seemed to him he always had to talk of Don Quixote and Sancho, not daring to wander into other digressions and episodes that were more serious and more entertaining” (Cervantes 737).  This shows the awareness that Cervantes had to the early criticisms of the first part, and his willingness to adapt to the selection pressures that were present at the time, even if that meant he was changing the format that he felt was the most interesting.  (Quintero)

After examining the role that literary criticism played on the evolution of the novel, we must also look at the evolution of the interpretations of the novel.  Don Quixote was written by Cervantes to be a comedy, and when Don Quixote was first published at the beginning of the 17th century that is how the novel was viewed.  Don Quixote was not seen as an especially heroic character or as a representation of Christ.  The novel was a popular and comedic book that turned into a bestseller.  Moving into the 18th century, and outside of Spain people started to bring up more serious themes that the novel could be seen as having.  Then in the 19th century, again outside of Spain, the novel started to be read from the romantic approach, and Don Quixote was converted into a tragic figure and was even compared to Christ.  In the 20th and 21st centuries critics have had the opportunity to examine the critiques that have been published over the past centuries and have built on those criticisms.  Showing just how far the criticisms of Don Quixote have evolved are the modern criticisms and analyses of the text.  There are now queer studies of the novel, and one paper that was particularly interesting for me was Walt Disney’s Toy Story as Postmodern Don Quixote by Bruce R. Burningham, which compares the relationship of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza to that of Woody and Buzz Light Year from Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story among other comparisons.  (Quintero)

The evolution between the two parts of the novel, however, is not only seen in the changes that were influenced by criticism.  In most works of fiction you can see a change, or evolution, in the main characters and Don Quixote is no exception.  The main evolutions that can be seen in the novel are in Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.  Throughout the novel there is a “quixotization” of Sancho and a “sanchofication” of Don Quixote.  As time goes on in the novel Don Quixote begins to question things that are happening more and more, and Sancho begins to believe in the world of knights-errant.  The culmination of this change in characterization can be seen towards the end of the second part.  Sancho and Don Quixote are staying in the palace of a Duke and Duchess who have read the first part of the novel and know all about the craziness of Don Quixote.  Having this knowledge, they decide to create adventures for their two guests.  One of those adventures is with a wooden horse called Clavileño.  The Duke and Duchess tell Sancho and Don Quixote that in order to disenchant Dulcinea, Don Quixote’s future wife, they must ride Clavileño, who will fly and take them to where they need to go.  While Don Quixote are blindfolded the Duke and Duchess blow wind in their faces to simulate flying, carry torches to simulate the region of fire, and at the end of the adventure set off a small explosive in the stomach of Clavileño to simulate a rough landing.  The culmination of the quixotization and the sanchofication appears in a conversation between the two following this adventure:

 “It is certainly true that I felt as if I had passed through the region of air, and even touched the region of fire, but I cannot believe we passed beyond that, for since the region of fire lies between the sphere of the moon and the final region of air, we could not reach the sphere of the seven nanny goats that Sancho has mentioned without being burned; and sence we are not burned, either Sancho is lying or Sancho is dreaming.”

“I’m not lying and I’m not dreaming,” responded Sancho. “And if you don’t believe me, just ask me about what those goats look like, and then you’ll see if I’m telling the truth or not.”

“Sancho, just as you want people to believe what you have seen in the sky, I want you to believe what I saw in the Cave of Montesinos.  And that is all I have to say” (Cervantes 726-727).


In this conversation we see a notable change in the reasoning of both Sancho and Don Quixote.  In Sancho we see an innate belief of what he has experienced without any questioning of the reality; versus in Don Quixote, in whom we see a questioning of the reality of what he knows he has experienced.  This shows the evolution that each character goes through in morphing into each other. 

The novel as a whole also played a role in the evolution of literature.  Don Quixote is widely referred to as the first modern novel.  Starting the genre that has become a mainstay in literature.  Cervantes wrote the novel as a comedic work that was a criticism of the novels of chivalry.  In the novel Cervantes used a modern form of narration that came up in our own class discussions.  When discussing Generosity, The Plague, and Adaptation we seemed to want to focus on the inclusion of the narrator in the story.  We asked whether this was a new form of narration that had perhaps evolved over time.  In order to answer this question one only needs to look to Don Quixote.  Published centuries ago, Cervantes’ novel included some of these same narrative games.  Don Quixote not only has a narrator that interjects his own opinion into the story, but also has various narrative levels.  The following narrative scheme is adapted from James Parr’s Don Quixote: An Anatomy of Subversive Discourse.  The scheme shows the different narrative levels that exist in the first fourteen chapters of part one of the novel.  The impressive part is that this complex scheme is continued throughout the rest of the novel, using some of the same narrators and authors, as well as adding in some new ones. 

Historical author


----------------------- Text-------------------------


Implicit author


Dramatized author



First Narrator "the Author" (Chapters 1-8)


Ficcionalized Historical Author

("friend Miguel de Cervantes")


Second Narrator "Author" (Chapter 8, Beginning of 9)




Cide Hamete


Narrators of Grisostomo and Marcela's Story:

cabrero, Pedro, Ambrosio, Marcela

After narration came time, and its role in The Plague and Generosity, and again I went back to thinking about Don Quixote.  There are two important instances where time plays an important role in the novel.  The first comes with the difference between literary time and real time between the two parts.  In real time, ten years passed between the first and second parts, but in literary time only about a month passed between the two parts.  On the surface this does not seem to be a problem, but when looking more closely there are some things that are affected by this difference.  First off there is a difference in the style of the first and second parts.  This is due partially to the criticism that Cervantes had to endure in those ten years, and in part because the society changed in those ten years.  The most notable change in the society was the expulsion of Muslims from Spain, which is alluded to in the second part.  For me, though, the most interesting role that the differing time scale plays is the effect it has on the interpretation of Don Quixote.  In the first few chapters of the second part of the novel the reader learns that the first part of the novel has been published in the story, so that there are characters in the second part of the novel that have read the first part.  Cervantes uses this metaliterary tool to play a game with the two time scales.  Inside of the novel, it would be impossible for the first part of the novel to be written, published, and circulated into a bestseller in one month in 17th century Spain.  This disparity, however, makes the reader question whether or not Don Quixote is really as crazy as we initially thought.  The impossible time frame that is used in the scope of the book makes the reader open to the possibility that maybe there is something magical about the world in which Don Quixote lives, and if there is this magical world, then maybe the things that Don Quixote experiences are in fact a reality in that world. 

The second important use of time is in Don Quixote’s adventure in the Cave of Montesinos.  In this episode Don Quixote goes into the depths of a cave to explore what is there.  What he believes he has found is the Cave of Montesinos, where he spends time listening to a story.  When he returns from the cave he thinks that he has been there for three days, while those who were waiting outside of the cave believe that he was only in the cave for one hour.  As the reader we come to the conclusion that Don Quixote was experiencing his own sense of time, either as a dream or in his subconscious, and that the characters that were outside of the cave were experiencing real time.  In order to explain this difference Sancho claims that the cave is like an “underworld” such that it is not a part of the human world and therefore has its own time (Sieber 270).  This appearance of time in the Cave of Montesinos also has a relation to Don Quixote’s craziness.  It shows that his craziness in how he can almost instantaneously adopt different time frames, from the literary time to an enchanted time (Sieber 271). 

Adaptation and the discussion of different adaptations then came to mind.  Don Quixote has been recreated in numerous different media, from ballet to opera to film to song.  As we discussed in class, adaptations of literature open up the opportunity for sharing one’s interpretations of a work.  The myriad of different genres that have been used for adaptations of Don Quixote show the novel’s vast encompass of evolutionary states.  There are two ballets of Don Quixote that premiered just about one hundred years apart.  The first, set to the music of Ludwig Minkus was first performed in 1869, while the second, to the music of Nicolas Nabokov was premiered in 1965.  Moving to other performing arts, Jules Massenet wrote an opera based on the novel that came out in 1904.  The adaptations then started to evolve even further into more modern forms of media.  In 1965, Dale Wasserman’s Man of La Mancha premiered on Broadway for its first of four revivals.  Don Quixote has also found its way into the popular music scene.  Coldplay has a song “Don Quixote”. Film adaptations of Don Quixote are harder to come by, as it seems there is somewhat of a curse on to be movie versions of the novel.  Orson Welles started to create a film version, which he never finished, but in 1992 was pieced together and produced by Jesus Franco and Patxi Irigoyen.  As can be seen in the documentary Lost in La Mancha, Terry Gilliam has struggled for over twenty years to produce his film version of Don Quixote.  The documentary follows his attempt to produce his vision that is ultimately set back by budget cuts, and pure lack of luck.  I think that this credits Cervantes’ original work, which seems to be too complex to be reproduced on screen.  Maybe this also speaks to the evolution of literature.  To me it says something that a bestselling novel from the early 17th century has proven incredibly difficult to reproduce as a film, whereas modern day bestsellers are routinely adapted into movies.  It seems as if literature, or at least popular, bestselling literature, has evolved into a simpler form that then lends itself well to recreations.  This seems to be a subconscious change to better fill the role of what people want now.  If we as a society are moving away from books and towards movies, it makes sense that literature is evolving to be more like film.  People like movies because you can, generally, lose yourself easily in them by not having to create images, but rather just watch ones that have been created for you.  This means that literature is now starting to move in a simpler direction so that people do not have to create as much in their minds.  The multitude of forms of adaptations coupled with the fact that they have appeared throughout the centuries since Don Quixote was published also shows that it is evolutionarily a very “advanced” text because it has not itself changed, but it is still widely read and referred to.  If I had to make any comparison, I would say that the novel is similar to bacteria.  While both bacteria and Don Quixote have been adapted to better fit the changing times, the originals are still highly respected and are still, even after centuries, studied. 

            By the end of our discussions on the evolution of stories, and once I had finished both reading and discussing Don Quixote I was thoroughly convinced that it is a model of literary evolution.  It says a lot of a text that can show such comprehensive examples of so many different evolutionary themes, and it makes sense that a text that achieves this will be one that stands the test of time.  Looking at Don Quixote through an evolutionary lens is an approach that through the semester has not only given me a better sense and understanding of the novel, but has also given me a greater context in which to place our discussions on different kinds of evolution.





Works Cited

Cervantes, Miguel. Don Quixote. Trans. Edith Grossman. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. Print.

“Don Quichotte.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2011. <‌wiki/‌Don_Quichotte>.

“Don Quixote.” Internet Movie Database. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2011. <‌title/‌tt0104121/>.

“Don Quixote (ballet).” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2011. <‌wiki/‌Don_Quixote_(ballet)>.

Lost in La Mancha. Kieth Fulton and Louis Pepe. 2002. Film.

“Man of La Mancha.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2011. <‌wiki/‌Man_of_La_Mancha>.

Parr, James A. Don Quixote: An Anatomy of Subversive Discourse. Newark: Juan de la Cuesta, 1988. Print.

Quintero, Maria “Don Quijote.” Spanish 307: Cervantes.  Bryn Mawr College. Bryn Mawr PA. Spring 2011.

Sieber, Harry. “Literary Time in the ‘Cueva de Montesinos.’” MLN 86.2 (1971): 268-273. JSTOR. Web. 12 May 2011. <‌stable/‌2907623>.