Differentiation, and the lack thereof   

In the last chapter of Don Quixote, after our hero comes to his tragic end, the author makes a final claim over the character and the story. He writes, “For me alone was Don Quixote born, and I for him…the two of us alone are one,” laying the character to rest and pleading that no other false writer resurrect him.1. This farewell not only unites character and author, but also consolidates the real author Cervantes with the intradiegetic author Cide Hamete through the implicit acknowledgement that Don Quixote is a fictional, invented character. Breaking kayfabe in this way bridges the layers of reality and fiction presented throughout the novel. The differential pairing of Cervantes/Hamete, of the real and the fictional author, is only one motif through which the novel explores the reality/fiction relationship; this theme reappears variously through synonymous or overlapping pairings of reality/illusion, materiality/perception, true/false, sanity/madness, etc., all linked together in a continuous series of relations. The death of Don Quixote at the close of the book becomes a nexus point wherein all of these dualities collide and collapse into paradox.

One the most prominent manifestations of these dualites is in Don Quixote’s delusion of knight errantry, a madness brought about by his over-exposure to chivalric fiction. Part I of the book introduces Don Quixote’s delusion as cleanly divided from true reality down to the level of narration. In his early escapades, the intradiegetic-heterodiegetic narrator clearly and quickly marks for us what is real and what Don Quixote is seeing through his distorted view; we’re told first that Don Quixote is approaching an inn, then immediately afterwards that, because of his chivalric delusion, “as soon as he saw the inn it appeared to him to be a castle.”2

 It is easy for the reader to differentiate between narration in Don Quixote’s perspective, which communicates events as he sees and understands them, and the objective narration of the translator, which is the voice for the truth of events and is immune to deception or delusion. The line between delusion and reality becomes more and more blurred over the course of Don Quixote’s adventures. Part II of the novel introduces the duke and duchess, characters who indulge Don Quixote’s delusion and construct elaborate schemes that play into his perceptions with increasing verisimilitude. Part II also sows multiple references to an impersonator who has been pretending to be the true Don Quixote. This false Quixote serves as a diegetic denunciation for the real-life copycat sequel to Part I written by an author other than Cervantes. 

The blurring is also reflected in the narration, such as in the duke and duchess’ last scheme of Altisidora’s resurrection in Chapter 69 of Part II. Just as the duke and duchess set out to trick Don Quixote and Sancho with a staged performance of a dead woman brought back to life, the narration subtly abets their deception to the reader. The first paragraph particularly requires close scrutiny in order to distinguish whose narrative voice has the proverbial microphone; it lacks any overt indication of whether the description of the scene is being filtered through either Don Quixote or Sancho’s perspective. Moments of chivalric purple prose—such as the quintessentially poetic yet inane description of the dead body, “a damsel so beautiful that her beauty made death itself beautiful”—points to Quixote, but subtly enough that it could be taken for the objective descriptions of the translator. Unlike earlier chapters, we can apparently no longer rely on the translator to interject and explain when there is dissonance between perception and truth. The line “displayed on the catafalque was the dead body of a damsel” fails to inform us that the body only appears to be dead but is, in fact, faking.3

If the reader is not already suspicious enough after the first paragraph to sense a trick coming, the arrival of the duke and duchess soon after should set off alarm bells that some deception is at play in this scene. The narration offers clues here as well: twice in a row, indirect statements combine two narrative voices within one sentence. First, the “two distinguished personages…were recognized immediately by Don Quixote as the duke and duchess”; then, “Don Quixote realized that the dead body on the catafalque was the beauteous Altisidora.”4 This grammatical construction mimics the process of observation moving from external object to internal interpretation, demonstrating that there is more to the scene than initial appearances. While doing so, it also inverts the reader’s expectations for which part of that equation will contain the truth: it is in Don Quixote’s perspective where we learn the identities of these figures, where chivalric caricatures become real people—foreshadowing his returning sanity. 

However, Don Quixote is still not so lucid as to realize that Altisidora is not actually dead and that this is all a pantomime. The reader must interpret that for themselves via connotative clues, such as when the musician gives Altisidora’s cause of death as having been “killed by the cruelty of Don Quixote.”5 Much like the presence of the duke and duchess signals deception is afoot, the book’s continuous pattern of parodying and discrediting motifs from chivalric romances forms a semiotic code such that the reader instinctually knows better than to believe death caused by “the power of love scorned.”6 

We do still get unveiled confirmation that the duke and duchess orchestrated the whole resurrection charade in Chapter 70. The narrative interrupts itself with an interjection, courtesy of Cide Hamete, who “during this time…wished to write and give an account of what moved the duke and duchess to devise the elaborate scheme that has just been narrated.”7 This interlude counters the pattern of conflation, in that it is set apart so starkly and abruptly by establishing Cide Hamete as the source and narrative voice. On the other hand, it places an explicitly extradiegetic sentence at a natural lull in diegesis, i.e. after Sancho and Don Quixote fall asleep, while acknowledging the intentional “timing” of the placement blurs the lines between the levels of narrative.

The answer as to the duke and duchess’ motivation is, unsurprisingly, simple amusement, for “such was the pleasure [the duke] derived from matters concerning Sancho and Don Quixote”; there is no further revelation to be found regarding the duke or duchess’ motivation that would make their actions seem more reasonable—which is Hamete’s ultimate point: “in his opinion the deceivers are as mad as the deceived, and that the duke and duchess came very close to seeming like fools since they went to such lengths to deceive two fools.”8

By delaying this interlude to the next chapter, Hamete emphasizes the similarities between the deceivers and the deceived. Earlier in the novel, dual perspectives like that of the inn/castle were shown side by side to illustrate the disparity between Don Quixote’s delusion and reality. Had the resurrection scene employed a similar style, immediately revealing the truth of Altisidora’s body and confirming that this was all the duke and duchess’ design, it would have reinscribed the same dichotomous system that was in play at the beginning of the book: Don Quixote, mad; everyone else, sane. This would have not only placed the duke and duchess in the camp of sanity, but by extension, painted them as holding the keys to reality, elevated to a sort of enlightenment through their exclusive knowledge of the truth beneath the illusion, despite themselves being the architects of the illusion. Putting some discursive distance between the resurrection scene as Don Quixote understood it and this behind-the-scenes view of the duke and duchess positions the behavior of the deceived and of the deceivers as parallel to each other rather than being diametrically juxtaposed, demonstrating Hamete’s point.

Hamete further emphasizes the madness of the deceivers in his account of events leading up to the fake resurrection. His interlude starts out digressing to the exploits of Sansón Carrasco and his interactions with the duke regarding Don Quixote—two deceivers exchanging tales of their respective deceptions, for Sansón is also a deceiver on par with the duke and duchess. His scheme to trick Don Quixote—first as the Knight of the Mirrors, then as the Knight of the White Moons—mimics the same method of deception as the duke and the duchess; on the other hand, it also reifies the chivalric code in a similar manner as Don Quixote. Sansón is the bridge between Don Quixote and the duke and duchess, placing all their behavior on the same level (or, at least, nearly equivalent). As his squire philosophizes after Sansón loses to Don Quixote in their first duel, “who’s crazier: the man who’s crazy because he can’t help it or the man who chooses to be crazy?” Sansón answers, “The difference between those two madmen is that the one who can’t help it will always be mad, and the one who chooses can stop whenever he wants.”9 He then proceeds to get back in the saddle (literally!) and once again “assume those disguises” of knights errant to play-act a quintessentially chivalric encounter10—by the terms of his own logic, his awareness of what he is doing does not negate his madness, and he does not choose to stop, but rather continues on being mad by choice. 

However, Cide Hamete references that the duke and duchess specifically “came very close to seeming like fools,” and does not name Sansón Carrasco.11 The chief apparent difference between these deceivers is their respective motivations: the duke and duchess pursue only their own entertainment at the expense of Sancho and Don Quixote, while Sansón claims that his goal is to cure Don Quixote of his madness. Sansón’s altruism is in doubt, since he swears after his defeat as the Knight of the Mirrors, “I am moved now not by the desire to help him recover his sanity, but by the desire for revenge.”12 Regardless of which motivation we believe, Sansón possesses a stronger emotional investment in Don Quixote and a higher purpose for his deception than the duke and the duchess’ sheer amusement—a potential justification for considering him a deceiver but not a fool. 

Alternatively, perhaps Cide Hamete omits Sansón’s name from the list of almost-fools because he counts as a pure fool—one of the deceived. Sansón and the duke and duchess all arrange deceptions, but as I mentioned before, Sansón more so resembles Don Quixote when enacting his scheme—not only because he plays a knight errant but also in regards to his emotional commitment to the role. Whether he is motivated by a desire to cure a pitiable madman or for bitter revenge against a rival who bested him, in either case he is embodying a chivalric trope internally, to a degree which he does not even seem to realize, in addition to performing it externally. He further reifies the tropes by completing them both simultaneously. By defeating Don Quixote in their second duel and commanding him to give up knight errantry and return home, Sansón succeeds in curing Don Quixote’s mad delusions. What’s more, doing so effectively kills Don Quixote: in a figurative sense by erasing the chivalric persona of “Don Quixote of La Mancha” which was an aspect of the delusion and, more indirectly, in a literal sense. Alonso Quixano, or whatever name we might use to refer to the man beneath the moniker, apparently dies of melancholy without the delusion to sustain him. Sansón ultimately fulfills the narrative roles of both a heroic knight and a knight’s rival: protecting the vulnerable and slaying his nemesis.

In this double-vision of Don Quixote’s death, Sansón is not the only killer. The false Quixote and the false history of his adventures also contribute to the figurative death of the identity, the persona, the name, “Don Quixote.” The false history accrues an increasing number of references in the final few chapters of Part II; Cervantes’ criticism of the copycat sequel and its author in these instances is obvious. More subtle is the way that the diegetic false Quixote negates Quixote’s claim to his own name and identity, even in instances which textually reaffirm the authenticity of “the real Don Quixote.”13 For example: after her supposed resurrection, Altisidora recounts a vision she claims to have had in death of devils batting around and destroying the false history at the gates of hell. In response, Don Quixote asserts his singular identity, “there is no other I in the world,” then says, “I am not perturbed to hear that I wander like a shade in the darkness of the abyss or in the light of the world, because I am not the one told about in that history.”14 He undermines his previous statement by identifying himself, “I,” with the wanderings of the other who bears his name, and does so within the same sentence that he aims to distance himself from the false Don Quixote. The mere existence of another going by the name “Don Quixote,” even though he is patently false, makes it difficult to differentiate between the two semantically. The linguistic conflation has a negating effect, so that every semantic distinction between the real and false Quixotes simultaneously distances the real Quixote from the name “Don Quixote.” The gradual deterioration of the name and corresponding identity ends in a kind of death corresponding to the return of his sanity. The identity and life of “Don Quixote” were born of madness, and the end of the madness is the end of “Don Quixote.” Renouncing the name and adopting a new moniker of “Alonso Quixano the Good” can be understood as a figurative suicide—an interpretation which brings us back around again in the perpetual circle of differentiation and conflation: both the false Don Quixote and the real Don Quixote kill “Don Quixote.” 

Yet, even after he renames himself, the narration and dialogue tags still continue to refer to him as Don Quixote, extending his life. Don Quixote’s state of existence in this interpretation of his death is aptly described in the poem he sings after losing to the Knight of the White Moon: “And so my living kills me, / and death insists and gives me back my life. / Mine is a novel state: / I go on living, and constantly die.”15 As the character has lost and then renounced “Don Quixote,” Hamete stakes a reinvigorated claim: “For me alone was Don Quixote born, and I for him,”16 creating another circle—or rather, additional layers to a spiral. Hamete elongates Don Quixote’s life through continuing to use the name, in the same instance that he insists on him being dead and buried. He also perpetuates his own existence by continuing the book, since “Cide Hamete” is a fictional construction who exists only within the confines of the novel’s discourse. The fictional author Hamete merges with the real author Cervantes through the reference to the“false Todesillan writer” and the counterfeit Part II; through a false writer and book which he incorporates into the canon of Don Quixote for the express purpose of denouncing them; and through the presence of the false Quixote within the fiction that negates and kills his own true Quixote.

  1. Miguel Saavedra De Cervantes, Don Quixote, trans. by Edith Grossman (Harper Collins, 2005), 939.
  2. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 26.
  3. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 907.
  4. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 908.
  5. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 909.
  6. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 912.
  7. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 913.
  8. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 914.
  9. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 549.
  10. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 914.
  11. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 914.
  12. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 549-50.
  13. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 926.
  14. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 916.
  15. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 905.
  16. Cervantes, Don Quixote, 939.
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