Cervantes' Motivation for Writing Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes' greatest literary work, Don Quixote, maintains an enduring, if somewhat stereotypical image in the popular culture: the tale of the obsessed knight and his clownish squire who embark on a faith-driven, adventure-seeking quest. However, although this simple premise has survived since the novel's inception, and spawned such universally known concepts or images as quixotic idealism and charging headlong at a group of "giants" which are actually windmills, Cervantes' motivation for writing Don Quixote remains an untold story. Looking at late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Spain from the viewpoint of a Renaissance man, Cervantes came to dislike many aspects of the age in which he lived, and decided to satirize what he saw as its failings; however, throughout the writing of what would become his most famous work, Cervantes was torn by a philosophical conflict which pervaded the Renaissance and its intellectuals--the clash of faith and reason.
When Cervantes began writing Don Quixote, the most direct target of his satirical intentions was the chivalric romance. He makes this aim clear in his own preface to the novel, stating that "..[his] sole aim in writing..is to invalidate the authority, and ridicule the absurdity of those books of chivalry, which have, as it were, fascinated the eyes and judgment of the world, and in particular of the vulgar.” Immediately after the beginning of the novel, he demonstrates some of the ridiculous and unbelievable writing of these books: as Alonso Quixano--the man who decides to become the knight Don Quixote, after going mad from reading too many of these romances--sits in his study, tirelessly poring over his beloved books of chivalry, Cervantes recounts some of the admirable exploits of Quixano’s favorite heroes:
..the Lord of the Flaming-sword..with one back stroke had cut two fierce giants
through the middle. ..Bernardo del Carpio..put the inchanter Orlando to death,
by the same means that Hercules used, when he strangled the earth-born
Anteon. ..His [Quixano] chief favorite was Reynaldo of Montalvan, whom he hugely
admired for his prowess, in sallying from his castle to rob travellers..."
The first two characters obviously highlight the apparent ridiculousness of chivalric heroes’ superhuman feats; the third could be intended to show contradiction, as a knight who robs passersby would seem to be dishonorable. The structure of Quixano's books also suffer from dubious logic, as shown in a verse which the Spanish gentleman is particularly fond of: "The reason of the unreasonable usage my reason has met with, so unreasons my reason, that I have reason to complain of your beauty" (Cervantes 28). A second idea which suffers Cervantes’ ridicule is the practice of knight-errantry as a means of ridding society of injustices. As a knight-errant, Don Quixote regularly...